1980 WBTV Charlotte O's Cal Ripken, Jr.
Although the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's set was not the first Minor League team issued set produced, it still stands as one of the greatest. The 1980 WBTV set followed the 1979 TCMA Ogden A's issue (AAA Rickey Henderson) and was one of three team sets produced in 1980. The October 2006 Huggins and Scott auction may have said it best when they stated, "If the1980 Charlotte O’s Cal Ripken Orange is the 'King of Minor League Cards' then the offered 1980 Charlotte O’s WBTV Blue #16 Cal Ripken is definitely the 'Prince.'"
The 1980 WBTV card of Cal was included in the 28 card set sponsored by WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the second toughest Minor League issue to find of Cal to the 1980 Charlotte O's Police card. According to a 1980 Charlotte O's promotional schedule, "every child 14 & under who enters with a paying adult gets a free set of cards.". A reported total of 1,400 WBTV Charlotte O's sets were produced.
When you see an authenticated copy of this card, you will see that the card has been given the designation of #16 in the set. In all reality, there is no official checklist to the set and the #16 is not in reference to the card number. We know this for two reasons: 1) Seven cards in the set do not have a number on the back of the card (O's Logo Header, Team Card, The Pepper Girls, Marshall Hester, Doc Cole, Minnie Mendoza and Jimmy Williams). Second, there are three cards in the 28 card set that have numbers higher than 28 (#30 Don Welchel, #31 Will George and #32 Edwin Neal). So where did the #16 come from?
According to the 1980 Charlotte O's program, Cal wore jersey #16. However, at least one program insert (which would have been updated regularly) has Cal listed as #12. Something interesting about this card is the fact that Cal's name is spelled correctly on the front of the card, but spelled incorrectly twice on the back of the card ("Ripkin"). The information on the back of the card reads as follows:
Cal Ripkin Jr
Born: Aug. 24, 1960; 6'4''; 195; Bats, R; Throws, R
Born: Havre De Grace, MD; Lives, Aberdeen, MD. Son of Cal Ripken, Sr., Orioles third base coach. Selected as shortstop on Topps National Association Class A All-Star Team last season.
A fascinating irony of this set can be found in the day that the set was given out. The WBTV Charlotte O's set was given out on May 30, 1980, exactly two years before Cal's consecutive game streak began. Counterfeit copies of this card are all over the secondary market. For more information on how to guard against purchasing a counterfeit copy of this card, be sure to visit our "Spotting Counterfeits" Link.
In the July 2007 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, Kevin Haake, Associate Editor of the publication, interviewed Cal Ripken, Jr. In the interview, Cal commented on his 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's card when asked "Did you ever actively collect your own Rookie Card?". Cal's response was as follows: "No, I never went looking for them, but I've got them all. The card I have the most quantity of is my 1980 Charlotte WBTV minor league card. This was my first baseball card ever, so I was pretty excited. Somewhere, I've got a box full of those sets."
The checklist for the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's set (28 cards):
Charlotte O's Logo Header Card
1980 Charlotte O's Team Card
The Pepper Girls
1980 WBTV Charlotte O's Card Gallery
To see the cards of the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's set, visit our 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV Set Album at http://www.ripkenintheminors.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=7647517
The 1980 Charlotte O's Program Speaks
This site would not have been possible without the gracious contributions from Bill Haelig. Bill has been more than willing to share his knowledge and insight from his years of collecting Ripken memorabilia. Bill has also been gracious to share some of the items from his extensive collection with fellow collectors and fans from around the world. In the image below, you will see an insert in the 1980 Charlotte O's program, which announces the WBTV set giveaway. A very special thank you to Bill for his help in making this site what it is today!
(Image Courtesy of the Bill Haelig Collection)
How many sets survived?
A reported total of 1,400 WBTV Charlotte O's sets were produced. However, did 1,400 sets leave Crockett Park on May 30, 1980? Here is a clip from our November 2006 interview with Marshall Hester, Traveling Secretary for the 1980 Charlotte O's:
"The night the cards were given out either we had a sparse crowd or there was a distribution SNAFU because after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of unopened packs left around the concourse. The GM wanted everything cleaned up that night before we left and that included these cards. I assume it was the GM because the souvenir manager had orders from higher up to get rid of the leftover cards. A grocery cart was always tucked in a storage room on the concourse. My kid brother, age 13 and my clubhouse rat, got the cart and we went up and down the concourse chunking the cards into the cart. It filled the entire cart I know because it was tough trying to push it to the dumpster. Into the dumpster the cards went and that was that. My brother may have stuck a set or two in his pocket but I didn't take any. It was no big deal."
To read the complete interview, visit http://www.ripkenintheminors.com/intmarshallhester.html
The following article appeared in the April 1990 issue of Minor League Monthly:
1980 Charlotte O’s Minor League Sets
One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “What is the most difficult minor league sets to obtain?” The answer to this question as far as we are concerned would most definitely be the 1980 Charlotte O’s orange border police set. This particular minor league set is almost impossible to find in complete set form for several reasons:
1. The 1980 Charlotte O’s orange border cards were intended as a public service by the Charlotte, NC Police Dept. in 1980 and were given away to children at the local schools in Charlotte. The police officers would go into the schools to give a brief talk to the school children about safety tips and then handed out one or two cards each time they held a session.
2. Cards were not distributed in complete set form, only one or two at a time.
3. To further complicate matters, the Charlotte O’s stadium burned down later that year and all the remaining cards as well as printing plates and any artwork for the set were destroyed in the fire. (Note from ripkenintheminors.com: The stadium burned in 1985. There is no evidence that any police cards were ever distributed or housed at Crockett Park.)
4. The only way for a collector to obtain the cards would be to find a local resident who had single cards and piece together a set one card at a time.
The 1980 blue border Charlotte O’s set produced by W3TV is also difficult to obtain but it is believed that some of these cards were distributed or sold to the general public in complete set form thus making this set easier to obtain than the police set version.
The front of the cards in both sets are exactly alike with the exception of the orange border signifying the police set and the blue border signifying the W3TV set. The card backs are completely different between the two sets. The orange border police set has safety tips on the backs of the cards and the blue border set has player information and stats on the card backs.
There are three (3) more cards in the blue border set that were not issued in the orange border police set. To my knowledge, only three (3) complete sets of the orange border police set are known to exist in the card collecting hobby. The most recent complete set purchase was made by long-time minor league card fanatic, Dayton Ault from Salem, Oregon, who purchased the set from Smitty’s card shop in Charlotte, NC for $1,100.00. The set Dayton purchased was not a mint set, and it is estimated that the value of a truly mint set (if one exists in the hobby) would be closer to between $1,500.00 and $2,000.00.
CONGRATULATIONS, DAYTON, ON YOUR RARE FIND
If readers have any more information on this extremely rare minor league set, please write us. We would love to hear from you.
PSA Changes Slabs on 1980 Charlotte Minor League Issues
In a hobby that tends to have more questions than answers, PSA pledged today to do its part in clearing the air on 1980 Charlotte O’s minor league trading cards.
Up until January 21, 2008,, the PSA flips contained two inaccuracies, one on each of the WBTV and Charlotte Police slabs. The inaccuracy involving the 1980 WBTV blue bordered set involved the slab posting card numbers. In all reality, there is no official checklist. We know this for two reasons: First, seven cards in the set do not have a number on the back of the card (O's Logo Header, Team Card, The Pepper Girls, Marshall Hester, Doc Cole, Minnie Mendoza and Jimmy Williams). Second, there are three cards in the 28 card set that have numbers higher than 28 (#30 Don Welchel, #31 Will George, & #32 Edwin Neal).
The inaccuracy on the Charlotte Police slabs could be found in the words, TEAM ISSUE. According to an insert from the 1980 Charlotte O’s program, "every child 14 & under who enters with a paying adult gets a free set of cards" on the night of May 30, 1980. This insert also confirms that the set given out that night was the WBTV set. The 1980 Charlotte Police set is a parallel of the WBTV team issued set that was given away at the park in the summer of 1980 with a couple of exceptions: First, the orange set contained 3 fewer cards than the blue set (28-25). Second, and most significant, was how the orange set was distributed. While the blue WBTV set would be given away as a complete set at Crockett Park, the orange set, which was produced in much smaller quantities, would be given out one or two cards at a time by officers of the Charlotte Police Department. It is worth noting that sources inside the Charlotte O’s organization have gone on record as saying that the Charlotte Police cards were never distributed inside Crockett Park.
Instrumental in the changes taking place was Susan Blanco of the PSA Research Department, who was given the assignment from PSA President Joe Orlando. In a message that contained the new labels for the 1980 Charlotte issues, Susan reiterated that PSA "understands the importance of this" and that PSA wants "to give you the best service that we can provide". The attention to detail will be welcomed. With this change, PSA will be the only third party grading service of the "big three" (SGC, BGS) that currently contains accurate information on the slabs of both 1980 issues.
A Grocery Cart, Dumpster, and a Police Officer: The Minor League Cards of Cal Ripken, Jr.
The following article was published in 2013 on http://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com
A Grocery Cart, Dumpster, and a Police Officer:
The Minor League Cards of Cal Ripken, Jr.
Cal Ripken, Jr., is one of the most beloved players in Major League Baseball history. On the field he was the 1982 Rookie of the Year and a 1983 World Series Champion. In 20 full seasons, he was a 19-time all-star selection, two time Gold Glove Award winner, and twice received the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He had 431 career home runs 3,184 career hits. On September 6, 1995, Cal broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak record. After a strike shortened 1994 season, many credit Ripken for saving baseball. Cal’s on the field play earned a selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame with the third highest selection percentage in history.
Twelve years after retirement, Cal Ripken, Jr., remains relevant. Along with his brother, Billy, Cal formed the Cal Ripken, Sr., Foundation. The Foundation helps build character and teach critical life lessons to disadvantaged young people in America’s most distressed communities through baseball and softball themed programs. Cal also serves as an International Ambassador for the game of baseball. Young people who never had the opportunity to watch Cal play are still exposed to the name Ripken as part of the Cal Ripken Division of the Babe Ruth Baseball League. Cal also remains a popular feature in modern day Topps releases. As of July 20, 2013, Cal had appeared on 139 different trading cards among 2013 issues.
Cal’s love for the game, love for the fans, and love for others make him popular among hobby collectors. Ripken’s popularity provides collectors with many opportunities to grab items with his image. Through his Ironclad Authentics (www.ironcladauthentics.com), the licensing and memorabilia division of Ripken Baseball, collectors have the opportunity to purchase personalized autographed pieces and even have the opportunity to meet the Iron Man.
In the hobby, supply and demand is key. Ripken related collectibles have brought steady prices during his career and after retirement due to steady demand. When an item is scarce, Ripken related items bring large premiums. Over the past several weeks, the minor league cards of Cal have been bringing about such premiums, with prices ranging from $2,499-$6,500.
During the 1980 season, Cal played for the AA Charlotte O’s of the Southern League. Cal helped the O’s with his offense (.276-25-78) and defense (Southern League leader at 3B with a .933 fielding percentage). Cal and the O’s defeated the Memphis Chicks to win the 1980 Southern League Championship. Cal was a 1980 Southern League All-Star and was given the opportunity to play in the Caribbean Winter League. In winter ball, Cal would receive the first of two consecutive Team MVP Awards with Caugas. In February 2009, I had the honor of interviewing Cal for the first time. In the interview, Cal had the following to say about his time in Charlotte:
This was the season that made me believe for the first time that I could play in the big leagues. I had a full season in Charlotte and I really loved that town. I returned there recently for a fundraiser and it was great to be back. I had a wonderful season there and a lot of great memories.
During the 1980 season, Cal’s first professional trading card was produced. On May 30, 1980, exactly two years to the day before “The Streak” began, a blue-bordered 28-set sponsored by WBTV of Charlotte was given out to fans 14 and under at Crockett Park, the home of the Charlotte O’s.
Marshall Hester was the Traveling Secretary for the 1980 Charlotte O’s. As a 24 year old, Marshall ran the home clubhouse and helped the club on road trips. To his surprise, he was included in the 1980 WBTV set.
I can't recall if a photo shoot was done exclusively for the card set or whether the card photos came from the normal team photo shoot. There was just one team photo shoot that I remember that season. It was before a game so I was in the dugout doing whatever and the manager Jimmy Williams called me, "Marshall, you're part of the team - get out here." I guess the photographer asked Jimmy if there was anyone else to shoot. What a wonderful man, Jimmy Williams. He treated me with the same interest and respect as any of the players. He liked it because I stood at attention during the National Anthem (a holdover from my Naval Reserve time). I don't know if the photographer wanted a final shot to finish out the roll, or if they had this card set in mind and another shot was needed for the printer's plate or if Jimmy was just being nice. I got out there quick and was being ribbed by all of the players off-camera because by then it was a month or two into the season and I was one of the guys getting in trouble with them and sharing every ball players interest in girls, cars, spitting and more girls. When the set was printed I was as surprised as anybody to be in it. Jimmy thought it was great.
The 28-card shrink-wrapped set had a production run of 1,400 sets. However, first hand accounts would indicate that far fewer than 1,400 sets are available today thanks in part to a grocery cart and a dumpster. 33 years later, Marshall vividly remembers the night of May 30, 1980:
The night the cards were given out either we had a sparse crowd or there was a distribution SNAFU because after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of unopened packs left around the concourse. The GM wanted everything cleaned up that night before we left and that included these cards. I assume it was the GM because the souvenir manager had orders from higher up to get rid of the leftover cards. A grocery cart was always tucked in a storage room on the concourse. My kid brother, age 13 and my clubhouse rat, got the cart and we went up and down the concourse chunking the cards into the cart. It filled the entire cart I know because it was tough trying to push it to the dumpster. Into the dumpster the cards went and that was that. My brother may have stuck a set or two in his pocket but I didn't take any. It was no big deal.
Marshall’s “kid brother” is Stuart Hester. An 8th grader at the time, Stuart assisted his brother in the season preparations and the day-to-day responsibilities of running a clubhouse in professional baseball. Stuart also remembers the night of May 30, 1980.
It was a sparse attendance that night. As a result, there was a large amount of promotional card sets left over. At the end of the night, the sets were gathered into a large grocery cart. The cart was overflowing and heavy and my help was needed to push the cart to the dumpster. I did manage to keep my one set.
Robert “Cat” Whitfield beat out Cal for shortstop position for the 1980 Charlotte O’s. A member of the Alderson-Broaddus Baseball Hall of Fame, Whitfield handled 16 chances at shortstop without an error on August 15, 1980. Whitfield was so good, the only time Cal saw action at shortstop was when Cat got married during the 1980 season. Cat joked with his best man at the wedding that, “if the preacher starts dragging this out you’re going to have to do something to speed it up. I got to get back to Charlotte because Ripken is playing shortstop.”
Cat Whitfield also appears in the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s set. Cat remembers the post game clubhouse on the night of May 30, 1980:
After the night was over there were several extra cases and Frances put them in the clubhouse. I grabbed like ten packs just to have it because I knew that I was always going to be where I could hand them out to my friends and my sister and my college team guys. I thought it was some neat thing that I could give away or add to the Christmas present that year. I literally gave them all away. No, I had to have taken more than ten because I remember opening at least four or five packs, pulling my card out, and throwing the rest of the cards away. Then I would just send my card in a letter or Christmas card to friends to the point that my sister has a pack today that’s opened. My dad has a pack that’s opened and a pack that’s unopened. He brought the opened one to the ’80 reunion and got everybody to sign their card.
Cal remembers his first trading card. In the July 2007 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, Kevin Haake, Associate Editor of the publication, interviewed Cal Ripken, Jr. In the interview, Cal commented on his 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's card when asked, "Did you ever actively collect your own Rookie Card?" Cal's response was as follows: "No, I never went looking for them, but I've got them all. The card I have the most quantity of is my 1980 Charlotte WBTV minor league card. This was my first baseball card ever, so I was pretty excited. Somewhere, I've got a box full of those sets." Cal’s name was misspelled “Ripkin” on the back of the card. In February 2010, I had the opportunity to ask Cal if he was disappointed with the error. He responded, “I am sure that I was at the time but looking back it doesn't bother me in the least.”
The 1980 Charlotte O’s WBTV set brings strong premiums. It is for this reason that Cal’s WBTV carries the most need for caution due to counterfeits on the market. During June 2013, Cal’s WBTV cards saw huge spikes in premiums:
June 6: PSA 6 WBTV - $2,499 (Ebay Buy It Now)
June 11: PSA 6 WBTV - $3,499 (Ebay Buy It Now)
June 14: SGC 40 WBTV - $3,231.25 ($2,750 plus commission, Huggins and Scott)
June 30: PSA 6 WBTV with the rest of the team set - $4,500 (Ebay)
The hot sales continued to the month of July. On July 13, a 1980 WBTV graded SGC 80 sold for $3,500 (Ebay Buy It Now).
Population reports from the “big three” of grading (BGS, PSA, SGC) would suggest that far fewer than 1,400 sets are available. As of July 2, 2013, the three grading services have slabbed a combined total of 46 copies.
BGS: 9 copies
PSA: 34 copies
SGC: 3 copies
Unbeknownst to Cal, his second trading card was also produced during the 1980 season. This card, sponsored by the Charlotte Police Department, featured a design similar to its WBTV counterpart with some exceptions: The Charlotte O’s Police card featured an orange border and did not include the WBTV logo. In addition, the back of the Police card included crime prevention and baseball tips. The 1980 Charlotte O’s Police cards were never collated in set form. During the summer of 1980, Officers from the Charlotte Police Department gave one or two cards out at a time to young people of the Charlotte area.
Cal’s 1980 Charlotte Police card, considered Cal’s “Holy Grail”, is extremely rare. As of July 2, 2013, the “big three” of grading (BGS, PSA, SGC), have only slabbed 21 copies of Cal’s orange bordered Charlotte O’s Police card:
BGS: 3 copies
PSA: 14 copies
SGC: 4 copies
To put the scarcity in perspective, the T206 Honus Wagner, often referred to as “The Card”, has a population of 47 copies as of the July 2, 2013, PSA and SGC Population Reports.
During June 2013, Cal’s 1980 Charlotte O’s Police cards brought high prices in two Ebay Buy it Now listing appearances.
June 11: PSA 2 Charlotte Police - $2,499
June 30: PSA 5 Charlotte Police with 17 singles from the 1980 Charlotte Police set - $6,500
Since October 4, 2006, there are only ten recorded sales of this card.
Collectors familiar with Cal’s minor league cards are not surprised by the sales data. Collectors unfamiliar with Cal’s minor league issues might be some confused as to how cards produced in 1980 can be bringing such high final prices.
Baltimore Orioles fan James Feagin is Head Writer for Huggins & Scott Auctions. His love affair for the Orioles began in 1984 as an eight year old when his family moved from California to Maryland. When Eddie Murray was traded in 1988, Ripken became his new focus. As the 1990s wore on and "The Streak" came into prominence, Ripken became the focal point of his collecting endeavors. After a serious seven-year search, James acquired a 1980 Charlotte O’s Police Cal Ripken, Jr.
As Head Writer at Huggins and Scott Auctions, James personally sees millions of cards come through the auction house every year. As a person who sees hobby treasures come and go on a regular basis, James was asked to describe where he feels that Cal’s minor league cards rank in the hobby:
I've handled several thousand T206 cards, dozens of Mantle rookies, countless 1950s-1960s Topps and Bowman cards and even more modern collections. With the proliferation of internet retail sites and auction houses, savvy hobbyists are becoming more wise as to what is really scarce. However, it's equally important to note that rarity is not what entirely dictates the desirability of an item. Sometimes, the only thing rarer than an item is a buyer for it. During my 7 years with Huggins & Scott, I have handled less than a half dozen blue border (WBTV) and exactly zero orange border (Police) Charlotte Ripken cards. It is the perfect storm for price escalation being that 1.) Cal Ripken is a baseball icon and the overwhelming majority of his collectors have never seen, let alone secured copies of his Charlotte cards; 2.) these sets were not manufactured by a major company with artificial print runs and 3.) valuable research from websites such as ripkenintheminors have created a story or point of time which further fuels desirability in these cards. It is also important to note that Baltimore is a major hub in the sports card industry and advanced Orioles collectors are more apt to pay a substantial premium for "one of their own". Ripken wasn't a vagabond like Henderson and that also helps drive sales.
Bill Haelig is well known in hobby circles as having the most comprehensive collection of Ripken cards and memorabilia in the country. A long time Baltimore Orioles fan and collector, Bill works directly with Cal through Ironclad Authentics. Sports Illustrated named Bill as the "Iron Man of Cal Collectors" in its commemorative "2131" edition. Bill picked up his first WBTV set in 1985 for $10. When he learned, shortly thereafter, that the orange Charlotte O’s Police card existed it took another two years to track one down.
Although information about the 1980 Charlotte issues is more accessible than ever before, Bill feels that the hobby continues to overlook the scarcity. Bill also thinks that the unique circumstances surrounding the distribution of the cards have been overlooked:
You have the Blue WBTV cards that were given away to kids one evening at Crockett Park in May of 1980, with first hand accounts of many of these complete sets never getting in the hands of children, compounded with the devastating fire that completely destroyed this stadium in 1985. In addition, the orange cards that were never collated as a set, but were to given to kids by the Charlotte Police Department. All of these years later, less than 50 examples of the Charlotte Police Ripken can be accounted for. All of this makes these cards SO much more intriguing. Tell me one other minor league card set in the last 35 years that can compete with this set of circumstances, coupled with the fact that one of the players in that set would eventually become an iconic Hall of Fame player?
If current trends are a sign of things to come, the minor league cards of Cal Ripken, Jr., will only continue to be a focal point of hobby discussions.
Chris Dishman is the founder of Ripken in the Minors. The site was created in October 2006 in an effort to protect and educate collectors about Cal’s Minor League cards. To learn more about Cal’s Minor League cards and career, please visit www.ripkenintheminors.com. Chris can also be reached at [email protected]
November 2017: First Bulk Appearance of 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV and Police Reprints
Leading up to the fall of 2017, my stance on the possibilities of counterfeit/reprinted copies of Cal's 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV and Police issues were well documented. While recognizing the legitimate possibility of counterfeit/reprinted copies being out there, I felt the likelihood was small for two reasons:
1. Card Population
2. Card value
Buyer protection was assisted by the facts that someone wanting to reproduce the card would have a hard time purchasing a copy due the supply/demand as well as the cost to obtain a copy. The only way around this would be if an owner was willing to share a high resolution copy of the card. Even without proof of counterfeits/reproductions on the market, this site has always taken the stance of buying authenticated copies of Cal's minor league cards from a reputable third party authenticator.
In November of 2017, the first batch of "Reprints" hit the secondary market. The lots were posted on eBay in lots of 100. The listings clearly identified the cards as reprints. However, there was no marking on the cards to identify them as reprints. Copies of the card featured the full front as well as the back with the Third Base Hints and Crime Prevention tips from the Charlotte Police Department. The listing noted that the cards were the standard size of a trading card (2.5 x 3.5) and had a standard card thickness. The seller noted that the cards had a glossy finish on both sides of the card. Since then, the cards have appeared in smaller lots or singles.
For anyone that has researched the 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV and Police cards, the thickness and gloss of the cards would be red flags to anyone questioning the authenticity of the cards. However, as printing technology continues to evolve, it could be possible that counterfeit/reprinted copies of Cal's "Holy Grail" are out there that better mimic the stock and feel of a true 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV or Police issue. For these reasons, RITM urges collectors interested in adding any of Cal's minor league issues to do their homework before making any purchase.
May 2020: Humble Beginnings: Most of Cal Ripken Jr.’s First Baseball Cards Were Destroyed
The following article was published in 2020 on http://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com
It’s May 30, 1980, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Nashville Sounds are at Jim Crockett Memorial Park to take on the Charlotte O’s, the AA Minor-League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Souvenir programs leading up to tonight’s Southern League contest have billed the game as “WBTV Baseball Card Nite.” Through a partnership with Charlotte’s WBTV Television, “all children 14 and under accompanied by an adult will receive a packet of cards with all the players and Pepper Girls,” the team’s uniformed hostesses.
The 28-card set was a first for the organization under the oversight of pioneering General Manager Frances Crockett. During her 12-year tenure, the O’s set attendance records and won the Southern League Championship in 1980 and 1984.
Baseball’s first female General Manager, Crockett was called a “Gem of a G.M.” in a 1982 Sports Illustrated feature. This was at a time when only two other women held the title of General Manager.
She was named Class AA Baseball Executive of the Year by the Sporting News, the first woman to win their award at any level. Rawlings honored her as the Outstanding Woman Executive of the Year. Twice. In 2006, the Charlotte Knights inducted Crockett to the Round Table of Honor, the Charlotte Baseball Hall of Fame. This past February, the Southern League announced that she would be part of their 2020 Hall of Fame Class.
The daughter of legendary wrestling promoter “Big Jim” Crockett, Crockett used promotions as part of the game day experience. During her tenure as GM, the O’s hosted a variety of promotions including appearances from the San Diego Chicken, ostrich races, kazoo giveaway to form the “world’s biggest kazoo band,” and the world’s largest ice cream sundae. On “All Faith” days, families with a Church bulletin received $3 admission to Sunday contests. During the 1980 season, 32 of Charlotte’s scheduled 72 regular season home games had a scheduled promotion.
Of the 28 cards in the blue-bordered O’s baseball card set, 21 featured players. In addition to the Pepper Girls, there was a logo header card, a team photo, one featuring trainer Doc Cole and others featuring coach Minnie Mendoza, Manager Jimmy Williams, and clubhouse manager/traveling secretary Marshall Hester.
“I can’t recall if a photo shoot was done exclusively for the card set or whether the card photos came from the normal team photo shoot,” Hester told me back in 2006. “There was just one team photo shoot that I remember that season. It was before a game so I was in the dugout doing whatever and the manager, Jimmy Williams called me, ‘Marshall, you’re part of the team – get out here.’ I guess the photographer asked Jimmy if there was anyone else to shoot. I don’t know if the photographer wanted a final shot to finish out the roll, if they had this card set in mind and another shot was needed for the printer’s plate, or if Jimmy was just being nice. When the set was printed I was as surprised as anybody to be in it. Jimmy thought it was great.”
Cat Whitfield, an aspiring infielder in the Oriole system, was competing with fellow prospect Cal Ripken, Jr., for Charlotte’s starting shortstop position out of Spring Training in 1980. A player that successfully fielded 16 chances without an error on August 16, 1980, Whitfield’s only absence during the season from his duties at short came during his wedding and return to Charlotte over the dates of June 7-9.
“I remember joking with my best man at the wedding that ‘if the preacher starts dragging this out you’re going to have to do something to speed it up. I got to get back to Charlotte because Ripken’s playing shortstop’,” he recalled during a 2009 interview.
Whitfield also spoke about the photo shoot for the WBTV set: “I remember them saying they were going to do these cards. Who knew that they were going to end up being what they are today. We were going to put our uniforms on and take this team picture, take individual pictures and the Pepper Girls. I remember contemplating if I should wear my glasses or not. I thought that people always see me in them when I play so I’m going to wear them.”
The Leftover Sets
The combination of firsthand eyewitness reports, historical data, and modern population reports suggest that 40 years later, few sets have survived.
“The night the cards were given out either we had a sparse crowd or there was a distribution SNAFU because after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of unopened packs left around the concourse,” Hester recalled. “The GM wanted everything cleaned up that night before we left and that included these cards. I assume it was the GM because the souvenir manager had orders from higher up to get rid of the leftover cards. A grocery cart was always tucked in a storage room on the concourse. My kid brother, age 13 and my clubhouse rat, got the cart and we went up and down the concourse chunking the cards into the cart. It filled the entire cart, I know, because it was tough trying to push it to the dumpster. Into the dumpster the cards went and that was that. My brother may have stuck a set or two in his pocket but I didn’t take any. It was no big deal.”
Stuart Hester, Marshall’s younger brother, also remembered the night of May 30, 1980. “It was a sparse attendance that night,” Stuart said in a 2007 interview. “As a result, there was a large amount of promotional card sets left over. At the end of the night, the sets were gathered into a large grocery cart. The cart was overflowing and heavy and my help was needed to push the cart to the dumpster. I did manage to keep my one set.”
“The night they handed them out was no different from any other night,” Whitfield recalled. We were all aware that it was baseball card night. After the night was over there were several extra cases and Frances put them in the clubhouse. I grabbed like ten packs just to have it because I knew that I was always going to be where I could hand them out to my friends and my sister and my college team guys. I thought it was some neat thing that I could give away or add to the Christmas present that year. I literally gave them all away. No, I had to have taken more than ten because I remember opening at least four or five packs, pulling my card out, and throwing the rest of the cards away. Then, I would just send my card in a letter or Christmas card to friends to the point that my sister has a pack today that’s opened. My dad has a pack that’s opened and a pack that’s unopened. He brought the opened one to the ’80 reunion and got everybody to sign their card. So he has two packs. One unopened and one opened with signatures.”
Brooks Carey, who currently manages the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Frontier League, roomed with Ripken as they navigated their way through the Oriole Minor League system. Carey’s four-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of the Memphis Chicks in Game 4 of the 1980 Southern League Championship Series secured Charlotte’s first title. Carey, who was referenced more than anyone else in Ripken’s 1997 bestselling autobiography, “The Only Way I Know,” spoke about his memories pertaining to the WBTV set giveaway in a May 2020 interview.
“I was walking out of the stadium with Drungo Larue Hazewood and a couple of other players. I remember a grocery cart. There were a bunch of these cards that were being wheeled somewhere. I didn’t think anything of it. I said, ‘Well, we didn’t have enough people to give all the cards out to’ and then we went to our cars and went about our evening.”
Although some might question why hundreds of packs of trading cards would be thrown away, Carey feels that context is important.
“It was just a local card. We’re in Double A pro ball, and we see a set of cards and they are not the Topps card, which was the big card back then. A lot of guys just looked at them and said, ‘OK’ It was just a local set of cards for the. It was just a promotional card that Frances Ringley (Crockett) and the Charlotte O’s put out. That’s what these cards were. So we didn’t think it was anything more than that.”
On March 16, 1985, a three-alarm fire, later ruled arson, destroyed Crockett Park. Any production records related to the WBTV set were destroyed in “a blaze that left nothing but the poles” according to the Associated Press.
“All of our records burned in the fire,” Frances Crockett told SC Daily last week. “It’s hard to remember how many were ordered.” While others remembered the remaining card sets being wheeled to a dumpster in the ever present grocery card, she recalled that the WBTV sets were retrieved by former Jim Crockett Promotions wrestler and manager turned groundskeeper George “Two Ton” Harris the night of the giveaway and stored in her office closet at Crockett Park, but were lost in the fire. “Pictures and related documents in wrestling and baseball were in my office. They were totally destroyed.”
The Uncorrected Error
Whatever fate the remaining sets suffered, it seems clear they will remain rare—and pretty important. The set that featured the 1980 Southern League Champions included Ripken’s first baseball card, printed two years before he appeared on Topps, Fleer and Donruss cards as a major leaguer.
Not yet a household name, Ripken’s last name was spelled “Ripkin” on the back, although the front of the card has the correct spelling.
“This was the season that made me believe for the first time that I could play in the big leagues,” Cal said in a 2009 interview. “I had a full season in Charlotte and I really loved that town. I had a wonderful season there and a lot of great memories.” When asked about the moment of holding the 1980 WBTV issue, Cal said, “I remember that it was a thrill. I am guessing that the moment of your first trading card is a great feeling for any ballplayer and I certainly fell into that category. I guess it gave me the feeling that I was a professional athlete for the first time.”
Interestingly enough, if the Iron Man recalls correctly, he owns the biggest stash of his rarest baseball card. In the July 2007 Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, Kevin Haake asked Ripken if he ever actively collected his rookie card. “No, I never went looking for them, but I’ve got them all. The card I have the most quantity of is my 1980 Charlotte WBTV Minor League card. This was my first baseball card ever, so I was pretty excited. Somewhere, I’ve got a box full of those sets.”
On the two-year anniversary of the night of the WBTV set giveaway, Ripken took the field at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on May 30, 1982, against the Toronto Blue Jays. Although Cal would go 0-2 with a walk and strikeout, history would forever remember the contest as the first game of his record-breaking 2,632 consecutive games played streak. It was an early milestone in a career that ended with a 2007 Hall of Fame induction. The 98.53 selection percentage received by Ripken ranks sixth all-time.
Forty seasons after the night of the WBTV set giveaway, evidence from the game’s box score and modern population reports provide additional clues about the survival rate of the set with a reported production total of 1,400. The posted attendance from Crockett Park on May 30, 1980, was 2,036 for an O’s organization that averaged 2,757 per game during the season.
As of May 23, 2020, the “Big Three” of card grading (PSA/BGS/SGC) have certified a combined population of 88 Ripken 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s trading cards (PSA-61 copies, BGS-20 copies, SGC-7 copies). The total population of 88 is an increase from the July 2, 2013, population of 46. It is worth noting that the current population report does not denote cards cracked from their slab, resubmitted, or sent it for crossover services.
To date, no WBTV Ripken has received a “Mint” 9 grade or higher, likely a testimony to the cellophane wrapping that housed each set. Of the 229 WBTV Charlotte O’s cards graded as of May 28, 2020, only a Willie Royster and Brooks Carey have the distinction of a Mint grade, both receiving a PSA 9.
Bill Haelig, nicknamed the “King of Cal-ectors” in Ripken’s autobiography, first became aware of Cal’s WBTV issue in 1984 through an article by the late Bob Lemke. The article, which appeared in the August 1984 issue of Baseball Cards Magazine, featured Cal’s blue-bordered Charlotte O’s card on the cover. “And really, fun is what minor league cards are all about. While it is true that some recent pre-rookie cards, like Cal Ripken, Jr., sell for $3-5, most are worth less now than they cost when new,” Lemke wrote on Page 32.
“This is the first time where the values of this card is discussed,” said Haelig. “Probably explains why I got the set for $6 a couple months later.”
Today, you’ll pay quite a bit more. According to Ripken Jr. supercollector, hobby enthusiast and operator of the “Ripken Rookies” Facebook page, Edwin Anderson, sales prices of the card in the last 12 months have included $9,600 and $4,080 for a pair of PSA 8s and $2,125 for a lower grade card signed by Ripken. Even a graded VG example reached $1,485.
Haelig feels the set has secured its place in collecting history.
“Let’s face it in 1980, the card collecting boom had not yet taken off and since these were cards printed on cheap stock, with the majority of the players being 20-22 year old Minor League players, it’s amazing that any quantity of them were saved by kids at the time,” said Haelig. “Even if one chooses not to believe that a grocery cart full of these sets were thrown away after the game, Crockett Park then literally burned to the ground in the spring of 1985. What’s amazing to me is that it’s now 40 years later and not one ‘find’ of any quantity of these card sets has yet to surface.”