Baseball card potpourri I: O-Pee-Chee’s “now with,”and photography trivia

Every now and again, something will pique my baseball card curiosity, and then I’ll go down some sort of rabbit hole at 2 a.m. exploring more and more things I find interesting.

This is one of those days.

As I’m sure there will be more random bits and pieces of interesting things I’ll find that don’t warrant an entire blog entry, I’m making this Part “I” in a possible series. I’ll use Roman numerals for this going forward – if I wind up going forward at all.

Now with who?

O-Pee-Chee was the Canada version of Topps for many years: same card designs, English and French on the back. This lasted from the 1960s to the 1990s, and O-Pee-Chee cards were released well after the Topps cards were released in the United States.

Starting with the 1978 O-Pee-Chee set, small notations appeared on the card fronts of players who were traded since the card designs were made. Before printing the cards, O-Pee-Chee would slap these “now with” notations on the card fronts (and even altered the team name in the 1980s) before the machines turned on. These players were free agents and off-season tradees.

Sometimes a player never wound up playing for that new team as identified by that “now with” notation, OR never had an actual card of them in that new team’s uniform. There are a few more common card players with this distinction, but here are the star players:

1978: Bobby Bonds, Angels, “now with White Sox” – I have this card because it’s the only baseball card that can be somewhat classified as a “White Sox card,” and thus this is the elder Bonds’ only such Pale Hose card. More examples below fall under this same thinking.

1981: Frank Tanana, Angels, “now with White Sox” – This card is actually an error. Tanana was traded from the Angels to the Red Sox in the same deal that involved Fred Lynn.

1983: Randy Jones, Mets, “now with Pirates” – Jones, best known for his Padres days, never played for the Pirates.

1987: Vida Blue, Giants, “now with Athletics,” – Blue signed with the A’s after the 1986 season to return to the team he started with, but retired before ever playing a game for them.

The 1980 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Dock Ellis cards, pictured on both as a Mets player, are interesting ones. Ellis, best known for throwing a no-hitter on LSD in 1970, has a “now with Pirates” stamp on his O-Pee-Chee card, but has a Pirates stat line on the back. Ralph Garr (White Sox to Angels) has a similar arrangement. These cases are likely because Topps didn’t have a photographer at those late-season games, and airbrushing would have looked real horrible.

St. Louis Cardinal Rollie Fingers?

The most notable hall of fame player with the most brief tenure with a certain team is likely Rollie Fingers. After being traded from the Padres, he was only with the Cardinals for just 4 days in 1980 (a little shorter than Mike Piazza’s tenure with the Marlins) before being traded to the Brewers. No baseball card was ever made of Fingers as a Cardinal.

Donruss cards include trade information on the card backs. Fingers has Donruss base cards in 1982-83 and 1984-85, and they are the only ones that mentions the Cardinals by name as a team that Fingers was once “on.” (Fingers was injured in 1983, thus no 1984 base card).

Fingers was dealt to the Cardinals on Dec. 8 from the Padres. The Cardinals also made another deal on Dec. 9 to acquire Bruce Sutter from the Cubs. While that’s one loaded bullpen, it was too much for the 3 days that Fingers and Sutter were Cardinals teammates. On Dec. 12, Fingers – along with Ted Simmons – was traded to the Brewers.

Fingers’ 4 days as a Cardinal actually is his second-shortest tenure with one team. A’s owner Charlie Finley sold Fingers to the Red Sox in the middle of 1976, but that was voided by the commissioner 3 days later.

Topps’ photography answer to Upper Deck

As mentioned in previous entries, Topps made significant advancements in baseball card photography in 1970 and 1971. Despite Donruss and Fleer (both 1981) and Score (1988) coming into the market, no real challenge was made to baseball card photography art until Upper Deck came into the hobby fold in 1989. Photography, along with slicker stock, was going to be Upper Deck’s biggest selling points.

Fleer actually did have some unique cards in the 1980s (Mickey Hatcher’s glove, Glen Hubbard’s snake, Tim Flannery’s surfboard), but it wasn’t enough to make it a real player against Topps. And who could forget the “F-face” craze of 1989?

Topps was approaching its 40th anniversary in 1991 and sought to make that set a special one. For one, it upped its photography game a little.

Horizontal designs were used for the first time since 1974. This allowed for more base-sliding and pitcher release shots, photographs of things such as bats and gloves extending out of the frame, and action shots where a player didn’t have to take up the majority of the card front (The Carlton Fisk and Omar Vizquel ones are great examples). The Wade Boggs and Rogers Clemens cards are some of the first examples of a baseball card “feature shot.” The Oscar Azocar card of him balancing a baseball on the sides of the ends of two bats is another good card – Azocar is perhaps better known for his 1993 Stadium Club card with him hugging his bat.

The year 1991 was a landmark one for baseball card photography. Topps also released Stadium Club as a premium set, and Donruss launched its black-and-white Studio set (the first year features Steve Lake with a parrot). 1991 Stadium Club saw some players wearing tuxedos, some with casual shirts (most famously repeated in the landmark 1992 Bowman set), and Eric Show on a hammock playing a guitar.

Stadium Club’s debut set was truly Topps’ answer to Upper Deck’s photography style, and Upper Deck would counter back with more interesting shots. The following year saw more of the same, and photography became one of the real big marketing points for card companies – and that led to interesting designs, insert sets, and a little fewer sets produced to handle it all.

For 1991, Topps’ decision to turn its Bowman product into a rookie/veteran hybrid set was another game changer.

Get a proofreader!

While visuals were Upper Deck’s power, writing wasn’t during the fledgeling years.

1990 Upper Deck has 89 uncorrected error cards out of an 800-card set, plus 9 more mistake cards that were later corrected. One card, #683 Mickey Weston, has an “error” card with the first name Jaime, and a “corrected” card with Mickey, but the corrected card is still an error card with a wrong birthdate.

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