After a long wait and multiple court challenges, Fleer finally earned the right to produce baseball cards in 1981. Still, Topps wasn’t giving up the stranglehold on its best known product without a fight. The company challenged again and won the right to be the only baseball card manufacturer that could include bubble gum in its packs. While it might seem silly in hindsight, especially considering Topps ditched the gum ten years later, it was a big enough deal to pay lawyers a lot of money in the early 1980s. Despite that minor setback, the 1982 Fleer Baseball set was ready to challenge its competitors–although proofreaders could have argued they weren’t.
1982 Fleer Baseball began arriving in stores and on dealers’ doorstops during the first half of February.
Fleer replaced gum with a set of team stickers that were distributed one per pack. There were 15 cards per wax pack and 28 cards (plus two stickers) in the cello packs that made their debut that year.
Fleer also trotted out a rack pack that held three wax packs (you could buy them for 69 cents when they were on sale at grocery stores–quite a deal).
Fleer’s wax wrapper touted its victory as the top rated set as voted by Baseball Hobby News readers in 1981. Card makers were very much in tune to what the hobby media and collectors were saying at the time–a far cry from Topps’ long running insistence on marketing primarily to youngsters.
Dealers could once again purchase vending cases, with 24 500-count boxes.
You could count on four vending boxes yielding three sets, a collation breakthrough they definitely appreciated. The vending boxes also included 34 logo stickers, enabling dealers to sell them individually or compile complete sets.
Fleer was all about symmetry and the 1982 set was once again 660 cards printed on five 132-card sheets. The numbers each card was assigned correlated to the results of the strike-shortened 1981 season with players listed in alphabetical order. That’s why Dusty Baker of the World Series champion Dodgers is #1 and the runner-up Yankees come right after the Dodgers.
The first 627 cards were of the standard type, with Fleer making use of both posed and action shots. The process of turning photos into cards had been a bit of a struggle for Fleer and it continued in ’82 with images appearing grainy in many cases. Ironically, Fleer had created promotional material highlighting “sharper, brighter photos.”
On card 524, pitcher Pete Falcone is seen holding his own 1981 Fleer card after presumably pulling it from the opened pack that’s sitting with some other cards on a stool in front of his locker.
Cards 628-646 were reserved for special cards, some honoring league leaders and milestones and others just for fun. One of the more popular cards at the time was the “Pete and Re-Pete” card picturing Pete Rose with his son, Pete Jr., in the on deck circle.
As it did the year before, Fleer reserved the back end of its set for checklists.
There are over 40 Hall of Famers in the set, not counting those who appear again on one of the Special cards.
Of course, all three companies made sure to include the hottest young prospect in baseball when planning their ’82 sets. Cal Ripken Jr. appeared in Fleer, Topps and Donruss sets but with Topps sticking him on a three-player Future Stars card with Bob Bonner and Jeff Schneider, only the two newcomers had a solo shot of the future Hall of Famer.
Ripken’s Fleer rookie card is easily attainable and most are inexpensive, even in high grade. PSA alone has graded over 11,000 of them; 2,548 at Mint 9 and 302 at Gem Mint 10.
Hall of Fame reliever Lee Smith has a rookie card here as well, or shall we say two rookie cards (more on that later). Others include Dave Stewart, George Bell, Dave Righetti and Terry Francona but beyond the two Hall of Famers, it’s not a standout class.
Fleer’s 1981 set was brought with errors and corrections and while things improved in their second attempt, there were still plenty of goofs. Rodney Scott’s card (#207) actually pictures teammate Tim Raines (who does have his own card in the set).
The Cubs logo on the back of the aforementioned Lee Smith rookie card was printed upside down but the error was corrected in a later print run.
Fleer really struggled with Al Hrabosky (unless you’re of the mindset that the errors were no accident). His name was spelled “All” on the back and his height was listed at 5’1. A second printing corrected it to “Al” but he was still only 5’1. Finally, another printing effort got his height correct: 5’10. The “All” variation carries a premium but all can be found for a very small investment.
The most obvious mistake came early when Fleer used a reverse image of Padres pitcher John Littlefield. The photo that turned the right hander into a lefty was corrected fairly quickly and the error version does sell for a pretty good premium, especially in high grade.
On card 555, Darrell Jackson’s cap has three versions (navy, red with a “T” and red without the “T”).
Several other, relatively minor errors were never corrected.