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1981 Oddball Baseball Cards

By Patrick Mondout

Here's our look at the the unusual (or "oddball") sets of baseball cards for 1981. Regular sets can be found here.

1981 Oddballs at a Glance
Topps/Coke Yaz

Topps produced 11 regional team sets of 11 cards for Coke in 1981. They were virtually identical to the regular issue Topps set with the exception of the Coca-Cola logo. The 11 teams were the Cardinals, Astros, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies, Royals, Tigers, Reds, White Sox, Cubs and Pirates. A checklist is available.

Coke cards of Yankees Rick Cerone, Rich Gossage and Reggie Jackson (see right) have been circulating in the hobby and their origins are unknown. They may have been proofs for a proposed set that was never distributed. They are quite rare.

'81 Drake's Big Hitters: Ken Singleton Drake Bakeries produced their first set since 1950 with the help of Topps in 1981. Known as Drake's Big Hitters, the 33 card features action photography and facsimile signatures on blue (for National League teams) and red (for the A.L.) bordered cards. They were distributed in the Northeast with Drake's products and later wholesaled to hobby dealers.
'81 Fleer Star Stickers: Dale Murphy In addition to producing their first true set of baseball cards in decades, Fleer released a 128 count set (including three unnumbered checklists) of baseball-card sized stickers. The set was known as the "Baseball Star Stickers" and was sold in wax packs. This set always sold for much more than a sticker set should.
From 1981 to 1983, Granny Goose produced yearly Oakland A's team sets.  The 1981 set is hard to find and the most valuable card is the Dave Revering as he was traded and the card was withdrawn. The cards were only available via the bags of chips in the Bay area unlike most other sets which find their way into dealer's hands.
Kellogg's 3-D Super Stars: Dave Winfield Kellogg's once again released a set of 3D cards. This 66 card set included an ever-so-briefly valuable rookie card of Joe Charboneau. A complete checklist is here.
'81 OPC: Gary Carter Read more about the '81 O-Pee-Chee release here.
Permagraphics Pete Rose Perma-Graphics produced several plastic "credit card-like" sets of cards for each year from 1981-1983. In fact, there were two sets for 1981 - a "Super Star" set and an "All-Star" set. The photos were under license from Topps. While it was quite easy to accidentally scratch them while handling, at least you couldn't crease them! 
Regional police sets for 1981 included the Seattle Mariners (sponsored by Kiwanis, Coke, and Ernst Home Centers), Atlanta Braves (Coke and Hostess) and the second straight LAPD-sponsored Los Angeles Dodgers.
Topps produced this 33 card set for Squirt as a set of 22 panels (more on that fuzzy math in a moment). The cards hardly even looked like real baseball cards until you turned them over and noticed they had virtually the same backs as the regular '81 Topps set.

Each of the 22 panels had two cards, with the first 11 players appearing twice in the collection. They were distributed occasionally with bottles of Squirt as a two-card panel with a hole at the top to fit over the bottle top. Usually the cards were distributed directly to card dealers and collectors were not happy about it. The set had a Joe Charboneau rookie card and was hot for a while. You will still find folks trying to get $30 for this $5 set.

TCMA was busy again with their increasingly popular minor league team sets. Cards of Cal Ripken (Rochester Redwings), Wade Boggs (Pawtucket Red Sox) and Ryne Sandberg (Oklahoma City 89ers) are particularly popular with collectors. Other sets included the Nashville Sounds (Don Mattingly and Willie McGee), Glenn Falls White Sox (Ron Kittle), Durham Bulls (Brad Komminsk), Charleston Charlies (Von Hayes), Columbus Clippers (Dave Righetti), Salt Lake City Gulls (Tom Brunasky), Richmond Braves (Brett Butler and Steve Bedrosian), and the Reading Phillies (Juan Samuel).

Topps released these odd sized cards as the "Baseball Scratch Off Bubble Gum Cards." They were similar in concept to some state lottery games in that you attempt to scratch off "good" positions and avoid "bad" ones. As in baseball, you had three outs per inning but with these cards, you scratched off the black dots to reveal whether you made an out or got a hit with each at bat. A scoreboard was printed on the back of the middle card.

Each wax pack contained three red (American League) and three green (National League) panels of three tear-away cards plus the ubiquitous piece of gum. There were 18 green and 18 red cards of three players each for a total of 108 player cards. A similar insert set was issued with some wax packs in 1970 and 1971.

As a bored 12-year-old, I played this game for a while before heading outside to watch the neighbor's car rust. It was another in a long line of Topps "test" issues, and they they quickly gave up on the idea. 

Like Fleer, Topps produced a sticker set for 1981. Topps stickers were smaller - smaller than even the '75 Topps Minis. There were 262 different stickers (including the cool shiny foil "All Stars") which I dutifully stuck in the $.25 album. Collectors never had much interest in this set.
'81 Topps Super: Leon Durham In contrast to the little stickers above, Topps produced both a 102-card "Home Team" and 15-card "National" 5x7 set of baseball photos for the second straight (and last) year. More info and a checklist here.


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Image courtesy of Topps

'81 Sets!
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