Sunday, January 17, 2010

Love the Drake

The Collective Troll recently wrote a fascinating post about his appreciation for the Drake's Snack Cake "Big Hitters" cards of the 1980s. It was a tale of clutter, blossoming entrepreneurship, and junk food. I was riveted.

It got me thinking about my own experience with Drake's cards. It had been a long time since I had thought about them, and that's a shame. Because those cards meant a lot to me for several reasons.

The 1981 Drake's Big Hitters set -- the first Drake's set issued since the 1950s, I believe -- was the first card set I ever completed. No applause please. First of all, the set was just 33 cards. Second of all, I sent away for the thing. I barely broke a sweat.

But none of that took away from the feeling that I had when I saw those 33 cards before me secure in the knowledge that there wasn't a 34th card to collect. This completed task was on the heels of my failure to finish off the 1980 Topps set the preceding year, so I had an excuse to be smug.

But, still, there was another reason why this set meant a lot to me, and you may have needed to be a collector in 1981 to understand my appreciation for it.

Food-product sets at that time were always interesting, but a little bit lacking. I enjoyed the different photographs and the opportunity to collect more than one Ron Cey card a year. I really did like the sets. But they didn't stack up quality-wise. And they were a lot different in appearance than the bubble gum cards that Topps put out.

The food cards would be in panels (Hostess) or in 3-D (Kellogg's). The card size was rarely the 2 1/2-by-3 1/2 dimension that I knew and loved. The only food-issue cards that I knew that were the same size as the Topps cards were the Burger King issue cards. And we couldn't find those where we were.

But when the Drake's cards came out, they had the same proportions as the Topps cards. This was big for me. I don't recall those early Drake cards coming in panels or on the bottom of its boxes like the Drake's cards later in the '80s. There was no cutting or rough edges (and the mid-80s Drake's cards were smaller than the earlier Drake's cards). The cards felt exactly like Topps cards.

The Drake's cards were issued in conjunction with Topps, so there were a lot of similarities between the two sets in 1981.

This is the card back for the regular 1981 Topps card of Lee Mazzilli.

And this is the card back for the 1981 Drake's Lee Mazzilli. All of the information on the Topps card is on the Drake's card (except the position designation). And Drake's adds the "What makes a Big Hitter" blurb that appeared on every card and got quite tedious.

The variations from the Topps set were on the card front. And that was the highlight of the set for me.
Some of the photos on the card fronts were the same, like with Dave Parker. Here is the 1981 Topps Parker.

And there is the 1981 Drake's Parker. Same photo, just cropped closer. The Drake's design pretty much overwhelms the photo. I'm not sure what that design is -- it looks like some sort of architectural thing. But I know nothing about architecture. I always thought those half-circle things at the corners of the photo were orange slices.

The cards that I liked the most were the ones that featured different photos than the Topps cards. Here is the 1981 Topps Garvey card.

And there is the Drake's Garvey card again for comparison. The two photos could have been taken from the same game, or even the same at-bat. But they're different.

Here is a better one. This is the fine 1981 Topps Carl Yastrzemski card. Is that Carlton Fisk in the background?

And that is the 1981 Drake's Carl Yastrzemski cards. A totally different photo. And action, too! All of the Drake's cards were action photos. There was nothing that the '81 Drake's set couldn't do.

Here is the all-time best reason for the Drake's set. This is the Rod Carew card that Topps foisted on us in 1981. I hated this card. Way too dull. Carew had some great cards in the '70s (1975, 1977, 1979). But his early '80s Topps cards stunk.

Drake's did a much better job with Carew in 1981. I always wondered why Topps didn't use that photo in its set. Since Topps was putting out the Drake's set, wouldn't they have access to this photo?

The only thing that could have made this set better is if it came out one year earlier. That's because in 1981 Fleer and Donruss both issued sets in competition to Topps. Collectors suddenly had several different cards of the same player from which to choose. So the Drake's set wasn't quite the novelty that it could have been a year or two earlier.

But I was still fascinated by it.

One more reason that I liked the set has to do with my color obsession. I have mentioned before that I equate the American League with warm colors (red, yellow, orange) and the National League with cool colors (blue, green, purple).

Drake's apparently thought the same thing.
There are some American League players from the set.

And there are some National League players from the set. All of them are framed in the proper color as is written in our constitution somewhere I'm sure.

This set has remained intact in a binder all these years, and is in remarkably good shape for being 29 years old. That is because as my first completed set, I made certain to keep it protected.

I know what you're asking: because I sent away for the set does that mean I never enjoyed a Drake's snack cake?

Don't be silly. How do you think I found out about the set? My parents didn't allow junk food in the house, but grandma sure did.


  1. Now I'm hungry. Nice comparison of the Topps/Drake photos.

  2. Thanks for the plug... Far more riveting over here... We all love the Drake!

  3. hate the Drake. (kidding) I totally forgot how whole those Drakes designs made me. A little like Mother's Cookies, ahead of it's time in a sense. and reminiscent of current football Mayo, I very much like when new is really old in disguise.
    I want a tastykake. Thats where I grew up.

  4. I just got my first Drake card this last week. Thanks for sharing some more info on them.

  5. One very odd thing I thought about this set was that basically every other player checklisted was a different race (i.e. a white player followed by a black or Hispanic player followed by a white player etc...). I always thought that was statistically impossible and whoever checklisted the set did that on purpose.

  6. Wish I had seen this post before I wrote mine up, I sat there for a good half hour trying to find pictures of the whole set on ebay so I could verify what team each player in the set was on.

    I am adding a link to this blog on my blog.