Everyone hopes for their moment of fame, but for Capt. Norm Bartlett, a Chesapeake Bay fishing guide, celebrity has been an out-of-body experience.
Bartlett's likeness appears in the 2012 collection of Topps trading cards, one of 33 non-baseball luminaries including Michael Phelps, Arnold Palmer and Roger Federer in an otherwise all-baseball lineup.
The card shows Bartlett — red shirt, tan cap, amused look — staring straight at the camera. But beneath the picture is a last name not his own: Kreh.
That would be Kreh as in Bernard "Lefty" Kreh, Maryland native son and perhaps the most famous fisherman in the world. Author of dozens of books, honored on a U.S. postage stamp and inducted into several fishing halls of fame, Kreh has fished with presidents, actors and TV anchors.
A Topps spokesman called the case of mistaken identity "very rare."
Laughing, Bartlett said: "A surprise? Yes, quite a big one."
Bartlett and Kreh have known each other for decades. The two are featured speakers at Maryland fishing shows. When the state named a Gunpowder Falls State Park hiking trail in honor of Kreh earlier this year, Bartlett was there for his pal.
And on a chilly night in January 2010, when an Eastport bar showed a fishing movie to chase away cabin fever, they sat together swapping fishing stories — half of a table of four that was rounded out by fisherman Joe Evans and a Baltimore Sun columnist.
A picture of the get-together appeared in the newspaper: Kreh on the right, his arms crossed, and Bartlett, wearing a red shirt, tan cap and an amused look, on the left.
Topps bought the rights to the photo for its 2012 Allen & Ginter card series, which features a full-sized card and a miniature version, company spokesman Clay Luraschi said. But on the way to the printers, the wrong man was cropped out.
Kreh, 87, caught the mistake when a company courier delivered 500 cards to his Cockeysville home for him to autograph for randomly selected packets of cards.
"I opened the package and looked at the first one and said, 'This ain't me,' " Kreh recalled saying to the courier. "She said, 'It has to be you.'
"I said, 'Look at this card of me and look at me,'" said Kreh, cackling at the memory. "It ain't me."
He returned the cards unautographed to Topps, which requested a photo from Kreh to print a new batch. Meanwhile, collectors already were buying unsigned Kreh cards of the Bartlett variety.
Enter Evans, who saw the Lefty Kreh card advertised on eBay while bargain-hunting for fishing tackle.
"That's not Lefty, that's Norm," Evans recalled saying as he launched a spirited bidding war that topped out at 99 cents.
Prize in hand, Evans called Bartlett.
"For the life of me, I thought it was impossible. But when I saw it, I said, 'Yeah, that looks like my watch,'" Bartlett said.
The Joppa fishing guide has two bones to pick with the photo: "I was 30 pounds heavier then and I'm 10 years younger than Lefty."
Still, he admitted that being in the Topps card collection means "I'm in pretty good company."
Kreh enjoyed a good laugh, noting that he got paid for participating but that neither Bartlett nor the photographer did.
Luraschi, acknowledging the company's "very rare" mistake, said collectors would determine the ultimate value of the Bartlett card — now selling for $2.50 on eBay.
Evans, an employee of the state Department of Natural Resources, isn't parting with his purchase.
"I paid good money for this," he said. "It's a keeper and I'm not selling it to nobody. It's going to be my retirement."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun