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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 100-91

 Well, here we are.
I didn't expect it to take three years for me to put together a Greatest 100 Cards of the 1980s countdown. But I didn't expect life to hit me with a cement mixer in 2018, 2019 and 2020 either.
Now that life's epic issues are out of the way -- for now -- let's get started on the cards from the greatest decade that ever existed!
It's difficult for me to comprehend people not experiencing the '80s. I can handle folks not remembering the '70s, although I'm a bit sad that they missed out. But the '80s? Not remembering the '80s? It's a good thing that some of those folks collect cards because otherwise I'd have very little to discuss with someone who doesn't remember the '80s.
And, yes, I know that's a lot of people these days. Folks age 40 and under can't remember all of the '80s. And you know they wish they could. Why do you think certain songs from Toto, Phil Collins and Whitesnake are as popular as ever?
But this is about cards, the greatest from the '80s. This will be a different kind of countdown. First of all, the hobby in the '80s was nothing like the hobby in the '70s. It was a lot more fractured. More card companies, more preferences. Instead of every collector being a Topps kid, there were Donruss kids and Fleer kids and Upper Deck kids.
Because of that, you will never get a consensus on '80s cards. The hobby was much more communal in the '70s, everyone experienced cards in essentially the same way. This '80s countdown will be a lot more scattered and up for debate. (If you want life to make more sense, visit my '70s countdown).
As mentioned before, this countdown will not be weighted toward the top rookie cards of the '80s like many '80s countdowns are. There will be rookie cards here, sure, but this countdown is geared toward the look of the card, the theme of the card and a little bit about what was happening in baseball at the time.
All right, now that we've set the mood, it's time to get to it. It's time for the most tubular countdown on the internet today: 

Cards 100-91


No. 100. Carl Yastrzemski, 1982 Fleer, #633

When Fleer was churning out its first sets of the 1980s, I considered cards like this as filler. Fleer had run out of topics, obviously. Let's throw this extra card of Yaz in here to get to 660 cards.
Looking at the subject matter, I couldn't help but be justified in my thinking. 3,000 games? Who recognizes games played on a baseball card? It's 3,000 hits that everyone cares about.
Fleer wasn't around when Carl Yastrzemski achieved his 3,000th hit in 1979 and only Topps recognized the feat in the 1980 set the following year. This was Fleer trying to get in on the celebration of 3,000 any way they could.
However ...
Did you know that only eight players in major league history have played in at least 3,000 games? That's a lot fewer than the number of players who've reached 3,000 hits. Did you know that Yaz is second in the total games played category to this day? Only Pete Rose has played in more.
This card cracks the countdown because of that and because of the wonderful view of the Fenway Park right field bleachers (I can see Dwight Evans making that catch in Game 6 of 1975 World Series as I look at this card). 
Mostly it's here because of Yaz tipping his cap to the crowd. That kind of gesture was not a common sight on baseball cards. It took the new kid on the block to get that on cardboard. Even if Yaz is a little too far away.

 No. 99. Phil Garner, 1983 Topps, #478

Long live 1983 Topps and its well-presented action shots. Nobody had created such a pleasing blend of large action photo and inset head shot until 1983 Topps came along. (This combination is superior to the photo mix on 1963 Topps).
Phil Garner's card is more than just a simple tag play at second base, not that there is anything wrong with that. It is the resolution of baseball tension. It is the moment when the umpire answers all of our questions: safe or out?
Here, on Garner's card, the runner is safe. Kind of a bummer for Garner, right? You'd think the fielder would be tagging the runner out on his own card.
Both the fielder and runner are looking to the ump for the call. Fielder kind of thinks runner is out. Runner kind of thinks fielder is full of it. Ump says runner is correct.
The other question surrounding this card is exactly who is the runner? It looks like the Mets' Ron Gardenhire. It really looks like him. The number on the runner's jersey looks like a 12, but Gardenhire wore 19 for the Mets in 1982. So perhaps that's a 9, not a 2. Or perhaps I'm way off.
Here's hoping it's Gardenhire, because if it is, this is a play involving two future (and now previous) major league managers. Wow, I guess 1983 really was a long time ago.

 No. 98. Rick Mahler, 1983 Fleer, #141

Do you ever wonder what Topps was thinking when Fleer was busting out photos like this on its early 1980s cards?
Did Topps think Fleer was too silly, perhaps too unprofessional? Or did Topps scold itself wondering why it didn't think of that?
Whatever, I know that I liked Fleer's different takes on baseball. Here, Braves pitcher Rick Mahler prepares to apply his signature on one of what looks like three dozen baseballs. I hope he didn't have to sign all those balls. If so, I think we know why he pitched in just 14 innings during the 1983 season.
This is one of the more fascinating "locker room" photos that Fleer was known for at this time. It won't be the last one on the countdown.

No. 97. Gorman Thomas, 1981 Topps, #135

While I was whittling down the card candidates to an even 100, I was surprised at how many Gorman Thomas cards were in contention.
I was even more surprised to see what kind of Thomas cards were in contention. Just about all of them featured Stormin' Gorman's softer side. The same guy who listed "drag racing" as his hobby on the back of his baseball cards can be seen in a reflective mood on several of his early '80s cards.
This one is the best. Thomas, as manly as any one of us would dream to be, appears child-like, hat propped, as he peers through the chain-link fence, presumably out at the sun-splashed ball field. We can't read his thoughts but if this doesn't say "I want to play," I don't know what does.


No. 96. Bo Jackson, 1987 Topps, #170

Here we go. I know all Bo Jackson cards are revered. I know all Future Stars cards are adored.

Jackson has a better '80s card. It'll show up later. This card doesn't reach that level, but it is better than his 1986 rookie cards that are nothing more than glorified mug shots.

This Bo card, featuring a then-rare shot of an outfielder tracking a fly at the fence, demonstrates the power of a Future Stars card when it actually depicts a Future Star. You can almost hear the Future Stars "star" humming "the more you know" as it glistens in the right corner.

The photo is a bit too light. But I do enjoy that I think those orange objects behind him look appropriately like blocking sleds.


No. 95. Jeff Leonard, All-Star, 1985 Topps, #718

Everyone enamored with Ken Griffey Jr. wearing a backwards cap on his baseball card: LOOK AT THIS CARD.
It's 1985 (probably actually 1984). Griffey was 14. Jeff Leonard's already turned around the bill of his cap and, unlike Junior, he is not happy.
The man nicknamed "penitentiary face" most represents that moniker with this card. I don't know what the photographer did to get Leonard to glare like that but lets hope it didn't extend off-camera.

No. 94. Mario Soto, 1983 Fleer, #603

The early 1980s was a weird time for the Cincinnati Reds.
After dominating the National League during the 1970s, the Reds placed last, last and fifth from 1982-84. Even with a young flame-thrower like Mario Soto (who always seemed to own the Dodgers), the Reds couldn't get out of their own way at this time.
In fact, the trunk Soto happily leans against seems to sum it up: "Cincinnati Reds, Handle With Care".
What has become of the Big Red Machine.


No. 93. Wade Boggs, 1988 Topps, #200

All right, again, you're going to have to be far enough along in life to remember Wade Boggs when he was first dazzling spectators in the early 1980s.
Boggs' swing was unique at the time. No, he wasn't the first "inside-out" batter that I had ever seen, but I had never witnessed anyone so successful with that swing. Boggs got his bat on everything and every time he connected, he appeared to follow the ball from the moment of impact until it landed somewhere out in the field. I had never seen anyone track a ball for so long.
He also seemed to own the foul lines along first and third. He was known for slapping opposite-field liners over the third baseman or shortstop. But he'd also pull the ball with a jerk of his bat and this is what you see here. Look at Boggs tracking that ball with freakish focus.
This is one of my favorite 1988 Topps cards, check out how that bat splits "RED" and "SOX". And the card really does sum up the hitter.

No. 92. Ron Guidry, 1989 Topps, #255

Originally, this card wasn't going to make the countdown, and it pained me that it wouldn't.
But like every countdown I do, if I come back to it after a few days, I see things differently. Ron Guidry's final card of his career deserved to be in this countdown.
Guidry was as much a part of my initial rooting phase as Robin Yount, Andre Dawson and Eddie Murray. He began just as I was beginning to get interested in baseball. He seemed to pitch an inordinately long time, even though 1975-88 is really not that long.
By the time the 1989 Topps set arrived, I had forgotten about him. Guidry's last few seasons weren't very memorable.
But Topps treated him right for his finale, showing Louisiana Lightning firing one last warm-up pitch to the catcher. It's one of the best ball-in-flight cards of the '80s.


No. 91. Tony Perez, 1986 Topps, #85

Another Topps final tribute.
Tony Perez would play the 1986 season. But Fleer was the only card company to recognize that season in its 1987 set. Neither Topps nor Donruss put Perez in its 1987 set.
For Topps, perhaps they ignored Perez in '87 because they knew it couldn't do any better than the '86 card for a final tribute.
This is one of those ultimate "passing the torch" photos. Perez, who had become the oldest player to hit a grand slam at age 43 in 1985, is greeted at home plate by the Reds' young superstar Eric Davis, who would appear on just his second Topps card in the 1986 set.


There you are, the first 10 for the countdown.
Like the '70s countdown, I will try to put up another series once a week. My goal is that each Monday you will see a new edition of the countdown.
Until then.


Nice start to the countdown. Very excited to see how it all whittles down. Then and only then can the rankings be judged.
Nick said…
Yay, the countdown is here! Might this be the inspiration I need to start the Top 100 Vintage Cards countdown I promised on my blog (*checks notes*) six years ago? I hope so.

Ten great ones to start here -- the '82 Fleer Yaz has always been a personal favorite, and the '83 Fleer Mahler pretty much has an eternal lock on its spot in my frankenset. I'm deeply in debt to Topps for giving Tony Perez such a wonderful finale -- definitely one of my favorite sunset cards of the '80s, if not ever.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Okay that Gorman Thomas is fantastic.
Daniel Wilson said…
Excellent choices. Can’t wait for the rest!
Brett Alan said…
Can't argue with any of these choices--I'm not a big fan of "signing autographs" cards but I can see why you'd like that Mahler. I think the Gorman Thomas is my favorite of the batch.

Pretty sure the baserunner on the Phil Garner card is John Stearns. He was a future manager as well, but only in the minor leagues.
The Boggs card is one of my favorite 88 Topps cards as well. Good choices.
night owl said…
@Brett Alan ~

Yeah, Stearns was No. 12. ... It just doesn't look like him to me, for whatever reason.
Nachos Grande said…
Who doesn't love a good countdown?

And yes, whatever did happen to the Big Red Machine? As someone born in 1982, I've basically missed out on all of the good Cincinnati Reds years (save for the freakish 1990 year).
Old Cards said…
I have to admit when I saw 80's,I thought ho hum, but I usually check your blog anyway, because you have a way of adding interest to almost any era. This time, you got me with that Yaz card,the stats about games played (I didn't know) and reminding me about the catch by Evans. Like you,I can still see that catch. Add in the homerun by Fisk and the Red Sox playing the big Red Machine down to the wire game after game and you have the most exciting World Series ever,IMO.
Adam said…
Great start to the countdown. That Tony Perez card is a personal favorite of mine just because of all the reasons you mentioned. This might just inspire me to do something like this for my blog...not the 80s, but maybe my 100 favorite cards in my collection or something like that. We'll see...regardless, I'm defininely looking forward to more of the countdown.
steelehere said…
Glad you waited until 2021 to start this countdown. 2020 was too crappy a year for something as good as this.
cardboardhogs said…
nice start, excited to see where the Rickey Hendersons fall in the countdown.

i recall the '86 Perez being a big hit with Eric Davis' card cameo...some shops were putting it in their showcases next to the '85 Davis rookies when he exploded during the 1987 campaign.
David said…
Bravo! That was very enjoyable. Looking forward to the balance of the countdown.
GTT said…

I really enjoyed that. I knew a lot of the cards, but some were new to me. And thanks for listening to my entreaties to put Guidry in the countdown.
Fuji said…
You know I love me some 80's baseball cards... so I'm super stoked the countdown has begun. Very happy to see the Guidry made the list. If I ever take on this challenge... I think the 87T Bo would make my Top 25. And I vaguely remember having a conversation with someone about that Tony Perez card. We thought it would have been cool to have both Tony and Eric's 1986 Topps card feature that photo. Although Eric's 86T crd has a pretty cool photo too.
Matt said…
Wow, if these cards represent the bottom 10 of your list, I can't wait to see the rest! Any countdown that leads off with Yaz is going to be a good one.

I'm surprised there was no mention that Leonard was given an All-Star card despite not ever being an All-Star up to that point. (Why did Topps pick him over actual ASG starter Strawberry?)
gregory said…
"Folks age 40 and under can't remember all of the '80s. And you know they wish they could. Why do you think certain songs from Toto, Phil Collins and Whitesnake are as popular as ever?"

High-five for you, Night Owl.

Great start to the countdown, too. As a child of the 1980s, you're going to provide me with a lot of entertainment, 10 cards at a time. Looking forward to the next installment.
Bo said…
Being pedantic here but it should be G.O.T.E. (Greatest of The Eighties), not Greatest of All Time.
John Bateman said…
O.k, At first I said no to 1981 Gorman Thomas but after seeing the chain link fence which I don't think I ever really noticed before - it looks like a field of dreams shot.

The Tony Perez is a classic and the Garner also..

I never really noticed the Handle with Care etched before on the trunk of Soto's cards either. Which is very fitting as you have the great responsibility of presenting the 100 greatest cards of the 1980s, so far so good., "Handle the Rest With Care."
acrackedbat said…
Soto's a new fave of mine, added to my wantlist recently. Gorman greatly resembles a young Wilford Brimley. Side note, I did not realize Brimley passed this year a the age of 85 but that's a different 80s countdown.
RunForeKelloggs said…
Great start to the countdown. The Boggs card is nice at 2.5 by 3.5, but it looks even better as a school folder - 9 x 12 or so.
sg488 said…
Love the Gorman Thomas complete opposite of his reputation,when he played here for the Sacramento Solons in 1974 he was such a hellraiser the owner said he never play for a team he owned again.
Trevor P said…
I'm already loving it. And there are 90 BETTER cards to go? I can't wait to see them.
So many great cards to comment on here. I will go with the Rick Mahler card. I first started collecting in 1983 and the first packs of cards I opened were Fleer. There are so many cards from that set that stick out in my mind, but this has always been one of them. I am not sure if I can think of another baseball card like this where a player is signing boxes of baseballs. Feels like q really unique, behind the scenes type of card.
shoeboxlegends said…
Late to the party as usual, but what a great start to the countdown! Love the Yaz, Boggs and Bo Jackson selections in particular, but all ten are absolutely worthy. Can't wait to see the rest of the list over time here!