The true story behind Glenn Hubbard's snake card
A piece of weird baseball history
He hated it. When he first saw the image, he loathed it. A fan had brought it up to be signed, shoving the gloriously colorful and wholly unlike-anything-out-there card to him and he couldn't stand it.
"Heck, when I used to get them in the mail, I would take that card and send back another card," Glenn Hubbard, currently a coach in the Royals Minor League system, said in a phone call recently. "I was trying to take it off the market. Thinking I could take it off the market is stupid thinking."
Yes, the player behind one of the greatest pieces in cardboard history was originally hoping to destroy as many as he could. Fortunately for all of us, he failed in that endeavor.
This is the story behind Hubbard's brush with artistic greatness.
Player: Glenn Hubbard
Card: 1984 Fleer (#182)
Value: $19.99 on eBay
To look at the card, really look at it, is an experience in itself -- probably akin to pushing your way through the line at the Louvre to gaze upon Mona Lisa. There's Glenn Hubbard, the Braves second baseman, smiling in the center, with a large bushy beard decades before they were in vogue. (We'll deal with that at the end of the story.) Look in the background and you'll see the Phillie Phanatic and a whole host of other mascots -- basically a very fuzzy bacchanalia. Oh yeah, and then there's the giant snake wrapped around his shoulders.
Hubbard had grown up in an outdoorsy family and he raised snakes as a child and even trapped and kept magpies as pets. Still, this one was big enough that, presented with the opportunity again, he probably wouldn't wrap the snake around his neck.
"That was a big snake, it really was," Hubbard said. "It was pretty strong. If you'll see, I've got his head and I'm squeezing it in the photo. It was almost like he was trying to get me and I wasn't gonna let him."
But what is the origin of the card, one that still goes for nearly $20 on eBay? Was it Hubbard's snake? Did it swim up a pipe and he wrestled it into submission so the game could begin? No, the story is much more tame than all that.
"I thought it was zoo day in Philly," Hubbard said. "But it was the Phanatic's birthday.
"A guy had a snake on the field. And I grabbed a photographer and I said, 'Hey can I get my picture taken with this snake?' So, I put it around my neck. Get the picture taken. He sends me an eight by 10. And, that's all I know about it."
If that was the end of the story, well, it would be a fun thing you might find hanging on a wall in Hubbard's rumpus room (assuming he has a rumpus room). But, as we know, that's not the end of the tale.
"Well, that guy was a freelance photographer for Fleer. And so I go to Spring Training next year, and a kid comes up and says, 'Hey, can you sign this?' It's on a card. I was upset at first."
Upset? With the most awesome piece of cardboard in trading card history? Why?
"Because it was on a baseball card. And I thought, you know, I'm [a baseball player]," Hubbard said. "I thought they'd have to ask me. But anytime you're on the field, in uniform, they can just do whatever they want."
Fortunately, over the years, Hubbard's view on the card has softened and he's realized that the things he took so seriously early in his career were maybe not so important. He now embraces the marvelous spectacle and his unique place in baseball history.
"Thinking back on it, man, it's one of the best cards," Hubbard said. "Not because of me, but because of the snake around my neck. I look like a snake charmer, with the beard and all that stuff."
Now, when fans ask for an autograph, he'll sign -- but he's also willing to ham it up a little bit.
"Whenever they ask me about that, you know what I tell them?" Hubbard asks with a big laugh. "'Yeah, I still got the snake in my basement.' So, I have fun with it. As the coach, heck, I appreciate just having a baseball card."
The legend grew over the years to the point that when Hubbard was a coach with the Lexington Legends, they hosted a bobblehead giveaway in his and the card's honor in 2016. It was a feat of bobblehead design: not only was Hubbard's uniform updated to be a Legends one, but they even added a big fuzzy beard.
With all his kids in attendance to celebrate the night, Hubbard also noticed a peculiar thing: People wanted this bobblehead. Like, they really wanted the bobblehead. Customers were limited to just one, but Hubbard saw people that would "buy a ticket, come in, go out and change shirts and get another one."
That also may explain why Hubbard's card is priced relatively high these days. Meanwhile, his bobblehead is currently listed at nearly $150. There's nothing quite like it and collectors know it.
So, after originally hating the card and then coming around to it, would he do it again? Would he want all the attention and phone calls and fans sending him snake cards for the rest of his life?
"I would, I'd do it again," Hubbard said. "A lot of people like that card. I look at it, look at my long hair, look at the beard. I mean, it was just really full and oh, man, the card is perfect."
Oh, yeah, and the beard? Just as his son pointed out at that Lexington Legends game, Hubbard really was the "original fear the beard," decades before the San Francisco Giants made it a marketing slogan. It was such a shocking look at the time that Vin Scully made fun of it when Hubbard appeared in the 1983 All-Star Game.
And you can thank reliever Gene Garber for Hubbard being allowed to grow out his own face fuzz.
"We weren't allowed beards with the Atlanta Braves," Hubbard said. "And then they traded for Gene Garber. He came over from Philly. He had a beard. So they allowed beards in the Minor Leagues, even. It was a great day for the Atlanta Braves and throughout the organization, because you were allowed to just wear a beard."
And the strangest thing now? If you were to see Hubbard during the season, you'll find him clean shaven as the Royals don't allow their coaches to wear beards, either. But once the season ends? "I wear a goatee all winter."