Monday, July 3, 2017

1980s Milwaukee Brewers Police Cards

I am unashamedly and unabashedly a Milwaukee Brewers fan. My oddball collecting started in earnest with my attendance on May 8, 1982, at a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins. The Brewers teamed with the Milwaukee Police Department to issue sets of baseball cards. 

Since I have written about my love for the Brewers police cards on multiple occasions on my other blog (Off Hiatus Baseball Cards) and on the SABR Baseball Cards blog, I thought that this oddball would be a great place to start this blog and to introduce the format I hope to follow throughout.

I define Oddballs as including any 1980s set that is outside the various "flagship" sets. These days, that definition would not work. But, in the 1980s, Topps was the purveyor of multiple wonderful oddball sets that were issued nationally and which deserve to be highlighted on this blog.

I titled this blog as "Collecting the 1980s" because that is the era of oddballs and cards that I know. That said, it's my blog so I may highlight other oddball sets that came from before the 1980s or after the 1980s because I like the set or want more information. Feel free to suggest sets I should highlight to me on Twitter or in the comments.

My general plan is to follow a similar outline for each post. First, I'll give an introduction to the set, which will include any history I can unearth regarding the set, its reason for being, etc. That intro may include references to pre-1980s sets where appropriate to give context. The next section will provide an exemplar or two as available and appropriate. Next, the details section will include information such as card size, distribution area, print runs if available, how the cards were packaged and available to the public, or any other interesting facts about the mechanics behind the set.

The final three subjects are fairly self-explanatory. I'll highlight the noteworthy players in each set and, for sets like the Milwaukee Police, in each of the years in the 1980s that the sets were issues. If there are variations or errors available, I will highlight those. Finally, I'll give my impression of the set(s), whether I ever got any of the cards before the advent of eBay

In the offseason after the 1981 season, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Police Department announced their agreement to issue sets of baseball cards. The Brewers were not the first team to work with local law enforcement to have a special set for police to hand out -- that probably was the Philadelphia Phillies in 1967.

The above article was published in the May 1982 edition of the Milwaukee Brewers Official Magazine called What's Brewing? As the article notes, the way the Milwaukee Police sets worked -- at least in 1982 -- was for kids -- "primarily 14 years of age and under" -- to receive a full set only at the May 8 game. Thereafter, to get the cards, kids were supposed to seek out their friendly neighborhood uniformed police officer to get the two cards on issue that week.

As background to that, Milwaukee was struggling in the early 1980s with significant tensions between police and the African-American community. Even as a 9-year-old, I knew the name "Ernest Lacy," and it still brings back the memory of these problems. In June of 1981, Lacy was a 22-year-old black man who was picked up by police looking for a rapist. Lacy was not the rapist. While in custody, Lacy died of respiratory distress. Two years after his death, five police officers were found by the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission to have failed to render first aid to him. As a criminal defense lawyer has written on his blog, that case was "a lightning-rod in the city for citizens - especially black citizens - who were fed-up with the brutal police tactics of the police chief at the time, Harold Brier [sic]."

In response to a double shooting of two police officers later in 1981, the police union sanctioned an illegal strike. The police were complaining that they were being "persecuted" by District Attorney, E. Michael McCann. Interestingly, McCann was cited as being exceptionally forgiving of police officers in that same defense-lawyer blog, so perhaps that 1981 strike led McCann to bend over backwards to avoid problems with Milwaukee PD.

With that as background, you can see why the Milwaukee Police were looking for a way to step up their community-relations program in the fall and winter of 1981 by teaming with the Brewers.

The Brewers and the Milwaukee Police teamed up for these sets from 1982 onward. I am not sure if the Milwaukee Police continued the tradition into the 21st century and, if so, for how long. However, in this Wauwatosa Now article, it is noted that the Brewers discontinued the card program in 2013. That article says the Brewers began their card program in 1983; I do not know if that was meant to say 1982 or if the program did not become a "Program" until 1983.

The Brewers cards went on from 1982 for the rest of the decade. Here are a few from each year.









The cards throughout the 1980s all looked very similar. They all measure 2-13/16" x 4-1/8". They all feature a color photo on the front with identifying information regarding the player, the player's number, and his position. None of the cards are numbered, so most checklists follow the player's number and then identifies the team card and the Coaches card as unnumbered.

The front also includes the police or sheriff's department who issued the card, the year the card was issued, and the names of any and all sponsors that the various jurisdictions got to help defray costs for printing. In addition, from 1982 through 1989, all the sets had about the same thickness of white border as the cards you see above. 

The backs of the cards (other than the team photo checklist) all feature a message to kids ostensibly from the player pictured to follow the law and be safe. A funny quirk in how these were put together is that the "Coaches say" the helpful message on the back as if they were some sort of community partnership choir.

The Milwaukee Police Department cards include the department's shield logo alongside the Brewers logo on the back and, if there was a sponsor, the sponsor's logo as well. The cards for other police jurisdictions usually have just the Brewers logo.

Basically, if you set aside the name of the police department, the only things that changed during the 1980s were the players included in the set, the font on the front of the card, and the order that the information on the front was printed.

In 1990, the cards stayed big but have blue borders. After that and starting in 1991, the cards changed to be the standard sized baseball cards at 2.5" x 3.5".

1982: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers
1983: Yount, Molitor, Fingers, Don Sutton
1984: same
1985: Molitor, Yount, and Fingers
1986-1989: Molitor & Yount

Pretty much who you knew would be there. The 1989 set features Gary Sheffield's rookie card as well.

Variations are what make the Brewers police cards famous. Even in 1982, multiple jurisdictions gave out the cards. In 1982 particularly, cards from the Wisconsin State Fair Police are known to be far more difficult to come by than any other cards from that year. 

The number of jurisdictions who issued cards is a big question mark even today. The "big book" a/k/a the Bible of Baseball Cards -- the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards edited by the late Bob Lemke -- does not make an attempt to list out all the police departments. I have a spreadsheet that I received from a fellow obsessive Brewers collector which gives these numbers in terms of the variations of who gave out the cards:

1982: 5
1983: 29
1984: 64
1985: 64
1986: 76
1987: 67
1988: 90
1989: 91


These are both a boon and a bane to player collectors of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, of course, and to Brewers collectors generally. I mean, I'd love to try to chase all of those sets. And while I have heard of most of the locales where cards were given out, I am quite sure that I have never seen any cards from the 1984 Wheatland Police Department set, for example. 

It's also difficult to find these cards on eBay because people just call them "police cards" without concern as to the issuing police force. Further, some sellers are lazy and steal scans from others, so they advertise selling "police cards" and have some old scan of a Chilton P.D. card before saying in their comments that "the days of collecting all the police departments is long gone, and you will get the set of our choosing." 

Um, Mr. Seller, I don't want the set of your choosing. I probably have it already. I want a particular set.

I loved these cards. Maybe it was because I knew I would be going to at least one Brewers game per year to get my set and chase autographs after it, but I have always loved these cards. I have at least a few dozen police cards that are autographed as well -- including several Molitors and Younts. 

These police cards represent a lot of the great things about 1980s oddballs, though. Generally speaking, the cards are reasonably available. Because collectors and speculators had started keeping everything in sight by the early 1980s, you can usually find the Milwaukee Police Department versions of the cards in complete sets at reasonable prices. The 1982 set probably has the lowest print run at 40,000, and even it can be found from time to time at very reasonable prices. At this writing, you can get two sets of the cards for $7 plus $2.99 shipping for example.

With how plain these cards are, I do worry about whether all the cards floating around on eBay are authentic. I would guess that these cards would be fairly easy to replicate. On the other hand, for the price being paid, there seems to be little incentive to counterfeit these cards.

Thanks for stopping by. If you have any memories, thoughts, or complaints about this set or about how this first post was put together, please comment below. The comments are the reason bloggers write -- and I'm in that camp. So, please do let me know your opinions on these cards and, also, let me know what my next post should cover!


  1. Great post. But I've got to admit, I HATE these Brewers police sets. They were almost index card sized and printed on paper nearly as thin. They were probably the only kind of card that, as a kid, I wanted nothing at all to do with. HOWEVER - in 1992, when they changed to the standard size and jazzed up the design a bit, I was all about them. Later issues have been vital to my All-Time Brewers collection, as they included guys like Jim Bruske, Bronswell Patrick, and Eric Owens that the big companies wanted nothing to do with.
    Also, and I guess I never really thought about it before, I had no idea that this was a unique thing to the Brewers. I always assumed that many teams had police sets. I know the Packers had police sets for a while as well.

    1. These weren't unique to Milwaukee, but I think they may be unique in how long the Brewers carried on the tradition for a full 30 years. IIRC, a number of teams had police cards in the 1980s and even in the 1970s.

  2. Nice writeup.. I have a few oddballs from the early 90s I can recommend at some point. And give info for lol