First off, please note that this post will not cover any of the Burger King team sets, nor will it cover the 1986 and 1987 sets that Burger King issued called "All-Pro." This set is a one-off -- a one-year only oddball from Topps and Burger King.
Burger King was started in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953 under the name "Insta-Burger King." It literally was meant to rip off the McDonald brothers' concept -- the founders Keith Kramer and his wife's uncle Matthew Burns had visited the first McDonald's in San Bernardino, California, and liked it so much that they bought their "Insta-Broiler." This broiler -- the famous "flame broiler" of Burger King fame -- became required equipment for the stores.
Kramer and Burns franchised the concept to some franchisees, including a group in Miami led by James McLamore and David Edgerton. When the original company failed in 1959, these two gentlemen purchased the company, restructured it, and renamed it Burger King. Even today, when you fly into Miami International Airport, you can see BK's corporate headquarters just across the Dolphin Expressway off NW 57th Avenue.
Pillsbury Company bought BK in 1967. Its efforts toward restructuring led to hiring former McDonald's executive Donald Smith to revamp the company to franchise the concept properly, to increase menu choice, and standardize restaurant designs. When Smith left (for PepsiCo in 1980), Norman Brinker took over. Between Smith and Brinker, BK challenged McDonald's for burger supremacy. But, when Brinker left for Chili's, the company struggled again.
Since then (and I won't bore you with more corporate history), BK has gone through multiple owners and concepts. Most recently, BK performed a reverse merger with Canadian coffee giant/restaurant Tim Hortons so as to move its nominal headquarters to Canada and receive tax benefits as a result.
Full disclosure: my father-in-law works for a very large BK franchisee. Further disclosure: BK's food is much much better than McDonald's, except for French fries. Nothing beats McDonald's French fries.
One more item to know: what Pitch, Hit, & Run is: PHR was a part of MLB's Official Youth Program to get kids between ages 8-13 playing baseball. Kids were tested on their skills, and winners went to a national event.
Here's an ad from 1979 for it. Note that this advertisement puts the ages at 9-12:
And here is a store sign that I found in a Google Image Search:
Note that the store display comes from 4192cards.com, a Pete Rose super collector site. Full credit goes to them for this photo.
While they look like 1980s Topps, you can see the red backs here. 1980 Topps had blue backs. These images are from Trading Card Database and its checklist.
Burger King issued these in packs of three plus an unnumbered checklist with every purchase of a large order of fries. A total of 34 cards were issued -- thirty-three different players and that checklist.
The card design mimics the Topps base set for 1980s but with a couple of key differences. First, as you can see, the Burger King logo features prominently here. It is in the corner where the player's position was otherwise located. Second, we have the addition of the "Collector's Series" title next to the player's name -- again, in the same location as where the player's position was. Third, we have those red backs. For reference, here's the base 1980 Topps:
Perhaps most interestingly of all, though, is the fact that Topps did not pull the trick it uses regularly these days in reproducing the same photo on the same design in 800 places. A number of the photos are different. For instance, here are the Vida Blues from each:
I went through the set, and the photos in this Burger King set fall into four categories. First, some photos are exactly the same as the Topps base set. Second, some photos between the flagship and the BK sets are the same, but the BK set is cropped differently (some only slightly). Third, some players have entirely different photos -- like the Vida Blue above. Finally, four players are shown in entirely new uniforms in the Burger King set. Here's the checklist, broken down that way:
Same: Steve Carlton, Don Baylor, George Brett, Bill North, Willie Wilson
Cropped Differently: Rollie Fingers, Phil Niekro, J.R. Richard, Bruce Sutter, Rod Carew, George Foster, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Pete Rose, Enos Cabell, Cesar Cedeno, Julio Cruz, Frank Taveras
Same Team, Different Photo: Vida Blue, Ron Guidry, Jerry Koosman, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, Dave Winfield, Dave Lopes, Omar Moreno
Completely Different Team: Nolan Ryan, Bobby Bonds, Ron LeFlore, Joe Morgan
I do not have a good explanation for these changes (other than the team changes, of course). Those that were cropped differently for Burger King almost invariably improve as baseball cards -- as if someone said, "you're right, we shouldn't have cut off his feet in the photo." A lot of the different photos turned action shots to portraits. There's no real rhyme or reason to it.
How Topps and Burger King put this set together is a bit of a mystery. I mean, I feel like there were Burger Kings in Wisconsin in 1980, but there aren't any Brewers in the set. Only 19 of the 26 teams in existence at that time got cards; the Brewers, Tigers, White Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, Rangers, and A's did not get any cards in the set. The Astros got 5 (with the addition of both Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan from other teams). Why Frank Taveras and Bill North? Why one Cub and zero White Sox?
HALL OF FAMERS
Out of the 33 players in this set, just thirteen of the players are in the Hall of Fame -- a rather disappointing number for what ostensibly is an All-Star set. They include:
Carlton, Fingers, Niekro, Palmer, Ryan, Seaver, Sutter, Brett, Carew, Jackson, Rice, Winfield, Morgan
The Trading Card Database does not list any errors or variations.
I feel like these were not in Wisconsin in 1980. I think that for a couple of reasons. First, there are not any Brewers in the set. Second, I don't have any of these cards. I turned 8 just before the end of 1979, and my baseball-card collecting was in full swing in 1980. I put together nearly the entire 1980 Topps flagship set, but I have no recollection of ever seeing these. I feel certain that if I had known of their existence, I would have been clamoring to visit Burger King to buy fries.
Then again, I don't know that a Burger King was open anywhere near where I lived. And perhaps that is the simple explanation for how the set was put together. Places where there were Burger Kings got players, and places without them did not. It's a reasonable guess.
For the most part, the changes in photography really make this set better looking than the base set. Even the cropping changes are better other than, perhaps, the Rollie Fingers. It's an attractive set with a number of good players despite the random inclusion of just okay players like Enos Cabell. Still, though -- Frank Taveras? He was coming off a year in which he hit .263/.301/.337 with 42 steals in 61 attempts. I mean, I guess Topps/BK remembered him leading the NL in steals in 1977?
For what it is worth, the Pitch Hit & Run competition lives on today. As of 2017, it is sponsored by Scotts Company (the turf people). The local competitions have already taken place, as have the sectional competitions. The finals just finished up during All-Star Week. As the PHR website notes, Eric Hosmer, Chris Parmelee, Matt Wisler, Brewer Michael Reed, and former Blue Jay/current Lotte Giant Andy Burns are all PHR alums. The "Hall of Fame" on that site lists former National Finalists after the competition's restart in 1997 who were drafted.
Your eBay purchasing options for this one are very limited. There are a decent number of singles available, but there is only one complete set, and the seller is looking to get $25.98 for it (shipping included). There is also the "ultra-completist" set -- thirty-three unopened cellophane packs of the cards, each containing a different card on the front of each pack -- that you can buy from "buygreatinvestmints" for $156.99. Perhaps the one that makes me laugh hardest in some respects is this checklist. It's graded Gem Mint 10 and all, but it makes me laugh derisively that the seller wants $80.99 for it (shipped). It makes me laugh even harder that his/her original price was $135.99!