When Errors Aren’t in the Box Score

OK, this is just between us, so you can admit the truth. When one of your Fantasy Pitchers gives up a bunch of runs, you immediately look to see if his team made any errors, praying to the Fantasy Gods that some of the runs were unearned. In fact, you’re not even upset if he made one of the errors himself, as long as your ERA doesn’t take it in the shorts. So, sometimes, errors can be good or bad and it also works that way with baseball cards.

In collecting parlance, an “error card” is defined as one with erroneous information, spelling or depiction on either side of the card. While most errors aren’t corrected by the card producing companies, on occasion they notice the mistake soon enough to make changes and then resume the print run. In these cases, both the error card and the corrected version are sometime known as “variations”. Many collectors feel that they don’t own a complete set of a particular year and brand unless it includes all the variations, but some of these cards can be relatively scarce. In the early years of modern baseball cards (the 50’s & 60’s), quality control from Topps and other companies left a lot to be desired but you’ll find numerous examples in every decade.

While a comprehensive list would require a volume, here are some of my favorites from over the years…

> 1953 Topps Satchel Paige (#220) – The Negro League legend and Hall of Fame Pitcher has his name spelled “Satchell” on the card.

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> 1955 Bowman Mickey Mantle (#202) – The “Mick’s” birthday is listed as 10/30/31 but should be 10/20/31.

> 1956 Topps Hank Aaron (#31) – The smaller photo on the card front is actually Willie Mays.

> 1957 Topps Hank Aaron (#20) – This beautiful set used a large uncluttered color photo on the front and “Hammerin’ Hank’s” had a reverse negative showing him batting left-handed.

> 1961 Topps Whitey Ford (#160) – The back of the card has the Hall of Fame Pitcher incorrectly listed as 5’0″ tall.

> 1962 Topps Sandy Koufax (#5) – The back of the card indicates that he “Struck ou 18”.

> 1962 Topps “Green Tint” – The second series of this issue (#’s 110-196) were printed without enough ink for the photographs. This caused the sky and dirt in the background to look green.

> 1964 Topps Pete Rose (#125) – Lists him as born in 1942 instead 1941.

> 1965 Topps Bob Uecker (#519) – Shows him posing as a left-handed batter (maybe he thought it would help).

> 1966 Topps Jim Palmer (#125) – This is the Rookie Card of the Orioles Hall of Fame Pitcher and the back of the card describes him as a “lefthander”.

> 1969 Topps Aurelio Rodriguez (#653) – This card showed a picture of Leonard Garcia, the Angels team batboy.

> 1974 Topps Washington National League Cards – There was a possibility that the Padres were going to re-locate to Washington D.C. for the ’74 season. Topps used “Washington National League” on the first run of 15 Padre Player cards. They are valued at about twice the corrected card.

> 1982 Fleer John Littlefield (#576) – An early example of the variation issues with new companies entering the market, the original card had a reverse negative and showed him as left-handed. Fleer corrected the card early in the run, so the first card is worth $30 while the second one can be had for about a nickel.

> 1985 Topps Gary Pettis (#497) – Pettis was the Angels CF and used to bring his younger brother to the ballpark, where the youngster would get into uniform and shag fly balls prior to home games. On this particular day, the Topps photographer spotted the last name on the back of the jersey and took the photo. 14 year-old Lynn Pettis will forever be pictured in that baseball card set.

> 1987 Donruss Opening Day Barry Bonds (#163) – This was a boxed set and the original Bonds card actually had a photo of Pirates 2B Johnny Ray wearing a black shirt. Donruss had to correct the card, as Bonds was one of the top young players in the game. The original “Ray” version books for about $250 while the Bonds version is less than $10.

> 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken (#616) – Probably the most infamous error card in history, it all started when no one noticed that Ripken’s photo included a profanity on the knob of the bat he was holding. The company went into panic mode because parents were not happy about their children giggling over the mistake. Fleer proceeded to make four additional variations in their print runs including one where the bat knob is whited out, another with a black box over the knob and two others that included scribbling over the words. At the time, it was the hottest card in the hobby. Ripken claimed it was a practical joke perpetrated by teammates but about twenty years later, he finally confessed and admitted that he had written the words on the bat knob himself.  Supposedly, one of the bats shipped to him from the manufacturer was slightly heavier and he only used it for batting practice and not for games. In order to recognize that particular bat quickly, he wrote the obscenity on the knob. The original card can now be found for $10 while the much scarcer “whiteout” version is at least $50.

> 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy (#357) – The Company’s first product included this card which had a reverse negative on the original issue. It was corrected and the left-handed Murphy card is $15 while the corrected one is just pennies.

> 1990 Topps Frank Thomas (#414) – The Rookie Card of “The Big Hurt” came out without his name on the front of the card. Topps corrected this so quickly that the “No Name on Front” version is worth over $1,000 while the corrected card is about $1.

> 1995 Topps Traded Carlos Beltran (#18T) – This set contained the Rookie Cards of both Beltran and an obscure player named Juan LeBron. The only problem is that Topps switched the photos and never corrected the cards. So, if you want a Carlos Beltran Rookie Card, you’ll be gazing at the face of Juan LeBron.

We’ve just touched the surface of this topic and down the road; we’ll talk about more variations and oddities. Hope you enjoyed the baseball card trivia.

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