Stuck in A Diet Pepsi Rabbit Hole

I am a player collector and have been since 1990. Needless to say, I’ve grown up with baseball cards and Jose Canseco. Unlike other player collectors, I am old-fashioned. I don’t have a detailed checklist featuring thousands of cards, a database to update regularly, nor do I keep an online gallery to keep track of my growing collection. Like Jose’s “See ball, hit ball” analogy he gave to Jim Rome once upon a time, I go by “See card, try to remember if I own card, BUY CARD.” Unfortunately, it yielded me over 30 expensive doubles in 2018 because as my collection grows it becomes harder and harder to keep track of everything. Also, I am not 10 years old anymore.

One of the greatest phenomenons I face as a player collector is when I find a card that I’ve somehow missed even though there are collectors all over the world ready to trade or sell me what I want, not to mention nearly 30 years of rummaging through cards at shops and shows, as well as flea markets. If it involves Jose Canseco baseball cards from 1986-1999, odds are I have seen it or at least know of its existence. See, The Hobby was a lot simpler back then. Today, each player has hundreds of “1 of 1” cards produced each year and seemingly thousands of low-numbered parallels. Us old timers didn’t have that particular problem until around 1997 but still on a much smaller level.

I’m not a big fan of “oddballs” or “Broders”, if you’re a card snob. Don’t get me wrong, I own hundreds of them but I don’t often go out of my way to pick them up. They usually just wind up in my collection at one point or another. Currently, there are several dozen on eBay right now that I need but, they can wait. When I laid eyes on the 1992 Diet Pepsi posted below, that all changed. This card, released in 1992 but featuring a 1987 photograph, somehow completely avoided my radar for 27 years. I picked it up instantly because it features a rare photo of Jose in his all white, A’s uniform that almost never gets featured on cards.

1992 Diet Pepsi

After the card came in, I began to study it. I must say, for a non-licensed card it looks fantastic. Then I began to wonder how many other cards featured Jose in his near mythical white uniform. There was a blurry Star release from the mid-80s but the ones that really caught my eye were from Topps products a few years back. This image was used and re-used in several of the 2014-’16 issues but all of them featured a heavily Photoshopped image that remove the background. I immediately began to wonder if there was a slim chance that the image from Topps was the one taken from the same game, perhaps even the same at-bat from the old Diet Pepsi card.

Just think about it. In 1987, photographers had to lug around a whole shit load of heavy equipment to each game and then had to go and develop the film which of course ran the risk of damaging the final image. Today, I can take 5,000+, high-definition photograpgs on my $1,000 iPhone but in 1987, things were a little different. That is why I believe so few photos and videos exist today of this particular uniform, at least online. Odds are, the photographer who snapped these photos took several of them in that game and submitted them to his company to be used by the media and card companies.

2014 Topps Tek

Now, let’s just quickly compare the two images to see if we can move forward with our theory. For starters, Jose’s uniform is clean, almost immaculate. Both images clearly show that. Second, check out the two stripes on Jose’s bat in the Tek card. You can see the same ones in the Pepsi card. You can also make out (barely) Jose’s cap under his helmet and his hair length and style match up in both cards. If only we had a card that showed the background of this photograph to get a better glimpse. Gee, it’s too bad that Topps’ doesn’t lazily recycle images over and over and over again.


2016 Topps Gold Label

Take a look at this Topps Gold Label card, with yet another version of the same photograph. Now we have a close-up image of the photo WITH the missing background and look at that bright yellow dugout roof. WE HAVE A MATCH. Think I’m crazy? Good assessment and most times you’d be dead on but look at these two sections of the photograph located behind Jose in both the Diet Pepsi card AND the 2016 Topps Gold Label version. Look at that blurry orange section. I believe the photo from 1992 and the ones being recycled today by Topps not only come from the same game in 1987 but more than likely the same at-bat since Jose’s uniform was constantly getting dirty pre-Steroids due to surprisingly fast speed on the bases.


Well, I was able to find one of the original images used by Topps. It gives us the clearest look at the now 30+ year old photograph. Getty Images says the photo comes from Jose’s Rookie of the Year, 1986 campaign at an Oakland A’s home game. The photographer is listed as Rich Pilling and he has a website which can be viewed by clicking HERE. If you look at his archives, I am sure you will recognize a few of his other pieces. I have gone and followed him on Twitter and sent him an email hoping for a response on the matter. I will update this story once I know more about the photo in question.

Photograph by Rich Pilling Photography


  1. That 1992 Diet Pepsi set has some fantastic photography. Saw a Sandberg on someone’s blog and it inspired me to pick up a complete set.

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