Sports card collecting is not an exact science and neither is the printing of these cardboard classics. Despite what many collectors think, a great deal of quality control goes into these printed products to ensure each player is properly identified and depicted in the manner in which he/she should be. Despite these controls put in place by the various card companies, glaring mistakes will continue to happen. Some of these mistakes have led some cards to become legendary in the hobby while others have fallen by the wayside as nothing more than a footnote in collecting history. Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable cards.
In 1981, Fleer produced a number of reversed image cards in their set that reintroduced them to the card collecting world after an 18 year hiatus. Card number 423 of the Padres’ second baseman Tim Flannery and card number 382 of Pirates infielder Kurt Bevaqua are just a few of the cards that are found with their photo negatives flipped and then corrected. While these cards and the many other Fleer printing errors were the talk of the hobby when they were released, most collectors pay little attention to them today unless one is collecting a master set of this Fleer set.
Possibly the most famous modern reverse negative card is from the inaugural 1989 Upper Deck set. In their rush to get the product to market, the quality control people at Upper Deck missed the fact the Dale Murphy card number 357 pictured the Braves slugger as a left handed hitter instead of the righty that he was. Because of the flipped photo negative, the Braves name and logo on Murphy’s jersey and hat were also backwards, leading many to wonder if this was not just an innocent error but a calculated attempt to generate more sales for this fledgling set.
The book Card Sharks by author Pete Williams contends that the Murphy error was indeed a flipped negative error that was done on purpose by Upper Deck. Upper Deck corrected the error fairly early in the printing process but estimated that about 20,000 error cards were released to the hobby which, by today’s standards is an amount that should not cause it to be very valuable. The hobby then responded once again to the error craze and when the aftermarket prices for the Murphy error soared, the book’s author contends that UD President Richard McWilliams ordered the presses to run on this card alone. McWilliams was so upset that he was not getting a piece of the aftermarket pie and ordered another thirteen thousand Murphy cards to be printed and sold directly to hobby dealers. At its highest point, the Murphy card was fetching north of one hundred dollars each but with the addition of thousands more of these cards flooding the market the prices predictably dropped leaving many investors out in the cold and Upper Deck executives with fatter wallets. According to the book, this practice by Upper Deck executives worked so well that they would go on to manipulate the market in the same way with the Griffey rookie and the 1990/91 French Canadian hockey offerings, effectively reducing or killing the market for these products as well.
One of the most known vintage reversed negative cards is found in the 1957 Topps baseball set where Topps’ quality control failed to realize that they flipped the photo negative on one of the game’s biggest sluggers, Henry Aaron. Card number twenty in the legendary 1957 Topps set features Hammerin’ Hank posing not in his traditional right handed stance but as a lefty. While not as blatant as the Upper Deck Murphy error, one can still see the reversed “44” peeking out from under Hank’s arm in the photo. Since Aaron was playing for the Milwaukee Braves at the time, the reversed negative was a good deal harder to spot as the “M” on his cap would be the same regardless of how the photo was used. The Topps quality control people needed to be either an eagle eye to spot the reversed 44 or be a baseball fan and know that Mr. Aaron was not a lefty to catch the error.
Some say the fact that both Aaron and Murphy were depicted as Braves and the same type of pose was used in their respective cards only proves that Upper Deck was going for the reversed negative effect in their 1989 baseball offering. While nobody has come out and admitted the flip of the photo was done on purpose, the similarities are too hard to ignore. The one difference that remains is that, while Upper Deck flipped the Murphy photo and corrected it, the Topps Aaron was never corrected leaving the collecting community with an interesting “what if” to talk about.
Lew Burdette was a journeyman right handed pitcher who played 18 years in the Major Leagues and posted a 203-144 win/loss record mainly for the Milwaukee Braves. While Burdette was an important piece of the Braves World Series teams from the late 1950’s, he was also known as a bit of a practical joker. Teammates, media members and others were never immune from his pranks and his willingness to have a laugh at others expense. A Topps photographer found himself to be the target of one of these pranks when Burdette posed for a photo that would turn out to be his 1959 bubble gum card.
Legend has it that Burdette slipped his right handed glove on his throwing hand when the Topps photographer asked to take his photo. Burdette then faked his wind up and with his hands (and glove on the wrong hand) at the apex of his delivery; the Topps man snapped his needed photos. Thinking nothing of the photo he just took, the photographer thanked Burdette and walked away all the while Burdette surely was wearing a smile on his face. Fast forward to later in the 1959 season, card number 440 was issued featuring Mr. Burdette as a left handed pitcher, something most observant fans of the game knew to be false. Collectors all over the country would have to flip over their card and look at the vital stats to make sure Burdette had indeed not turned into the southpaw he was depicted as in the photo. While not a true flipped negative card, the “Lefty Lou” card has achieved a bit of legendary status in the collecting community. After all, one would think that a man that won three games in the 1957 World Series would have received a higher level of respect and have this error caught by the Topps quality control people.
A side note about the 1959 Topps Burdette card, it appears that this card is a comedy of errors in that not only did Burdette pull the switch with his glove on the Topps photographer, but the card company spelled his name wrong on the front. Burdette spelled his first name with an unusual spelling as “Lew” but Topps gave his first name the normal spelling treatment by spelling it “Lou”. It appears that both Burdette and Topps got one over each other in 1959.