Thursday, January 22, 2015

The coral snake effect

If you have some knowledge about cards from the 1980s -- particularly the most featured cards from the 1980s -- then this card, even if you have no idea who Bob Pate is, probably looks vaguely familiar to you.

It is a card that leads to the "Coral Snake Effect".

I didn't make up that term. It was mentioned on my 1985 Topps blog by hiflew from Cards from the Quarry. And it didn't have to do with this 1981 Donruss card of Bob Pate, it had to do with this card:

Yeah, I know, "who the hell is Keefe Cato?" You've got to read my '85 Topps blog and then you'll know.

But this post isn't merely about nobody ballplayers. It's about how these players resemble someone else much more well-known in the set. In hiflew's and Keefe Cato's case it is the Eric Davis rookie card.

They don't really look like each other, but they share some other characteristics. They're both Reds, they're both featured cropped at the chest, they're both wearing chains, they're both turned toward the right and both looking off to the right.

For a youngster just starting out collecting cards in 1985, it would be easy to confuse the two if you weren't familiar with their backgrounds.

This is the "Coral Snake Effect". As any herpetologist knows, there are many, many species of coral snakes. Some are venomous and dangerous. Some are harmless. But all of the snakes look similar except for an identifying clue in the pattern of their color band ("red on yellow will kill a fellow, but red on black is a friend of Jack").

Eric Davis' card is the "cool" dangerous snake. He's potent. He's powerful. He means business in the form of a productive career. And his card was worth a bit of change back in the '80s. You could see how mixing him up with someone named Keefe Cato could be a terrible mistake.

Keefe Cato's card is the imitator. He's harmless. And his card has always been worth pennies.

Now, when hiflew brought this up, I couldn't believe it, because I had a post in mind for several weeks regarding my own encounter with the "Coral Snake Effect". I already had the cards scanned and ready to go, but without the cool snake analogy.

So let's go back to that Bob Pate card:

For me, Bob Pate was the harmless coral snake. The lookalike who was pretending to be tough and valuable.

Which card did he resemble?

I'm sure you know by now.

Tim Raines is the poisonous coral snake. His rookie card has bite. It will cost you a couple of bucks and even more should he ever in our lifetimes make the Hall of Fame.

Don't get the two mixed up.

Stupid Donruss and its similar poses.

Stupid Expos and their similarly striped sweatbands.

And what's with all the black bats?

When I was collecting in 1981, I mixed up these two cards all the time. I was a multiple victim of the Coral Snake Effect. Then when I discovered I had the wrong player identified, I chuckled about how similar they were. They were two of the most similar-looking cards that I had seen in my seven years of collecting cards.

By 1981, I did have an idea of who Tim Raines was. He started off that season by stealing bases at almost a per-game rate. But, as far as I was concerned, at the point that I pulled the Raines and the Pate cards (no doubt, back-to-back, knowing Donruss), these two guys' futures were a complete mystery.

I would look at them and wonder what path each of them would take. What was in store for them? Who would be the better player?

Well, it turns out Raines was a base-stealing bad ass who played for 20 years and even sent a son to the major leagues.

Bob Pate?

Uh, Bob Pate would have only six more at-bats after his '81 Donruss card was issued. He was released after the 1981 season and then played for the Astros in the minor leagues for a couple of years.

He did have one thing on Raines in 1981.


Pate's 1980 major league statistics are on top.

But don't you believe those stats.

That's just the non-venomous coral snake trying to get you to believe he can hurt you.


  1. To me the Pate card evokes 81D Andre Dawson Card. It is a less lethal since it isn't a rookie card but still pretty strong.

    1. Andre was much more established in 1981 than those other two guys. No chance I'd confuse Dawson with Pate back then.

  2. The funny thing is, especially the Donruss example, the photos were probably taken just minutes apart.

  3. And Fleer couldn't tell the difference between Tim Raines and Rodney Scott in 1982. But that's a whole different confusion...