Friday, October 31, 2014

Six six six

Hello, Halloween fans. Tonight we explore the spookiest number to ever grace a baseball card.

The No. 666, the so-called "Mark of the Beast," is often associated with the devil. And for years, it was too scary of a number to appear on the back of a baseball card unless some player was unfortunate enough to compile exactly 666 career hits, runs, RBIs, etc.

We're all aware of the Upper Deck employee who as a Giants fan thought it would be amusing to make sure that a Dodger player received card #666. And for a few years in the early days of Upper Deck's history, that's exactly what happened. Of course, Upper Deck eventually lost its MLB license and fell out of favor with a lot of collectors, and I'll bet that it can be traced to this particular prank. You don't fool with No. 666.

In fact, Topps knew better for a number of years. Card sets rarely came close to having 600 cards in a set, let alone 700, so which player would be featured on card #666 was never a question. In 1969, Topps issued a set of 664 cards and you can't tell me that it didn't stop there because a 666-card set was just too creepy. It's rather apparent: "Well, we could have just 665 cards. ... No, let's have 664 cards and then it doesn't look like we were freaked out by 666 in a set."

But in 1970, Topps found its gonads and issued a set of 720 cards. That means someone would have to be card No. 666.

That someone was Adolfo Phillips. A former Cub who was unlucky enough to be traded to the expansion Expos in 1969 (although considering what happened to the '69 Cubs, maybe he was fortunate).

Phillips made it through being number #666 relatively unscathed, but it's interesting to note that he spent the entire 1971 season in the minor leagues after seven years in the majors. Hmmm.

Card #666 in the 1971 set was Gene Brabender. Brabender was also recently transacted, traded from the Brewers to the Angels in 1971. Brabender would not play another major league game after receiving card #666. And his nickname was "Lurch". Hmmmm.

Hector Torres, a backup infielder during the 1970s, received #666 in the 1972 set. He doesn't seem too happy about it. Torres would play until 1977, but always with lousy teams, the Expos, the Padres, the expansion Blue Jays. Hmmmm.

Then in 1973, Topps scaled back its set, to 660 cards. There would be no #666. Maybe Topps got freaked out by "The Exorcist," which was released around then (although in December 1973). But whatever the reason, Topps stuck with 660 cards for the next five years.

These are the sets that I knew when I first started collecting. A 660-card made sense to me.

But, in 1978, Topps expanded again, with a 726-card set. I knew instantly: someone would be card #666.

It was Billy Smith. A weak-hitting infielder for the Orioles. I could tell he was sinister just looking at him.

It all made sense to me. The .215 batting average. The 367 at-bats despite his .215 batting average. The fact that the Orioles still won with this person batting 367 times.

I kept my eye on that Billy Smith card.

A year later, Topps' set was still 726 cards and I warily waited for the man who would wear #666.

Another mediocre-hitting, middle infielder from the Orioles.

I got chills.

Sure, Dauer could hit better than Smith, but the similarity of the two cards gave me the willies.

Here, look at them together:

It's like looking at those twins in the hallway in "The Shining"

No, I'm not playing with either of you!

In 1980, Topps again issued a set of 726 cards, but they went in a different direction with card #666.

Card #666 was a bunch of Tigers future stars. That's a heck of a curse to place on some fresh-faced ball players. None of these players ended up being future stars, or even played all that long in the majors. I'm blaming #666.

Then I began to notice something:

In 1981, card #666 was the entire Tigers team.

In 1982, it was the Tigers leaders, with their hats placed atop their head as if to ward off demons.

In 1983, it was the Tigers manager himself!

And in 1984, it was the Tigers' leaders again. (The Tiger logo looks particularly devilish here).

In 1984, as you know, the Tigers won the World Series.


It was practically decided in April.

Seems fishy, huh?

Then it dawned on me: did the Tigers make a pact with the devil and Topps?

Did the Tigers agree to be featured as the #666 card all those years in exchange for a World Series title?

I could only wait for the 1985 set to come out to find out.

I bought the 1985 factory set, and I was able to leaf through all of the cards at once. And as I came to card No. 666, I had to look at it through my hands:

Mike LaCoss????????


A pact with the devil I'm telling ya! The Tigers got their World Series so now they didn't need to be on card #666 anymore!

After that, there didn't seem to be any pattern to who received the #666 card.

Rangers leaders in 1986.

Von Hayes in 1987.

Mario Soto in 1988.

But wait ...

Card #666 in 1989 was also a Red.

And the Reds won the World Series in 1990!

If the 1990 #666 card is a Red, I'm calling in a priest to do an exorcism on my entire collection.

Phew! A Pirate!

So maybe all of this #666 card nonsense is just a coincidence.

Except for those early Upper Deck #666 cards.

Those weren't a coincidence.

That was just someone being creepy.

666 cards in Topps sets:

1970 - Adolfo Phillips
1971 - Gene Brabender
1972 - Hector Torres
1978 - Billy Smith
1979 - Rich Dauer
1980 - Tigers Future Stars
1981 - Tigers team checklist
1982 - Tigers leaders
1983 - Sparky Anderson
1984 - Tigers team leaders
1985 - Mike LaCoss
1986 - Rangers leaders
1987 - Von Hayes
1988 - Mario Soto
1989 - Randy St. Clair
1990 - Brian Fisher
1991 - Danny Darwin
1992 - Tom Foley
1993 - Glenallen Hill
1994 - Steve Buechele
2001 - Glenallen Hill (freaky)
2002 - Mariners team card
2003 - Jeff Francis
2004 - Rangers team card
2005 - Rangers team card

666 cards in Upper Deck sets:

1989 - Kirk Gibson
1990 - Jose Gonzalez
1991 - Mickey Hatcher
1992 - Bob Ojeda
1993 - Jim Gott ("God" in German)
1998 - Steve Cooke
2002 - Shawn Green
2006 - Brett Tomko
2007 - Latroy Hawkins
2008 - Jason Bartlett
2009 - Carlos Lee

666 cards in Fleer sets

1991 - Andy Hawkins
1992 - Vinny Castilla
1993 - Mike Moore
1994 - Gene Harris
1997 - Sid Fernandez

666 cards in Score sets

1990 - Steve Hosey
1991 - Barry Larkin all-star
1992 - Jeff Manto

666 cards in Donruss sets

1990 - Ricky Horton
1991 - Willie McGee
1992 - Jeff Montgomery
1993 - Steve Foster

666 cards in Collector's Choice sets

1994 - Pokey Reese
1996 - Ernie Young

666 cards in Pacific sets
1998 (Pacific Online) - Brett Mayne

666 cards in Stadium Club sets

1992 - Greg Vaughn
1993 - Harold Baines
1994 - Will Clark (yup)

666 cards in Bowman sets

1991 - Randy Myers
1992 - Bob Walk
1993 - Reggie Sanders
1994 - Dante Bichette

More to come ...


  1. Great Shining reference. That was the first movie that truly scared me.

  2. Dammit, this was literally on my to blog about list! We done sir. I guess I'll work something up on sock height or something or maybe a trade post.

  3. The Pirates lost the 1990 NLCS to the Reds... so that Reds-Topps conspiracy might have worked after all

  4. Happy belated Halloween, N.O., checking closer on the 78/79 Smith/Dauer cards am pretty sure they were both photographed in the stadium of my youth, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. That's some spooky stuff.

  5. What a diabolical mind and humor to come up with the 666 analyses. Perhaps the Tiger series of the #666 card was an Omen of things to come in 1984. Also, the 78/79 cards were taken in Oakland were I too spent part of my youth. Finally, happy - post Halloween but on the west coast we still have a few hours left to celebrate the dia de los.muertos.

  6. "We were talking about what to call Brabender when he gets here. He looks rather like Lurch of the 'Addams Family,' so we thought we might call him that, or Monster, or Animal, which is what they called him in Baltimore last year. Then Larry Haney told us how Brabender used to take those thick metal spikes that are used to hold the bases down and bend them in his bare hands. 'In that case,' said Gary Bell, 'we better call him Sir.'" -Ball Four

  7. You're going to write a post about the number 666, without referencing the great Christmas Eve bipping of 2013???