(Check out our other player card posts here.)

You expect big things from a Jim Rice baseball card, right?

I mean …

The man was one of the most feared sluggers in all of Major League Baseball during the last half of 1970s and early 1980s. From 1975 through 1986, Rice hit .304 on the strength of 2145 hits that included 350 home runs and 329 doubles, and he also drove in 1276 runs.

Along the way, his beastly 1978 performance — .315, 46 HR, 139 RBI — earned Rice the American League MVP in 1978, and he picked up five more top-five MVP finishes during his 12-year run of dominance.

Eventually, those dozen seasons of excellence were enough to carry Rice to the Hall of Fame even though he tailed off fast in his mid-30s.

So, yeah, his cardboard must have been brimming with big, powerful swings, right?

Well … hmmm … um …

Rice shared his 1975 Topps card with three other players, and his 1976 Topps card featured an unhappy headshot:


1975 Topps Jim Rice1976 Topps Jim Rice


It wasn’t until 1977 that we got to see Rice with so much as a bat in his hand, though it is a good-looking card:


1977 Topps Jim Rice


The 1978 and 1979 Topps Rice cards are iconic because a) they show a smiling/laughing Rice in his prime, b) the 1978 card showed up in the 1982 Topps Kmart 25th Anniversary MVP box set, and c) the 1979 card is loaded with banners and sunshine and (yes) smiles that let you know it was really good to be Jim Rice in that moment.


1978 Topps Jim Rice


Finally, in 1980, Topps gave us our first look at Jim Rice doing what Jim Rice did best: locking in on the baseball and preparing to smack the stuffing out of it.


1980 Topps Jim Rice


Alas, it seemed to be a fleeting tribute to Boston Red Sox stalwart, because he slid back into cardboard purgatory the next season.

Facing competition from Donruss and Fleer in 1981, Topps slid back into portrait mode for Rice, and the other companies followed suit:


1981 Topps Jim Rice


Now, you might remember that the players’ strike demolished a good hunk of the 1981 season and threatened the long-term health of the game, not to mention turning off more than a few fans.

You’d have to imagine that the lack of action on the field and the general blahness of the 1981 baseball card sets led to a sales environment that was a bit more stilted than any of the pasteboard companies would have liked.

You might also imagine that Topps, Donruss, and Fleer weren’t all that thrilled with either the striking players or the balking owners. And, while baseball cards didn’t hold much sway with most executive types, they could exert at least some power over the players themselves.

As in, baseball cards could make you look bad. And all it would take was one poorly cropped photo or one action shot snapped at just the wrong time.

And no one knows about the timing of a baseball card photo better than Jim Rice, courtesy of his 1982 Topps card. Here, take a look:

1982 Topps Jim Rice

Could Topps have picked a worse action shot of Rice?

He’s off-balance, and lunging forward, looking for all the world like some pitcher has just fooled him … badly.

His front (left) leg is jammed into the dirt with his knee on the verge of hyperextension.

The bat is just about to smack him upside the head on his follow-through.

His face is locked in a grimace that calls to mind gastrointestinal distress of some sort.

He’s not even wearing a home uniform, for goodness sake!

Now, it’s possible that Rice has just hacked some pitch down the left-field line in this shot. He never did have the prettiest swing, after all — those are usually reserved for long, lean left-handed hitters, not muscular righty sluggers.

But it sure looks like things went wrong for Rice here, and that Topps chose to showcase his jammed-up moment.

Is this the worst-looking swing by a Hall of Famer to ever appear on a baseball card? Hard to know for sure, but it has to be near the top (bottom), at the very least.

If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud of a card, it’s that Rice enjoyed a nice run of solid, in-game batting shots to round out his career. This 1984 Donruss classic is fairly typical of the post-splat treatment that Rice received:


1984 Donruss Jim Rice


It’s a monstrous improvement and one befitting a fearsome hitter who deserved more than a few headshots and an undignified hack among his cardboard portfolio.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)





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