[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from reader Alan Topolski, who’s going to tell us about a very interesting uni-centric baseball card mystery he recently learned about. Enjoy! — PL]
By Alan Topolski
I’m a longtime avid baseball card collector. With the internet now providing a wealth of information that wasn’t previously available, I’ve been going back to some of the card sets from my youth. I have the complete sets for many years, but I’m also interested to see if there’s any new information or newly discovered errors or variations that might make for a fun addition to one of my existing sets.
Just to explain, there are several reasons why a particular card might be revised, resulting in multiple versions. The most obvious reason is that the original card might include an error or typo. In the 1981 Fleer set, for example, Steve Carlton’s 1966 stat line was mistakenly listed as “1066”:
Once the error was spotted, a corrected version was issued in the next printing.
In that same set, the back of Kevin Saucier’s name was mistakenly listed as “Ken” (Fleer had a real problem with Phillies pitchers that year):
Again, a corrected card was issued, resulting in two versions of that card.
Sometimes there is not a true error but just a difference between two (or more) cards. For example, all Orioles cards in the 1991 Topps set have black trim, but some versions of Chris Hoiles’s card have white trim:
That same set also has inconsistent trim on Robin Ventura’s card:
Yet another type of variation involves a given card company using different printers or different machines for manufacturing the cards, which can result in border differences (one slightly thinner than the other) or different color shades. You can see this in examples from the 1981 Fleer “Teams in Action” stickers, which feature big color inconsistencies because Fleer farmed out the printing to two different companies:
But none of those scenarios can explain the variations in the 1982 Fleer card for Twins pitcher Darrell Jackson. I recently discovered that there are actually three different versions of this card. Two of them are uni-inaccurate, and it’s not clear why they were even issued in the first place.
Let’s start with this: According to the “Dressed to the Nines” database, the Twins’ road uniforms in 1981 (the year the pictures were taken for the 1982 cards) and 1982 featured solid navy caps with the team’s familiar “TC” logo:
The most commonly found version of the Darrell Jackson card shows him wearing the proper navy road cap. But another version shows him in the team’s red home cap, and yet another version shows him in the red cap but without the TC logo:
Obviously, the two red-capped versions were airbrushed — but why? Why would Fleer go out of its way to create uni-inaccurate designs?
Although I only recently learned about this card variation, I’m definitely not the first one to notice it. Since I couldn’t find a good explanation for it, I started a thread on the Trading Card Database to see if anyone knows more. There are lots of knowledgeable people on that site, so I’m hoping someone will have more information. It’s definitely a Uni Watch-worthy mystery!
Paul here. I love this! Big thanks to Alan for sharing it with us.
As long as we’re talking about uni-unusual baseball cards, reader Ben Phelps recently asked me about this 1992 Topps Stadium Club card for Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston, which appears to show both Dunston and Atlanta outfielder David Justice wearing their teams’ respective home uniforms:
I asked about that one on Twitter, and the consensus among many observers was that the original photo just showed Justice, and then Dunston was superimposed into the image.
The photo on the Robin Ventura card must have been from the first-ever Turn Back the Clock Day, at Comiskey Park.
Great point, Jerry!
Back when those sorts of games were new and unique. Now they’re terribly played out. I’d like to see a good 20 year hiatus on alternate uniforms.
This one was indeed new and unique. Because a lockout delayed the start of the season by a week, each team had three games to stuff into the schedule. The White Sox figured they could do something with a single day game against the Brewers in their last season at Comiskey, so they did a full Turn Back the Clock Day with 1917 uniforms, some 1917 ticket and concession prices, etc. And it was a success, drawing 40,000 in a situation where they normally would have expected about 10,000.
IIRC, there are several ’91 Topps cards that feature that game.
I wonder if Fleer thought the dark blue cap was blending in too much with the dark background and getting lost, so they painted it red for greater contrast, or to balance out the picture with a pop of bright color at the top part of the picture.
More likely they simply didn’t realize the red caps were only worn at home.
By why air brush it at all then? There had to be a reason they edited it, whether they knew it was an inaccurate uniform or not, it was altered to look that way for some reason.
Very interesting mystery.
The Dunston card is great! It’s obviously not a shot from Wrigley.
Nice job, Alan! I thoroughly enjoyed this.
That Robin Ventura card got me thinking: Has any other player been pictured in a throwback uni on his card? That’s gotta be super-rare…
With the proliferation of throwbacks, no, it’s not rare at all. Just Google “Topps card throwback uniform” and click “Images.” Lots of them.
Such a great post, thanks Alan. I love this era Twinkie’s unis, and is why I like the new home set. Still bummed they didn’t go with the baby blue roads.
Am I the only one who instantly smelled the chalky gum as soon as I saw these cards?
I certainly did. I was into bb cards in late 70s— all my money (ages 10-12) went into buying pack after pack of cards. The gum was terrible, but the chalky smell as you open the pack was amazing!
Well Paul, I’ve been thinking about subscribing to the Substack for a while, and I think you’ve finally convinced me.
Not a baseball card collector, but…
A quick and dirty search of 1982 Fleer cards for the Twins revealed that many/all(?) of the players were wearing the red caps…except Jackson.
So maybe the airbrushing was done not only to provide contrast for this photo, but to create consistency across the team set?
Also found a ´82 Fleer card of Rob Wilfong wearing the blues and the red cap (likely a Spring Training shot):
Also, some Donruss ´82 Twins cards must have been taken during ST (´81?)where the team appears to have paired the road blues with the red cap (mesh back):
Nice research, Chris! Adds some good context to the story.
Sharp eye and a good story. My guess is airbrushing the cap for more contrast as has been suggested before.
Guessing I’m in the minority, but whenever I see the 80s era MLB pullover look, with the Sansabelt, snug pants, and high cuffs, I’m convinced it’s the best MLB look. Or, at the least, they look the most like something designed for athletics. I know the button up tops are more traditional, but they never made sense to me. Why the buttons? It’s like putting on a dress shirt to play basketball.
“Why the buttons?”
Purely tradition. Of course early baseball jerseys weren’t even full button-front (e.g. this 1908 BoSox throwback: link), but quickly moved from a variety of styles to the button-front by the mid-1910s (link). From the 1920s through 1970 (when the Pirates became the first to use the polyester pullover mid-season), jerseys were either button-front or zipper-front.
There was (and is) no need for a baseball uniform to have buttons, but the return to the style (or in some cases, teams like the Dodgers and Yankees never went to it) was purely aesthetic.
Whether that’s the “best” look is a matter of taste, but from a purely functional standpoint, there is/was no need for buttons
Except that Americans are getting fatter, and they like to go to the games wearing unbuttoned fan jerseys rather than squeeze into a pullover. My guess as to why MLB isn’t eager to go back.
Maybe it’s so you can put the shirt on and off while still wearing your hat? Dumb, I know, but that’s the only practical reason I can think of.
Looking at the three cards, I’d almost wonder if they didn’t airbrush the whole uniform. It’s probably printing, but the three jerseys don’t look quite the same, either. First two seem to have some white around the wordmark, and the arm stripe and number seem to be touched up on the third version. Probably just minor alterations; I doubt they would do something as goofy as making a home uni into a road uni. (Would they??)
That substack plug has me thinking about Jerry wearing Newman’s uniform on Seinfeld!
This is a wild guess, but is there a chance Darrell Jackson was almost dealt to St. Louis during the ’81-’82 offseason? My guess is Fleer intended to airbrush a Cardinals’ red hat and their similar road jersey.
Just speculation. Could possibly be for the other team who wore a red cap at the time, too, Cincinnati.
Jacskon split time with the big club and the Toledo Mudhens for the majority of his career :
I was intrigued, so I did some digging (Guess The Game From The Card?). Using the card as a springboard but not knowing what year the photo was taken(could be either 1981 or early ‘82?), it appears the pic was a road (duh!) day game…the only 1 Jackson appeared in during ‘81 was in Milwaukee …but the blue backdrop didn’t match what County Stadium used. I looked at early ‘82 and the only day appearance he made at a park with a blue border was 5/15/82 at Tiger Stadium:
He pitched in the late innings, well after the early-innings brawl:
The postal carrier story is great. Love the “Goodfellas” kicker at the end!
1066? Even as a kid, I thought it unlikely that Carelton pitched at the Battle of Hastings. (Sorry, starting Beowulf next week, so 1066 only means one thing.)