Monday, June 4, 2012

1982 Fleer Test Cards - Rickey's First Promo?

As any follower of the blog has probably figured out by now, I'm a big fan of Rickey's more interesting releases over the years.  So, when I find out about a new card from a licensed company that I'd never heard of before, I tend to get pretty excited.

I returned to collecting back in 2008, about a year prior to Rickey's induction in the Hall of Fame.  Around that time, while researching for a post, I came across mentions of a test set that Fleer produced back in 1982.  There wasn't much information available about the set, but a Rickey was included, and I knew that I eventually had to track one down.

In my initial 15 years of collecting, I'd never even heard of the existence of this card, and since I found out about it around 5 years ago, I'd never seen one for sale.  But, about a month ago, I finally ran across one, and now it's mine!

When researching the set I came across this 1997 article from an ex-Fleer employee, which provides the best history of the cards that I was able to find.  After a collector called asking about a 1982 Ripken that he's just picked up, the employee went and did some research of his own.  I've excerpted the relevant portions of the article below:

"Having won the right to produce baseball cards in its landmark Philadelphia federal court decision over Topps and having the 1981 set under its belt, Fleer was the prime target of a new group of suppliers looking for business. International Paper wanted the contract to supply the cardboard on which future card sets would be printed.  

Work was already well under way on the 1982 baseball set when International came calling, Holsten recalled. The cards to be printed were just to be visual samples of what the cardboard would reflect. There was no attempt at correct identification of players; the negatives International received were strictly to be part of a test.

 When the test sheet was completed, International returned 100 of them with 132 players each (and the words ``Test Card'' stamped on the player's name block) to Fleer for evaluation. The product was favorably received and International did get the contract for 1983. But what happened to the actual sheets remains lost to time. The late Luke Reilly, onetime Fleer vice president of sales, once told me his salesmen frequently gave uncut sheets to customers and this novel '82 issue was probably among them.

The sheets next surfaced in December 1995. I was prowling the practically empty caverns of the now-closed Fleer plant in the city's Olney section, looking for historically significant artifacts worth keeping at Fleer's offices in Mount Laurel, N.J.

In a dusty closet near the infirmary of the old plant, I found a large stack of uncut sheets, including 40 of the 1982 International Paper sheets. Until then, I had seen only the mysterious Ford/Ripken card. I took a few back to Mount Laurel and Fleer security chief Warren Hensley bundled up the rest and sent them to a warehouse, where I believe they still reside under lock and key.

The key to the sheet is, of course, the four Cal Ripken cards. Two Ripkens are identified correctly, two identify his as Ford. Other star players on the sheet include Eddie Murray, who is identified as himself on two cards and Lenn Sakata on two others. Former Phils player Del Unser is labeled as Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson shows up as Mike Norris."

Along with the Rickey, I also picked up the Mike Norris test card, the player who is actually pictured on the front of the card labelled as "Rickey Henderson."  These cards are still sort of a mystery to collectors, as there are a few discrepancies on the size of the set, how many were produced, how many were actually released, and whether the cards were blank backed or not.

Sports Collectors Digest describes the 1982 Fleer Test Cards below:
To test a proposed cardboard stock from International Paper Co., a run of 100 sheets of test cards was printed and delivered to Fleer officials. The cards on the sheet include various combinations, incorrect picture/name combinations and cards with no player identification. All cards have the words "TEST CARD" overprinted in black in the player identification area at the bottom center, along with the letters "o", "n" or both vertically at the left end of the oblong. Backs are blank (BF: at least some are). At least half of the 132-card test sheets have made their way into the hobby where they are offered both as complete sheets and as hand-cut single cards or panels. A number of the photos seen on the test cards did not appear in Fleer's 1982 card set. Each of the 66 cards is double-printed on the sheet.

Beckett, however, has a slightly different take on the set, and actually only include 7 cards (not 66) on their checklist:
These cards, issued early in the 1982 Fleer press run, feature photos used in the 1982 set along with the players name. These cards can be identified by the words "Test Card" on the front. We are looking for more information on these cards so any help is greatly appreciated.

The most expensive cards from the set are the two featuring Cal Ripken, one of which includes both his name and picture, with the other including his picture but is labelled as "Dave Ford."

While most of the information that I ran across indicated that the sets were blank-backed.  I did find a few mentions of cards having backs, but missing the yellow and red coloring on the back.  The card I picked up is the later, and can be seen as the top picture in the scan above (the picture on the bottom is the back of the actual Rickey card as released).

A complete set of 66 graded cards was sold by Legendary Auctions back in 2008 for $1,150.

They also sold an uncut sheet for $657 in 2011.

If anyone has any more details that they can share about this interesting test set, especially as it relates to the blank back / no color back variations, I'd love to hear about it!

For you player/team collectors out there, the following checklist of the complete 66 card checklist was found on the Net54 forums, courtesy of user "bobsbbcards."  The list includes the row of the card on the uncut sheet, the column of the card, the player named on the card, and the player pictured on the card:

1/1/Jon Matlack/Steve Christmas
1/2/Wayne Gross/Jose Brito
1/3/Mario Mendoza/John Lickert
1/4/Mike Heath/Daryl Sconiers
1/5/Bump Wills/Lee Mazzilli
1/6/Steve McCatty/Jose Rodriguez
1/7/Steve Stone/Steve Stone
1/8/No Name/Brian Harper
1/9/Dennis Martinez/Cubs Player
1/10/No Name/Julio Valdez
1/11/Jim Palmer/Del Unser
2/1/Billy Sample/Bill Doran
2/2/Tony Armas/Tony Armas
2/3/Rick Honeycutt/Rick Honeycutt
2/4/Cliff Jackson/Tim Ireland
2/5/John Ellis/Floyd Rayford
2/6/Dave McKay/Jim Wright
2/7/Ken Singleton/Larry Milbourne
2/8/No Name/Steve Balboni
2/9/John Lowenstein/Mickey Mahler
2/10/No Name/Ty Waller
2/11/Doug DeCinces/Mike Patterson
3/1/Mickey Rivers/Pat Putnam
3/2/Rickey Henderson/Mike Norris
3/3/Jim Sundberg/Jim Kern
3/4/Bob Owchinko/Fred Stanley
3/5/Buddy Bell/Danny Darwin
3/6/Shooty Babbitt/Rick Langford
3/7/Sammy Stewart/Tony Martinez
3/8/No Name/Juan Eichelberger
3/9/Lenn Sakata/Eddie Murray
3/10/No Name/Juan Bonilla
3/11/Benny Ayala/Terry Crowley
4/1/Al Oliver/Bill Stein
4/2/Dwayne Murphy/Matt Keough
4/3/Leon Roberts/John Grubb
4/4/Rob Picciolo/Brian Kingman
4/5/Mark Wagner/Steve Comer
4/6/Jeff Jones/Jeff Neumann
4/7/Tim Stoddard/Mike Flanagan
4/8/No Name/John Urrea
4/9/Rick Dempsey/Mark Belanger
4/10/No Name/Luis Salazar
4/11/Dave Ford/Cal Ripken
5/1/Pat Putnam/Pat Putnam
5/2/Mike Norris/Mike Norris
5/3/Jim Kern/Jim Kern
5/4/Fred Stanley/Fred Stanley
5/5/Danny Darwin/Danny Darwin
5/6/Rick Langford/Rick Langford
5/7/Tippy Martinez/Tippy Martinez
5/8/No Name/Juan Eichelberger
5/9/Eddie Murray/Eddie Murray
5/10/No Name/Juan Bonilla
5/11/Terry Crowley/Terry Crowley
6/1/Bill Stein/Bill Stein
6/2/Matt Keough/Matt Keough
6/3/John Grubb/John Grubb
6/4/Brian Kingman/Brian Kingman
6/5/Steve Comer/Steve Comer
6/6/Jeff Neumann/Jeff Neumann
6/7/Mike Flanagan/Mike Flanagan
6/8/No Name/John Urrea
6/9/Mark Belanger/Mark Belanger
6/10/No Name/Luis Salazar
6/11/Cal Ripken/Cal Ripken


night owl said...

That's pretty cool. I'm relieved to see there are no Dodgers on that list, although it'd be a nice card to have!

Derek Hill said...

Where on earth did you find that card for sale? And how much did it set you back?

Awesome pickup!

Todd Steere said...

I have one of the Cal Ripkens with Cal Ripkens name on the front and the back is not blank, but white.