INTRODUCTION TO THE SET
Zellers was a Canadian discount retail outlet similar to Walmart and Target. It was founded in 1931 by Walter P. Zeller as "stores for thrifty Canadians." By the mid-1970s through a variety of corporate acquisitions and working agreements, Zellers had expanded from fourteen stores in Southern Ontario to a chain of 155 stores by 1976.
That led other Canadian retailers to get interested in Zellers once its American friend, W.T. Grant, had to withdraw from Canada. After discussions about selling a controlling interest to Fields, a Vancouver clothing retailer, Zellers instead flipped the transaction and purchased Fields and Marshall Wells (the hardware stores owned by Fields). Incidentally, Fields is a different company entirely from the midwestern department store Marshall Fields.
By 1978, Zellers offered to purchase one of the oldest companies in North America, the Hudson's Bay Company. Once again, when the sale was consummated, the purchase was flipped and Zellers was purchased by HBC. HBC completed its purchase of all outstanding shares in Zellers in 1981 and issued the cards that are the subject of this post in 1982.
Since 1982, Zellers has nearly disappeared from the Canadian marketplace. As happened in the United States, retailers of Zellers' ilk struggled in the face of cutthroat competition from Walmart. By the end of 2010, HBC (which had been purchased by a South Carolina businessman) decided to stop the bleeding and started selling leases to Target Canada. Zellers liquidated its inventory in the stores slated to change to Target and, for some, Walmart.
If you know about how this worked out, then you know that Target Canada shut up shop by early 2015 due in part to the locations they purchased and in part to terrible supply-chain processes that often left stores full of empty shelves. As Slate noted, the problem was that the Canadian stores had no way to order inventory properly from distribution centers. Whatever showed up each day showed up, and company rules precluded filling empty shelves with on-hand inventory.
Nonetheless, Zellers continues on today in Canada in just two Ontario locations (one in Etobicoke and one in Nepean) as a liquidator for HBC and, to an extent, Home Outfitters. There are some calls -- limited though they may be -- to bring back Zellers to the old Target locations, but those attempts seem quixotic.
In its efforts to capitalize on a very successful 1981 in which the Montreal Expos made their singular appearance in the playoffs (defeating the defending World Champion Phillies in the NL East Divisional Series 3-2 before losing to the eventual World Champion Dodgers in the NL Championship Series 3-2 thanks to a 9th inning home run by Rick Monday), Zellers issued a 20-panel set of baseball tips featuring 12 of the stars of the 1981 team.
The panels measure 7.5" by 3.5". Each panel is separated by a perforation that allows the three-card panel to be separated into individual cards -- as is the case with the Gary Carter autographed card above that comes from my collection. As one would expect for a Canadian set, the cards feature titles on the fronts and tips on the back of the card that are both in English and in French.
The cards do not carry any statistics at all. I assume that these cards are fully licensed in some fashion to allow Zellers to use player names and likenesses and to use team colors and logos. Of course, the set does not include the team name anywhere, so perhaps they just made the set and hoped they wouldn't get sued.
As I mentioned above, there are 20 panels but only 12 different players are featured. Here's the short version of the checklist:
Gary Carter: Panels 1, 6, 13, 16, and 19
Steve Rogers: Panel 2
Tim Raines: Panel 3
Andre Dawson: Panels 4, 10, and 14
Terry Francona: Panels 5 and 11
Warren Cromartie: Panels 7 and 18
Chris Speier: Panel 8
Billy DeMars (third-base coach for the 1982 team): Panel 9
Woodie Fryman: Panel 12
Bill Gullickson: Panel 15
Scott Sanderson: Panel 17
Ray Burris: Panel 20
HALL OF FAMERS
Thanks to the multiple panels for Gary Carter and Andre Dawson along with the single panel for Tim Raines, this set is almost half Hall of Famers.
If Terry Francona is voted into the Hall of Fame as a manager -- which has a fairly decent possibility of happening thanks to his success with the Boston Red Sox (744 total victories, second in club history, a .574 winning percent, and two World Series Championships) and with Cleveland (a World Series appearance and a .544 winning percentage as of this writing) -- then fully 55% of this set will feature Hall of Famers.
For whatever reason, the Trading Card Database shows Warren Cromartie Panel 7 in its list of errors and variations. I cannot discern a reason for that listing. His name is spelled right, it's clearly Cromartie on the panel, and I do not see any errors in the copy on the back of the card. Anyone know why this is the case?
As a kid, I was a catcher. In the early 1980s, there was no better catcher in the major leagues than Gary Carter to me. Johnny Bench was in full decline mode and near retirement, and Carlton Fisk was an irascible soul whose slow work behind the plate was the bane of every baseball fan's existence for making every game a 3-hour-plus death march. Carter was a smiling, laughing, happy guy who enjoyed playing the game. Easy call there to like Carter.
So, I became a Gary Carter collector. Part of being a Carter collector to me was sending him close to 20 cards through the mail for signature at various times. I never sent more than five or six at a time, and I always made sure I put proper postage to get the cards back, of course. But, I'm pretty sure I failed to put Canadian postage on the envelopes. This meant that Carter or someone at Carter's direction must have carted the mail back across the border on several occasions to make sure that I got my cards back to me. That's when I got the Zellers Carter card above autographed -- some time in the early-to-mid 1980s.
The 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards notes that this set is not terribly popular with collectors despite the fact that the set contains a number of major stars. The big book notes that "collectors do not generally like the playing tips idea." I suppose that is true. I cannot think of all that many sets that feature playing tips on the cards, so my range of discussion on this is limited.
If you like this set and want to put it together, you are in luck. It appears that the set is reasonably available today on eBay either in single card or panel form. There are several sellers who have the uncut set available on eBay, with prices ranging from $8.74 to $48 shipped. The best deal for an oddball collector might be to pick it up with the 1988 Hostess Canadian discs, the 1986 Provigo, and the 1987 Blue Jays police card set for $16.95 with free shipping.
In fact, that's very, very tempting....