Some names, when spoken or even just whispered in a collector’s soul, rumble forever through the the hobby firmament like the thunder of a Topps vending case dropped from the heights of Mount Olympus.

You know them like you know your own heartbeat:

Mickey Mantle

Nolan Ryan …

Ken Griffey, Jr., …

Honus Wagner …

John Littlefield …

Jackie Robinson …

Mike Trout …

Don Mattingly …

Now, I know what you’re thinking — but, truly, Mattingly was a pioneer of the hobby in the 1980s. Heck, without his 1984 Donruss rookie card, there simply wouldn’t be a modern hobby, at least not the way we know it now.

So Donnie Baseball fits this group like a first baseman’s glove.

Wait … John Littlefield?

You’re questioning John Littlefield and not Don Mattingly?

Wow, OK. And I suppose you’re a fan of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken fiasco, too, right? Mmmm-hmmm, thought so.

Well, then, you definitely need to know about John Little field, because without the big right-hander, there would have been no Mr. F. Face as a new decade dawned.

See …

When Fleer broke through Topps monopoly in 1981, they sort of rushed their set to market. Donruss, too.

And, while you could argue Donruss had more of an excuse, seeing as how it was Fleer who had pushed the whole antitrust business through the courts in the first place and really should have been ready to pull the trigger on their inaugural set, the truth is, errors abounded in both issues.

Not only that, but a bunch — maybe even most — of the 237,881 different gaffes in those two sets were eventually corrected, leaving the hobby with a bevy of the suddenly-revered “scarce and valuable variations.”

There had been error cards before 1981, sure, and even corrected versions, but never before had those mistakes come with the built-in spotlight of collectors pouring over every nuance, every pulpy pore of each card.

Donruss and Fleer offered hobbyists their first real variety in 25 years, after all, and we were going to take in every little molecule of excitement we could.

And, so, of course some eagle-eye noticed that the back of select Graig Nettles Fleer cards said “Craig” Nettles.

And, of course, furor ensued because Nettles was a star, and because Fleer fell into the trap naturally set by the unusual spelling of his first name … and because they fixed their mistake.

Didn’t take long for the collective cardboard cognoscenti to decree that the “C. Nettles” version of the card was super scarce, and for prices to escalate from mere cents to actual dollars.

For a brand new card.

Error Card Mania was born, and the scrutiny ratcheted up a hundred notches more.

That offseason, the hobby slipped into its then-customary wintry nap, and gave us all a chance to reflect on the madness that had gone down over the summer, from The Strike that tore through the baseball season, to the phenomenon of Fernandomania, to the messy first issues from Donruss and Fleer against a staid and sort of boring Topps offering.

Topps had better step up their game, the hardnose business types said.

Donruss and Fleer are trash, the old-school spoke-flappers decried.

I hope they fix some stuff, but I love them all, the hobby comebackers mooned.

What can I make money on in 1982? the hand-wringing, money-grubbing speculators pondered, avarice glinting in their eyes and drool drooling from their drool-glossed lips.

And, with a year under their belts, the general expectations were that Donruss and Fleer would do better in 1982. Had to, right?

Well, sorta …

Donruss pretty much did improve across the board, with thicker cardstock, better photos, and a sort of snappier look overall.

Fleer, though?

Well, they changed their design, at least a little. Whether you preferred the baseball in the corner of the 1981 cards or the little dash-pill of color of the 1982s kinda determines which design you liked better.

I’ll just point out that these are baseball cards and leave it at that.

But photo quality? It’s a wash at best, and there are plenty of ‘82s that make the ‘81s look like 8K super-renderings.

OK, but the errors were gone, right?

You might think so.

But then, you’re the same joker who questioned my inclusion of John Littlefield on my rundown of Wax Pack Gods to start out this whole diatribe.

Because, let me tell you — 1982 Fleer rewrote the book on what we could expect from error cards, especially those of the spectacular variety.

Why, I could write a whole article about the atrocities (joys!) of this set … and I might. And before you ask — no, this article is not that … this one is something else.

This long and winding road is all about how John Littlefield belongs on that roll call of hobby heavyweights that led off our our discussion way up above.

To set the stage, here is his 1982 Fleer card:

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Now, I can tell you that Littlefield’s hobby status has nothing to do with his major league record: 7-8, 3.39 ERA, 11 saves over parts of two seasons in the bigs.

Heck, Littlefield wasn’t even in the majors the year this card was issued. Never would be again, in fact.

Nope, his last appearance on a major league mound came for the San Diego Padres on October 4, 1981, about ten months after the Cardinals had traded him westward in a deal involving Rollie Fingers, and about five months before the Friars released him.

But Littlefield’s standing among collectors has everything to do with his stint in San Diego, and with one specific pitch in particular — the one depicted on that 1982 Fleer card up there.

Now, pause here and take a good hard look at that pic again.

Then, go back and re-read the intro to this piece, especially this bit:

Well, then, you definitely need to know about John Little field, because without the big right-hander, there would have been no Mr. F. Face as a new decade dawned.

Do you see the disconnect? No?

Here is the relevant text again, this time with some emPHASis added

Well, then, you definitely need to know about John Little field, because without the big right-hander, there would have been no Mr. F. Face as a new decade dawned.

That’s right.

Littlefield is a righty.

His Fleer card shows him as a lefty.

And … Fleer corrected the error early on.

But not before the mythology of the thing ran rampant through the hobby. Back in those prehistoric, way-way-pre-internet days, we caught whispers and winks about hobby trends from friends and at local shows and, every once in awhile, in the pages of hobby news outlets like Sports Collectors Digest.

And all of those whispers, for years, told us that the “reverse negative” Littlefield error card was among the rarest of all baseball cards, and certainly among the rarest of NEW baseball cards.

Purported prices reached $50 and beyond at a time when such hefty sums were generally reserved for the heavyweights — Mantle, Rose, Ruth.

And, so, John Littlefield became a hobby heavyweight in his own right.

Time has passed, Billy Ripken has punked, we’ve been hoodwinked time and again by shiny 1:1 chrome-y gadgets, and pretty much every card from the 1980s has turned up in greater quantities than we ever imagined possible.

The left-handed John Littlefield hasn’t been spared that fate entirely, either, as the PSA Population Report shows that nearly 200 of the error cards have been graded as of this writing.

That’s about 199 (OK, 191) more than we thought existed, circa 1984 or so.

Today, even with that “avalanche” of specimens flooding the landscape, and even though its lost most of its share of the limelight over the years, the Littlefield error checks in at $200-300 in PSA 8 condition.

Move up to a PSA 9, and you’re looking at a $750+ card.

And, if you insist on a perfect “10,” expect price tags north of $2000 — if you can find one.

Steep prices, to be sure, but what else would you expect from a card that helped redefine the hobby? One that helped spur on a mania that drove interest to new heights and gave dudes like Billy the Kid a chance to grab a few of their own brief moments in the spotlight?

You wouldn’t expect anything else, that’s what.

After all, lefty John Littlefield is a bona fide hobby legend.

Want to see a video version of this article?

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