PEPSI BASEBALL CARDS

In 1965, Pepsi-Cola began printing baseball cards as part of a marketing promotion that included prizes and premiums inside Pepsi bottles and cans. The cards became a sensation among collectors and fans, and ran continuously through 1986, totaling over 17 series released across more than two decades. The Pepsi baseball cards showcase some of the most iconic players from baseball history at the height of their careers.

The earliest Pepsi sets featured single cards with a player’s picture on the front and statistics on the back. The 1965 and 1966 issues had a print run of millions and are still commonly found today in worn condition. Starting in 1967, the format switched to wax packaging inside six-packs of Pepsi products. Consumers had to carefully peel back the thin foil wrapper to reveal a stack of five or six random cards inside. This novel approach made collecting more exciting, as you never knew which players you might find.

Throughout the 1970s, Pepsi released new series annually. The massive popularity of stars like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Johnny Bench helped drive sales of Pepsi sodas. For collectors at the time, Pepsi cards offered an affordable alternative to the higher priced Topps issues. Some notable early series included the 1968, 1969, and 1973 releases. The 1968 set spotlighted the 1967 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, while 1969 honored the 1968 champion Detroit Tigers.

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1973 marked a peak year for Pepsi cards, with the issue spotlighting the 1972 National League champion Cincinnati Reds. This included a popular mini-photo card of rookie sensation Johnny Bench. The photo cutouts were a creative design element not seen elsewhere. Other iconic 1970s players frequently featured included Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan during his record-setting early career with the California Angels.

In the late 1970s, Pepsi card inserts became thicker and included short biographies on the back. Sets from 1977-1979 offered around 150 cards each and provided coverage of more obscure players along with the superstars. An underrated aspect of Pepsi cards was their documentation of the uniforms, designs, and logos used throughout this era before extensive logo changes became common. For example, the classic 1976 Philadelphia A’s Kelly green uniforms are well represented.

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Entering the 1980s, Pepsi cards entered their most creative period with innovative photograph and record-sized card formats. The 1980 issue featured a double-sized card for rookie sensation Joe Charboneau after his strong showing for the Cleveland Indians. 1981 saw the first subset focusing on a single star, with 5 oversized cards highlighting Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela and his breakout rookie season. 1982 offered multiple photo variations of the same players.

By 1983, Pepsi was including updated stats and fact boxes on the back of each card. That year’s issue also debut a new glossy photo stock more comparable to Topps. 1984 saw managers and coaches included for the first time. Don Baylor’s 1984 All-Star MVP card remains one of the most visually striking from this era. 1985 tried an unconventional vertical photo layout that was not well received. Finally in 1986, the rights to include MLB logos and uniforms were lost, ending the Pepsi run after over 20 years.

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While never as expensive as the flagship Topps issues, Pepsi cards retain a strong collector following for documenting this pivotal period in baseball history. Sets from the 1970s in particular are quite affordable for most fans looking to build a collection. Besides the obvious stars, less recognizable players that appeared prominently in the Pepsi sets sometimes saw a boost in their popularity and memorabilia demand years later. This included stars like Reggie Jackson and Nolan Ryan, who became globally famous icons.

For researchers, the Pepsi card series serves as a unique statistical and photo archive chronicling how MLB presented itself between the 1960s and 1980s. Things like uniform and cap designs, stadium backgrounds, and even photo techniques evolved over the two-plus decades Pepsi produced cards. Some experimental subsets even tried concepts later adopted by Topps like action shots, record-sized highlight cards, and vertical photo layouts. The longevity and quality of the Pepsi issues ensured they would become a cherished part of baseball card collecting lore.

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