The American Dream on Thick Cardstock
Baseball card collecting has been a fun (and sometimes lucrative) hobby for boys and man-boys almost since Abner Doubleday strapped on his first set of cleats and hit the diamond. First mass produced in the mid-to-late 1800s, these collectible little nostalgia nuggets have been a part of American culture for almost 150 years.
Baseball cards were widely distributed around the turn of the 20th century as inserts in cigarette and cigar packs by tobacco producers like the Imperial Tobacco Company, the American Tobacco Company, and Cuban cigar manufacturer Cabañas (this was back in the day when you could purchase Cuban cigars without the Justice Department threatening to donkey punch you and take away your birthday).
That only makes sense, as tobacco use and professional athletics are almost as inextricably intertwined as mayonnaise and pancakes. An All-Star parade of 1950s baseball greats (many of whom did not die prematurely from heart disease or lung cancer) attest to this indisputable fact.
Hardball Heroes Sing the Praises of Camel Ciggies
Prelude to the Terrible Twelve
However, while one cannot deny the healthful, relaxing benefits of daily cigarette use, one could easily make a case that production glitches and poorly chosen photographs in the baseball card industry sometimes result in less than flattering cards that some players later regret.
It is on cards such as these that my focus lies. After diligently poring through hundreds of thousands of baseball cards, eyes bloodshot and bleary, butt numb and stuck to chair, I have identified the twelve worst baseball cards ever produced.
#12 – Don Mossi
Mossi was a competent reliever for the Cleveland Indians who eventually earned his way into the starting rotation. Hailing from sunny California, this southpaw hurler carved out a decent decade-long career in baseball, performing with the Indians, White Sox, and Athletics from the mid-60s to mid-70s.
Perhaps more impressive than his 101 wins or 3.43 career ERA, however, are his gargantuan ears. This baseball card from his final season with Kansas City highlights this particular feature exceptionally well. Possessing a bevy of nicknames including “Sonic Boom”, “the Ocular Oddity”, “Radar Dish”, and “Big Fat Big Eared Dummyhead”, there is no truth to persistent rumors that Mossi was the illegitimate child of Dumbo the elephant. Dumbo is, after all, merely an animated character in a Disney film, and it has been scientifically proven with near certainty that humans and elephants cannot cross-breed.
#11 – John Danks
This White Sox speedballer has been a mainstay in Chicago’s starting rotation since his breakout season in 2008. After pitching several seasons of outstanding ball, he was rewarded in 2011 with a $65 million contract extension.
With a salary like that, one would assume Danks could easily afford as many boxes of Kleenex as he wanted. This dugout shot used for a recent Bowman card proves that would be a wise investment. Seemingly trying to extract his brain directly through his right nostril, Danks was able to insert his index finger up his nose almost to the second knuckle. Such an impressive feat has earned him the #11 spot on the worst baseball cards of all time list.
#10 – Alex Rodriguez
Though not known for his toughness or intestinal fortitude, it was still cruel of Upper Deck to feature this particular photograph of Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez on his annual baseball card. Shown lying on the ground, openly crying, while clutching a boo-boo on his wrist, Rodriguez is not exactly the picture of Yankee Pride.
When questioned about his Upper Deck card, Rodriguez exclaimed, “It hurt! Try hurting your wrist all bad like that and see if you don’t have some sort of emotional response, you mean old farthead!” He then stamped his feet, burst into tears, and rapidly skipped away, arms flailing wildly, as his teammates rushed to console him.
#9 – Jordany Valdespin
Similar in many ways to Rodriguez’s card, this Topps-issued card shows Rodriguez’s crosstown rival, Jordany Valdespin, suffering the after-effects of a vicious shot to the gonards. The Mets utility infielder, however, stayed a bit more composed than Rodriguez, though one can detect a lingering concern on his face that his testicles may have been jammed directly up into his large intestines.
This card is also notable in that it is one of only a few in existence that shows a player actively clutching his penis with both hands.
#8 – Barry Bonds
Baseball’s all time career and single season home run leader, retired Pirates and Giants slugger Barry Bonds’ achievements will forever be sullied by his involvement with illegal steroids and performance enhancing drugs. A key figure in the infamous BALCO scandal, Bonds was indicted by a grand jury for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Baseball should have detected this problem earlier and reacted more swiftly. Their response was especially negligent considering the photographic proof provided by this Topps card showing Bonds receiving a steroid injection in his buttock while slugging one of his 762 home runs.
#7 – Ramon Castro
The typical modus operandi of baseball card manufacturers is to show the players in exciting action shots, highlighting their skills and wowing the fans. Sometimes, however, they opt for more candid snapshots, showing a sort of photographic version of a slice-of-life vignette. Doing so does sometimes work, artistically, demonstrating the more human side of the featured player. Other times, it is less effective.
This card is notable in that it shows journeyman catcher, Ramon Castro, pooping.
#6 – Al Kaline
One of the greatest hitters in Tigers history, Kaline endeared himself to Detroit fans and earned the nickname “Mr. Tiger”. This Hall of Fame performer finished his long and storied career with over 3,000 hits and continued with Detroit as a color commentator, serving for 49 years in the Tigers organization.
One would not know he was destined for baseball greatness by looking at this 50s era card though. He has an unhealthy, greenish complexion, presenting a surreal, alien appearance. The card’s backdrop image also shows him fleeing for his life from a runaway circus bear doggedly chasing him toward the third base line.
#5 – Yogi Berra
This longtime Yankees backstop was a first-rate, MVP performer on the field, but is probably more well-known for his witty “Berraisms” such as “90% of the game is half mental” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Few remember, however, that he was among the many infected in the great zombie apocalypse of 1953. This ’53 Topps card shows him in zombie state immediately after consuming most of teammate Billy Martin’s liver, an act for which he later expressed remorse.
#4 – Al Hrabosky
In reality, though, the whole “pissed-off-at-the-world, I’d just as soon kill you as look in your direction” routine was all mental acrobatics and schtick. Hrabosky was really little more than a big, fluffy, Slavic teddy bear, as demonstrated in this Donruss card showing him winning a women’s beauty pageant.
Al Hrabosky Discusses the Genesis of His 'Mad Hungarian' Persona
#3 – R.A. Dickey
Long time knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, was hidden in plain sight until a masterful streak of pitching dominance propelled him do prominence in 2011. This resurgence at the ripe old age of 38 (that’s like 95 in baseball years) saw him win that season’s Cy Young Award.
Rather than focus on his fearsome delivery or outstanding on-field work ethic, this recent Topps card shows Dickey’s face plastered with makeup in a grotesque, embarrassing display of clownliness. This would have gone over very poorly in the United States, where there is a near-universal hatred of mimes and an all-encompassing, pathological fear of clowns. But he now plays for a Canadian team, and they kind of dig it.
Also, in a side note, his last name is a slang term for “penis”.
#2 – Dick Pole
Dick Pole was a highly regarded prospect with the Red Sox whose career was tragically cut short by a devastating injury that saw him lose 90% of the vision in his right eye. He diligently rehabbed and tried to reclaim his career after the injury, but was never as effective as once expected.
As a result, his cruel teammates would often beat him relentlessly with resin bags and force him to dress up as a winged fairy as shown in this mid-70s Topps card.
It should also be noted that both his first and last names are slang terms for “penis”. Fortunately, Topps did not include his nickname, “Pocket Rocket Schlongwanger”, on that year’s card. The humiliation may have been more than Dick Pole could bear.
#1 – Pete LaCock
Grabbing the numero uno spot on the list is former Cubs and Royals first baseman, Pete LaCock. LaCock, the son of ‘Hollywood Squares’ host Peter Marshall, had an unremarkable stint in the majors and eventually finished his career in Yokohama where the baseball-crazed Japanese people were willing to overlook the phallic implications of his name.
One thing that is more difficult to overlook, though, is the giant weevil balanced precariously on top of LaCock’s batting helmet in this late 70s Topps card.
The Dick Pole Poll
On a scale of one to five, how badly do you want a fairy costume exactly like the one Dick Pole is wearing?
darkprinceofjazz on February 20, 2014:
I nearly fell out of my chair on the Bonds one, took me a second to see it. Remember that vintage card of Andre Dawson, getting hit in the face. I think it was a yellow bordered classic game card.
Beth37 on October 10, 2013:
Please come back to the forums for a visit as you are missed there. Probably only by me... but still...
PS, I adore RA Dickey. Finished his book this summer. Great read!
Resident Weevil (author) on September 09, 2013:
Thanks, 9s. This was a fun one to whip up.
Precious Sanders from Kansas on September 08, 2013:
Haha. You obviously had fun putting this together. And I had fun reading it!
Resident Weevil (author) on September 03, 2013:
Thanks, Paul. The Weevil aims to please.
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on September 03, 2013:
Nice list. Entertaining.