Memory Almost Full?

I pride myself on my memory. When I shop for records, I know at a glance what I have and what I don’t. Same thing for books. Believe me, it’s not that easy to keep such things mentally cataloged when you have thousands of each.

Same holds true for cards. The “got it, got it, need it, need it” knowledge runs deep for me. So, whenever I slip up in life, memory wise, it gets me down. I’m only 55 (almost!) but not having 100% infallible recall worries me.

When I started looking at older sets to finish, searching for those that were reasonably within striking distance, I completely forgot about the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, Type 1. I was putting some cards away recently and came across them, pages and pages of them. It’s not that I didn’t know I had some; I didn’t know how many and have little memory of when and why I was so into them.

IMG_2843

Turns out I have 70% of the set, 83 of 120, so add another set to the project list. It’s an interesting checklist. Granted, there were only 16 teams back then, but the amount of dross in the roster  is amazing. There is a quasi-DiMaggio rookie card (he’s pictured with Joe McCarthy) and a Hank Greenberg card (of course, I don’t have either), and there are a good amount of Hall of Famers (Gehringer, Waner and Waner, you get the idea) but there are so many people I’ve never heard of. Never. That’s odd.

Odder still is why a blah pitcher named Clydell Castleman has two cards. Two! Greenberg and Gabby Hartnett  only get one each and they were the reigning MVPs. Even John Thorn, MLB Historian, was at a loss when I Tweeted out to him. “Called Slick for some reason…” he offered. That’s something I suppose. Good ol’ Clydell was not much. Even when he won 15 games for the 1935 Giants, he had a mere 0.5 WAR. No one at Goudey knew that. He was out of baseball at 25 years old.

IMG_2824

Besides the less than thrilling checklist, hunting these cards down takes a bit of extra attention. There are three different types of 1936 Wide Pens and two more types in 1937. It can be confusing, but, for those of you keeping score at home, Type 1 have borders and “LITHO IN U.S.A.” printed on the bottom

I’ll admit that the set is not very nice. Seems I have a penchant for unattractive sets, according to some who have said as much when I go on about the 1949 Bowman and 1933 Tattoo Orbit cards. Pretty or not, finishing a set from the 1930’s would be pretty cool, so I’m going for it. Thankfully, no one seems to care for these cards very much. Low supply meets low demand so all cards, even the high priced ones, are not so expensive in EX condition as to be out of reach.

IMG_2844

But, as I pursue these cards, is the chase for Ed Moriarty and Tommy Padden going to knock more important information out of my head? It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

Apres 1996, le deluge

I want more. We all want more. Any collector worth his accumulating salt wants more, but in the constant pursuit of the new, it’s easy to forget what we have, especially when it comes to cards from the 1990’s. Not only have I lost track of what sets I have from that decade, but I can’t even remember the designs from year to year. Young me would be appalled at such neglect.

I wrote last week about the cards that dominated the Tim Raines party the night before Induction. In the goodie bag, along with a signed copy of Rock’s book, were a handful of cards. This one

IMG_2820

caught my eye.

The 1996 Topps baseball set is not at the top of anyone’s all-time favorite sets list, but it’s damn nice. The design is sublime – simple, with the team logo in one corner, name at the bottom and a weird Phantom Zone face shot that would make General Zod grimace in remembered confinement. I kinda love it. Action shots dominate the set, but they’re varied enough to not be boring.

Look at Wakefield’s knuckleball grip:

IMG_2817

Did Quilvio Veras ever look this good?

IMG_2818

There’s not a lot of fluff here. At 440 cards, it has to be one of the smallest base sets Topps issued. Concise and to the point; I like that. The subsets are nice, with a glimpse of what’s to come, the good and the bad.

IMG_2819

While going through the stacks of cards, I felt I was in the eye of the hurricane. The odd thing about looking at 1996 versions of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and others is the pervasive sense of innocence. In reality, nobody was innocent (no one ever is!), and what exploded only two years later was obviously in the mix in 1996. We just didn’t know. Looking at these cards, I could feel the storm coming, palpable outside the borders and ready to burst.

How Long Has This Been Going On?

FullSizeRender

“Um, Jeff, you know this is a baseball card blog, right?”

Yes I do, but bear with me. Those two cards are short printed rookie cards from the 2000-01 Topps Heritage basketball set. Why are they relevant? What’s the deal with those rookie cards? Why are they limited to 1972 of each, when the retro design is the 1971-72 set? Why not short print 1971 of each?

All good questions. When this set came out I was smitten. I love the original cards and I fell in love with the Heritage throwbacks, so I bought a box and went down the rabbit hole of short prints. There are 36 of them. I got the two above yesterday. I still need two to finish the set.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 16+ years working on one set. To be fair, I could’ve bought a complete master sett about 9 years ago, but I was already way deep into purchasing the SP’s. To be further fair, I have passed up on cards that were too pricey. My price point is $4-5 each. I will not pay $10 for Hedo Turkoglu or Mark Madsen. So some of this is on me.

What’s too long? I’m working on a 1949 Remar Bread set and a 1952 Parkhurst set. It may take years for me to find the flimsy paper card of Oakland Oaks broadcaster Bud Foster. Funny thing, the supply/demand balance is out of whack. It may take five years to get the card but when I get it it will cost me $8. I realize I may have to wait out these out of the mainstream sets.

I’ve been working on the 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D set and, while more scarce than their other issues, they’re out there. The time it takes me to finish this set will be determined by the deals I get. I’m a patient person. I recently got my wife a Wilco poster that I’de been looking for for seven years.

s-l1600

There’s a frustration in not being able to fill a want list at one’s own pace. I’m realizing that if the only sets I’m working on are harder to find, I’ll be spinning my meals, getting no further in my collecting, and I don’t want my renewed passion for the hobby to wane. I decided to work on the 1960 Topps set. There’s never a lack of supply for any Topps base set, no matter how far back you go.

I see collectors who are working on a lot more sets than I am and wonder what their time frames are? Do some seek to complete, say, all the Topps sets by the time they die? Do others give themselves a year to finish something? Do some simply save up and buy a complete set when they can afford it?

Am I willing to take years to finish the 1960 set? Yes and no. I won’t overspend, and I have found the joy in trading with other collectors. I’ve never done that before. But knowing I could be done with a few clicks and a few PayPal payments does make it hard to wait and I need to wait. If I finish it too fast then I’ll need to search for another plentiful set to keep me occupied while I wait for a 1952 Parkhurst Aaron Silverman to show up.

97107-9979031Fr

A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

169887

I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

wpeE2

But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.

 

 

 

Different sizes, weird cards, one album

Only in Cooperstown can you go into a baseball card store and find inexpensive genuine autographed cards. Baseball Nostalgia, right next to Doubleday Field, is a frequent haunt of mine. They’ve been around for 40 years, were once the flagship of TCMA, and remain as the depository of awesome things. They have rows and rows of autographed cards, not only big stars but nobodies. Maybe nobodies is unfair; let’s say non-stars.

Last year I bought a handful of signed cards, but in the little pile of goodies were a few photos (Jim Bibby, Buddy Bradford) circa 1974 and a postcard of Jack Brohamer from 1975. Why would anybody buy a signed Jack Brohamer postcard? Readers of this blog know the answer to that.

The Brohamer card is pretty sweet and, as I was researching for a new book proposal, I stumbled on the fact that Ken Berry (outfielder, not F Troop star) finished his career on the Indians. I didn’t recall that, Googled, and came across the one card of Berry in brilliant mid-‘70’s Cleveland garb. It was from the same postcard set as the Brohamer! It took time, but I finally got the full set last week, shipped in sheets.

I grabbed an album off the shelf that would be appropriate housing for this set. It’s an album of misfit cards – oddball sets, different shapes and sizes, in 2-pocket, 4-pocket and 9-pocket sheets. Besides the 1975 Cleveland Indians set (here’s a photo of one page, not with Brohamer but with Ed Crosby, Frank Duffy, John Ellis and Oscar Gamble, for Dan Epstein), the other sets are:

img_2409

1963 Pepsi-Cola Tulsa Oilers

12 panels, 2 cards per panel, 24 cards with a big loop above to hang on bottle tops – what more could you ask! The Pepper Martin card is the coolest, but for my card collecting age group (I’m 54), a minor league set with Jim Beauchamp, Tom Hilgendorf, Chuck Taylor and some batboys, is hard to resist. It’s not a very pricey set, I have no idea when I got it and how much I paid, but it’s way cool.

img_2410

1966 East Hills Pirates

There are a few great regional sets featuring the Pirates of the 1960’s – KDKA, Grenier Tires and East Hills. Produced and distributed by a big mall outside Pittsburgh, the East Hills set is very nice and essential for Al McBean completists. Sure, Clemente and Stargell are the highlights, but every Bucco picture is a gem. There’s something about Matty Alou that fascinates me. He seems a bit like an alien, if an alien could hit .342.

img_2411

1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

Not odd in size, the Nu-Card cards are odd in content. Contemporary quasi-achievements are sprinkled amongst all-time moments. Was Roy Sievers’ 1957 American League Home Run title equivalent to Lou Gehrig’s streak or Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series catch? If you’ve got an 80 card set to fill, you bet it is!

img_2413

1966 St. Petersburg Cardinals

A bit larger than regular postcards (they peek out above a regular 4-pocket sleeve), this 20 card set was put out by Foremost Milk. Of course, nothing screams hot summer in Florida more than a glass of milk. Sparky Anderson’s card is the key, and here he is. You can’t tell me this dude was only 32 at the time.

img_2408

There’s something about these sets that resonate with me – there’s a romantic vision I have of suburban Pittsburgh 10-year olds bugging their Mom to take them to East Hills for a Gene Michael card, or some kid deciding to buy a pack of Nu-Cards instead of Topps and insisting that Nu-Cards were better. The very idea of seeing shelves of Pepsi bottles with Tulsa Oiler card hanging from the necks makes me light-headed.

 

The Final Card

 

Starting in 1972 I devised a card collecting strategy to insure completing sets. I would purchase wax packs for the first two series. After saving my allowance and bottle collection money, I would purchase the later series through mail order. Many of you may remember that hobby companies sold cards by series. I continued this practice in 1973 before deciding to give up over-the-counter collecting and order complete sets starting in 1974. (By which time Topps was putting out every card in a single series.)

Completing the 1973 set came down to finding #154: Jeff Torborg. He was on the Angels that year having come over from the Dodgers in 1971. Torborg is best known for having caught three no hitters including Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 and Nolen Ryan’s first. He would later go on to manage the Indians, White Sox and Mets. Living in the small town of Selah, Washington limited my access to hobby shops that might carry singles. I’m not sure I knew that “Sports Collectors Digest” existed, where I may have found a “singles” source. Thus, continuing to buy packs was my only recourse.

The Selah Variety Store was a classic small town five-and-dime that served as the town’s sole source for baseball cards. This was an era when kids could ride their bikes or walk for miles around town without anyone being concerned for their safety. One spring Saturday I jumped on my bike and headed off in quest of Jeff Torborg.

Using the dollar my grandpa gave me every Saturday, I purchased nine packs at $0.10 each. I left the store and opened my packs next to the bike stand. Once again I was disappointed as no Jeff Torborg emerged. As I started to leave, a younger kid came out of the store with one pack of cards which he proceeded to open. Although I was a very shy kid, my need for Jeff Torborg overwhelmed my usual reticence. I approached him and ask him if I could see who he got. Sure enough, there was Torborg! Without hesitation, I snatched the card from his hand and gave him my nine packs. I jumped on my bike and rode off before he could register an objection.

The kid probably ended up with some great cards since first two series of the 1973 set contains such Hall-of-Fame players as Clemente, Aaron, Palmer and Frank Robinson. Perhaps the nine extra packs triggered a lifelong passion for collecting. More likely he followed the path of most “normal” people and gave up card collecting as he grew older. Hopefully, he hasn’t held a grudge all these years over losing Jeff Torborg to a chubby, weird kid on a purple stingray bike.

The Heroes of Battle Creek

The filthy, vacuous, spiritually empty 1970’s was equally barren for collectors. If America is going to be great again, let’s hope that the ‘70’s aren’t the reference point. Yet, out of this wasteland emerged a hero, riding in from the unlikeliest of places – Battle Creek, Michigan.

kelloggs-1970-maysKellogg’s began their 3-D cards in 1970 with a stunning 75 card set.  It’s a fantastic checklist of players, star filled, simply lovely design. The 3-D effect, only recently surpassed in Avatar, worked, especially in small gaps – between a player’s arm and his head, between his bat and body. In these little glimpses of the background, magic happened.

I had a few cards from 1970-1972, but it was only in 1973 that I noticed the mail-in form on the box and sent in for a full set. Getting that brick of 3-card panels in the mail was a joy, and it only cost $1.25 and two Raisin Bran box tops. Having that set put me at the ready for upcoming issues, and sent me back to get 1970 and 1972. That damned ’71 set was the only one not available through the mail and, as a result, was much harder to come by, either complete or individually. It still is.

1971-kelloggs-baseball-box-panel-ad

Even back then, collectors knew there were two problems with cards – they’d curl and, in time, they’d crack. I was on the problem early. I’d get a set and immediately bind them like a Chinese woman’s feet, but with less pain. My ingenious process was to put two pieces of cardboard on both the front and back of the set and strap the cards in tightly with rubber bands. The cardboard prevented rubber band marks on the first and last cards. It was a pretty good system and held the cards solidly in place for decades. Over time, some bands would get flabby, some would break, but it worked. What curl I had was manageable. Maybe one or two cards in all of my sets have cracks, and I think they arrived that way.

That was what held them until a few years ago. My friend Jimmy, as a thank you for another great Cooperstown Induction weekend, sent me a box of hard top loaders and inner sleeves (is that what they’re called? I may be confusing the term with records). It was a complete surprise and the perfect gift; I would never buy that kind of stuff myself. I was consumed for weeks with placing old 3-D cards in their new holders. I hadn’t looked at all of these cards in years. Thankfully, 1970’s me did a solid job on keeping the cards flat and it was an easy transition. Now, all my Kellogg’s sets (save 1973) are flat and stay flat in their new homes.

fullsizerender

I’ve been thinking of finishing off the run. I don’t have 1982 and 1983, easy enough to come by and cheap, but in looking at 1971, that damned 1971 set, I don’t have enough critical mass of single cards to pursue the full set. I don’t want to go cheap on that one and start down a cracked path. We all know the bad luck that surrounds cracks, whether in mirrors, concrete or 1971 Clarence Gaston cards.

s-l1600

Finding the Right Woman (and the Right Card)

I think a lot of us went through a phase where we recognized that collecting cards wasn’t cool, that making it known at 18, 20, 22 years old that we were working on completing our 1967 Topps set was not the best pickup line. “Hey, how’s it going? I gotta tell you, finding a Near Mint Juan Pizarro high number is really tough. Can I buy you a drink?” It doesn’t work.

I gave up on cards during college, though I’d occasionally buy packs. Once graduated (and single), I made up for lost time and bought the sets I’d missed from 1981-1984 (though not the 1984 Fleer Update, dumb!). Then I got back on the trail of my 1967 set.

You know you’ve met “The One” when you can openly fess up to what you perceive as your most embarrassing traits. Karen was “The One,” and not only did she quickly know I collected cards, but she came with me to shows! That’s true love. It was at one show, I think in New Jersey (let’s just say New Jersey, it’s a good setting), that having Karen along made all the difference.

Down to my final few ‘67’s, I found a dealer with a nice supply in nice condition. I got what I could and now, with one card to go, but the one card I didn’t see, I asked – “Do you have a Red Sox team card?”

“I don’t,” I heard him say, or was it “no,” I can’t recall. Whatever it was, it was bad.

I bought the cards he did have and we walked away from the table.

“I can’t believe he didn’t have the last card I needed,” I said, moaning the words out, Eeyore style.

“No, he did have it,” Karen said. “He said ‘I have it someplace else.’”

Really? How did I miss that? We headed right back and Karen was dead right. He had the card, it was in another box behind his table. He got it and it was beautiful. Thanks to Karen, it was mine.

Sure, I would have gotten the Sox team card eventually, yet, in my mind, I never would have completed the set without Karen. It’s a better story that way and that moment is eternally connected to that set and this card:

img_2340

Doing my part to win the Cold War

In the summer of 1983 I was 22 years old and writing software for a large defense contractor (Raytheon) in Rhode Island. Had a secret security clearance and everything. As it happens, a joint software project with Sperry-Univac required that I spend a bit of time that summer in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Defense Department (essentially our employers) was conducting round-the-clock stress testing on our weapons control system at Sperry, and someone from Raytheon had to be present. The work consisted almost solely of sitting in a chair (probably reading a novel) ready to step in if there was a test failure. My most vivid Twin Cities memories that summer were multiple trips to the Metrodome–mostly to see the Twins, but once to a Vikings preseason game where the crowd vigorously booed Broncos rookie John Elway.

After a couple of week-long sojourns with my boss, I made a trip by myself near the end of the summer. The solo voyage was to be an annoyance not because of the work, but because of logistical issues I had never dealt with before–I didn’t own a credit card, for example. No worries, I was told. Raytheon prepaid all the big items, and then gave me a karl-malden-aestack of travelers checks (look it up, kids) as a “per diem.” This $25 per day was ostensibly for food, but I was told that I was free to use it however I wished.

As luck would have it, my hotel provided free breakfast, and there was a lunch spread at work. I planned to go to a couple of Twins games, and I was pretty sure I could buy a prime ticket, food and beer for that budget. The other three evenings I figured I would just find some nice restaurants and bring a thick book. I brought some cash for incidentals, but I was optimistic that my per diem would be enough to get me through the week in style.

These well-laid plans were upset on my very first day when I discovered a delightful baseball card store near my hotel. (By “near my hotel,” I might mean: “up some obscure side street I found after poring through the yellow pages and consulting a local map.”) After wandering in, I drifted past the usual boxes of modern wax packs to the display case filled with old cardboard from the 1950s. At this point my collecting consisted of very slowly filling in the sets from my childhood (beginning with 1967) and keeping up with the annual releases.

jrf

But one look at this pair of cards at the top of the case and I was like when Tony first laid eyes on Maria in “West Side Story.” The twin objects of my affection were from 1956, and they carried the same price tag: $25. I might have seen both cards before, but never in this condition or at this price.

On the other hand, I had never spent $25 on a baseball card before. Further, I didn’t really have $25–I had no credit card, I just had a bunch of traveler’s checks that I had already accounted for.

At that moment I realized that the traveler’s check budget needed refiguring.

I went back to my hotel and ran through numbers again. I wasn’t going to give up the two Twins games I had planned–don’t be silly–but the rest of the food suddenly seemed extravagant. What’s wrong with a nice sandwich?

Somewhat surprisingly, I made a fairly mature decision. I decided I would eat frugally throughout the week and return to the card store on Saturday morning before my flight. If I had money left, perhaps I could buy one of those beautiful cards? (If they were still there.)

The week passed uneventfully as I tried to keep my mind away from the card store. The weapons simulations did not misfire, I enjoyed my free breakfasts and free lunches, and discovered that I didn’t really need that second hot dog at the ballgame. On non-game nights I found some takeout and ate in the hotel.

Come Saturday morning and, surprise surprise, I still had about $60 in traveler’s checks in my wallet. I packed up my suitcase and headed for the card store.

As luck with have it, both of my dream cards were still in their case, and I trembled a little when I announced that I would take them both. The guy behind the counter chuckled at my traveler’s checks, but I accepted the teasing rather than tell him my sordid story. These two cards instantly became the best two cards in my collection. They still are.

I have made many baseball card purchases over the years, and to this day I usually feel at least a bit of guilt. (Is this really the best use of my money? Is that really a hole in my son’s shoe?) But as I flew home on that plane 34 years ago I felt nothing but satisfaction. I had not taken money from my children’s college fund. I would soon come to realize that defense department work was not my bag, but for these two cards I know who to thank: Ronald Reagan and his military buildup.

On the flight home I took the cards out of my brief case every ten minutes or so, and had the card backs memorized by the time we crossed over Detroit. The woman in the seat next to me gave me that look. You know the one.

twbjrb

 

 

 

 

Split Season sets (or, how writing a book invariably led to more cards)

The split season of 1981, the year of Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and the strike that saved baseball, was Year One in the explosion in card collecting that marked the next decade and more. All of a sudden, there were a lot of choices for collectors.

An important historical note recounted in my book, Split Season: 1981,Fernandomania, The Bronx Zoo and the Strike that Saved Baseball (see how I subtly introduced the title in the opening sentence?) is the lawsuit that ended the Topps monopoly. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

In spring, millions turned to a time honored system of information gathering – baseball cards. The turmoil in baseball, the interweaving of business and sport, of tradition and progress, was mirrored in the collectible world. Topps, the only card company that generations had grown up on, had competition for the first time in 25 years. Like free agency, the decision came from an outside arbiter.

Cards were big business, 500 million traded, collected and clothes-pinned on bicycle spokes every year, generating $10 million in revenue. It was no wonder others wanted in.  When Fleer first challenged Topps in 1959, Topps had nearly every player under an exclusive deal. In 1975, the same year the first free agent, “Catfish” Hunter, was pushed out into an open market, Fleer filed a $13.6 mil suit against the Topps monopoly.

It took almost six years to end. On June 30, 1980, it was ruled that Topps and the players’ association had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, restraining trade in the card market violation of.  The players’ association, much to Miller’s shock, were sued as well because, they had only licensed Topps. Miller disagreed with Topps’ assertion of exclusivity, but by not granting other companies the same right, the union had helped Topps remain the only cardboard in town. The players’ association was thrilled, for once, to lose. They saw more licensing money on the horizon.

For all of Fleer’s work in the courts, it was a Memphis concern, Donruss, which jumped in first. Fleer, seeing the normal calendar compress, released its full set before the Super Bowl, rather than the customary mid-February date. Statistical errors were numerous, with Bobby Bonds credited with 936 career home runs. The cards came out too early to picture the recent crop of free agents in fresh garb. Winfield as a Padre, Fisk and Lynn as a Red Sox, made the new cards outdated on arrival. Each company had a hard time completely covering the expected top rookies. Topps featured Tim Raines in a triptych of future Expos stars. Fernando Valenzuela got the same treatment. Donruss offered a full, more in focus, solo card of an incredibly young looking Raines, his big Afro pushing his cap skywards, an empty Wrigley Field lower level in the background.  Fleer had the only Valenzuela card, though he was labeled “Fernand” Valenzuela.

The flood of new product, giving every purchaser a free choice, would lead to an explosion of the hobby. By year-end, three times the number of cards were collected. The union garnered an additional $600,000 in revenue. An open market was good for paper images of the players; why not for the real thing?

In those moments during research and writing, while my mind wandered, and needed to, I searched EBay for 1981 sets I didn’t have. Of course, I had the three big base sets, and the Topps Traded set, but there were plenty of new offerings.

1981 Topps Coca-Cola

Topps produced 12 card sets, for 11 MLB teams. (They produced a Yankee set but that was never issued. Only three players are out there – Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson and Rick Cerone.).

Rather than buy sets team by team, I held out for the full run of 132 cards. It was well worth it. They are very nice and, in some instances, have different pictures than the regular 1981 cards. The Sutton card is the missing link between his base card and his Traded card.

1981 Topps Giant Photo Cards 

1918-giant-burg

Perhaps in the Top 5 (at least Top 10) of most beautiful card sets, these 5” X 7” borderless glossies are a dream. Again, Topps issued team sets, or geographic sets, but the key for me was getting the whole set, all 102 oversized pics. I had a few of these when they came out but 1) only Yankees and Mets were sold in New York and, 2) who has the time to buy one card packs? This is the perfect set for Rob Neyer, who wrote recently for the blog about how much he likes borderless cards.

Tom Burgmeier never looked so good.

1981 Topps Scratchoffs

scratchoff

Perhaps in the Bottom 5 (at least Bottom 10) of ugliest and pointless Topps sets. Three game cards to a card, perforated, the pictures small, players looking at, or averting their eyes from, the 24 black dots as if they were the plague. Not worth the time or money (small though it is at around $10.)

1981 Topps Stickers and Album

1981-stickers

Topps obviously decided that the best way to counter the Donruss and Fleer cards that now cluttered the market was to flood the market with more Topps sets. These are kinda nice, kinda silly, this big set of 262 flimsy little stickers features enough fine photography to make it interesting. Plus, it’s ridiculously cheap, less than a ten spot. I bought the album as well but there’s no sticking in my future.

1981 Fleer Star Stickers

1981-bake-fleer

Maybe not as nice as the Topps sticker set, a bit more cluttered in design, a bit smaller set (128) but bigger cards. Plus, a loose-leaf binder is virtually naked without a Bake McBride sticker on the front.

1981 Drake’s

1981-drakes-super-joe

The first Drake’s set since 1950 (the awesome “TV Baseball Series” cards), this 32 card gem was made in conjunction with Topps and is sweet, with great action shots of the “Big Hitters” of the day – and Joe Charboneau.

 

There were a few other sets I picked up – Kellogg’s 3-D (oddly, I had stopped buying those sets in 1980), the O-Pee-Chee Expos/Blue Jays poster set – and I had a few others – the Dodgers Police set and about 22% of all the minor league sets put out in 1981. I have no desire to pursue any more minor league sets, but I will make note of perhaps the best card of 1981. The TCMA Albuquerque Dukes set at first had a Sandy Koufax card, and then didn’t. Koufax was coaching in the Dodger chain that year.

1981-tcma-koufax

As for what’s left, there are some Police sets that don’t grab me (Braves, Royals, Mariners) and MSA/Peter Pan/Sunbeam discs that are bland beyond belief. When I bought the Towne Club disc set in 1976, discs of logo-less players seemed cool. Not by 1981, not now.

I may go after the Granny Goose A’s set, though searching for the short print Dave Revering card feels like an empty hunt. The only set remaining in my sights is the Squirt set. It’s not that big, not that expensive and I feel that not having anything in my collection labelled “Squirt” is a big void.

1981-squirt