They're hardly a Hall of Fame crew; they rarely even get recognized at Starbucks. But slap a sombrero on one of them, hand him a saxophone or a novelty-sized glove, and—Hey! I know that guy. They're the players—mostly journeymen (39 combined stops) and utilitymen (35 positions)—whose faces you remember from collectible cards, their backs stained with bubble-gum sugar. And they want you to know that they appreciate your love.
This is an article from the July 6, 2015 issue
Manny Fernandez 1976 TOPPS
Eight seasons as a Dolphins defensive lineman; two-time Super Bowl champ. Now 68, he lives on 80 acres in Ellaville, Ga., where he loves to hunt—and, he says, "that's pretty much it."
"I have very little recollection of [that day] at all. They did one every summer; it was just another photo shoot to me. I think they told me what to do; I didn't come up with that pose. We were doing two-a-day practices in 100º heat, and I just wanted to get back in the AC.... I get cards every single day in the mail to be autographed. They send me all sorts of different cards, but this one's in there a lot. Sometimes they send cards that I'm not even on. I got one the other day of [Raiders receiver] Mervyn Fernandez. That was probably a little bit of a mishap."
Oscar Gamble 1976 TOPPS
Seventeen seasons as an outfielder with seven teams. Now 65, he lives in Montgomery, Ala., and bides his time fishing.
"After [that photo] the Yankees wouldn't issue me a uniform; they told me I had to get a haircut and meet with Mr. Steinbrenner. I was supposed to do a commercial for Afro Sheen, and I said I wanted to wear the Afro through spring training, do the commercial, then I'd cut it. Mr. Steinbrenner said, 'No, you're going to cut it right now.' He'd pay for everything, including the commercial fee. Elston Howard [one of the coaches] took me to get the haircut. I think it was about $87, even though the haircut back then was about $10—it took that long to cut it all."
Jay Johnstone 1984 FLEER
Twenty seasons as an outfielder with eight teams; two-time World Series champ. Now 68, he owns a charity sports-collectibles company in Burbank, Calif.
"I was with the Cardinals in spring training, 1974. A couple of guys got hurt, so I got a chance to play, and I went on one of my rare hitting streaks. Lou Brock said, 'I really like the way you're playing—I'm going to get you one of my famous Brockabrella hats.' Ten years later [after the card], Brock called me and said 'Thanks!' because now everybody wanted a Brockabrella. I asked, 'Do I get a piece of the action?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'll send you a beer.' That's good enough for me; Lou was one of the class guys. Plus, Budweiser has been sending me a case of beer every year since."
Brian Harper 1993 UPPER DECK
Sixteen seasons as a catcher for seven teams; won '91 World Series with the Twins. Now 55, he's the hitting coach for the Cubs' Triple A affiliate, in Des Moines, and an avid runner who's completed three half marathons.
"When we were on the road we had a 5 o'clock stretch and 5:15 BP—but we'd get [on the field] at 4:30 and sit around. A guy came up to me and asked, 'Would you do a radio interview?' So he brings me this huge cellphone. There were always a couple of baseball photographers around; I saw one, and I'm thinking, Oh, great. When I saw [the card] I was like, Come on, really? Of all the pictures they could have taken—me hitting a line drive or catching the ball.... The kids I coach bring up that card pretty much every year, like I was actually carrying that cellphone around with me on the field. That was the original iPhone right there."
Eugene Robinson 1991 PRO LINE
Sixteen seasons as a free safety with four teams; three-time Pro Bowler won Super Bowl XXXI with Packers and picked off 57 career passes (13th all time). Now 52, he coaches high school football, wrestling and track in Charlotte.
"This was around when the craze for Zubaz pants started, and Zubaz wanted to get in the trading card game. They wanted to show athletes in their natural environment. So I had my Zubaz pants, my sax—during the shoot I just messed around, maybe played some blues scales—no shoes and, of course, the shirt to show off the abs. That was just me trying to get my sexy on.... Don't forget: Zubaz in 1991 was a hot commodity. Now, though, most people don't think those pants are too cool anymore. When [my students] see the photo they say, Coach Rob, come on. Look at you, this is kind of corny. That or, Look at you, Coach—you actually had hair!"
Mickey Hatcher 1986 FLEER
Twelve seasons as a utilityman with the Twins and the Dodgers, with whom he won the '88 World Series. Now 60, he plays golf, takes care of his pet duck and ticks off tasks on his wife's 'honey-do' list in Buena Park, Calif.
"A baseball glove company [Mizuno] happened to be there the same afternoon as photo day. When I walked out, there were giant gloves just sitting on a table. I said, 'If I'm going to have a baseball card, I'm going to need all the help I can get,' and I picked the thing up. It worked out well, so I did one with the Dodgers a few seasons later. Fleer took a lot of other pictures, so I didn't know which one they were going to choose. I was surprised when they [picked that], but it made sense: I couldn't catch with the small glove; I had a better chance with the big one. And I think everyone knew I was a little goofy. That card reflected me as a player well.... I never kept the glove. If I had, I would have made a bed out of it for my newborn kid."
Kurt Rambis 1990 SKYBOX
Fourteen seasons as a power forward, mostly for the Lakers, with whom he won eight titles—four as a player, four as a coach-exec. Now 57, he's an assistant with the Knicks.
"I think people related to the intensity and the work ethic you get out of that photo. These days they beg me not to suit up at [Knicks] practices—I might get suspended for a flagrant foul.... I'm losing my hair now; I wish I still had that long hair. And the black glasses: I had LASIK surgery several years ago, but when I was playing and the glasses got knocked off, pretty much everything disappeared."
Bip Roberts 1996 SCORE
Played 12 seasons, at various positions, with six teams; named an All-Star (44 stolen bases) in '92. Now 51, he's a youth baseball coach and an analyst on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
"We had Mexican Heritage Day, and people were performing in costumes before the game. I said to one of the dancers, 'Let me see that sombrero,' and I started doing the salsa. The Padres knew that was just me—I used to dunk a beach ball over the outfield wall. They'd get mad about that, saying, 'He's going to get hurt!' But the fans loved it. I'm really just humbled that such a little thing like a card could bring me so much joy."