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.

Chasing After Trivia And Then Down The Rabbit Hole

I ran across a fun bit of trivia that I would think Mariners fans would know, but it’s still a fun challenge for everybody else.

Do you know what these five Seattle Mariners have in common?

Frank MacCormack (He doesn’t appear on a card with the Mariners, which is why I had to go with a borrowed image of a minor league issue)

1978 Mr. Chef's Fish & Chix San Jose Missions Frank MacCormack from COMC

1978 Mr. Chef’s Fish & Chix San Jose Missions #4 – Frank MacCormack – Courtesy of COMC.com

Rob Dressler
1981 Donruss Rob Dressler

Dave Elder
1981 Fleer Dave Edler

Gene Nelson
1983 Topps Gene Nelson

…And Harold Reynolds
1988 Topps Harold Reynolds

According to Baseball-reference.com, these are the five Mariners to have worn #24 before this guy…
1989 Donruss Ken Griffey
…And now that the Mariners have announced they will be retiring #24 for Ken Griffey Jr., there will be nobody else joining exclusive club.

FYI, Harold Reynolds also wore numbers other than 24 while with Seattle.

…And to be fair, Baseball Reference doesn’t count coaches and managers, so there may be others to have worn the number.

This is where I went down the rabbit hole I started wondering what other exclusive uni # clubs there are, not counting oddball numbers like 0 or 97. I could think of a few… The Yankees #4 (only Lou Gehrig), the Rays #12 (only Wade Boggs), The Expos #8 (Gary Carter and two other guys – BTW the Nats display but don’t “observe” retired Expos numbers), the Mets #41 (Seaver and five other guys), the Rockies #17 (Todd Helton and David Nied), the Royals #5 (George Brett and four guys), The Brewers #19 (Robin Yount and four guys) and #44 (Hank Aaron and three guys).

According to Baseball Reference, there was only one player who wore #19 before Tony Gwynn… Gene Richards:
1981 Fleer Gene Richards

But Gene Richards didn’t play in the majors until the late 1970’s. There must’ve been someone who wore the number in the years between 1969 and Gene Richards.

After a little poking around, I found Whitey Wietelmann.
1976 SSPC Whitey Wietelmann_0001
He was a coach from 1969 to 1979, but didn’t wear #19 the whole time… I’m guessing Richards asked for it and Wietelmann gave it up.

Here’s the back of Wietelmann’s SSPC card showing that #19 did indeed belong to him at the time:
1976 SSPC Whitey Wietelmann_0002

ANNNNNNYWAY… These are the ones I found before common sense stopped me from spending the entire afternoon researching these things. Does anybody know of any exclusive club numbers which I haven’t mentioned here?

The Shlabotnik Quality Assortment

I’m still recovering from the Holidays, so I decided to share an assortment of cards without any underlying theme, date/method of purchase or anything to connected them other than I had something to say about them.

We’ll start off with this 1971 Topps Coin of Sal Bando. I’ve had this since I was a kid, I don’t remember where I got it and for years and years it was filed away in a forgotten box. I’m not much of a “baseball coin” guy, but they make a fun oddball.
1971 Topps Coin Sal Bando

As they say in coin collecting circles, here’s the reverse:
1971 Topps Coin Sal Bando back
Somewhere in the unholy mess that is my “unprocessed” collectibles, I’ve got a ziploc bag full of 1980’s coins that I have yet to even look at (other than they’re from the 1980’s and have at least one Cal in them). I’ll share those with you… someday… when I get to them.

I got this 1981 Donruss Rodney Scott as a repack. This set has been growing on me again lately, and I think I like them as much as I have at any point since… probably 1981.
1981 Donruss Rodney Scott

1987 League Leaders card of Kirk Gibson. Remember up top when I said that I had something to say about all of these cards? I lied.
1987 League Leaders Kirk Gibson

The San Diego Padres named Andy Green as their manager a couple of months ago, and I just figured he was some organizational guy and didn’t expect him to have any cardboard… Until yesterday when the Japanese Baseball Cards blog featured two Japanese Andy Green cards (Green played in Japan in 2007). He mentioned that Green had been a D-Backs prospect, and I wondered if I had any cards of his. After consulting my Handy Dandy Database, I found I had his card from the 2006 Upper Deck set (one of my top 5 all-time UD sets, FWIW).
2006 Upper Deck Andy Green
I was also surprised to find out that Andy Green is a former Met… but I felt better after finding out it was a grand total of 4 games (and 5 plate appearances) in 2009.  I like that Andy Green is about my height and weight.  I don’t like that he’s a dozen years younger than I am.

While I was sorting through my box of 2006 UD in search of Andy Green, I ran across this card of current Tigers manager Brad Ausmus being stalked by a purple dinosaur.
2006 Upper Deck Brad Ausmus
“…Then a shot rang out and Barney hit the floor
No more purple dinosaur!”

I was at a show recently – no, really, I was!  Despite all my kvetching about how there are no shows for me to go to, I went to a show.  I had to drive several hours and cross state lines, but it was a show. A table at this show had this still-wrapped boxtopper on it:
2011 Lineage Unopened Box Topper
Now I love love love the 1964 Topps Giants set, and ever since 2011 Lineage had replicated this set for their box-toppers, I’ve been meaning to pick up some.  I never got around to it until I saw this wrapped one sitting on a table, and I immediately bought it. Would I get David Wright? Oriole-at-the-time Vladimir Guerrero?

Nope, I’d get a Marlin. It’s a nice enough card, anyway, even if it surprised me – I don’t know why – by being 21st century baseball card material instead of the traditional cardboard.
2011 Lineage 1964 Giants Hanley Ramirez
There’s also the slightly annoying players name in all-caps.

There’s less text on the back than on the originals. Hey, writing is *HARD*!!!!
2011 Lineage 1964 Giants Hanley Ramirez back
At any rate, I now know what these cards look like up close and personal.

Before we get to 2016 Heritage, let’s commemorate 2015 Heritage again with this 1966 Topps Roy McMillan. I saw Roy referenced somewhere this weekend, but now I can’t remember where or why.
1966 Topps Roy McMillan

Roy’s got a “New York World’s Fair” patch on his left sleeve, which means this photo is from 1964 or 1965, which means that Shea Stadium in the background is either brand new or a year old.

I never thought it was such a bad little card… Maybe it just needs a little love (Mets Monday)

I’ve been having thoughts about tweaking the 1981 Donruss design lately.  It all started because I’ve had this 81D Elliott Maddox card on my cube wall for over a month.  After a while, I started comparing it to the other 1980’s cards it shared a 9-pocket page with and that caused me to have “Charlie Brown Christmas” thoughts about it.  Maybe with a couple of tweaks to the design (and heavier cardboard and better photos and…), it could’ve been more successful.  After all, it’s not like 1981 Topps or Fleer were classics.  That being said, what can be done to it?

First off, I think the border is too thick, I’ll thin it out a bit… and change the colors to Mets blue and orange.  A different font might help, but I’m going to leave that for now.  One thing I think would help is to move the team name so that it replaces the lower-right corner instead of being adjacent to it… the asymmetry of the card frame bugs me.  The Donruss logo and “ ‘81” are over in the upper left corner, but the team name is a little away from the lower right corner.  I think it would look better if those two opposing corners mirrored each other.

What’s with the position text?  “INFIELD / O-F”?  Why would you abbreviate one and not the other, and why use “O-F”, an abbreviation that nobody uses?  Clearly someone’s tipping their hand about how much they knew about baseball.  I’m going to change that to IF/OF.

(This is like time-lapse photography… this is the point where I went into Paint Shop Pro and messed with the image).

Here’s the before and after of my amateur goofing around:1981 Donruss Elliott Maddox - before and after

I had to enlarge the photo out of necessity, because by moving the “Mets” word mark I lost some of the photo.  To be honest, I think it benefits from a tighter crop.

One funny thing is that I had some trouble in thinning the borders, it almost seemed to be slightly uneven to start with.  When I zoomed back out and looked at the original card again, I noticed that the borders ARE uneven.  Look at the white space between the red border and black border on the right, then look at the same white space on the left.  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.  I know, these were probably rushed to market before the Topps lawyers could do anything to stop them, but it’s still pretty ugly.

The results weren’t great, and I could’ve done a better job with more time,  but it’s definitely an improvement and was a fun little exercise.

What do you think, is that better than it was?  What else could be done to tweak this design, other than giving up and creating a whole new design?