INTRODUCTION TO THE SET
Squirt brand soda came about in an effort to skimp on ingredient costs during the Great Depression. In the official "biography" for the soda taken from the Dr. Pepper legacy site before its merger with Keurig, the story is told about how, in 1938, a man named Herb Bishop started experimenting with a now-gone (as best I can tell) brand called "Citrus Club."
Citrus Club was apparently popular in Phoenix. But, it being 1938 -- which saw a recession return in the midst of the recovery from the depths of the Depression -- people were trying to figure out ways to save money in manufacturing products. Bishop decided to reduce the amount of fruit juice and sugar in the product and increase the amount of soda water. This lead to a lighter, less sweet drink flavored with grapefruit. Bishop chose the name "Squirt" for this new drink.
In the 1940s, Bishop and business partner Ed Mehren created successful marketing campaigns around a cartoon character called "Little Squirt." By the 1950s and 1960s, Squirt became a popular drink mixer in bars. It also attracted imitators like Fresca, which debuted in 1966.
Imitation meant competition, and, to ensure that Squirt remained a viable product, competition led to consolidation in the 1970s. In 1977, regional bottler Brooks Products of Holland, Michigan, purchased the brand. Brooks later became known as Beverage America. Brooks started in 1936 in Michigan and started out with selling 7-UP bottled in beer bottles. Brooks's addition of Squirt was a major change -- putting Brooks in direct competition with Pepsi and Coke.
Under Brooks's ownership, Diet Squirt was created in the early 1980s as the first soft drink brand to use NutraSweet after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of the cheaper Cyclamate due to cancer concerns.
This innovation led also to exploring different ways to get kids to buy their products -- like using baseball cards from Topps in the same way that its competitors Pepsi and Coca Cola had done in the 1970s with both licensed and unlicensed discs and cards.
In the 1990s, consolidation was again the name of the game. Select Beverages -- which was another independent soft drink bottler and distributor from the Chicago suburb of Darien -- and Beverage America were swallowed up in 1998 by Cadbury Schweppes PLC out of the UK. The transaction was funded by noted private investment company The Carlyle Group, which retained 60% ownership to Cadbury's 40% ownership. Then, in 2000, Cadbury Schweppes purchased RC Cola, Snapple, Mistic, and Stewart's from Triarc Companies. Finally, in 2006 and 2007, Cadbury snapped up its distribution chain by purchasing Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group.
That led to a spin off from Cadbury Schweppes as Dr Pepper Snapple Group. That company traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange as DPS, while the rest of Cadbury remained a chocolate confectioner.
Finally, on July 9, 2018, Keurig Green Mountain purchased Dr Pepper Snapple Group and merged the parts together. That new company -- which still owns Squirt -- is Keurig Dr Pepper and is based in Plano, Texas -- a Dallas suburb.
1982 Single Card Panel
1982 Double Card Panel
Single Card Panel with Scratch-Off Game
Topps and Squirt teamed up on cards both in 1981 and 1982. In 1981, the set was comprised of 33 cards, while in 1982 it was scaled back to 22.
I'm sure that making a set of 33 cards initially made sense to the folks at Topps. At the time, their card sets were printed on sheets of 132, so that would mean four sets per printed sheet, right?
Someone forgot to figure out, however, that these cards would be issued two per panel draped on soda bottles in 6-packs. The math is not as neat when one tries to distribute an odd number of cards in sets of two. This led to a mishmash of double prints -- the first 11 cards in the set (including card three, Ben Oglivie, shown above) were all double printed. As a result, to obtain a true complete set of panels, one must purchase a total of twenty-two panels to get all thirty-three cards.
Oddly, according to Trading Card Database, four cards are short printed -- card 15 Eddie Murray, #26 Ron LeFlore, #27 Steve Kemp, and #28 Rickey Henderson. According to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards (2011 edition), both Murray and LeFlore shared panels with Steve Garvey (who is still listed as double printed), while Kemp shared a panel with Reggie Jackson and Henderson shared with Bill Buckner. I'm not sure how these short prints really work in this set.
Design-wise for 1981, the photos of the players are small and inside a baseball on the ball's sweet spot. The front design echoes the team name font used on 1978 Topps (which also used the "position in a baseball" design feature used in both sets). The backs, of course, use exactly the same color scheme and text of the 1981 base set.
Where 1981's distribution weirdness came from issuing 33 cards in sets of two, 1982's three different ways of obtaining the cards stems from the contest that Squirt ran in conjunction with the cards. According to the 2011 Standard Catalog, "[c]ard panels come in four variations, with free grocery contest and scratch-off game cards taking one or two of the positions on the three-card panels." So, cards can be found either fully detached, on a single-card panel with a free grocery contest panel (which includes the perforations for the card to be jammed over the bottleneck) and a scratch-off game panel, or with two cards and either the contest panel or the scratch-off panel, I suppose. I don't have this set in complete form, so I'm not fully clear about how it works.
The backs on the 1982 cards are the same design as the 1982 Topps base set. However, the set is printed on white card stock, leading to a yellow, black, and white card back that quite frankly is much easier to read and more attractive than the set on which the back is based.
Finally, Topps cribbed at least a few photos from other Topps sets for its Squirt set. For example, the Cecil Cooper photo on card #1 in 1982 is the same photo that Topps used on his 1980 Topps base set card. There are a few others that look close, but that one jumped out at me thanks to my knowing Cooper's cards so well.
HALL OF FAMERS
Despite this ostensibly being an All-Star type set, less than half of the 1981 set are HOFers.
1981: George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Mike Schmidt, Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, Johnny Bench, Rickey Henderson
1982 improved on 1981 -- exactly half are HOFers.
1982: Brett, Alan Trammell, Jackson, Winfield, Carlton Fisk, Rollie Fingers, Schmidt, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tom Seaver, Bruce Sutter
There are no errors listed for either set on Trading Card Database for this set. The Variations are essentially self-made as described above -- is the card perforated? Is it on a panel? Is it a 1981 with different panel mates for the first 11 cards? Is it a 1982 with the three/four types of panels available?
I don't ever recall seeing these in my local grocery stores in Wisconsin. I probably would have snatched them up, tried the soda, hated it, and tried to figure out a way to get the cards without having to drink the soda. One of the few things in life that I do not like to eat are grapefruits.
For being regional sets issued 37 and 38 years ago, these cards appear to be fairly available on eBay. I got a complete set of the 1981 panels and all of its variations for under $10 about two years ago. There are multiple lots available for purchase for the 1981 set, and there are even more individual sets and lots available for 1982. In fact, I just bought a 1982 set of the individual panels for $5 thanks to an eBay coupon that saved me $4 (basically paid for shipping).
If you don't have these sets already, do some scanning through the eBay auctions to find good deals. Be patient -- you shouldn't have to pay a bunch to pick up either of these sets in perfect condition.