The 1986 Fleer Baseball Card Set
My collecting days began as Fleer really hit their stride. Following an uneven debut in ‘81 and a lackluster ‘82, Fleer ironed out the rough spots and delivered a solid effort through the next half-decade. The ‘86 effort did not disappoint as the company introduced minor tweaks to the previous campaign to produce another winning product. Fleer employed a simple but effective system for the running order of their checklists: teams were represented based on the standings from the prior season and the players were grouped by team and then sorted alphabetically by last name. This was extremely conducive to set or team building as opposed to the random order in the competition’s sets. Speculative collectors were already clamoring for Jose Canseco rookie cards based on his September 1985 MLB debut (.302 BA, .490 SLG, 5 HR, 13 RBI). Fleer hedged their bets as Canseco was paired with reliever Eric Plunk on one of the new “Major League Prospect” cards rather than making his initial Fleer entry on an individual card.
After a successful 1985 set, I feel that Fleer played it safe in 1986, not really embarrassing the decade’s wild side like Donruss did this year. The card itself seemed to be just a flip of the ‘85 one, meaning they just took the team logo from top to bottom and rounded it off a bit. That said, I believe that Fleer really missed an opportunity in 1986, one that Donruss jumped on.
After 1985’s rookie class, there was bound to be some letdown in 1986, but the drop off was dramatic. Outside of the “Eric Plunk rookie”, there really wasn’t another youngster in the Clemens, Doc, Kirby type realm we saw the year past. To me, sets are more fun to collect and show value when the greatness is spread out and not concentrated in one guy, though I have to admit, when you opened a pack and saw Jose Canseco staring back at you, it was like hitting the lottery as a kid.
I will give Fleer a pass on this year, maybe they were just distracted since they were putting together an NBA set as well. If I remember correctly there was a rookie with the last name of Jordan in it, UNC guy I think. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
A dark blue border surrounds the player photo on the 1986 Fleer card fronts. A rounded, thin white line encloses the photo and extends into an oval bubble towards the base of the card which displays the team logo to the left and the player’s name and primary position in the center. Each oval utilizes a primary color from the team uniform as it’s background and the checklist is grouped by franchise and ordered alphabetically by player’s last names which greatly aids in sorting and set-building. The checklist runs in descending order based on the standings from the previous season with the 1985 World Series champion Royals leading off. Averaging 25 cards per team, the standard player cards consume the first 625 cards out of 660 in the set. The remaining 35 cards are divided into three categories: special cards depicting stars or superstar players “in-action” or in a group photo; “Major League Prospect” cards with a pair of rookies; and seven checklist cards to close out the set. The Jose Canseco/Eric Plunk rookie card was high on collector’s wish lists from the get-go while the market for several other prospects including Benito Santiago, Andrés Galarraga and Cecil Fielder/Cory Snyder spiked at various times. Each wax pack included a team logo sticker and the wax boxes now held some additional value as the bottom of the box displayed three players and a team logo. There were two box-bottom variations: box #1 contained the Kansas City logo along with George Brett, Ozzie Guillen and Dale Murphy while box #2 depicted the St. Louis logo, Tom Browning, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk.
The third iteration of the Fleer Update set retained the same layout as the regular series along with the standard 132 additional cards. To differentiate the update sets, the card numbers are prefixed with a “U-”. Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Ruben Sierra, Bobby Bonilla, Wally Joyner and Kevin Mitchell make their first Fleer appearances while Jose Canseco and Andres Galarraga get their own card after sharing the spotlight in the regular series. The Future Hall of Famers series consisted of six players that were destined for enshrinement with the exception of Pete Rose. Randomly inserted into “three-packs”, this one-and-done set packed a punch with Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan and Reggie Jackson. The All-Stars subset made its debut in ‘86 igniting a decade-long run as random inserts in wax and cello packs. The card fronts consist of red (American) and blue (National) backgrounds, depicting a dozen ball players selected by Fleer to represent their “All-Star” team. The ‘86 edition contains superstars such as Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly, George Brett, Rickey Henderson and Dwight Gooden. McCrory’s were the exclusive retailer of the 44-card Limited Edition box sets for the second straight year. The Sticker series continued to be a mainstay in the Fleer lineup as it matched the regular issue for longevity (the product was discontinued after the ‘88 season). New releases included the 120-card Mini set along with League Leaders and Sluggers/Pitchers box sets with 44 cards apiece. The Minis replicated the regular card format from the ‘86 edition albeit with a different photo, and the card size was scaled down to 1 13/16” x 2 9/16”.
The subset values according to the 1997 edition of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards and Collectibles are as follows: Update $15, All-Stars $30, Future Hall of Famers $18, League Leaders $5, Limited Edition $5, Mini $8, Sluggers/Pitchers $5, Sluggers/Pitchers Box Cards $10, Sticker Cards $15, Stickers Wax Box Cards $4, Regular Series Wax Box Cards $5.
The players listed below made their lone appearance on a regular-issue baseball card in the 1986 Fleer set.
Bruce Tanner (#218) – The son of former MLB outfielder and long-time skipper Chuck Tanner was drafted in the fourth round of the June 1983 Amateur Draft by the White Sox. The righty tallied 25 relief appearances for three minor league affiliates in the Summer of ‘83 – Appleton (A), Niagara Falls (A-) and Glen Falls (AA). He fashioned a composite ERA of 3.16 and notched 4 saves in spite of an unsightly 1.765 WHIP. Tanner pitched exclusively for the Appleton Foxes in ‘84 and responded with 12 victories along with a 1.96 ERA and WHIP of 1.019 in 37 outings (9 starts). Assigned to Buffalo (AAA) to begin the ‘85 campaign, he spent two months with the club prior to earning a promotion to the big leagues. ChiSox skipper Tony La Russa awarded Tanner the starting nod against Seattle on June 12, 1985 and he secured his first (and only) MLB victory with 6 ⅔ innings of 2-run ball. He retired the first 9 Mariners he faced and then allowed four straight singles to knot the score at 2-2. Rudy Law doubled home a pair of Sox in the fifth and Daryl Boston blasted a 2-run shot off Roy Thomas as Chicago claimed a 6-3 win. Tanner started 4 contests in June for the Pale Hose. Opposing the Athletics in his second start, he issued a bases-loaded walk to Alfredo Griffin (which is REALLY hard to do, given the fact that Griffin only drew four free passes in the previous campaign!). Otherwise he delivered a solid effort, throwing 5 innings of 1-run ball. He exited the contest ahead 3-1 but Dusty Baker cracked a 2-run shot off Bob James in the eighth which propelled the match into extra innings. Harold Baines crushed a walk-off bomb off Keith Atherton leading off the bottom of the 13th, lifting Chicago to a 4-3 victory. Tanner’s third start was abysmal as the Angels tagged him for seven runs in 1 ⅓ innings. Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson knocked in two runs apiece and Ruppert Jones launched a long ball to contribute to the onslaught as the visiting Halos filled up the scoreboard in a laugher, 11-1. In his last MLB start, Tanner yielded 9 hits and 4 runs to the Twins in 5 ⅓ frames which punched his ticket back to Buffalo. He crafted a 3.46 ERA through two stints with the Bisons to merit a September call-up. Deployed strictly as a reliever as the Sox were still in the thick of the division race, Tanner made 6 appearances down the stretch. Through 8 ⅓ innings of relief work he allowed only 2 earned runs along with 7 hits and 2 walks. Tanner’s final MLB outing was eventful – he gave up a pair of singles and made a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt before regaining his composure to strike out the last batter he faced (Tony Phillips). Back in Buffalo for the ‘86 campaign, Tanner fashioned an ERA of 4.16 along with a record of 8-10 in 23 starts. The ChiSox dealt Tanner along with Gene Nelson to the Athletics in December 1986 in exchange for infielder Donnie Hill. He missed most of the ‘87 season but made 16 starts in the following year for Huntsville (AA) resulting in 7 victories and a 3.23 ERA. Tanner split his final campaign (1989) between the Tacoma Tigers (AAA) and the Phoenix Firebirds (AAA).
Colin Ward (#645) – The southpaw was chosen in the third round of the June 1982 Amateur Draft by Detroit. Plagued by control problems throughout his career, the Tigers quickly soured on Ward after a season and a half in which he compiled a WHIP of 1.624. San Francisco picked him up in a February 1984 swap for fellow lefthander Pat Larkin. Despite posting a 5.41 ERA and a 1.720 WHIP for Phoenix (AAA) over the next two years, Ward received a promotion in the middle of September 1985 as the Giants barreled towards a 100-loss campaign. Four days after Roger Craig replaced Jim Davenport as the San Francisco skipper, Ward made his debut as a reliever against the rival Dodgers with his club trailing by 10 runs after six frames. True to form, he issued a free pass to the first batter he faced, Mike Scioscia. The lefty composed himself and retired the next three batters in order. In the eighth inning, Ward walked free-swinging leadoff hitter Mariano Duncan and yielded a one-out single to first-sacker Enos Cabell before inducing a grounder to third by Mike A. Marshall and a fly out to center off the bat of Bob Bailor. Called upon four days later, the portsider whiffed Bobby L. Brown of the Padres to prevent further damage after Greg Minton allowed 3 runs after San Diego extended their lead to 7-2. Ward held the division-winning Dodgers at bay with a pair of scoreless frames on September 27, 1985. After retiring Cabell on a foul pop-up two days later, the left-hander’s pitching record included a 0.00 ERA in 4 ⅔ innings. Craig rewarded the portsider with a pair of starting assignments in the final week of the season. Opposing the Astros on October 2, 1985, Ward breezed through the Houston lineup. He faltered briefly in the fourth, yielding back-to-back singles to Kevin Bass and Glenn Davis followed by a Phil Garner sacrifice fly. Otherwise his first start was a resounding success: 6 innings, 3 hits, 2 walks and 1 run along with 5 whiffs. Holding a 2-1 advantage, Craig turned the game over to the bullpen with predictable results. Mark W. Davis worked in and out of trouble in the seventh but gave up a gopher ball to Jim Pankovits leading off the eighth inning, the first of four Astros to score in an eventual 7-2 defeat. Ward did not fare well in his second start and final MLB appearance against Atlanta on October 6, 1985. He recorded consecutive outs on fly balls to begin the contest, followed by a walk to Dale Murphy and a two-bagger off the bat of Bob Horner to place runners on second and third. Terry Harper ripped a base hit to left field which plated Murphy but Jeffrey “HacMan” Leonard gunned down Horner at home to limit the damage. In the second inning, Ward issued a one-out walk to Paul Runge and a single to the backstop, Larry Owen. Braves’ starting pitcher Steve “Bedrock” Bedrosian laid down a sacrifice bunt. Andres Thomas delivered a two-run single and Paul Zuvella knocked Ward out of the game with a double. Albert Hall greeted reliever Frank Williams with a two-run base knock, leaving Ward with a pitching line of 1.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 ER. His ERA bloated from 0.84 to 4.38. Giants GM Al Rosen dealt Ward to the Reds for left-hander Bob Buchanan in November 1985. However the deal was voided three months later when Buchanan failed a physical. Failing to make the big-league roster out of Spring Training, the lefty spent the majority of the ‘86 season with Phoenix (AAA) and made 4 starts for the Shreveport Captains (AA). Overall in 26 outings (25 starts), Ward tallied 9 wins against 12 losses along with an ERA of 4.70. Rosen completed a 4-player swap in April 1987 which sent the southpaw to San Diego. Ward appeared in 12 games for the Las Vegas Stars (AAA) in ‘87 and then spent his final year in pro ball with the Vermont Mariners (AA). He made a pair of starts for the independent San Bernadino Spirit, fashioning a 1.86 ERA in 9 ⅔ innings before hanging up his spikes.
Did You Know?
Fleer included interesting facts about some of the players on the bottom section of the card backs.
Vince Coleman (#31) – “Stole 289 bases in 323 minor league games from ‘82 to ‘84.”
John Tudor (#47) – “High school pitching coach noted flaw in his delivery while watching him pitch on TV, called him to correct it, and he won 18 of next 19 games.”
Mike Marshall (#131) – “Nickname is ‘Big Foot’ because of size 14 shoe.”
Ted Power (#187) – “Was only 20-game winner in professional baseball in ‘81 and had to do it with Albuquerque (18 in regular season, 1 in playoffs) and Dodgers (1).”
Terry Francona (#248) – “Nicknamed ‘Mandrake’ by his teammates for magical way he swings bat.”
Joe Hesketh (#250) – “Baseball rarity: Charged with a balk even before he threw his first major league pitch in Expos debut in ‘84.”
U.L. Washington (#264) – “Ever-present toothpick is his symbol.”
Marty Barrett (#340) – “Twice got baserunners with hidden ball trick.”
Tom Brunansky (#387) – “Logs each pitch, at bat and result in notebook.”
Jim Gantner (#487) – “Nickname is Gumby.”
Brad Komminsk (#520) – “Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has labeled him as a ‘can’t miss major leaguer’ after watching him move through Braves organization.”
Brad Wellman (#553) – “Earned $1000 in ‘83 by responding to clubhouse dare and shaved his head.”
Mike Mason (#565) – “Was credited with capturing a pack of vicious dogs at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla., while pitching there in Rookie League in ‘82.”
The 1986 Fleer set does not contain any significant error variations.
Jose Canseco, Benito Santiago, Paul O’Neill, Cecil Fielder, Lenny Dykstra, Ozzie Guillen, Kal Daniels and Vince Coleman highlight the list of players making their cardboard debuts in the ’86 Fleer set.
Price Guide (Then and Now)
The “Beckett Baseball Card Monthly Price Guide” (November 1986 edition) lists the 1986 Fleer Baseball complete set at $20. The rookie combo card depicting Jose Canseco and Eric Plunk suggested a $4 value while the Dwight Gooden card fetched a couple of bucks. The Canseco / Plunk rookie (#649, graded PSA 8) currently sells in the $10-$25 range.
Please add a comment below if you would like to share any memories from collecting the 1986 Fleer baseball card set or your experiences with card collecting in general!
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References and Resources
Trading Card Database – Photo Gallery
About the Authors
Derek Bain is a New Jersey native with a passion for baseball, statistics, computers and video games who enjoys spending quality time with his family.
Tom Corby – Cousins with Derek, I am a history teacher at New Egypt High School. I have three kids, Addison, Jaclyn, and Mason and I’m happy that I get to coach them in their sports as well. In my spare time I enjoy reading, anything beach related, and fishing when time allows.
“Hardball Architects” examines the trades, free agent acquisitions, draft picks and other transactions for the 30 Major League Baseball franchises, divided into a 2-volume set (American League and National League). All key moves are scrutinized for every team and Sabermetric principles are applied to the roster construction throughout the lifetime of the organization to encapsulate the hits and misses by front office executives.
“Hardball Retroactive”, published in June 2018, is available in paperback and digital (Kindle) format at Amazon.com. A cross-section of essays that I penned for Seamheads.com along with my Baseball Analytics blog spanning nearly a decade touching on subjects including “Taking the Extra Base”, “General Manager Scorecard”, “Worst Trades”, “BABIP By Location” and “Baseball Birthplaces and the Retro World Baseball Classic”. Rediscover your favorite hardball arcade and simulations in “Play Retro Baseball Video Games In Your Browser” or take a deep dive into every franchise’s minor league successes and failures in relation to their major league operations in “Minors vs. Majors”.
“Hardball Retrospective” is available in paperback and digital (Kindle) format at Amazon.com. Supplemental Statistics, Charts and Graphs along with a discussion forum are offered at TuataraSoftware.com. In Hardball Retrospective, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original teams. Using a variety of advanced statistics and methods, I generated revised standings for each season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition. Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the real-time or “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.
Don Daglow (Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, Tony LaRussa Baseball) contributed the foreword for Hardball Retrospective. The foreword and preview of my book are accessible here.
“Hardball Retrospective – Addendum 2014 to 2016” supplements my research for Hardball Retrospective, providing retroactive standings based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Win Shares (WS) for each “original” team over the past three seasons (2014-2016). Team totals from 2010 – 2013 are included for reference purposes. “Addendum” is available in paperback and digital (Kindle) format at Amazon.com.