Monday, October 12, 2015

Joy of a team set, chapter 6

This postseason is almost 80 percent free of "ick," I am happy to say. Sure, the Cardinals still exist, and I probably won't be very happy if the Cubs or Mets win it all, but we could do worse. A lot, lot, lot worse.

In fact, if the postseason causes me to go back to warm-and-fuzzy moments from past postseasons, then that's a good sign. And that's what 2015 is doing for me.

The Astros' appearance this year takes me back to 1980, the first year that Houston reached the postseason. Of course, they had to beat my Dodgers in a special playoff to get there, but after a few days of mourning I was back to myself and captivated by the most interesting NLCS I had ever witnessed.

This period marked a turning point for baseball as I became more of a fan. My early rooting years were dominated by the Yankees, Dodgers, Reds, Phillies and Royals. These were the teams that always won. But that changed slowly year by year as the parity of the '80s arrived.

The Angels actually kicked things off in 1979 and then that was followed by the Astros in 1980. To follow would be the Expos in '81, Brewers in '82, White Sox in '83, Cubs, Padres and Tigers in '84, Blue Jays in '85, Mets in '86, Twins in '87, etc.

But the Astros, in their colorful uniforms, were the first to really signal change. So let's take a look at who from that team made up the 1980 Topps team set:

Plus here is the "Future Stars" card that gives absolutely no indication that the Astros would be back in the NLCS six years later:

Of course, this is one year before Topps started publishing "Traded" sets, so this set doesn't reflect two major free agent signings after the 1979 season.

The Astros added Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan to their team and they were major factors in their winning the NL West. There is also no card for relief pitcher Dave Smith, who had a significant impact on the 1980 team.

OK, now onto the Joy of a Team Set tally (Ryan is not eligible):

Favorite card runners-up: 5. Julio Gonzalez; 4. J.R. Richard; 3. Cesar Cedeno; 2. Jeff Leonard.

Favorite element on the back:

The cartoons are a little bland in the '80 set, but who doesn't enjoy one Niekro taking another Niekro for a ride?

Team's claim to fame: The first Astros team to make the postseason. They played the Phillies to an epic five games before falling. One of the best Championship Series of the 1980s.

Players I've talked to: Two. Talked to Art Howe in person and Joe Niekro on the phone.

Most interesting card:

The photo crop makes it appear as if Gonzalez is waving his bat around in a closet.

Former or future Dodgers: Jeff Leonard, Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, Rafael Landestoy.

A couple of other observations: 1. My least favorite card in the set is the Bruce Bochy, for a multitude of reasons. 2. I think Jeff Leonard's nickname "Penitentiary Face" may have started with this card.

Favorite card in the team set:

#437 - Joe Niekro

He throws a knuckler, kids.

Thanks again for joining me for "joy of a team set". Now, back to the postseason.


  1. That team set also marks the final apperance of an Alou brother as an active player

  2. I also like that Niekro card the best.

    Morgan and Ryan can be found for the Astros on the 1980 Topps design - the Burger King set has them in Houston unis.

  3. I love these uniforms. I think my favourite card other than the Niekro is the Terry Puhl. Gotta go for a card I want to get lol

  4. Leading off with a Virdon card always makes for a great post.

  5. Always loved the Astros look back then. I never liked 'em once they moved to that boring look that was based on navy blue. They've started using a dulled version of that beautiful orange recently, and I'll take it. I miss the unique uniforms & logos teams used to wear.

    BTW, the '81 Brewers made the playoffs. in '82, the Cardinals & Braves were up & comers in the playoff scene. Being a Dodgers fan though, I can see why you didn't mention that Atlanta bunch ;-) sorry I had to.

  6. Did Leonard get ice cream in that helmet?

  7. Probably my favorite non-Orioles team ever. I lived about a mile from the Dome and made lots of games including those playoff games against the Phils.

    Art Howe is a prince of a guy, probably the nicest professional athlete I've ever met.

    That Niekro card is aces.