It’s tough to keep up with all the player movement in Major League Baseball, especially for a young fan just learning the game.

Well … OK … maybe it’s not so tough these days, what with websites devoted to player transactions and “maybe” transactions, and social media streaming forth baseball news 24 hours a day (granted, all mixed in with the day’s high fashion choices in face masks, but still …).

Back in my day, though, the 1980s, we had the Sunday paper, a few box scores in the daily newspaper, monthly or yearly magazines, and zero websites.

Oh, and we had baseball cards, which for newcomers were THE authority when it came to who was good and not so good, and when it came to who played for which team.

That scheme worked fine for dudes who stayed put for twenty or thirty years at an established level of excellence or OK-ness — guys like Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Gantner.

But most players moved around, at least a little … guys like Bob Knepper, who split his career between the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, but still moved twice (among those teams).

Find 1981 O-Pee-Chee Bob Knepper on eBay (affiliate link)

Find 1981 O-Pee-Chee Bob Knepper on Amazon (affiliate link)

The problem for collectors and fans who relied on baseball cards for their player geography reports was that the card companies just couldn’t keep up. The best we could hope for was that a player traded early one season would show up in his new uniform in the next year’s cards.

Trades during the season were a crap-shoot, though most of the time players did usually show up in the right place when the next round of cardboard came out.

Off-season deals presented more of a problem, running up on card company design and production deadlines as they did.

In all cases, funkiness like airbrushed photos were always on the table.

Then, in 1981, perhaps recognizing the service they could provide collectors in this area, and definitely feeling the heat of competition for the first time in more than 25 years, Topps revived the “traded set” idea they had dabbled with in 1972, 1974, and 1976.

This offering was different in that it featured a full 132 cards of players who changed teams or rookies who stuck during the 1981 season (or at least too late to be reflected in the base 1981 set), and pushed them all out in one box set.

Bob Knepper was part of that initial Topps Traded effort, showing up in his new Astros uniform after the Giants traded him to Houston in December 1980. It’s a good, solid card.

But it also came to collectors late in the fall … of 1981. As in, nearly a year after the trade happened.

Savvy hobbyists, though, and those in Canada already knew the score. That’s because they got their mitts on Knepper’s 1981 O-Pee-Chee card, the Canadian Topps parallel, during the split 1981 season.

And so, even though OPC showed the same whip-ready-to-crack picture of Knepper on the mound with the Giants, the little hat in the left-hand corner was orange, not black, and said “ASTROS.”

Just to drive home the point, OPC typed out a line of text over the bottom of the image — “Now with Astros” — quote marks included.

It was a magic, instant(ish) update, no Traded set required.

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