Former Pirates pitching great (and his baseball card) appears on “This Is Us”

I love it when the hobby and pop culture collide. On last night’s episode of This Is Us, the mega-popular tear-jerker of a TV show, former Pirates pitching great John Smiley and his 1987 Topps Traded card made an appearance.

Sort of.

I know John Smiley is hardly considered a “great” today, but in 1992, coming off a 20-win season, an All-Star appearance, and a third-place finish in Cy Young Award voting, “great” is not a stretch. And it wasn’t actually Smiley on the show, but actor Troy Doherty portraying Smiley at a baseball card signing.

Not Smiley

Young Kevin Pearson wanted to get Smiley’s rookie card signed so it would double in value. In the screengrab below, we see that the card in question is from the 1987 Topps Traded set with the iconic wooden border and white cardstock.

Mandy Moore holding a baseball card

Zoom in…

Smiley reverse

And flip it over…

Smiley front

Compare it to the real thing…

Real Smiley

It seems that the actor’s face was Photoshopped over Smiley’s face, but the rest of the card is legit. Look at the logo placement on the jersey, the treeline in the background…there is no way they recreated the whole scene for a fake card but that is clearly not John Smiley’s face on the card in the show.

There is no doubt, though, that the writers were familiar with the original card. During the scene, the pitcher said Kevin wanted to tell him about the best pool places in Minneapolis. Smiley was the subject of many trade rumors prior to the ’92 season and was eventually traded to the Twins. It seems that young Kevin spent a lot of time reading the backs of baseball cards; his 1987 Topps Traded card talks about some of Smiley’s hobbies, including “shooting pool.” This led the thoughtful 11-year old to research the pitcher’s likely new home and offer some suggestions tailored to his interests.

Smiley reverse

I confess I’m a huge This Is Us fan so seeing a baseball card connection made my day.

About JT

Christian. Husband. Dad. 911 dispatcher. Baseball fan. Horror nut. Music nerd. Bookworm. Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year.

Posted on February 13, 2019, in baseball, baseball cards, television and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It’s interesting that they had an actor play a real 1980’s pitcher rather than just having someone playing… I don’t know, Toby McBoatface of the Indianapolis Iguanas…. And, of course, even more interesting that they photoshopped the actor onto the card. I wonder what John Smiley thinks of this.

    • The series has long referenced the Steelers and the greats of the 70s Super Bowl teams. I love that they used a real player instead of someone fictional. I also wondered about Smiley’s thoughts. I’m sure they had to reach out to him to get some sort of permission.

  2. I’m a big fan of the show, too. Kudos to them for getting the details right (apart from the New Era logo on Smiley’s cap, which wouldn’t have been there then.) One of the better episodes of the season.

  3. This is Us is also one of my favorite shows. I love the references to sports, the Steelers and Pirates, etc. I really got a kick out of this week’s show with John Smiley. The show really did its homework. It really struck a chord with me since I like to tell my John Smiley story every now and then. I was not a very good baseball player in high school but obviously John was. I faced him in a junior varsity game – probably about 1980 – while I was at Wissahickon HS and he played for our Bux-Mont League rival Perkiomen Valley HS. We all knew about this tall left-handed pitcher who threw smoke. We were all intimidated, but I led off and battled him for a walk and then went to third on a hit and run single. Somehow, I still don’t know how – he picked me off third (I know, no one gets picked off third…..). I walked dejectedly to the end of the bench just in time to see my teammate get picked off second. Next guy up hit a single. We lost 1-0! It was great to follow him through a pretty good career!

  4. The biggest mystery here is why a John Smiley ’87 Topps card would ever be in a toploader. lol

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