1981 was a watershed year for baseball cards as Donruss and Fleer issued their first sets, ending Topps' monopoly. So it seems like a strange time for Coke to enter the baseball card market, but enter it they did.
Coke created 12-card team sets for 11 teams, the Cubs being one of them. The other teams were the Red Sox, White Sox, Reds, Tigers, Astros, Royals, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, and Cardinals. There was also supposed to be a Yankees set, but it never got released, though cards of three Yankees have been found.
Coke turned to Topps to create the cards, and the design was the exact same as the 1981 Topps base set with a Coke logo added to the upper corner. Both the right and left corners were used, depending on how the photo fit the card.
The first card was a header card, and then there were 11 players, with the cards numbered 1-11 in alphabetical order. Most of the time the same picture was used on the Coke card as on the Topps base set card. The Cubs set has only one exception to that.
The biggest difference between the Coke cards and Topps would be with the players who were traded during the winter. The Coke set features several and they were all airbrushed cards. Topps included these players in the traded set, but had spring training pictures. That would lead me to believe that the Coke sets were issued in the early summer, ahead of the traded cards. Three of the Cubs were airbrushed in the Coke set.
This is the header card for the Cubs set.
These cards were all identical to the Topps base set.
This is the lone base set exception, Dick Tidrow. Coke used a head shot of Dirt (that has to be one of baseball's best nicknames!), giving us a great look at his Fu Manchu.
It looks like Topps used a different picture from the same photo shoot.
These are the three airbrushed cards sided by side with the traded set card.
This was Coke's one and only venture into the mass marketing of baseball cards. Over the years they have sponsored a few teams' baseball card days, but they've stayed away from major issues like they did in 1981.
Cards seem to be easily available. I got mine from Sportlots for 18 cents each, all from the same seller, so the whole set was under $4 delivered.