Monday, April 1, 2019

Won't get fooled again

The percentage of times that the wrong player has appeared on a baseball card is remarkably small.

It's actually admirable -- when you look into it -- that baseball card manufacturers have avoided the gaffe of featuring a card of a player with a photo of someone else as easily as they have. Speaking as someone who is forever coming across (or being notified of) misidentified players in photo captions in his line of work, I don't know how the card companies, particularly Topps, do it. It can't be easy.

It happens so seldom that when the goof is made, it becomes so famous that most collectors are very familiar with it.

The card above is a rarity: I had no idea it was an error until I started researching this post. I have had this 1982 Donruss card of "Shane Rawley" in my collection since 1982. I didn't suspect a thing. Who can tell 1980s Mariners apart anyway? But I probably should have had my doubts. Rawley's uniform is dirty, like he had been sliding. Pitchers don't do that. American League pitchers especially don't do that. American League relief pitchers especially, especially don't do that.

No, this is a photo of shortstop Jim Anderson, who played for the Mariners in 1980 and 1981. There is a corrected version of the '82 Donruss card, showing the actual Shane Rawley kneeling. Trust me, it is very strange-looking to someone who has thought for 37 years that Rawley's '82 Donruss card shows him high-fiving an unknown player.

That '82 Donruss card had me fooled for more than three decades.

The "wrong player" cards, like I said, were somewhat of a rarity with Topps (there are some notable '60s examples). It wasn't until the 1980s, when Donruss and Fleer and Upper Deck arrived (Score somehow avoided the "wrong player" syndrome mostly) that wrong player cards started popping up almost every year. Quality control wasn't all that high for those companies in the '80s.

Those '80s occurrences made me wonder whether I could put together an entire lineup of "wrong player" error cards from my collection. I did a little investigating this April Fools afternoon and it turns out I could. I can field a lineup of cards that try to fool you into thinking the player in the photo is someone else.

So here we go. It's the All-April Fools team. I'm sure you know many of these cards by heart. We hate being fooled.

Batting first, Gary Pettis, 1985 Topps, center field

Speedster Gary Pettis stole more than 40 bases in a year five times. I don't know how many times his younger brother, Lynn, did that, because that's who is on the card. Topps is trying to make you believe right here that a 16-year-old is a major leaguer. Needless to say, plenty of people were fooled by this photo and this card regardless of the teenager.

Batting second, Rodney Scott, 1982 Fleer, second base

Another player know for his fleet feet, Rodney Scott once joined teammate Ron LeFlore to set a record for most stolen bases by two teammates in a season. This card sets a record for the most stolen bases for two players on the same card. The player shown is not Rodney Scott but Hall of Famer Tim Raines. Raines had been in the league for two years at this point, so I suppose you could make an excuse for Fleer getting fooled, but not really because even then Raines was a big deal.

Batting third, Aurelio Rodriguez, 1969 Topps, third base

More Angels hijinks. In one of the more famous -- if not the most famous -- "wrong player" cards of all-time, the player shown on Rodriguez's rookie card is, in fact, Angels bat boy Leonard Garcia. This goof was not widely known for awhile. Lots and lots of folks were fooled. Speculation focused on whether this was a prank concocted by Rodriguez, but further research lands on that fact that Topps was plain fooled by a picture of the bat boy that looked somewhat similar to Rodriguez. The question remains: why was there a photo of the bat boy?

Batting fourth, Lucas Duda, 2017 Topps, first base

I'm still surprised that a "wrong player" card can be produced in this day and age. But it still happens. The difference is that card collectors and baseball fans are so wise these days that they pick up on errors like this right away. No waiting years for a goof to be discovered. People knew that Eric Campbell was shown on Lucas Duda's 2017 Topps card barely a couple of days after release. Topps was fooled. Collectors weren't.

Batting fifth, Phil Roof, 1982 Donruss, left field

Oof. Two "wrong player" cards in the same set. That's one of the legacies of early Donruss (and early Fleer). Unlike the other cards shown here, the photo is correct. It's the name that's wrong. This is Gene Roof's card. Gene Roof is Phil Roof's younger brother. Phil Roof appeared on cards from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. Apparently Donruss wanted to resurrect his career, so when Gene came along, they dubbed him "Phil". The sad part is that while Phil Roof has plenty of cards, Gene has just one solo card in which his name is correct in a mass-produced set and that is in 1983 Fleer.

Batting sixth, Alex Cole, 1991 Stadium Club, right field

I have one question. How? How was Topps fooled? Given Alex Cole's distinctive goggles and Otis Nixon's distinctive look, how is this flubbed? Also, Otis Nixon had been around for 10 years by this point. Somebody had to know that he is not Alex Cole.

Batting seventh, Larry Haney, 1975 Topps, catcher

One of the benefits of "wrong player" cards is you can say wacky things like "Dave Duncan has two cards in the 1975 Topps set with two different teams." Dave Duncan is pictured on his own card with the Indians and he's pictured on this card. Poor Larry Haney. He appeared on cards in the '60s and then sporadically in the '70s. He gets a little bit of playing time in 1974 and what happens? Topps uses a photo that is at least two years old of Duncan, who last played for the A's in 1972.

Batting eighth, Steve Jeltz, 1988 Donruss, shortstop

By now you've figured out that this is not a good-hitting team. It would be quite a bit better if this was a card of the player in the photo: Juan Samuel. But it's not. It's a card of Steve Jeltz, who batted .210 for his career.

There is no designated hitter in this lineup because I want to have a pitcher bat. That will be awkward as all three of the pitchers I'm showing are American League guys.

Steve Busby, 1975 Topps, right-handed pitcher

Catcher Fran Healy is doing his best Steve Busby impersonation on this card. It's pretty impressive because it fooled Topps during a time when Busby was one of the most well-known pitchers in the game. He won 22 games in 1974! Yet, Topps was fooled.

Al Leiter, 1988 Topps, left-handed pitcher

To this day, Steve George -- who never received a card in a major set with his name on it -- can tell everyone that a photo of him exists on a baseball card declaring him a future star. Never mind that the name on the card says "Al Leiter". Topps corrected this card and it's still great fun to feature both of these cards side-by-side in my '88 Topps binder. But I bet Topps felt foolish.

Ed Glynn, 1983 Fleer, relief pitcher

The guy sitting there is not Ed Glynn. It is Bud Anderson. In Fleer's defense, the two do look somewhat alike.

Pete Mackanin, 2006 Topps, manager

This is a bad one. Mackanin, who was a player when I was collecting cards, is white. This is a photo of former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon. I remember collecting 2006 Topps --- the first modern set I collected upon returning to the hobby -- and pulling this card and knowing right away that it was wrong and thinking "what the heck is going on with baseball cards now?"

So that is a full lineup of wrong player cards. I expect them to pull the hidden-ball trick a whole bunch of times.

I'm pretty sure that there won't be another "wrong player" card made that will go undetected for as long as what happened with me and the 1982 Shane Rawley card. We're just too on top of our baseball cards these days. And when an error is made, there are hundreds of internet judgies waiting to pounce.

Nope, the card companies may still get duped from time to time. But we card collectors won't get fooled again.


  1. Great subject. Took some effort, I am sure, to put together a lineup. The favorite from my era is the 1963 Don Landrum card which is actually a picture of Ron Santo, who of course had his own card.

  2. I collect autographed 1975 Topps cards, have about 60% of the set signed. I have a copy of the Haney card signed by him. It never occurred to me to see if Dave Duncan, who is a good signer, would also sign it. Steve Busby is a great signer but he will not sign his error card. I mailed it to him and asked if he would sign the back, since at least his name and correct stats are there, and he did that. Happily for Busby, he's pictured correctly on the no-hitter card with Nolan Ryan and Dick Bosman. I have a copy of that card signed by all 3. It's one of my favorites in the set.

  3. These are fun. Some I was aware of but a few I wasn't. Heck, I just finished off the '75 set and that Busby card quirk never popped up in what I read. Cool to know.

    That '69 Rodriguez is still my favorite but I like the Pettis card because his little brother has an expression that tells us that he's in on the joke.

  4. I wasn't aware of most of these either, especially in the older sets, so I think this is a great list/team. But I'd also have to nominate the '95 Topps Traded switch of Carlos Beltran's RC and Juan LeBron.

  5. Cool post. Haney also has a reverse negative card in 68 with the Orioles

  6. Here's a couple of other famous ones: 1987 Donruss Opening Day Barry Bonds with Johnny Ray pictured. 1966 Topps Dick Ellsworth with a deceased Ken Hubbs pictured.

  7. Major 1960s' gaffes include the 1966 Dick Ellsworth card showing the 2-years-deceased Ken Hubbs, the 1969 A-Rod card showing the batboy, (both mentioned) and also the 1963 Eli Grba card showing his teammate Ryne Duren.

  8. I used Pettis and Rodriguez in my post today too. Great minds think alike ;)

  9. I didn't realize Topps still made these kinds of mistakes to this day until someone recently reminded me to take a closer look at the 2015 Topps Heritage Lance Lynn card (actually Trevor Rosenthal.)

  10. This was a fun post. Sounds like there's enough errors to put a bench together as well!

  11. Dodgers wrong-player cards? I think that's a good thing. (I hope I didn't spead too soon, lol.)

    1. 1991 Topps Jose Gonzalez/Billy Bean. Also 1989 UD Brian Holton/Shawn Hillegas.

  12. D'oh! I was hoping there were no Dodgers wrong-player cards--c'est la vie.

  13. Wow, I wasn't aware of a lot of these either. The early Stadium Club etc. I would expect, since I didn't pay much attention in the 90's. But even some of the '75s weren't familiar. This will be a good reference post for a while.

  14. Some of these were new to me. Error cards are always fun to discover.

  15. This is a terrific post. I wasn't aware of about half of these -- I'm especially in awe of that McClendon/Mackanin flub.

    1. One similar to that is Darnell Coles being shown on an Omar Vizquel Donruss card.

  16. Awesome post!Reminds me of the Topps Carlos Beltran /Juan Lebron mix up In 1995.