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:
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.
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:
The Coke Mets set featured Rusty in a different photo that was airbrushed into a Mets uni.
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…
…I looked at the Topps…
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….
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