Norm Charlton, a hard throwing first round pick from the 1984 draft, left the Cincinnati Reds for the Seattle Mariners shortly after the conclusion of the 1992 season. The uniform in which he appears in his 1993 baseball cards give a pretty good insight into the timing of each manufacturer’s production calendar. Sets already on shelves in December/January, such as Donruss and Fleer, show him in the red and whites of Cincinnati. More premium offerings (Leaf, Select, and Fleer Ultra) and high series (Upper Deck) showed him in the nautical palette of Seattle.
The 1993 Topps flagship release falls into the former camp by showing Charlton delivering a pitch for the Reds and omitting any sign of a change in teams. The end of season Topps Traded set predictably gives collectors a more current photo and denotes the move. Mid-season releases from the Stadium Club product line (Stadium Club, Members Only, and Teams) all show Charlton pitching for the sport’s merchant marines. The company’s Bowman product line also depicts a Mariners uniform. So far, so good.
Topps’ Canadian counterpart, O-Pee-Chee, had some sort of Je ne sais quoi moment when it came to its Norm Charlton card. That year’s base OPC set pictures Charlton in Reds regalia amid two-thirds of the team’s starting lineup (Barry Larkin cameo collectors, take note of this card). The portrait on the back of the card likewise shows Charlon in a Reds uniform. The team name emblazoned across the top of the card in a stylized reflects his move to Seattle, as does the color matched diamond on the front of the card and the team logo on the back. A microscopic yellow diamond in the upper right denotes the free agency move.
It’s a confusing card, but correct in all the information provided to bilingual readers. Charlton’s ’93 Finest card, on the other hand, somehow missed the mark. The set’s designers were diligent in portraying recently relocated athletes in their new uniforms and Charlton is no exception. he his shown with Seattle on both the front and back photos. Reflecting his business in the front/party in the back mullet, he is intensely focused on making his pitch on the front while smiling in a down moment at the clubhouse on the reverse. I like how the switch between the road uniform on the front and the home uniform on the back spell out “SEATTLE” and then “MARINERS” when the card is flipped over. Someone knew what they were doing when selecting these photos.
So what’s wrong with this card? The text identification of his current team on the reverse still shows him with the Reds. Some of his other Topps cards contain an asterisk on the back next to his stats, accompanied by a short blurb indicating those numbers were recorded as part of the Cincinnati pitching staff. There is no such pattern in the ’93 Finest set, with other recent free agents like Wade Boggs being correctly identified with their new team. I think the proofreaders either overlooked this item or the design team abandoned the asterisked stats that had appeared in other Topps products earlier in the season.
Charlton could be a bit confusing back in 1993. Prior to that year, he was best known as one of the trio of relievers anchoring the Reds’ championship bullpen. However, he often started games and through the end of the ’92 season had accumulated 46% of his innings pitched in that role. In terms of innings pitched he was almost a coin flip as to whether he was a starter or reliever. After 1993 he frequently switched teams, joining both the Reds and Mariners for a second stints but never again starting a game.
Fun Fact: Norm Charlton bowled over Mike Scioscia in 17% of all runs he scored over the course of his career.