The new issue of Beckett Baseball Magazine is out. The folks at Beckett made the January issue all about the 1980s and the card craziness from that decade.
The nostalgia for the '80s seems to be lasting longer than nostalgia for other decades. Nostalgia for a particular decade usually arrives 20 years after the decade in question and then fades after about a decade. But here we are, just about 30 years after the close of the '80s and '80s tributes are everywhere.
Included in those continuing tributes are a couple of '80s baseball card countdowns. One is in the January edition of Beckett magazine -- the top 80 cards of the '80s. The other one will be on my blog -- hopefully starting in January -- and is called The 100 Greatest Cards of the '80s.
There will be some similarities between these two lists, but there will be lots and lots of differences.
I don't have a subscription to Beckett magazine (I probably should think about it if I just wrote an article for it). But Peter of Baseball Every Night was kind enough to show the inside spread on the '80s ranking in the January Beckett.
I'm making a lot of assumptions without reading the article, but I'm thinking that the images shown -- there are 80 -- are the 80 cards selected as the top ones of the decade.
Many of these cards are familiar to everyone who collected back then. I had to look up a couple, but otherwise they're burned in my brain.
It also doesn't take a genius to notice that the majority of the cards shown here are rookie cards or connected to the very early stages of the featured player's career.
How much of a majority of the list is rookies, pre-rookies or future stars?
Red will represent a rookie card.
Pink will represent "future stars" cards.
Green will represent error cards. This includes the 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson card, which is both a rookie card and an error card, even though it's not really an error but better classified under whatever weirdness Fleer was doing in 1989.
Black is the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken F-Face card. I refuse to classify this one as an error.
The other colors represent kind of "one-off' cards that would be more at home in my countdown. The purple will represent the 1987 Classic Bo Jackson card (in which he's wearing a football uniform).
Yellow will represent the 1982 Donruss Chicken card, which I referenced in last night's post. This is a card that will definitely show up in my countdown.
Light blue will represent the 1980 Topps George Brett card. This card looks out-of-place in the Beckett countdown but it's more of what I think great cards should be: cards that evoke a particular season or event when you see it.
Blue will represent the 1984 Pete Rose Fleer Update card that shows him as a Montreal Expo.
OK, so when you have that color code and you apply it to the grid of baseball cards shown in the Beckett magazine layout, this is what the color grid shows:
ARE YOU BLIND??????
Damn, that's a lot of red.
According to the Beckett rankings, the top cards of the 1980s were overwhelmingly rookie cards. Rookie cards and error cards. There is little room for anything else.
I'm not saying that this list is wrong (what countdown is ever right or wrong?). Without a doubt, 1980s collecting was about rookies. That's what created the frenzy, that's what created the kind of cards that were issued that decade (and in the decades to come). That's what made the money. That's what drove the hobby. Collecting in the 1980s was rookies more than anything else.
But was it the only thing in collecting during that decade?
Not for me.
Sure, I got excited about the 1980 Rickey Henderson rookie and others, too. But "rookieness" isn't the beginning and end of every card. That is so one-dimensional and makes the Beckett list one-dimensional, too.
The greatness of a baseball card is about many aspects. It can be a player's first card. But greatness can be defined by the photograph, too. Or the design. Or the facts on the back. Or what was going on during the season the card was issued. Emphasizing "rookieness," or the cards that cost the most money, throughout your countdown does cards a disservice. Some of those rookie cards don't even look good. They're dopey head shots of young players. Almost no creativity. Yet they slide into "Best" because they're a rookie.
That's not cool.
My countdown will include rookie cards for sure. Rickey is already in the list. Others will be, too. But here are 10 cards that have a real shot of making my 1980s list:
What do these 10 cards have in common?
Not much, other than they were created in the 1980s. But all of them are definitely not rookie cards. (If you're hopelessly addicted to rookieness, take heart that rookie Ryne Sandberg is featured in the first card and you can make the case for the last card being Pete Rose Jr.'s pre-rookie card).
The best cards -- whether they're from the 1980s or not -- tell a story and there's more to a story than "this is a great player's first card."
I'm hoping that the 100 Greatest Cards of the 1980s will tell lots of stories, because really, truly, absolutely, the 1980s were about so, so, so, so much more than rookies.