Baseball cards, and the “number of the beast”

WARNING: If you are religious or superstitious in any way, just don’t read this.

However, if you’re really curious, here’s some interesting baseball card stuff regarding the “number of the beast.”

That number is 666.

It’s a devilish number, and a very unlucky one at that.

However, when something accumulates to that particular number, what do you do? Skip it? Just don’t issue that number (which Topps has done in the past with certain numbers, notably No. 7 in honor of Mickey Mantle)? Well, they think nothing of it. Or do they?

Let’s take a look at some interesting “666” baseball cards and find some weird stuff about them.

• According to the Beckett database, the first No. 666 came in the 1911 Pinkerton T5 set of a player named Larry Gardner. That set is a rare one and is VERY skip numbered. Gardner actually had a very decent career, with a .289 average and four World Series rings to his credit. His stats actually got better after 1911, so no superstition there.

• The next card with No. 666 was in the 1970 Topps set with Adolfo Phillips of the then-new Montreal Expos. The checklist card (No. 588) has both and error and a corrected version. The “error” version of the checklist has his name as “Adolfo,” and the “corrected” version has “Adolpho.” You can plainly see how the “error” checklist card could be very disturbing with “666” next to the first five letters of the name. Phillips, who has Topps cards from 1966-1971, did not play in the majors in 1971 and only played a handful of games in 1972.

• The second Topps card, in 1971, as No. 666 was Gene Brabender. Like the Phillips card, it’s a high number. He is pictured in a 1970 Brewers uniform, listed as an Angels player, with airbrushed colors on the uniform. Brabender never played at all in 1971, nor with the Angels.

• The third Topps card, in 1972, as No. 666 was Hector Torres, another high-number. Torres actually played a few seasons beyond his ’72 campaign with the Expos, when he had some career highs as a bench player. His 1973 season? Not good: .091, 2 RBI in 38 games. After playing in the Pacific Coast League in 1974, he did make a good comeback for the Padres in 1975.

• By the time the next No. 666 rolled around in 1978, there begin to be some similarities. The unlucky soul in 1978 was rookie second baseman Billy Smith. In 1977, he replaced “wins above replacement” star Bobby Grich at that position, but wound up losing his starting spot later that year to Rich Dauer.

• No. 666 in 1979? That would be none other than Rich Dauer, who wound up platooning with Smith for the ’79 AL champs. Dauer actually went on to have a decent career and is in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

• From 1980 to 1984, Topps had five straight years with Detroit Tigers players on No. 666. Keep in mind that Topps, unlike newbies Fleer and Donruss during that time, didn’t bunch its player checklists by team. Someone at Topps must not have liked the Tigers during that era, I’m only assuming.

The 1980 card was a rookie trio of Mike Chris, Al Greene and Bruce Robbins. Chris, after playing in 1979, did not play in the majors in 1980 or 1981, but came back in 1982. Greene’s only season was 1979. Robbins did not play after 1980. We’ll chalk this one up to the trio being rookies.

No. 666 in 1981 is the Tigers team card, with Sparky Anderson featured at one of the card’s corners. Nothing actually bad about this card, the Tigers did okay in 1982. The 1982 card is a “team leaders” card with Steve Kemp and Dan Petry; Kemp’s career (he had two 100+ RBI seasons) wasn’t the same after 1982, while Petry continued his career and become a future All-Star.

The 1983 No. 666 has our first repeat: Sparky Anderson. However, that’s there the bad luck ends, and Anderson and the Tigers won the 1984 World Series.

• So Topps moved on starting in 1985 and no bad luck seems to happen for a while: Mike LaCoss in 1985, Charlie Hough on the Rangers team leaders card in 1986 (although the Rangers did go from 2nd in ’86 to 2nd-to-last in ’87), Von Hayes in 1987, Mario Soto in 1988 (the 3x All-Star’s final year), Randy St. Claire in 1989 (who did not play in the bigs in 1990).

• Upper Deck’s first No. 666? That would be the Kirk Gibson World Series home run card. Come on. Really? The best moment in baseball in 1988 becomes No. 666? As much credit as the first set gets for having Ken Griffey Jr. as No. 1, not sure what California-based Upper Deck was thinking with this Gibson card. Maybe it really was a coincidence. I don’t know.

• As card sets got bigger, and more companies produced more sets, the “bad luck” of card No. 666 wears off after 1989. Some notables, though: 1991 Fleer, Andy Hawkins: Hawkins threw a “no-hitter” in 1990 in which he actually lost the game. He didn’t pitch 9 innings. So happens that in 1991, the rules change to wipe out Hawkins’ “no-hitter” (and infamously Harvey Haddix’s as well). Then there’s 1992 Bowman, Bob Walk: The following year, 1993, saw him with the worst ERA among qualifying pitchers in the National League (5.68), his final year.

• Two more “final year” cards of the 1990s were No. 666’s: 1997 Fleer Sid Fernandez, and 1998 Upper Deck Steve Cooke.

• Glenallen Hill became the first player to appear in two No. 666’s, in 1993 Topps and 2001 Topps. In 1993, Topps made five parallel sets for a total of 6 (!) Glenallen Hill Topps cards that year: base, gold, Rockies, Marlins, micro, the rare porcelain parallel. Only 4 Topps flagship parallels were produced in 2001. Hill’s 2001 card has him as a Yankees player – more about the Yankees to come! – and he didn’t play at all after that year.

• In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won an astounding 116 regular season games. They didn’t win the World Series, though. That’s because they were swept by the Yankees in the ALCS. Damn. By the way, the Mariners team card in 2002 Topps is No. 666.

• That’s not all for 2002 Topps cards and No. 666. At this point, you have to know the plan was deliberate. The following few cards were featured in a 2005 Sports Illustrated article:

2002 Topps Total, Byung-Hyun Kim (Diamondbacks): If you know much about Kim and the 2001 World Series against the Yankees, you’ll get a feeling as to why this one may have been reserved for No. 666.

2003 Topps Total, Troy Percival (Angels): Again, played a role in knocking the Yankees out of the 2002 postseason.

2004 Topps Total, Josh Beckett (Marlins): The Marlins’ World Series-clinching Game 6 winner over the Yankees.

2005 Topps Total, Keith Foulke (Red Sox): Was tough to beat after being down 0-3 in the ALCS to eliminate the Yankees, and was on the mound in the final out of the historic 2004 World Series win.

No 2006 set was produced.

• Both of the 2004 and 2005 Topps flagship cards were the Rangers team cards, both in second-series sets. Just so happened that the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers before the 2004 season. A way to rub it in?

• Did the Topps checklist person move to Upper Deck for the 2007 sets? That year’s No. 666 was LaTroy Hawkins, who, in his first World Series appearance with the Rockies, was unsuccessful in holding off the Red Sox to another championship. As it turned out 2007 wasn’t a good year for Hawkins, who went to the Yankees: He wore No. 21 to start the season, but was booed a lot for having worn Paul O’Neill’s number, so he switched to No. 22. He also was suspended 3 games for throwing a head-high pitch at a batter.

• This one’s a little far-fetched, but Upper Deck’s 2008 card is of Jason Bartlett. In 2007, on the Twins, he went 0-for-4 in a game that clinched the AL East for the Red Sox over the Yankees. In 2008, he helped lead the Tampa Bay Rays to its first AL East title.

• The first Yankees-oriented card to have No. 666 after the streak of Topps Total cards is that of Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez in the 2008 Upper Deck Yankee Stadium Collection set. No bad luck there.

• 2017 Topps, Rougned Odor: That flagship’s No. 666 had a rougn and foul year in 2016. It began with a fight with the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista, and ended with a throwing error to send the Blue Jays to the ALCS. In 2018, he led the lead in errors for a second basemen for the fourth straight year.

• Kyle Freeland became the second player to appear on No. 666 cards twice: 2017 Topps Heritage and 2020 Topps flagship. No bad luck came of it.

• Topps Total returned in 2020. It’s No. 666: Mets star pitcher Jacob deGrom.

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