Sports Cards For Insane People: Nolan Ryan's Terrifying Sojourn Through Off-Brand Hell


Nolan Ryan was an exciting baseball player. And when you get sports card companies excited, terrible, horrible things occur. In this installment, we examine the cardboard nightmares that resulted.

Nolan Ryan pitched for a really, really long time, and he successfully avoided becoming a one-dimensional novelty by remaining an effective, exciting strikeout guy throughout his entire career. O-Pee-Chee made note of Ryan's longevity by branding him with the phrase "SUPER VETERAN," another phrase for, "daaaaaang cousin this man been pitching for a minute."


This card is from 1983. He pitched, as you probably know, for 10 more years. It was apparent that this guy was a future Hall of Famer, so baseball cards were able to crank out tons of cards proclaiming Nolan Ryan a LIVING LEGEND CLASS LEGEND GREATNESS LEGENDARY LEGEND EXPRESS, and they were able to do so for a long, long time, because dude simply refused to retire.

If there's anything we've learned from this Sports Cards For Insane People series, it's this: generally speaking, sports card companies are at their best and most tasteful when they're short-reaching, unimaginative, and boring. If they get excited about something, look out, because it's going to be horrible, because they're all horrible. We shall learn this lesson again today.

A couple of quick notes before we begin: I'd like to thank (read: blame) Internet subscriber @weed_mouse, whose tweet on Tuesday evening encouraged me to go down this road to begin with. Also, I have once again pulled from the image well of Check Out My Cards, an almost impossibly complete repository of nearly every sports card you have ever seen.

1988 Starting Lineup "Talking Baseball," No. 15


As someone who has seen plenty of knockoff baseball crap, I've seen this face a lot. These players see you, photographer. They see you, and they know you work for an institution too cheap to purchase an MLB license know you're going to take that photo and airbrush the logos off their hats. They just know. Nolan always knew, and it broke his heart.


So anyway. "Talking Baseball"! You wanna talk baseball? Sounds great! Let's flip over the card and have a discussion regarding baseball.


OK thank you for this conversation about baseball. Oh! And also, please Ignore that the front of the card has the team logo airbrushed off his hat despite prominently displaying the official MLB license. Seriously, dudes. Nolan Ryan plays for an actual baseball team; he's that good. He isn't just wearing an Inspector Gadget hat for the shit of it.

1992 Mother's Cookies, No. 8


hey what's goin on in this baseball card?? lol i don't know man haha

1991/92 Pacific Ryan Texas Express

In 1991, Pacific released an 87-card set devoted entirely to Nolan Ryan, and followed up in 1992 with a supplemental 92-card set. So that's 179 Nolan Ryan cards.


Was Nolan Ryan in the mob? Was he an assassination/bombing target? Why show him with a posse of sketchy-looking bat-wielding moustachioed guys with the caption SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS?

I don't know, maybe he's just telling me that he doesn't want to be friends with me because he already has enough friends. Fine. I didn't want to hang out with your Saddam Hussein ass anyway.

Nolan Ryan was a pretty interesting dude, but no matter how many trillions of years he pitched, a card company couldn't possibly make a set that's 100 percent Nolan Ryan without running a little thin on content.











Okay, my yeps are becoming emphatic, which defeats the entire purpose of saying "yep." Moving on.

1991-92 Bleachers Promos, No. 5

Bleachers was a primarely minor-league card company that focused on a very small number of major-league players and allegedly stamped 23-karat gold on their cards. Presumably, they had no money left over to acquire a Major League Baseball license, so they made Nolan wear the dreaded blue hat once again.


Please note that "BLEACHERS" is crudely super-imposed on a hat worn during a photo shoot conducted explicitly for Bleachers.

1992 Bleachers 23K Ryan, No. P2


Dear Diary,

Nolan here. Today I threw a baseball so hard that I created a temporal lift, and I was sucked into an alternate universe that exists inside of a hippie's tie-dyed shirt.

This universe is empty except for me, my ball, and my glove. Oh, and my hat, which looks like its shape was manipulated specifically so that they could super-impose "BLEACHERS" on it, even though they could have solved the problem by just situating the text correctly.

I am so sad. I think I'm about to cry. I hope nobody makes a baseball card of me right now.

1993 Bleachers Promos No. 9


Dear Diary,

Nolan again. I threw another pitch as hard as I could, hoping it would return me to my home world. Instead, I have landed in a universe that's entirely filled with glitter.

For a time, I worried that I was actually just stuck inside of a baseball card, but I have no idea who the hell would acquire the sponsorship of Nolan dang Ryan so that they could make him wear a tuxedo and superimpose him on glitter.

Well, I'll throw the ball again. I hope to find myself on Earth before long.

- Nolan

1993 Bleachers Promos, No. 8


Dear Diary,

Well, shit.

- Nolan

1993 Bleachers Promos, No. 5*


Dear diary,

I finally arrived at the conclusion that, yes, my soul has been trapped, and I must live within baseball cards for the rest of my life. I have finally been transported to a quiet life, one of a rancher, and one I shall keep for the rest of my days, no matter how damn little it has to do with baseball. Yep, eight-year-old hobby enthusiasts, I'm Nolan Ryan, and I'm not going to play baseball. I'm going to sit here next to a bunch of dead cows. Deal with it.

- Nolan

*This might be the only time an actual skull has been on a sports card. Not certain.

1993 Fun Pack, No. 30


Granted, Fun Pack was a set that was actually produced by Upper Deck, so it's not technically a knockoff. But I don't care, because questions and observations abound.

  • What would be the advantage of throwing an entire train at a batter? Surely it's the velocity of the pitch that is stressed, not its capacity to maim or kill. Perhaps it's all the more impressive that he can throw an entire train 100 miles per hour, rather than a mere baseball?
  • Judging from its facial expression, the baseball puts forth an angry, sadistic disposition. This doesn't jibe with the determined, tough, but ultimately even-keel attitude Ryan is known for.
  • What is the value of a locomotive outside of the context of train tracks? He may as well be throwing a sailboat.
  • Smoke is pouring out of the locomotive's engine. Either it's doing so for no reason, or Ryan is receiving mechanical assistance.
  • The locomotive's arc clearly started well behind Ryan's shoulder. Look, the caboose is practically out of the stadium. It appears as though he didn't even throw this baseball.
  • Why isn't the Base Bandit pictured?
  • Wouldn't the Base Bandit just be a guy who steals a lot of bases? Shouldn't we be seeing Ryan performing a pickoff move?
  • Is Ryan trying to kill the Base Bandit? Presuming that this is a guy who is actually running around and literally stealing baseball equipment, isn't this matter better left to the police?

If you have answers (or, more likely, more questions), please do not hesitate to voice them. This concludes another edition of Sports Cards for Insane People. If you would like to nominate another ugly, absurd, and/or outright terrible sports card set, please tweet me at @jon_bois.

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