The tree trimmers from the power company have hit our neighborhood this summer and as of 7:30 this morning, they're camped out directly in front of my living room window. Rather than spend the afternoon watching them and wondering how badly they're going to mangle the trees in my yard, I decided to spend the afternoon doing something I would have done twenty-five years ago. It's hot outside and the air condition is keeping me cool. What else would there have been to do than sort baseball cards?
With the rest of the family napping, I headed downstairs, put on some New Monkees tunes, and thumbed through the cream of the crop -- my "good cards" (back in there day, there were "commons", "good cards", and "good good cards"). Stepping back into the late 80s and setting aside any sort of thought of value (as if baseball cards are worth anything at all anymore), here are my top ten cards that are in my collection.
10. Don Mattingly - 1984 Topps
This was one of the first cards I ever owned that I remember having any knowledge that it was worth anything. Up until 1984, my only concern was getting cards and chewing the rock-hard gum found inside the wax packs. I'm guessing it was around this time that I really started getting into baseball cards and bough my first issue of Beckett's monthly magazine. For some reason, I always lump this card in the same boat as the 1983 Topps Darryl Strawberry card. I never had that card but my brother did. We probably got our first issue of Beckett's and this card became my "goldmine" and that card his.
9. Jim Palmer - 1978 Topps
I am 99% sure that this was the first card that I ever owned. Back in '78, my brother got his first few packs of baseball cards which included this card. He, at that time, was all about the gum and the cards found their way to the bottom of a dresser drawer. Fast forward a few years and I ended up with this card somehow and my ten-year hobby took off. Not sure how I got this card, but to me, this card is the initial representation of my baseball card collection.
8. Pete Rose - 1982 Topps
Baseball card collecting really took off for me in 1982. At that time, Pete Rose walked on water and everybody in my neighborhood loved the Philadelphia Phillies. A few years off their 1980 World Series championship, a Steve Carlton or Mike Schmidt card was cool, but if you had a Pete Rose, you had kid gold in my neighborhood. When I see this card, I remember at time when baseball was about the cards and not about getting pissed at the Cubs because they suck yet again.
7. Hank Sauer - 1959 Topps
I got this card in a trade with a friend whose dad actually sold baseball cards as a side job/hobby. It was probably worth nothing but it was the oldest card I had; therefore, it was one of my favorites.
6. Jose Canseco - 1986 Fleer/Donruss
Back in 1986, if there were cards to own, these were the ones! The young Canseco was the power-hitting hero of every kid with a bat in his hand. Not only that, but the Fleer card turned Eric Plunk into a household name among kids in my neighborhood.
While I think Jose Canseco has turned himself into a media side-show these days, I can't say that I don't respect him a little bit for essentially starting the whole steroid scandal in baseball. Call it betrayal, call it hypocritical -- but when people are hitting 70+ home runs in a season, there's a problem and it needed to be dealt with.
5. Ryne Sandberg - 1983 Topps/Fleer/Donruss
Before my devotion to the Cubs started at the end of 1982, Pete Rose was by far my favorite player. But once I shunned the Cardinals and their fans after winning the 1982 World Series (even at age six, I was annoyed with bandwagon fans) and became a Cubs fan once and for all, a young second baseman called Ryno became #1 in my book. To get his rookie cards from all three major brands was like winning the lottery!
4. Vince Coleman - 1985 Fleer Traded
It was in 1985 when I first learned about the "traded" sets that came out at the end of each baseball season. These small sets included cards for players who were traded during the season or who were early enough in their careers to have not had a card in that season's regular set. Living near St. Louis, Vince Coleman was that summer's standout. Every kid wanted to run as fast as Vince Coleman but no kid could find his baseball card as he was not part of that year's regular sets. When the traded sets came out and Coleman was included, this was the summer's holy grail card. I want to say I dropped five bucks on this at a card show.
3. Mark Grace - 1988 Fleer/Donruss
Mark Grace was a rookie phenom that year and his Donruss card was a good one to own -- but for some reason, Fleer cards were very hard to come by that summer. If you got your hands on the Fleer prospects card with Mark Grace, you were a man among boys. God bless my dad for talking to a guy he worked with that dealt cards on the side and coming home with one of these for me and one for my brother.
2. Billy Ripken - 1989 Fleer
You might be surprised to find that this is not my favorite card that I own. Although F*ck Face is indeed my favorite from the time period I collected in, there is one other in my collection that takes the number one spot.
1. Harvey Haddix - 1961 Post Cereal
Back in the late 80s, my grandparents remodeled the kitchen of their old family farm house for the first time in decades -- possibly for the first time ever. In doing so, this card was found underneath the kitchen sink! The thought of one of my aunts or uncles shoving this card under the sink (my dad would have been into his teenage years in the early 60s) only to be found almost thirty years later and to be a part of my collection over fifty years later, is a thought that I cannot describe. By far, this is my favorite baseball card.
There were other cards that nearly made this list -- a few that should have but didn't due to the fact that I sold them back in college when having extra money was more important than today's nostalgia (Cal Ripken's '82 Topps rookie, Ozzie Smith's '79 rookie). Here's a few more that almost made the list but didn't under one technicality or another.
Honorable Mention #1 - Jim McMahon- 1983 Topps
Even though it's not a baseball card, I got this football card in a trade with a kid from our neighborhood. Every kid wanted to be the "Punky QB" -- what kid didn't want to own his rookie card?!?
Honorable Mention #2 - Larry Bird - 1981 Topps
Even though my baseball card collecting really took off in 1982, the first few packs I bought were in the summer of 1981. It was during that summer that I must have convinced my parents to let me get one pack of basketball cards -- which happened to include Larry Legend himself.
Honorable Mention #3 - The 1985 Topps Complete Set
[Image courtesy of Lifetime Topps Project]
In 1985, at the height of my card collecting years, there couldn't have been a better year to buy the complete Topps set as it included countless gems -- Dwight Gooden, Kirby Puckett, Roger Clemens, Eric Davis, Brett Saberhagen, and Orel Hershiser rookies, not to mention the Mark McGwire USA card. It's been in and out of album pages a few times but the set is still complete, still in decent shape, and still a part of my collection.
It's strange to say, but I still miss collecting baseball cards. Today, in my mid-30s with a family, I'm not about to take up the hobby again as the two-dollars-a-pack price tag would be quick to put a major kink in our household budget. But a few times a year it feels good to pull out the old boxes of cards and re-live a time when things were more carefree.
A time when the days were longer and bedtime came way too soon.
Here's to those times.