Monday, June 1, 2015

The card after: smoke 'em if you got 'em

I don't know why the folks at Fleer were so panicky in 1989. OK, so you can't exactly leave the mother of all curse words sitting there on a bat knob for everyone to see. But a Marlboro ad? Who cares about a Marlboro ad?

Didn't Fleer know that kids growing up in the '70s and '80s had absorbed at least five cigarette advertisements per week since child birth? This is also when sports fans read magazines and every sports magazine featured at least one full glossy back cover displaying a flannel-shirt wearing mustache man chopping wood, or whatever manly men did in the '70s and '80s, while vigorously inhaling a glorious concoction of nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and who knows what else. Meanwhile, a beautiful woman has plastered herself against him, fully insinuating that she was about to have sex with him, or the cigarette, or YOU if you smoked this cigarette.

Nobody was blacking out any of those back cover ads.

Besides, had Fleer ever been to a ballpark? Don't they know kids went there, too, and saw things -- like beer and tube tops and players spitting and GET A LOAD OF THAT 12-BY-24-FOOT BILLBOARD SELLING CIGARETTES. Randy Johnson is posing in a ballpark on that card for crying out loud!

Also, this:

Randy Johnson's rookie card certainly wasn't the first time a cigarette ad had appeared on a baseball card.

But, still, Fleer felt the need to alter yet another card in its 1989 set. Much like the '89 Billy Ripken card, it couldn't decide how it wanted to alter it, and there are more than eight different versions of the Johnson rookie card.

My version features the final alteration of the card. The Marlboro ad, which was directly over Johnson's left shoulder, is completely blacked out.

I never bothered to look for other variations of the card. This set was only of passing interest to me at the time. And even now, I don't really see the point.

But variations on a rookie card aren't exactly common occurrences and that's what makes this card one of the most memorable and talked about of the 1980s.

So let's now show this card a third time:


Please meet: 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson

Why it's iconic: It's the rookie card of a player entering the Hall of Fame this summer. Add that to the fact that each of the card tinkerings with the Marlboro ad have their own individual names ("red tint version", "green tint version", "black box version," etc.) and you have collectors who have tried to accumulate as many different versions as possible (I wonder if any of them smoke?). Meanwhile, the 1989 Score Randy Johnson, which I like the most of Johnson's rookies, gets virtually no attention.

That "nuclear moment":  I wish I kept some of my price guides from the early 1990s, because there were probably some stupid prices in there for this card. But I can't tell you what the card was going for then. I'm sure whenever someone first discovered one Johnson card showed a Marlboro sign and another one didn't, that was the nuclear moment.

This card's impact today: The post I linked to earlier got several comments from collectors of the '89 Fleer Johnson.

Something about this card that I think no one else has ever said: Give it 30 more years, and ads for Coke will be blacked out on cards.

On the 1-25 iconic scale (with 25 being the most iconic): This isn't quite as celebrated as previous Card After subjects. I'll give it a 17.


Please meet: 1989 Fleer Traded Randy Johnson

Why it's not iconic: Well, consider that for the longest time, I didn't even know there was a 1989 Fleer Traded set. I also considered using the 1990 Fleer Randy Johnson card as "The Card After," which doesn't say a lot about his Traded card.

What Fleer was doing here: Mostly getting Johnson out of an Expos uniform and into a Mariners uniform. But Fleer had to be pleased that there was nothing behind Johnson except the concrete roof of the dugout.

Something I can say about this card to make it interesting: Johnson is wearing a mildly quizzical look on his face, almost as if he's amused by something on the field or in the stands.

Does "the card after" deserve to be iconic, too?: Only if you're a Mariners fan.

On the 1-25 iconic scale: A 3.

It's probably not fair to ridicule 1989 Fleer for obliterating the Marlboro ad. The times were changing.

Not long after the Johnson card, cigarette advertising began to disappear from ballpark billboards. In 1995, Philip Morris Inc. agreed to no longer place advertising in stadiums where they could be seen on television. You can credit increasing pressure by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which launched several successful anti-tobacco campaigns in sports through the '80s and '90s, for the removal of tobacco advertising.

Or you can credit Fleer's sloppy attempt to remove a Marlboro ad from the rookie card of a Hall of Famer.

Either way, I can bet that we won't see cigarette advertising on a baseball card again.

We've come a long way, baby.


  1. The '78 Giants team card and for that matter all the other ads that made it on cardboard did not make me want to smoke when I was 13 years old. I believe that all the cigarette ads surrounding me as a child, including numerous relatives, never influenced me to smoke. Fortunately, I lived in a smoke free home.

    The ads were all around and they were part of the surrounding environment of the time. For nostalgic purposes I miss seeing those ads in baseball cards. However, I would not want to see them return as I would not want to to give the tabaco industry the free publicity.

    Now that I'm done with my comments it's time for a smoke before dinner.

  2. The "card after" always left me with a sour taste in my mouth.It's like "Yeah!I've got his second card!" but then like " Damn,It's not his first card!".They were kind of like placeholders until you could get the players initial card release.

  3. Whoops - looks like I used the same title on my post today. I must have had the phrase stuck in my head after reading yours. Bill Ripken's 1988 Fleer card is almost identical to his infamous 89 card. In 1988, the knob just has his uniform number "3" written on it. I like to think he intentionally oriented the bat so it looks like a butt.