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1986 Oddball Baseball Cards

By Patrick Mondout

Here's our look at the the unusual (or "oddball") sets of baseball cards for 1986. Regular sets can be found here. As the number of such sets seemed to multiply exponentially around this time, from this point forward I will not be listing police or other regional sets.

1986 Oddballs at a Glance
Burger King, which had last distributed cards in 1980, offered two "All-Pro" - a term more closely associated with football - cards on a folded panel for each Whopper purchased in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas. As with other '86 fold out sets (for Meadow Gold and True Value), the cards were printed by veteran baseball disc makers MSA.
Donruss' oversized set of Action All-Stars - produced since 1983 - received a new name for 1986. The 60 card set was henceforth simply known as the Donruss All-Stars.
The second annual installment of glossy Donruss Highlights featured a rookie card of Jose Canseco among its 56 cards. You can read more here.
Donruss' inaugural edition of Pop-Ups featured the 18 starters from the 1985 All-Star Game in Minnesota. These cards fold out to give a 3D appearance. The stadium in the background is always the same - the Metrodome (site of the AS game).
Drake's broke with their own tradition of overproduced, standard-sized cards in 1986 and asked Topps for designs it could print on the bottoms of their tasty products ala Hostess in the Super70s. The result was a very hard to collect and expensive set that left collectors frustrated, if overweight. Unlike the Hostess cards, these had shared borders, which meant you either collected them as panels or risked trashing the cards with anything less than a perfect cut (something which O-Pee-Chee had still not mastered after 20 years). Like the Hostess cards, they were subject to abuse on store shelves.
Fleer All Star Team cards shipped randomly with wax and cello packs of '86 Fleer cards. A complete set of 12 cards included Don Mattingly, Tommy Herr, George Brett, Gary Carter, Dave Parker, Rickey Henderson, Pedro Guererro, Dan Quisenbery, Dwight Gooden, Gorman Thomas, and John Tudor (which left the team without a shortstop). Fleer also had a "Future Hall of Famers" six card set which it distributed in rack packs of '86 Fleer (see Pete Rose on top right).
Fleer League Leaders was a 44 card boxed set created for Walgreen's. The initial attraction to this common as nails set was a rookie card of Jose Canseco. That was enough for speculators and it was far easier to find the set for $5 at shows than the $2 list price at Walgreen's.
Fleer's "Limited Edition" set of 44 cards for 1986 was no more limited than the 1985 set. It was produced for and sold in McCroy's stores.
Fleer produced its first set of mini ("Fleer Classic Miniatures") cards in a boxed set of 120 in 1986. The 1 13/16" by 2 9/16" cards are virtually identical to the '86 Fleer set with the major exception of new photographs on the front. The 1975 Topps Mini set was one of the hottest sets in the hobby and it seemed Fleer thought it could market something similar. Perhaps it could have if the set had contained 660 cards. Two more sets were released in '87 and '88 before Fleer abandoned the idea. 
Fleer produced a second set for McCrory's (though Newberry and others also carried it) in 1987. Fleer's Baseball's Best Slugger/Pitchers featured 22 of the former and 22 of the latter. Most importantly, it contained the first cards of Will Clark and Bobby Witt. Dealers bought these sets in droves and were selling 100 card lots in Sports Collectors Digest (SCD). This told us all that the set was overproduced, as it was, and the initial excitement quickly wore off.
Fleer returned to standard card-sized Star Stickers for 1986. It was a welcome return to the somewhat popular stickers. The backs of the 132 stickers are the same as '86 Fleer with the exception of the card number. The cards were available in their own wax packs.
The folks at MSA tried again with their2¼" discs, which had first appeared in larger sizes back in 1975. Jiffy Pop distributed the unpopular discs in packages of their popcorn products.

Kay Bee toy stores had Topps print them a 33 card boxed set. Why not? Every other national chain store or food peddler had one or would by 1987! The Kaybee set was different, however. First, it was called the Young Superstars of Baseball and featured all the hot rookies (Oddibe McDowell, Vince Coleman, Ozzie Guillen, Chris Brown - you can guess how popular this set is now) and big stars that had emerged in the past few years. Think Gooden, Puckett, Mattingly, Strawberry. Second, it was printed on high quality white cardboard with a glossy finish. A very cool feature of the cards were their backs, which were almost identical to the '71 Topps cards except for color, though that feature may have been lost on many born after 1971 who were the intended audience.

Sensing that it would be popular, dealers and speculators bought up complete store inventories leaving little but damaged boxes for us kids. They then charged us double or triple at their stores. Kay Bee responded by having more printed and the prices dropped back to retail. A great lesson in capitalism all the way around!

Leaf produced their second annual set of 264 Donruss look-alike cards for the Canadian market. Jeff Reardon and Jesse Barfield were the Canadian Greats and they actually printed Rated Rookie cards of Canadian players this time!
Meadow Gold dairies printed pairs of MSA cards on the side panels of their products in 1986. You can imagine the difficulty in finding a PSA 10 on the side panel of a pound of ice cream! As a  hard-to-collect regional set, it initially carried a hefty price tag which few seemed willing to pay.
Mother's Cookies once again persisted with their annoying and successful distribution tactics, distributing partial sets in Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco and Houston on July 20, 1986. The latter set featured paintings of Astros All-Stars, as the '86 classic was held in the Astrodome. That proved unfortunate when the current Astros nearly made the World Series.
7-Eleven produced four regional sets of Slurpee discs/coins in 1986. You can read more about the history of Slurpee coins here.

The minor league card market changed dramatically in 1986. A company called Procards, which had produced a Reading Phillies set in 1985, went nuts and signed up 100 minor league teams producing over 2000 individual full color cards for the 1986 season! It was one of the more remarkable achievements in the history of the hobby and by a company with no real track record. Their presence also caused TCMA to back off. Minor league cards were never the same.

Perhaps the most compelling individual set featured a 6'9'' lefty who - if he ever learned to control his fastball - might be a star someday. The Procards West Palm Beach Expos featured Randy Johnson and sells for well in excess of $100 in top shape.

Other notable sets include the Elmira Pioneers (Curt Schilling), Pittsfield Cubs (Greg Maddux and Rafael Palmeiro), Burlington Expos (Larry Walker), Charleston Rainbows (Carlos Baerega), Lakeland Tigers (John Smoltz), Memphis Chicks (Bo Jackson), Las Vegas Stars (Benito Santiago), Vancouver Canadians (BJ Surhoff, Glenn Braggs, Chris Bosio, Joe Meyer), Peoria Chiefs (Mark Grace), Charleston Gators (Sandy Alomar), Syracuse Chiefs (Fred McGriff), Watertown Pirates (Moises Alou), Waterbury Indians (Jay Bell), Omaha Royals (David Cone), Ventura Gulls (David Wells, Todd Stottlemyre), and Jackson Mets (Shawn Abner).

Our coverage (and checklist) of the '86 O-Pee-Chee set is here.
Quaker released this 33 card Topps-produced set not with its legendary oats but with their Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in 1986. Inside each specially marked box was three of the cards wrapped in cellophane. For four proofs of purchase and $8, you could receive the set by mail. That would be expensive today, but it was highway robbery in 1986. On the plus side, the cards seemed of a higher quality than say, the Ralston Purina cards of 1984 and dealers didn't seem to be swimming in them, so they were legitimately scarce. The photography was all head shots, which is usually a sign that the team logos were not licensed and would be airbrushed. Fortunately, they were not and that also makes the set more desirable than the various MSA produced sets of '86.
Sportflics produced their first set of cards in 1986. Read more about them here.
Sportflics also created a boxed set of 75 "Decade Greats." It might have been cool to see the old-timers set to 3D Magic Motion™, but did we really need more cards of long-dead stars?. Sets retailed at $19.95 due to production costs, but few were willing to pay that when they could get a pair of perfectly good Jose Canseco rookies for that price.
And speaking of Canseco rookies... Sportflics produced a post-season boxed set of 50 rookie cards (and 34 Rookie Trivia cards). They were very similar to the standard set of Sportflics, but had a blue border on the front instead of red. Barry Bonds has supplanted Canseco and Bo Jackson as the king of this set (for what its worth).
In 1975 Topps produced a reduced sized set of cards that would eventually become wildly popular with collectors. Topps decided to try again with this mini Major League Leaders set. Whereas the earlier set was an exact replica of all 660 cards of the '75 Topps set, this one was only 66 cards, looked quite different than the regular '86 Topps set, and was not all that attractive. But the fact that it was a "mini" set just like the then red hot '75 set sent dealers into a wholesale buying frenzy. They got burned when it became clear that production had outstripped demand. The set is dirt cheap these days.
Topps produced All-Star Glossies for distribution in rack packs for a third consecutive year. Little changed in the design from year to year and collectors were started to get bored with them. One change is the removal of cards for honorary captains. They were replaced by team picture cards.
Topps also produced Glossy Mail-ins for a third consecutive season. The size of the set was increased by 50% to 60 cards. They need not apologize for leaving the design the same as the uncluttered look with great photos with a glossy finish was always welcome.
True Value distributed these cards with hammers, nails, graffiti-paint or anything that equaled at least a $5 purchase. Like the previously mentioned Burger King and Meadow Gold cards, these were created by MSA (Michael Schecter Associates) as fold-out panels. These three card panels were printed in such a way that one card was on the inside and could not be seen without opening it (destroying the "true value" in the process). There is way too much stuff on the front, the team logos are airbrushed, the cards were larger than standard, and the perforated edges were the final straw; this set was never hot and can be had for under $2.
The '86 Woolworth's by Topps was far more successful than its predecessor. This year's set featured nothing but great, current hitters. This was yet another 33 card boxed set that dealers drove for miles to buy as many as possible of in hopes of tripling their profits on.


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Image courtesy of Fleer

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