Without really knowing it, I categorize Dodger eras into the three categories of "good," "bad," or "indifferent."
And, by association, my attitude toward certain Dodgers players, past or present, is colored by whether they appeared in a good, bad or indifferent Dodger era.
For example, take this fine card of George "Shotgun" Shuba, supplied to me by the Junior Junkie (all of the card you will see here are from the Junior Junkie, by the way). Shuba was hardly an exceptional player. He was a utility man. But because he played at a time when the Dodgers were perennial contenders, when they were breaking racial barriers, and because he had such a cool nickname, he is a favorite.
Shuba is known for the symbolic gesture of shaking Jackie Robinson's hand in the minor leagues. He's also well-documented in the book "Boys Of Summer." And he hit a pinch-hit homer in the 1955 World Series. Through circumstance, he shined. He came along during one of the Dodgers' "good" eras.
But you could take a better player, like Andruw Jones here, on what many would consider a better card, and I would say this is a bad player from a bad era.
Jones came to the Dodgers in 2008, actually a playoff year for the Dodgers. But because I see players like Jones, Jeff Kent and Derek Lowe on '08 cards, it's a "bad era" for me. 2005-08 is a bad Dodger era.
Jones may have played terrifically for the Braves, but he had a historically terrible year for the Dodgers and he'll be nothing but a sorry fat excuse for a baseball player to me. Because of circumstance -- and his own inability to control his pie hole -- he is forever a part of the "bad era" and therefore not as good as George "Shotgun" Shuba.
Mike Piazza is firmly in the "indifferent era" and I'm pretty indifferent about Piazza.
The '90s were full of promise and all-star players for the Dodgers. But they never went anywhere. I also had a difficult time paying attention to baseball at the time. The malaise had hit and I was indifferent about the whole Dodger scene, including the guys who played for them.
Piazza may have had hundreds of cards every year, but I wasn't buying them. No matter how fancy, I am indifferent about a lot of cards in the '90s. I'm indifferent about '90s Dodgers. And I'm indifferent about Piazza. Sure, give me his cards, but I'll never say "I collect him."
So where do the other cards from Junior Junkie stack up in my endless need to categorize? Here we go:
1950s-era Dodgers: The Fleer Snider is a lot shinier than the scan shows and is a welcome elimination from my want list. The Donruss Snider is an affront to form, function and design ... and the Silver Fox.
1960s-era Dodgers: I have a feeling Willie Davis would have been even more of a star if he played in the '80s.
1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s-era Dodgers: I'm starting to think the Dodgers' golden era was from the 1940s through the '80s and that consistency that I always took for granted will never return.
2009-present Dodgers: Time will tell whether I hold this era on par with some of the great eras of the past. But right now, I like these Dodgers and I will defend them against desperate teams like the Diamondbacks until my last breath.
By the way, that Max Fried dude spent last year in Class A. I feel like cutting him off the card.
2005 Dodgers: Just a terrible year. Botched horribly with players of great promise like Edwin Jackson never realizing potential or perhaps never having the ability that everyone said he had.
Not even fantastic serial-numbered cards like the Milton Bradley Leaf card (69, dude!) can save me from thinking of Bradley and '05 as anything but pathetic.
Meanwhile, Russell Martin contributed to the beginnings of a "good" Dodger era in 2009, but he ended up being a disappointment for me and I'll always think of him as part of a "bad era," even while he was part of terrific cards like this.
1999-2000 Dodgers: "Turn of the century" Dodgers make me depressed. Anybody with even an indirect connection to the Mike Piazza trade, including Todd Hundley here, is automatically tarnished in my eyes. Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla. Tarnished.
Mid-1990s Dodgers: All the Rookies Of the Year were nice and there are some very pretty cards of those Rookies of the Year. But the inability to deliver, the disappointment, and the fact that I'm just discovering NOW that '98 Pacific Paramount had a gold parallel makes me want to leave the cards on a table and say "never mind."
That's what I wish I could say about the mid-1990s Dodgers. "Never mind." Or, even better, "Do over."
I sort my Dodger binders by year, so I experience a wave of emotion as I leaf through from start to finish. I have great pride in my 50s-thru-80s binders. But the '90s move from meh to persistent sighing to outbursts of "oh, god, why was HE on the team?"
Fortunately, I like the team now and that's how the binders end, with a team that I like.
Time will tell how I view these current Dodgers 10 years from now.
I imagine most team collectors have the same experiences.
It's a shame all the eras can't be good.
But at least I'm not looking through binders full of Giants. That's a bad era no matter where you turn.