Monday, February 16, 2015

C.A.: 1979 Topps Dodgers Prospects

(Welcome to Presidents' Day. I am old enough to remember when there were separate school days off for Lincoln's birthday and Washington's birthday but no full weeks off between Christmas and Easter. Somehow we made it through. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 221st in a series):

Apparently this is "favorite players of the past" week. Orel Hershiser, watch out.

I am relieved to read that Pedro Guerrero is doing a little better after initial reports this morning that he had suffered a stroke, brain hemorrhaging and was hospitalized in ICU in his native Dominican Republic. The latest reports say that he has suffered minor bleeding in the skull after losing mobility in his left arm. But there was no stroke, and he's talking and in good spirits.

Guerrero, as I've mentioned before, was my favorite player when I was in high school. He was probably the first player that I followed from the minor leagues and knew about his greatness long before many baseball fans knew his name.

When Guerrero showed up on a baseball card in the 1979 Topps set, with Rudy Law and Joe Simpson, it was confirmation for me of his potential.

I had had read about Guerrero's prowess before in the Dodgers yearbooks. Each year, his bio boasted of what was to come. One yearbook entry called him a "can't miss" prospect. Another said he was a "pure hitter."

Here is his first Dodger yearbook entry in 1977, with some guy named Rick Sutcliffe. Guerrero's write-up says he is "destined for stardom."

I think now you can see why I couldn't wait for Guerrero to get to the major leagues.

But after Guerrero appeared with Law and Simpson in the 1979 Topps set, I was forced to wait even longer. In 1980, Topps didn't bother with a card of Guerrero or Law.

Joe Simpson received a card in the 1980 set, but of course he did. He was a Mariner. Seattle played anyone thrown their way. That's what three-year-old franchises do.

The Dodgers were still stacked with Garvey, Cey, Baker and Smith. There was no room for Guerrero.

In 1980, the Guerrero cards I settled for were fake, in the pages of the 1980 Dodgers yearbook.

The cards weren't real (or maybe they were actual mock-ups, I don't know), but I considered more than once cutting them out and mounting them on cardboard to form my own first Pedro Guerrero card. I mean they were calling him "the golden boy" in yearbook writeups! He needs a card!

Finally, in 1981, both Guerrero and Rudy Law received their very own Topps cards.

It was a blessed event. I couldn't have been happier that these two stars of the future were in the 1981 Topps set.

In fact, I could recreate that 1979 Dodgers Prospects card, with each prospects' individual card.

Lots of dugout action in 1981.

As for the other sets in 1981, Donruss and Fleer gave Law a card, but not Guerrero.

This annoyed me because I saw Guerrero as clearly better than Law. Law stole bases. Guerrero did everything (well, I guess he didn't field that well).

I felt justified later that year when not only did the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series, but Guerrero was named co-MVP with Ron Cey and Steve Yeager.

Now do you know who Guerrero is? Now?????????????????????

By 1982, Guerrero was in all three sets. Law had disappeared, only to reappear in 1983 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. Simpson was out of card sets by 1985, no doubt pondering a broadcasting career.

Guerrero, meanwhile, became the Dodgers' superstar in the 1980s, the team's representative (along with Sax and Valenzuela) for a zillion Fleer boxed sets.

To understand what Guerrero meant to me, think about what Yasiel Puig means to young Dodger fans. Or what Raul Mondesi meant to 1990s Dodger fans. Guerrero was that. A strong, naturally powerful presence from the Caribbean, who would provide awe-inspiring feats for years to come.

Manny Mota, in that 1980 yearbook article, marveled over how Guerrero "actually gets angry when anybody gets him out."

That's how Guerrero was during a time when not a lot of players behaved like that. He had an edge and he sometimes got into trouble, but he was always likeable with a sense of humor. He still has it today as anyone who sees him baiting Jose Canseco on Twitter knows.

I hope Pedro has many more years in him because I'm not ready to give up on the guy who I targeted for greatness long before anyone from Bowman was telling us these things.


  1. I have a feeling that if the prospecting craze was around back then (or was as crazy as it is now) then you wouldn't have had to wait two years to get a Guerrero card on his own. By the end of the year you'd probably have at least 8 or 9 different base cards from 8 or 9 products with a few dozen inserts, a few hundred parallels and maybe some autographs going for triple digits in between.

  2. See, back in our day -- the 70s and early 80s -- the closest thing to going overboard on prospecting was getting some guy's actual minor league card from some team-issued set. And we liked it! :-)

    I still remember looking every month at the price guide to see what the 1979 card was worth. Wish Pedro knew how to slide, though.