The hilarious story behind Joe Pettini's cult classic Topps baseball card
In honor of National Baseball Card Day, we've gone all out. We talked to some of the best in the business to choose their favorite card from each year, ranked the 10 best all-time and now want to illuminate the stories behind some of the stranger cards.
Joe Pettini may have only played for a few seasons in the Major Leagues, but his legacy remains to this day thanks to his 1981 Topps baseball card.
It's a card that seems to scream the '80s. With a pink border and oversized cap logo, Pettini is photographed in extreme close-up. With his oversized glasses, bushy mustache and wisp of sideburns, Pettini doesn't look like your standard ballplayer. That's made it a cult favorite among oddball card collectors:
"What was my reaction?" Pettini said in a phone call with MLB.com. "Yuck," he said laughing. "I think I see online, 'One of the top 10 or 20 ugliest cards.' I'm a good looking guy, so I don't know how I got on [those lists]!"
Likely photographed while with the Expos, the addition of the black shirt and Giants cap weren't the only changes made by Topps' art department: They also removed his beard.
"I should have sued Topps over that," Pettini joked. "I think they airbrushed my beard off and they airbrushed the hat on and the shirt. I don't know what happened with that one, but I was so excited to get my first card and to have that one come out was kind of a shock."
Though you may have missed it on first glance, there's a clear smearing of tan paint that turned his beard into a thin stripe of sideburns that Pettini swears he never wore.
That wasn't the only odd fact. On the back was a cartoon detailing that Pettini played the saxophone..
"That's the other thing: how in the hell did that ever get on there? I played the saxophone when I was like 6 or 7. I haven't picked it up since then, but I do play the guitar and a little bit of piano."
And yet, the card lives on. "'83 was my last year in the big leagues," Pettini said. "I've coached 11 years in the big leagues and then I worked in the Minor Leagues for 15 to 20 years and it amazes me that I still get 200 cards in the mail every year. I don't know where they come from!"
So, while we may never know what exactly his beard looked like in the original photo, we can at least imagine it in full, bushy splendor:
(image by Gemma Kaneko / MLB.com)
Update: Topps sent along what might be the uncorrected original photo of Pettini. Despite Pettini's claim, this photo shows no full beard, though perhaps some of the airbrushing removed some of his muttonchop.