(I went for a walk yesterday. I had to shoo away bugs. Bugs. In March. In the northernest part of New York. If this weather doesn't put you in mind of baseball, you're not human. Here's to freakish weather -- and the inevitable freezing April. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 137th in a series):
One of the best parts of running a "set blog" is digging up memories of cards that I haven't thought about in decades.
When I posted the Roy Smalley card from the 1985 Topps set over on the '85 blog, my mind took me to 1980 and my fondness for this particular Smalley card.
One of my favorite parts of seeing the cards of players bestowed with an All-Star logo each spring was pulling the players who were all-star starters for the first time. Players who didn't really seem like all-stars but had broken out for one huge year that even the fans could not ignore. Perhaps a star had dominated the All-Star position year after year, and then suddenly there was a different player at that position with the All-Star designation.
Smalley was part of a revolving door at shortstop for the A.L. in the late '70s. No one started in consecutive years. Toby Harrah. Rick Burleson. Freddie Patek. Roy Smalley. Then, for two inexplicable years, Bucky Dent was the starter, before Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. brought sanity back to the proceedings.
Each year, seeing a different player at shortstop honored with the All-Star logo was a pleasure. Loved them all. I particularly enjoyed the Smalley card because not only is it an action card, but he is pictured from so far away. Smalley is so small! Yep, that amused me.
In fact, if you look at all the cards in the 1980 Topps set, Smalley's image is the smallest of any in the set. Yes, I looked. Smaller than the Frank White all-star card. Smaller than Mario Guerrero's card. It's downright tiny.
But as I was looking through my 1980 binder, the thought of Smalley's card disappeared into something else.
Perhaps it's the summer weather around here or maybe it's nostalgia for simpler times, but as I turned the pages, I appreciated the 1980 set in a whole new way.
Many times I've said that the 1980 set was the first set I ever tried to complete. The previous five years I was either too young or too distracted or too poor to even attempt it. But I was in high school in 1980, making a little odd job money and fully coming to terms of what it was to be "a collector."
The feelings came rushing back as I viewed the cards I vividly remember pulling out of packs, perhaps more vividly than any set of that distant time. I appreciated each card as a collector would -- not in terms of value or rarity, or as I did as a child, an oblivious attraction to the colorful items -- but as an individual card and its story and its value in building a set.
This was all new in 1980. Plus, my knowledge of the current players of the day had hit a new high. Just about everyone who came out of a pack of cards was a familiar face and a familiar name. That hadn't been the case in previous years.
If I had to pick a year of my "birth as a collector," it wouldn't be 1974 -- the first time I ever saw cards. Or 1975 -- the first time I ever bought cards. Or 1978 -- the first time I ever saw a completed set in person.
It would be 1980. That was the year I knew exactly what I had gotten myself into.
I couldn't have been more proud.