(Check out our other player card posts here.)

A company’s products are often a reflection of what’s happening within its industry and within its own walls at any given time.

Consider the 1981 Bill Fahey Topps Traded baseball card as a case in point.

As you might remember, Topps lost its monopoly on the card market when Fleer won an antitrust suit — for a cool $1 — against the Old Gum Company in 1980.

That same year, Bill Fahey was wrapping up his second season as Gene Tenace‘s backup at catcher for the San Diego Padres.

As the 1981 season dawned, Topps entered the unfamiliar territory of a crowded baseball card field that also included entries by Fleer and Donruss.

While the Topps set was arguably the best of the three, it was also dark and somewhat depressing. There seemed to be an overabundance of dingy dugout shots, and even the few action or candid photos were cloudy and overcast. And, in contrast to the white cardstock of Donruss and Fleer, Topps’ mushy brown cardboard was a downer.

Meanwhile, by the time collectors pulled Fahey’s #653 from wax packs, the 31-year-old had already been shipped to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for cash.

That’s never a good omen for players, and anyone following along at home could probably tell you that Fahey’s days as a Big Leaguer were numbered.

Indeed, Fahey appeared in just 21 games for the Bengals in that strike-shortened season, all of them at catcher.

Nevertheless, Topps was impressed enough with his performance and his importance to the game to include him in their first-ever official standalone update issue, the 1981 Topps Traded boxed set.

 

1981 Topps Traded Bill Fahey

 

There, on card #760, was Fahey in his Detroit uniform and batting helmet with the dark, cavernous recesses of the stadium lurking behind him.

A journeyman catcher who had spent most of his career in the obscurity of the Texas Rangers may have been an unusual choice for inclusion in what Topps hoped would be a landmark set, but 1) they had 132 slots to fill and 2) TGC was still feeling its way in the new marketplace.

And besides, all those Bill Fahey and Detroit Tigers fans couldn’t be denied an updated card of their favorite backup-catcher-imported-from-the-west-coast, could they? I should say not!

But can you imagine the disappointment that washed over young Fahey wannabes when they eagerly tore open 1982 Topps wax packs and pulled the newest card of their hero only to find that they had already seen it all before?

I mean, sure, there were the purple and blue hockey sticks to match the purple and blue text.

There were the thick white borders that made the card seem brighter than the 1981 Topps issue.

And, yes, there was the facsimile autograph scrawled across Fahey’s chest that imparted a classic feel to the card.

But then there was also the intense glare, lasering off to Fahey’s right. There was the black batting helmet over the traditional white Tigers home uniform. There was the dark cavern looming behind Fahey.

It was all so familiar, like we’d seen it before.

Recently.

For collectors lucky enough to have the 1981 Topp Traded set at arm’s length, it was easy to satisfy the growing suspicion that they had seen that 1982 photo, the one on card #286 in the new base set, before.

Yes, within the span of about four months, Topps had issued two cards of a man who would finish his 11-year career with 225 hits, and both of those cards featured the same photo.

 

1982 Topps Bill Fahey

 

Were times that tough for Topps?

Had the introduction of competition into the marketplace made it impossible for the old favorite to, well, compete without cutting corners?

We’ll probably never know for sure because Topps issued one of their greatest sets ever in 1983 and moved forward with the rest of the market into a bold new baseball card boom.

Today, Topps reigns once again as the undisputed king of the cardboard hill.

But for a while there in the early eighties, it sure seemed touch-and-go.

Just ask Bill Fahey.

Or Bill Fahey.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)