Those who develop baseball card sets have been known to have a little bit of fun. Sometimes the jokes are obvious; other times they’re pretty subtle.
We’ve written before about Topps Heritage and how at least some of the cards match up to the original set they’re designed for. Occasionally, the path is obvious such as David Parrish in 2001 Topps Heritage matching the pose of Mickey Mantle as card #311 in the 1952 Topps set. Of course, Parrish was no Mantle in any way and his major league career could fit easily onto the back of one of the Mick’s cards but it caused collectors to do a double-take.
Little references to the past are not a new concept, either.
We’ve talked about the famous “McGreachery” card from the 19th century, but there are plenty of other instances from more recent history where card production took on a funny turn.
With several pitching prospects having the last name Reynolds in 1971, Topps used card #664 to produce a three-player rookie card of pitchers all sharing that last name. Heck, even position player Tommie Reynolds got into the act in that series with card #676.
I guess we could call that series The Reynolds Wrap (thanks, I’ll be here all week).
Within a few year all those Reynolds were no longer playing major league baseball but for that one semi-shining moment, we had three different unrelated pitchers named Reynolds on the same card. A lot of collectors don’t even notice it when they’re putting the set together these days but back when I was doing shows and Topps is all we had, it was pretty popular.
Score had almost as much fun with a 1991 Rookie Prospect card of Dan Boone. As the back of the card explains, the Orioles found Boone while scouting the short-lived Senior League.
Boone had come up in the early 1980’s with the Padres and already had several cards from his first iteration as a major league pitcher. But in 1991, at age 37, Boone was a “rookie prospect”, although he was technically not a rookie after spending a full season in 1981 with the San Diego Padres. But imagine the fun of having s senior league player come back to the majors after a several year absence. Truly a fun card for those collectors who read the reverse and knew the back story of how Boone returned to the majors.
You do have to wonder what, if any drugs, the person who took together the Topps set was doing back in 2003 when the #331 Jung Bong/Brandon Puffer rookie card was created. Yes. Bong and Puffer. Now it’s been a long time since I have even been in the same room as a bong but you have to give Topps credit for living on the edge of taste.
On Thursday, our column on ‘one-off’ sets featured the 1976 SSPC George Brett/Al Cowens where Brett makes the hilarious ‘intensity face’ and Cowens’ name is misspelled. Nearly 40 years later, it’s nice to see a card showing the real fun side of baseball.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a fun card but the 1956 Topps Dave Pope card shows him jumping at the fence, chasing a long fly ball. If I remember correctly, that photo was taken during game 1 of the 1954 World Series when Dusty Rhodes hit the game winning homer for the Giants. Rhodes was so hot during the 1954 season he earned the honor of being card #1 in the 1955 set while Pope’s moment is forever immortalized on a card but probably not what he wanted.
Sometimes, the fun in cards can be heart-warming, too. Adam Greenberg, a Cubs prospect whose major league career was derailed when he was hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance in 2005, was given a one-day cameo by the Florida Marlins at the end of the 2012 season. His story was somewhat reminiscent of “Moonlight” Graham in that he had never received an official at-bat but unlike Moonlight, Greenberg did get an at-bat seven years later after fans petitioned to make it happen.
Topps was there to document his strikeout against R. A. Dickey and issued his card in its 2013 set.
Of course, the 2007 Topps Derek Jeter variation card which included cameos by Mickey Mantle and President George Bush started what became a long-running gag of photo variations, some of which were super short printed and kind of wacky.
And in 1989, Tom Geideman, the young Upper Deck employee who was credited with making Ken Griffey Jr #1 in that set, is said to have made the number of the commemorative Kirk Gibson World Series homer card #666 because Tom hated the Dodgers.
Those are some examples I have of card companies having fun with cards but there are plenty more that are very obvious like the 1984 Fleer Glenn Hubbard snake or the Tim Flannery surfboard.
Then there was the time a prospect made it into a Bowman set because one of their executives was dating the mother of said player…
Well, that might be a different topic all together.