Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Baseball Card Anachronism

The other night I was watching an episode of The Americans.  Specifically, Season 2, Episode 8.  Yes, I'm playing catch-up on this show, and I'm not the type to blast through a series.
In any case, I happened to catch a detail that throws the entire show into a paradox.  One of the themes of this season is the manner in which the Jennings family, which is comprised of a Russian spy mother-and-father duo and their unwitting, regular American children, is falling into the trappings of good old American consumption.  Earlier in the episode, the father, Philip, buys a brand-new bitchin' Camaro.  Toward the end of the episode, the son, Henry, who is about 12, enters a neighbor's house while they are gone in order to play an Intellivision video game.

Henry soon gets caught, as he falls asleep playing the game before the neighbors return home.  The follow-up scene is where my observations took place.  The dad goes to his son's bedroom to have a talk about what he did.  Then, in one shot, the viewer can see a baseball card taped to his headboard.

In a subsequent shot, the camera angle changes, and we can see the other side of the headboard, and with it, two more cards.

As any good collector would tell you, the 1987 Topps design practically jumps off the screen.  The card in the first shot is unmistakably a Philadelphia Phillies catcher.  A quick search shows that this is indeed 1987 Topps John Russell, getting his gear ready at Spring Training.  He looks a little unhappy, probably because he has to report earlier than the other position players.
The other '87 Topps card looks to be a Houston Astro.  To the best of my detective skills, this is pitcher John Calhoun.  The navy road "rainbow" uniform was very indentifiable, and the Calhoun card provides the best graphic match.  The background might look a bit different, but when looking at the thumbnail of this card on my desktop, it's pretty much identical.
With the third card, the show's producers change things up a bit by including what looks to be a 1985 Fleer card.  Red border, lefty batting stance, light blue jersey, and red cap and long sleeves.  This narrows it down to a couple of possible teams, and eventually leads us to Cardinal Steve Braun.

It's strange that a handful of commons made up this group, but that's only the beginning.  Here's the problem: This season of the series takes place approximately at some point in 1982.  Season 1 began in 1981.  Reagan has recently taken over as President, and is still in his first term.  I'm sure there is some database out there than can more accurately pinpoint the date of the episode, but that's not too important.  Somehow, inexplicably, this kid owns baseball cards that haven't even been produced yet.  This is a SERIOUS ERROR that should cancel out all of the accolades this show received during its run.

Hyperbole aside, what I'm guessing happened here was that the production designer wanted to give an authentic look to the boy's bedroom.  A production assistant was likely given the task of finding some baseball cards to stick on the bed, so he or she ran to Target, passed over the new packs, since those would be too obvious, and grabbed a Fairfield repack box because the cards looked older and fit the '80s vibe.  That's my best guess.

"In Mother Russia, baseball cards collect YOUUUUU!"


  1. Let Gavin of Baseball Card Breakdown know about this - he keeps the master list of baseball cards on screen.

  2. I loooooved The Americans. There's so much good stuff to come. Enjoy! They were usually good about those kind of details, so it's a shame they were a bit off on these.

    Ditto on what Bo's not on Gavin's list.

  3. Good eyes... and great detective work. I did something similar when I watched Hillbilly Elegy... which featured a card shop. Never mind. I just paused the scene a few times to see what was in the card shop, but didn't do any detective work.