Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The trifecta, old school version

A number of weeks ago I displayed all of my Dodger card trifectas. Those were the players for which I owned the rookie card, an autographed card, and a relic card. It was a lot of fun, and I thank Drew of Drew's Cards for introducing me to the term.

I called those trifectas the "new school version," and at the end of the post I said I would show the "old school version" in the next couple of days.

Well, it's a month-and-a-half later, and I still haven't gotten around to it.

A couple of reasons for that.

First, searching for cards and scanning cards may sound like a wild time for non-bloggers, but believe it or not, it can be tedious drudgery. In fact, the one-image post is a beautiful thing and should never be underestimated.

Secondly, I had planned to explain that the "old school" trifecta was just as difficult to achieve as the "new school" version, until I discovered that wasn't true at all.

A little background:

For me, the "old school trifecta" phenomenon first took place in 1981 when collectors could choose from three card companies for the first time. Donruss and Fleer had joined Topps in the candy aisle. Instead of collecting just one card of a player, you could now collect three. In some cases, you could collect four or five because Donruss and Fleer "cheated" and featured multiple cards of star players that first year. But for the most part, the goal that year was to collect three versions of a player.

This may seem elementary to collectors under the age of 35, but the concept of being able to own more than one card of a certain player in a given year, with a different pose and everything, was mind-blowing in 1981. Did we think it was wonderful? Yeah, I guess. Once we could get our head wrapped around it.

The primary concern was attempting to collect all three sets. We barely had the money to buy packs from one set, let alone three. But I really tried to collect all three. I spent most of my money on Topps just because that was what I was used to buying. When the collecting season ended, I had about 500 from the Topps set and in the low 300s for both Donruss and Fleer. That means I bought many more cards in '81 than I had ever purchased before.

But all these years later I still thought I had a difficult time getting three different cards of a player.

It turns out I didn't.

I recently added them up, and I have an '81 Topps card, '81 Donruss card and '81 Fleer card for more than 200 players. Over the years, I've added to my '81 collections slightly, but I'd say a good 175 "old school trifectas" were formed that summer of 1981.

It was so easy that I could form trifectas of:

An Ott ...

A Klutts ...

And a Pujols.

Who remembers Rick Sofield?

He played 131 games for the Twins in 1980 and parts of seasons in 1979 and 1981. That was it. But I had an old-school trifecta of him.

Obtaining old-school trifectas of Dodgers wasn't a problem because I always sought out Dodgers. I just had to do it more often.

The fascinating thing about having three cards of every player is you could contrast and compare photos. The few hobby publications out at the time would do the same thing. We noticed the same thing that the hobbyists did -- Topps' photos were usually better than Fleer's, and Fleer's photos were usually better than Donruss.

But Donruss would answer back by providing cards that were more up-to-date than the others. Only Donruss noted that Hobson was now an Angel.

This was a unique innovation as far as we were concerned. All we knew was airbrushing. We didn't know card companies could feature a photo of a player in the uniform of one team and list him as playing for another team.

Obtaining "old school trifectas" of stars wasn't any more difficult than finding one of a common player. In fact, in some cases, it was easier because there were more cards available of the superstars.

The arrival of two new card sets in '81 was really a watershed moment that I don't believe gets quite the credit it deserves. Too much credit goes to Upper Deck's arrival in 1989.

But you have to understand, with the exception of food issues, there wasn't another card company besides Topps for almost 20 years prior to Donruss and Fleer. Their arrival changed everything. When Upper Deck came along, people were already collecting Topps, Donruss, Fleer and Score. A new card company arrived only one year before Upper Deck did. UD merely added another log -- albeit one that burned like no other -- onto the fire.

For me, the arrival of Fleer and Donruss started it all, everything that we know about collecting now. Good or bad, 1981 altered everything. It was the first wave, the initial wave.

We rode it as best we could that summer. And with more than 200 "old-school trifectas," I think I held up pretty well.


  1. Actually, Topps used to issue cards with the player's uniform different than the team label on the front of the card (AND, without all the messy airbrushing!)

    Two cards that come to mind are the 1964 Don Demeter and the 1961 Turk Farrell. Both are wearing Phillies' uniforms (including cap), but the team name is Tigers (for Demeter) and Dodgers (for Farrell).

  2. Yup, I'm aware. But it was very uncommon in the 1970s when I was first collecting. I can only think of the Jerry Morales-Glenn Beckert cards from the 1974 set, which was the year I first collected.

  3. and don't forget about o-pee-chee in that regard!
    one of my favorite memories from 1981 as far as collecting goes was that the garv had two cards in both fleer and donruss! 5 garvey cards in one year! 6 if you count the donruss error. what a concept.

  4. Ah, gcrl beat me to it. :)

    OPC figured out the Hobson trade as well.

  5. Apologies for having that link open in the comment window.

  6. There wasn't a single place where I could buy OPC when I was a youngster, so I never came across the OPC updates.

  7. Yes. We only ever saw Topps when we'd go to the States on vacation. By the mid/late 80s, Topps was at least in the hobby shops.

  8. LOVE LOVE LOVE the '81 releases! Thank You for posting this!

  9. Almost brought a tear to my eye. 1981 was my first year to collect and seeing all those images together brought it all back. Thanks.