(Today is "Pardon Day," a day of seeking forgiveness. In the spirit of that day, I would like to say to the Padres "I'm sorry I thought your team was crap at the beginning of the year and that your manager would be fired." However, I am not sorry for hoping whoever plays the San Diego Padres in the playoffs beats the s---t out of them. I can only appreciate so much of "Pardon Day." Now, it's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 80th in a series):
Most people know this card as the rookie card of both Paul Molitor and Alan Trammell. For them, that's rarity enough -- two standouts at their position featured on the same rookie card.
But for me, it's rare for another reason.
When I first started collecting, the four-player rookie card was the standard. Four-player rookie cards appeared in the first set I ever saw ('74 Topps) and the first set I ever collected ('75 Topps). It was the first cards I ever cut up ('76 Topps and '77 Topps) and it was the first cards that I ever valued for their "rookie cardness" ('78 Topps).
The 1979 set moved on to the three-player rookie cards. And they were all in black-and-white. What a major downgrade. The 1980 set presented the three rookies in color, but it wasn't the same.
Four players on one card was better. You got four players! One one card! Genius!
But the rare part was that on this particular card, I knew every single one of the players.
That was so rare back then. There was no internet, no Baseball America, no fantasy baseball. Rookies were not coveted in terms of collecting cards. And collectors didn't really go through the effort of figuring out the stories behind the little mug shots. I know I didn't. Neither did anyone else I knew. It's not like that knowledge was available to you anyway.
But this card was different. We already knew them. First, Trammell was the starting shortstop in the Tigers' lineup by the time we pulled this card in 1978. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. (Lou Whitaker was first).
Paul Molitor was also a starter for the Brewers in 1978, albeit mostly at second base. He was second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Now, usually, on a four-player rookie card, that's where the knowledge would end. There were always at least two, sometimes three, players that you did not know on one of those cards. If you were very lucky, there was only one.
Does anyone remember George Throop? Chris Batton? Cardell Camper? I didn't think so.
But continuing on with that special 4-player card, we knew who U.L. Washington was. He played in 69 games for the Royals in 1978. Kansas City was on national TV a lot back then. And cameras focused on Washington because of his ever-present toothpick. He was hard to miss.
Then there was Mickey Klutts. He played in only one game for the Yankees in 1978. But he had played in a small number the previous year, and we sure knew who he was. Maybe you had to be a Yankee-hater in Yankee country with access to WPIX to know who Mickey Klutts was, but we made certain we knew his every move.
So that's what made that card unique back then. Four dudes. And we knew them all.
There was another rookie card in the '78 set, the catcher's card that featured Dale Murphy, Lance Parrish, Bo Diaz and Ernie Whitt. I don't remember for sure, but I think we might have known all those guys, too. We were beginning to pay a little more attention to the guys with the tiny mug shots.
The 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson and the 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly get all the credit for starting the rookie card craze. But I think it began for me with at least one four-player rookie card in 1978.