1980-81 Player Movement And 1981 Topps, Fleer and Donruss

A couple of months ago I wrote a post that I thought was salvaging a failed idea, but it turned out to be more interesting than I’d expected… And that idea involved looking at how the transactions of the prior season and winter are reflected in a particular baseball card set.

The last time I looked at 1974 Topps and Topps Traded. Since I don’t want to be accused of beating the 1970s to death in this blog, I went forward to 1981 (where I have all of 1981 Topps and Fleer, and much of 1981 Donruss).

1981 was, of course, the first year since 1963 where a company other than Topps issued baseball cards in retail packs, and it was also the first year that Topps did a Traded set as a separate product (unlike the 1970s traded cards which came in later packs of that year’s regular set).

Now there’s nothing I’m trying to prove or disprove, nor any point I’m trying to make.  This is just a matter of laying the cards on the table (so to speak) and saying “Hey, check this out.”

The earliest transaction I found which resulted in airbrushing

One thing I found a fair amount of in 1981 Topps was instances where the photographers had, at least in theory, plenty of time to take photos of a player in a new uniform.  On April 6th, 1980 the Giants purchased Allen Ripley from the Boston Red Sox.  With an entire season to take photos, Topps ended up with an airbrushed portrait.

…But Fleer managed to get a photo of the talented Mr. Ripley.

I wouldn’t be completely surprised if there are players who were traded during the 1979 season and are airbrushed in 1981 Topps, but I didn’t want to go completely crazy with my research.

Latest trade reflected in 1981 Topps with actual photos

On August 14, 1980 the Yankees and Rangers made a trade where the two principals were future HOFer Gaylord Perry and swingman Ken Clay.

As these things often go, Clay ended up pitching just 8 games in 1980 for the Rangers and would get traded to Seattle that offseason.  He spent all of 1981 with the Mariners, and got a card in 1981 Topps Traded.

1981 Fleer, by the way, also showed Gaylord Perry with the Yankees.

A late August transaction that isn’t a “first” or “last”, but is interesting enough anyway.

On August 31st, Willie Montañez was traded by the Padres to the Expos for minor leaguer Tony Phillips (who would be involved in one more trade before making his Major League debut with the A’s in 1982).

Topps has Montañez airbrushed into an Expos uniform.

But Fleer has him still with the Padres (and his name misspelled “Willy”) while Donruss ignored Montañez altogether.

The final transaction reflected in 1981 Topps

On September 13, 1980 the Rangers sent Sparky Lyle to Philadelphia for a PTBNL.  Topps airbrushed Lyle into a Phillies uni.

Fleer and Donruss managed to get honest-to-goodness photos of Lyle (even if neither photo is the best).

The earliest transaction featured in the 1981 Topps Traded set

The Yankees traded Fred Stanley to the A’s for Mike Morgan on November 3rd, 1980.  Both players are included in the Traded checklist.

Last transaction which resulted in a team change in 1981 Donruss

One thing 1981 Donruss is known for is reflecting player movement by changing the team name on the front of the card, even when the photo doesn’t reflect that change.  The last transaction which shows this came on December 7th, 1980… The Cardinals signed Darrell Porter as a free agent.

What’s more interesting is that Don Sutton signed as a free agent with the Astros three days before Porter signed with the Cards, but Sutton’s card lists him with the Dodgers.  This is just a guess, but maybe Donruss finished the printing sheet featuring Sutton before they finished the sheet featuring Porter.

Side trip into the 1981 Topps/Coca-Cola sets

I’m not going to get into any great detail here, but it’s worth noting that Coca-Cola sponsored a number of team sets which came out during the 1981 season.  Any updates featured airbrushed photos, but those same players would have updated photos in the Traded set which came out later in the year.

I don’t have a lot of these Coke cards, but I figured I’d share a couple that I do have….

January 23, 1981: Frank Tanana, Jim Dorsey and Joe Rudi were traded by the Angels to the Boston Red Sox for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko.

February 28, 1981: The Cubs traded Dave Kingman to the Mets for Steve Henderson.  Henderson also got a Coke card.  I’m reusing a scan from a long-ago post, so here we’ve got Kingman’s traded card on the left and his Coca-Cola card on the right.

You can find out a little bit more about these cards from a number of posts I’ve written before (click here to scroll through them).

Back to the original theme of the post… such as it is…

The final transaction reflected in 1981 Topps Traded with a photo
The New York Yankees traded Jim Spencer and Tom Underwood to the Oakland Athletics for Dave Revering, Mike Patterson and a minor leaguer, May 20th, 1981.

This is a very underwhelming trade but you’d have to say that the A’s “won” this deal if only for the 22 wins Tom Underwood got for Oakland.

Last deal reflected in 1981 Topps
The Cubs traded Rick Reuschel to the New York Yankees for Doug Bird, a player to be named later (Mike Griffin), and cash, June 12, 1981

Players missing from Donruss and Fleer

1981 Donruss has fewer cards than the other two flagship sets, so it’s not surprising that there are fewer players represented… but it’s interesting to note which players are missing, because some of them are fairly notable  For instance, Rudy May won the AL ERA title in 1980, but he’s not in 1981 Donruss:

Rusty Staub was a 6-time All-Star and appeared in 109 games in 1980, but he’s also missing from Donruss.

Other notable players who are not in 1981 Donruss: Bill Campbell, Claudell Washington, Doug Bird, Ed Figueroa, Ellis Valentine, John Curtis, John D’Acquisto, Lee May (also not in Topps), Rick Rhoden, Ross Grimsley, Terry Forster, Willie Montañez

Notable Players who are not in 1981 Fleer: Andre Thornton, Cesar Geronimo, Duane Kuiper, Rick Wise

Notable players who are not in 1981 Donruss or Fleer:  Ken Brett, Pedro Guerrero

I will probably do another one of these in the future, I’m thinking about doing 1988 Topps since I have the complete set – my complete sets get spottier after 1981 – and because I wonder if I’m right in thinking that Topps would get more serious about these matters as that decade moved along. But I could be wrong as well.

A Quick Run Through The 1981 Topps Coca-Cola Mets Set

Back in 1981, Topps joined up with Coca-Cola to issue a series of regional team sets. If I had the money and the resources at the time, I would’ve chased down all 11 sets, but all I got at the time was the complete Mets set.

If you weren’t collecting back in 1981, these were pretty exciting.  The only other options early in the season were the big three sets plus Kellogg’s.  The Coca-Cola sets went to press later than Topps, Donruss and Fleer, so the Coke sets reflected some trades and free agent signings which weren’t in the big sets and wouldn’t be otherwise represented until Topps Traded later in the year.

Each set featured 11 players plus one header card.

On the back of the header was an offer for an uncut sheet of 1981 Topps. I may not have chased down the other Coke sets, but I did take advantage of the uncut sheet offer (something I wrote about 3 years ago).

Many of the cards are identical to the Topps set, although a number have cropping differences.

Had the Mets had any All-Stars, the “N.L. All-Star” banner would’ve been dropped to make way for the Coke logo.

Here’s a comparison of the two backs; the main difference is the Coke logo replacing the Topps logo and card number graphic on the left.  The easy-to-overlook Coke card number was moved to the right.

I find the most interesting cards are the ones which have photos which differ from 1981 Topps.  For the next three cards, the image on the left is from 1981 Topps Traded.

The Mets reacquired Dave Kingman, trading Steve Henderson to the Cubs in February 1981. (Henderson’s Coca-Cola Cubs card was also updated)

Randy Jones finished out his career with the Mets after a December, 1980 trade.

The guy the Mets got was a shadow of the guy who won the Cy Young in 1976.

Like Kingman, Rusty Staub was also starting his second tour of duty with the Mets. Staub signed as a free agent in December.

Getting back to some of the cropping differences… Some of them are much more noticeable than others.

Alex Trevino’s image was shifted ever so slightly to the left (look at the blue on his batting glove)

Doug Flynn’s image is shifted down slightly (look at his feet with regard to the card border).

Pat Zachry’s cropping difference isn’t all that noticeable until you put the two cards side-by-side (look at his stirrups).

I’ve found the Coca-Cola sets to be a mixed bag; for example, the Cardinals set has at least six players who were updated for the Coke sets. Other sets don’t have any significant differences… For example, I believe the Coke Royals are only different in that two cards have the All-Star banners missing.

Does anybody have any first-hand experience with one of the Coke sets for other teams?

My Uncut Sheet Of 1981 Topps

I’ve got an entire uncut sheet of 1981 Topps baseball in my collection. Pretty cool, right? That’s definitely what I thought when I got it. It didn’t take long to find out that the reality wasn’t nearly as cool as the concept.

Let me give you a little background on this…

It all started with the promotional set that Topps did with Coca-Cola; specifically, with the 1981 Coke set. Sometime during 1981, I picked up a Mets team set.
1981 Coke Rusty Staub

The Coke packs all came with a “header card” that looks like this:
1981 Coca-Cola Mets Header Card front

More interestingly, the back had an offer for uncut sheets of 1981 Topps:
1981 Coca-Cola Mets Header Card back
An uncut sheet of cards for only $4 postpaid? How could any self-respecting 16-year-old card nerd resist an offer like that?

The sheet came rolled up in a heavy cardboard tube. I took out the sheet, marveled over it for a good long while, and then rolled it back up and put it in the tube for safe-keeping until I figured out what I was going to do with the sheet.
1981 Topps Sheet - Detail 2
It wasn’t long before “What should I do with this?” became “What AM I going to do with this?!?” While the sheet is an unquestionably cool item to own, it’s very problematic to display. It’s really too big to frame… well, not without spending many times what I paid for the sheet. One could put it on the wall as-is, but that would ruin the sheet (something that became less of a concern over the years).

One other problem I ran into as the years passed; 1981 Topps has not aged well for me. I liked it just fine at the time, but now, if I were to do a ranking of all the Topps sets from 1952 to 2015, 1981 would probably fall somewhere between 30th and 40th.

Anyhow, here I am in 2015 and I still have the cards rolled up in a tube. I did think about cutting the sheet into smaller, more frame-able pieces, but I’m not sure whether I’ll do that.

In the meantime, how about a little guided tour through the sheet? Stick around, because at the end I’ll tell you about what else was in the tube, forgotten for 30 years…

1981 Topps had doubleprints. I didn’t remember that, but here’s your visual proof.
1981 Topps Sheet - Doubleprints
…As if 1981 Topps cards need help being less valuable…

One of the things I like about the uncut sheet is checking out the markings along the edges. Here’s the text on the left side of the sheet…
1981 Topps Sheet - left side detail

And some of the markings on the right side of the sheet.
1981 Topps Sheet - right side detail

Here’s a  part of the sheet which includes several “Record Breakers” cards:
1981 Topps Sheet detail with Recordbreakers

One thing I’ve noticed about photos of uncut sheets… nobody ever shows you the back.
1981 Topps Sheet back detail

Here’s the part that surprised me when I took the sheet out of the tube for the photo session… There was an additional offer to get EVERY sheet from 1981 for $4 a pop.

Yep, I could’ve had an entire set in uncut form for $24.
1981 Topps Uncut Sheet offer page
…and another 5 sheets that I’d be looking at thinking “What do I do with this?”

Does anybody else have uncut sheets of cards?  Have you figured out a way to keep/display it that’s better than leaving it rolled up for thirty years?

Contrast & Compare: 1981 Topps/Coke Don Sutton And Art Howe

For today’s post I’d originally written more about 2015 Topps, but even I was bored by the final result.  I’ve scuttled that post and will instead focus on two 1981 Coca-Cola Astros cards I’ve recently acquired.

For anybody new to 1981 Coca-Cola sets, they were made by Topps to be largely Coke-sponsored versions of the 1981 Cards, they were issued in small cello packs by team and there were a handful of cards which were significantly different than the corresponding cards from 81T.

As best I can tell there are two of these “variations” in the 1981 Coke Astros set.  I’ll start with Don Sutton.

Up through 1980, Sutton pitched for the Dodgers, and it was with the Dodgers that the 1981 Topps set pictured him.
1981 Topps Don Sutton
However, over that winter he’d left Los Angeles as a free agent and signed with the Astros. The Coke cards, which went to press later, featured Sutton with the Astros border and some “Tequila Sunrise” striping airbrushed on to his jersey.
1981 Coke Don Sutton

Art Howe is the other card that differs significantly from the 1981 Topps counterpart… but he didn’t change teams and I couldn’t tell you why it’s different.

His 1981 Topps card shows him waiting at first base for something to happen.
1981 Topps Art Howe

His 1981 Coke card shows him at home plate waiting for a pitch.
1981 Coke Art Howe
Did someone at Coke reject the fielding photo?  Did they want something more in linke with the Coca-Cola corporate zeitgeist of the early 1980’s? Were they just not able to find the original photo in a timely manner? Damned if I know. I just know that I got to add two cards to my 1981 Topps binder, and since I’d originally completed the Topps set 34 years ago, that doesn’t happen often.

Update:  Jeff from One Man’s Junk (Wax) commented that Art Howe’s position on the card is different to reflect his moving from first to third for the 1981 season.  Topps & Coke probably decided against having a card that says “3rd Base” and shows a guy clearly at 1st.  Thanks, Jeff!

Quick aside: I did do a bit of research into today’s original post topic, and certain people might find it moderately interesting, so I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of that research…

The 2015 card of Mets reliever Carlos Torres is not his rookie card because he had a card in 2009 Bowman Sterling. The Carlos Torres in 2006 Bowman Prospects is a different guy.

Torres pitched in Japan in 2011, which lead me to discover that tradingcarddb.com has Japanese baseball checklists… something I am excited about because I’ve been searching for such a thing for some time now.

These Two Cards Feature The Same Photo… Or DO THEY??? DAH duh DAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

The subject line works best if you imagine me dramatically taking off my glasses and then staring into the camera.

The dramatic flair is certainly called for, because today’s post is the result of minute after minute of intense research performed by The Shlabotnik Report’s crack investigative team.

But first we need to go back a little bit to explain how this groundbreaking discovery was made…

Back in 1981, Topps created baseball team sets for Coca-Cola.  Sets were made for 11 teams (plus some Yankees were made but never officially released), and most of the “Coke cards” are very similar to their 1981 Topps counterpart,  with the main differences being the Coke logo on the front and back, different card #’s, no “All Star” banners on the Coke cards (where applicable) and occasional minor cropping differences.

Here’s an example from the 1981 Coke Mets set:
1981 Topps & Coke Doug Flynn
The easiest way to spot the cropping difference is to look at where Flynn’s right foot is in relation to the cap in the card design.

1981 Topps and Coke Doug Flynn back

The Coke cards went to press later than the Topps cards, so some of the cards were updated to show players changing teams.  Two years ago I featured an example of this;  The Mets signed Rusty Staub as a free agent late in 1980.  Regular Topps featured Rusty with the Rangers:
1981 Topps Rusty Staub
The Coke Mets set featured Rusty in a different photo that was airbrushed into a Mets uni.
1981 Coke Rusty Staub
There are also a few cards which don’t reflect transactions but just have different photos for whatever reason Topps and/or Coke had at the time.

After deciding that I wanted to get the Coke cards which use different photos, I set about making a wantlist of these pseudo-variations.  To research the cards, I took advantage of COMC’s images and one-by-one compared the Coke card to the Topps version.

So there I was, doing some quick “spot the difference” exercises by looking at one image and then the other… Coke… Topps… Both are the same.  Coke… Topps… Same.  Coke… Topps… OK, this one’s different, add it to the wantlist…. Coke… Topps… Same…

Then I got to the Garry Maddox card from the Coke Phillies set.  I looked at the Coke…
1981 Coke Garry Maddox
…I looked at the Topps…
1981 Topps Garry Maddox
And I called it “Same” and started to move on.

— But just then a little Quality Control guy in my brain hit the emergency shutoff switch and yelled “WAIT!!!!

“…Let me see those again…”

And the other part of my brain said “What are you talking about?  It’s the same photo of Garry Maddox at bat.”  But I went back and looked and…

Here, let me show you both at the same time, but rather than looking at Garry Maddox, check out the blurry Phillies in the dugout….
1981 Topps and Coke Garry Maddox
Holy crap, they ARE different!   ………..but WHY?

If this were intentional, why would Topps do such a minor and pointless change?

If this were unintentional, how could this have happened?

My best guess is that Topps didn’t so much add a Coke logo to existing cards as much as re-create each card.  That would explain some of the cropping differences and other minor changes.  Perhaps they thought they were using the same photo of Garry Maddox on both, when they really weren’t.  Maybe they couldn’t immediately put their hands on the original photo, so they used a nearly identical one… the baseball card equivalent of “Let’s replace the dead goldfish with one from the pet store and hope nobody notices…”

Has anyone ever heard about these Garry Maddox cards before?  It’s been nearly 34 years, someone must have picked up on this…

Before I wrap this up, I’ll give you quickie checklists for both of today’s featured Coke sets along with non-exhaustively researched differences:

1981 Coca-Cola Mets:
1 Neil Allen
2 Doug Flynn (ever-so-slight cropping differences)
3 Dave Kingman (airbrushed into Mets uni)
4 Randy Jones (airbrushed into Mets uni)
5 Pat Zachry
6 Lee Mazzilli
7 Rusty Staub (airbrushed into Mets uni)
8 Craig Swan
9 Frank Taveras
10 Alex Trevino
11 Joel Youngblood
(No #)  Header Card

1981 Coca-Cola Phillies:
1 Bob Boone
2 Larry Bowa
3 Steve Carlton (Coke has no “N.L. ALL-STAR” banner and is cropped slightly differently)
4 Greg Luzinski
5 Garry Maddox (different photo as mentioned above)
6 Bake McBride (same photo, but the Coke card’s colors seem brighter… might just be printing differences)
7 Tug McGraw
8 Pete Rose
9 Mike Schmidt (Coke has no “N.L. ALL-STAR” banner and is cropped slightly differently)
10 Lonnie Smith
11 Manny Trillo
(No #)  Header Card

Mets Monday: One Staub (Not Three)

“One Staub is enough for all of us…”  Isn’t that the line from the Police song?  Or something like it?  Doesn’t matter, because one Rusty Staub is never enough for me, much less all of us.

After spending his 1980 season with the Rangers, Rusty Staub signed as a free agent with the Mets;  As a result, he became of those guys who were fortunate enough to get three different Topps cards in 1981.  This was really cool stuff back then;  keep in mind that at that point the only updates around had been the traded cards in 1972, 1974 and 1976 Topps.  To get one, or maybe two, updates of a player in the current year’s design?  That was beyond exciting.

As for Rusty, there was the regular Topps card which still showed him with the Rangers…

…and the airbrushed 1981 Coke Mets…

…and the actual-photograph Update card…

Only the ‘regular’ card came out of a pack for me.  I bought the Coke Mets set and the Update set in 1981 from a local card dealer.

As an aside, I’ve always hated the 2-button ‘Henley’ jersey that the Mets and Rangers wore at the time.  Just a really awful look.  Do the pullover jersey, or don’t do the pullover jersey.  None of this halfway crap.


I’ve thought about going back and getting some of the other 1981 Coke sets… There were other teams like the Royals, Cardinals, Tigers, Reds, Astros, Pirates, Phillies and Red Sox (and I may be missing others).  I believe the other sets were like the Mets, in that most of the cards featured the same photo as the regular Topps card, but there were some cards which were updated.  The 1981 design is not one of my favorites, but the idea of ‘alternate’ Topps cards may be too much for me to resist, especially now that it’s so much easier to get singles of sets like this.