07 April 2012

Shut up and deal! Playing cards and baseball

     Baseball and gambling. Two things that go together like, well, baseball and gambling. For nearly as along as there has been baseball, there has been gambling on baseball. And in an effort to combine the two in a more collector friendly way, for decades there have been baseball-themed decks of playing cards. Most teams have offered their own souvenir decks of cards adorned with the team emblem for awhile, but fortunately for the card collectors among us there have been several sets depicting actual players.

     Sadly, there was never a Columbus Clippers set of playing cards during Hensley Meulens three years with the club, but fortunately for me (and by proxy, for you) between Dave Winfield and Dave Henderson I have several to show off (Roberto Kelly has a couple, but I've not managed to pick them up yet). From 1990-1995, the U.S. Playing Card Company issued several sets of stars, rookies and teams (always with the disclaimer "Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association do not approve of any form of gambling." tacked under the top flap of the box), and also several sets for specific teams.

    I managed to snag some sets from 1990-1994 as they were released.  Not sure why I missed the 1991 set.

    In 1991, Dave Henderson made the starting lineup of the American League All-Star team, and that rated him inclusion in the U.S. Playing Card Co's 1991 All-Stars set:

    There were also two variations of this set. The first was a set with a silver edge, which doesn't really show up in a flat scan, but if you had a stack of them, the edge of the stack would be silver instead of white. The other variation was sold in Canada under the International Playing Card Co. brand. Both of those versions typically command about 2x-5x what the standard set goes for.  I have the silver version, I'm still hunting the International version.

    The U.S. Playing Card Co. continued the trend in 1992, issuing another All-Stars set, very similar to the previous years as represented by the New York Yankees' Roberto Kelly:

    In 1995, under their Bicycle brand, the U.S. Playing Card Co. issued a set for the Toronto Blue Jays featuring players from the previous 10 years. Somewhat surprising for a set covering that 10 year span is the absence of cards for Dave Stieb, Lloyd Moseby and George Bell considering the inclusion of Cecil Fielder and Fred McGriff and multiple cards of players from their 1992 & 1993 World Champion rosters.  However, that set included not just one, but two different cards of Dave Winfield.

    Fast forward to 2005, and a company called Parody Productions began producing "Hero" sets.  Now known as Hero Decks (you can see their site at HeroDecks.com), they have issued sets for multiple teams across several sports and all manner of other novelty sets covering different genres (military heroes, politics, entertainers, etc).  In 2005, one of their first sets was a Heroes of New York set featuring the best of the Yankees lineups from the team's history.  Dave Winfield scored a spot as the 7 of Hearts for one of the greats of their 1980s teams.

   The selection of Hero Decks was expanded greatly in 2008, adding sets for Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland and others, and along with the new teams came a new set for the Yankees.  Winfield was still seated in the 7 of Hearts slot and the set had been updated a bit to include more career details for each player and featured a new pinstripe design on the back.

    And as the Hero Decks sets were arranged in a sort of best of a certain decade format, Hendu was represented in the Seattle set, having been their starting center fielder for a good chunk of the 1980s.


  1. Little disappointed that Beckett/SCD didn't catalog these as I remember they were pretty much everywhere. I also have a Red Sox set from about 1992 from this company.

    1. The lack of cataloging of these annoys me too, as the checklists are nearly impossible to compile without actually having the set in-hand. I might buy a couple more, though, as I've been able to sell lots of singles from these for $1 each on Sportlots. When the set only costs $10 to start with, that's a pretty good return.