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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 80-71

 
The longer you've been alive on this planet the more perspective you have on what "a long time ago" means.
 
A person I know is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. He's pretty young. He says he's waited a long time for the Bucs to appear in the playoffs. It's been agony, you see, waiting all the way since ... 2007! ... to see his team in the postseason.

How has he managed?

As a Bills fan, I know waiting. Buffalo spent 17 straight years out of the playoffs, a longer wait than any other team. The last time Buffalo made the AFC championship game, where they are now, was 1994. That was the month of the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. That was the month I moved to the town where I live now. That was the month of 20-below temperatures for a week straight. That was a long time ago!

A fellow co-worker said prior to Sunday that a Bills-Browns title game would sum up the 2020 NFL season, implying that these teams never make the postseason. But again, this is another case of youngster's perspective on history.

The Bills and Browns once were regulars in the postseason. Almost every year you'd see them in the postseason. It wasn't uncommon at all. That decade was the 1980s. And, yeah, I really do miss those times.

I miss the cards, too.

Here is another batch of the greatest 100 from the '80s:
 

No. 80. Andre Dawson, 1980 Topps, #235

It's a fact: Just about every card of Andre Dawson is a candidate for an all-time greatest list.

Whether it's his facial expression, his body type, his approach, his style, or all of it together, what makes Dawson unique and interesting always comes out on his baseball cards.

This tightly-focused shot on Dawson in the batting cage captures much of what we love about the former slugger. The fierce expression, the great focus, the intense preparation, that glorious Expos helmet. It's all there.

And I'm going to give it up again for the much-maligned facsimile signature. Where else are you going to see Dawson's full name -- Andre Nolan Dawson -- scrawled out across such an appealing picture?
 
Dawson makes good baseball cards.
 

No. 79. Carl Yastrzemski, 1980 Topps, #720

Two things that came into focus when I was compiling candidates for this countdown:

1. 1980 Topps holds up really well. It used to be one of my favorite sets back in the '80s, but as time went on and more sets appeared and more viewpoints came along ("all hail 1987 Topps!"), I forgot about my love for the set. This countdown has brought it back.

2. Carl Yastrzemski was a king of cards in the 1980s.

You've already seen two of his cards now in this countdown. You will see him again. It is amazing in retrospect how much Yaz dominated cards in the early 1980s. I didn't even realize it at the time (probably because I was still amazed by how much he dominated cards in the 1970s).

Yaz's 1980 card is an excellent full-body shot of the man preparing to swing in front of a seemingly packed house. The All-Star banner and the card number -- Yaz is the last player in the set to have a card number ending with the coveted zero -- bring home how important Topps thinks this card is.

The card back is a full room of stats. Nothing but stats and a cartoon mentioning that he won the Triple Crown in 1967. Yaz would never play in more than 135 games in a season again. And this card seems to know that. It is his last moment at the top.
 

No. 78. Gary Carter, 1983 Topps, #370

I've mentioned before cards that seem to come with their own sound effects. This is one.

Here is Gary Carter, milliseconds after the starter's gun has gone off, screaming down the track, except equipped in a catcher's mask, chest protector, shin guards and glove --- to field a bunt.

It's the kind of action-packed card that makes 1983 Topps such a joy. It's not a common action photo, especially at that time. It captures the intensity of the game perfectly, a card you could shove in the face of any non-fan who claims "baseball is boring." Look at the drama, the unresolved tension in THIS CARD!
 

No. 77. U.L. Washington, 1981 Topps, #26

A former Cardboard Appreciation topic, U.L. Washington's '81 Topps card became a mild sensation in our household because of "The Toothpick."

Everyone following baseball at the time knew about Washington's toothpick. The Royals played in the World Series in 1980. and Washington was a regular. and he played on the field with a damn toothpick in his mouth!

"Kids," broadcasters would say, "do not try this at home." But I'm sure some kids did.

I didn't. I was old enough to know better. I didn't even want to chew gum on the field for fear of swallowing it.

That's what made Washington's daring so cool. And it was even cooler when Topps put it on a baseball card! Should Topps set an example for the kids? No. Cards should be interesting to kids and that crazy toothpick gave us all kinds of stories in 1980.

Eight years after that card hit packs, I was covering a minor league baseball team and during its inaugural game, it played a team managed by the one-and-only U.L. Washington. I interviewed him after the game. He was chewing on a toothpick.

No. 76. Orel Hershiser, 1985 Topps, #493

Before starting this countdown, I set the boundaries for it. This wasn't going to be your usual Rookie Mojo '80s countdown. Just because the card might have been a "hot rookie card" at some point in the '80s didn't automatically give it a ticket to greatest famehood. The card had to have something else going for it besides "rookieness." A simple rookie card head shot (and a terrible one at that, Tom Glavine) would not make the countdown.

This is Orel Hershiser's rookie card and it's a pretty good one overall. Action mound shots are almost always terrific, going way back to the 1971 Topps set. That "king of the hill" shot will always get my attention.

Those who were around in the '80s know that Hershiser wasn't much more than a weird name until he went 19-3 the very year his rookie card was released and then all hell broke loose. I wasn't paying much attention to rookie card prices in the late 1980s, but I imagine this card went for sizable amounts shortly after the 1988 World Series.

This card has always been one of Hershiser's best-looking cards, one of his best action cards and it sums up the early days of the pitcher well: rail thin, looking very unlike an athlete, and in complete control.
 

No. 75. Tim Foli, 1980 Topps, #246

We have seen quite a bit of 1980 Topps so far on this countdown. We're not done with that set, but there will be very few of the blue backs in the rest of the countdown.

The Foli card is another case of something that seems rather average in the 40 years that have passed but was quite striking at the time.

For one, card cameos were fairly common in the first part of the 1970s, but as the decade went on, Topps photographers almost always focused solely on the one player (cards like Steve Ontiveros' 1976 card and Carlton Fisk's 1977 card are among the few exceptions).

By the time we reached 1980, seeing a second player on another team on a player's card -- a player you could identify -- was a bit wild.

Add the fact that it is an action-packed photo at second base, that the action is weirdly skewed to the right to accommodate Foli's memorable signature, and that this is all coming six months after the 1979 Pirates' We Are Family World Series, in which we were all dying to see what those players would look like on baseball cards, and you have the card that comes in at one-forth of the way through the countdown.

No. 74. Tim Raines, 1981 Topps Traded, #816

Yeah, yeah, you could pull a Tim Raines card in 1981 Donruss several months before this Raines Traded card came out.

This is not about being first.

This is about being better.

The Raines Donruss card is, like many '81 Donruss cards, murky. And it is so nondescript that it is easy to get mixed up with the card of Raines' teammate, the now-forgotten Bob Pate.

The Raines card out of the first full Topps Traded card is a lot more memorable. There is the young Raines on a sun-splashed day taking his dutiful pose for the photographer. He has an audience, too, with three uniformed folks watching the session.

The card back provides you with an "at press time" statement, saying, "Tim had 50 stolen bases as of June 11, 1981. It gives you a nice idea of Topps' deadline back in 1981. He would finish the season with 71 stolen bases.
 
 

No. 73. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Topps Traded, #850

The Valenzuela and Raines Traded cards arrive in the countdown as a tandem. There isn't a lot that separates them. (This won't be the only case of this happening in the countdown).

The reason the Valenzuela finishes a notch ahead of Raines is, admittedly partly a selfish one: I'm much more interested in Fernando than The Rock.

But also, Valenzuela was a bigger sensation than Raines in 1981. I wasn't checking the newspaper every fourth or fifth day to see how Raines was doing. But I was certainly doing that with Fernando in 1981. Just about everyone in baseball was. (This is why the Hall of Fame just doesn't quite capture the true baseball spirit: Raines is in the HOF but Fernando isn't?).

I didn't have access to the '81 Traded set in 1981. You could order it only through the mail and I didn't have the cash for that. That hurt. Because I really wanted that Fernando Traded card.

The day I received it, decades after I first knew it existed, was a fulfilling one. I now have two or three of them. And I can't believe my luck.

No. 72. Reggie Smith, 1983 Topps, #282

This card makes the countdown only through retrospect.

At the time it came out, I'm sure I didn't consider it one of the greatest of the '80s. I was probably pretty sad that for the first time since 1976, Reggie Smith was wearing something other than a Dodger uniform and that uniform was with the Giants!

The sadness overwhelmed anything else I saw on the card. A Cub? Who cares! Reggie Smith is a Giant!

Even if I knew who the Cub was at the time. it probably wouldn't register. Ryne Sandberg, the player shown, did finish sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1982, but that news didn't make it out to me.

Years later, everyone would know this card as the one where some guy name Reggie Smith is showing up on a Hall of Famer's card. It should say "Ryne Sandberg" down there where the name is!

It's one of the great cameo cards of all-time.

Is there nothing that 1983 Topps can't do?
 
 
 

No. 71. Gary Pettis, 1989 Upper Deck, #117

The most mind-blowing card in the countdown? Probably.

Here, Gary Pettis seems to be holding in his hand -- the very card he is pictured on!!!

What?!?!

Yes, the image in Pettis' hand is the back of this card!
 
 
Don't look too closely, you might be sucked into the vortex!

This card, sometimes known as "an infinity card," sometimes known as a "meta card," is a fascinating Upper Deck trick that could be explained by the idea that the card back had already been created when they were shooting the card front of Pettis.

(Pettis is actually holding two cards in his hand and although you can't see the image of that second card, if it's the image of Pettis we see on the front of this card, I am FREAKING OUT).

Upper Deck would go to the next level in upsetting the space-time continuum, with its 1993 card of the Cardinals' Mike Perez, in which you see Perez holding the card he is appearing on with the front image showing! I have no idea how they did that in the pre-photoshop era.

But the '80s were a lot more simple and that '89 Pettis was enough to bend our brains.

This is often the point where collectors will bring up another 1980s Gary Pettis card, and to that I say, "chill."
 
The '80s countdown has got it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

That completes Part 3 of the series.

I just came across another young person, actually the editor for Baseball America, saying "they were older than dirt" on Twitter. It was in reference to being shocked that Wilson Betemit Jr. had signed with the Royals, having witnessed Wilson Betemit Sr.'s signing seemingly not that long ago.
 
And all could think of is seeing both Hal McRae and Brian McRae play. Brian McRae retired in 1999. And let's not forget being around for the rookie cards of both Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. If  you are older than dirt, what's that make me?

There was a whole world called the '80s, you guys, and it wasn't all that long ago. Let me introduce you to it. But you've got to be willing to come along.
 

Comments

Nick said…
Yaz has some of my all-time favorite cards as well. Seems like a Top 100 list could be made just from his cards alone.

I'm not a huge '85 Topps fan, but I've always liked that Hershiser -- it's what a rookie card should look like. Also the '80 Topps Foli is a staple of my frankenset, since I don't see a better card than that one coming along anytime soon!
Bill@Bravestarr said…
I think I have two of those signed as of this year: Tim Foli and UL Washington. I love the UL with the toothpick.
Wonderful cards. Dawson is fierce.
cardboardhogs said…
The Foli card has the makings of a “local fast pitch adult baseball league” card that someone made for their local league...funny sight all around.

Between the Hawk, Rock and the Bulldog, this is quite a grouping of great cards...the list is getting great!
RunForeKelloggs said…
That Dawson card always brings up the image of his face being in the strike zone as he stood at the plate.
Brett Alan said…
Lots of classics, but it's something like the UL Washington card that makes this countdown great. It's not a superstar, not a rookie, not valuable...but it's a terrific card and brings back memories.

Until I got to the Pettis I was beginning to wonder whether I had forgotten that only Topps cards were eligible. But I suppose the "Real One" really was better at making cards than the new kids on the block, although there are certainly some Fleer and Donruss cards I expect to see at some point.
John Bateman said…
Fine reasoning on the Raines Donruss vs. Topps debate.

I do think there is some Dodger Bias on Hershiser card - if it makes the list it should be lower (i.e. High Number maybe in the 90s.)

1980 has become my favorite set of the '80s, and maybe my second favorite of all-time from any company.
Fuji said…
Music has a way of representing an era... and plenty of songs remind me of the 80's. But Eye in the Sky reminds me of playing Atari with kids in my neighborhood. Such a great song.

Okay... now for the cards. I was wondering where the 81TT was going to land. I remember seeing it in your blog header and thinking... I need to add that card to my collection.

As for trivia lessons... I may or may not have known about Dawson's middle name. But the toothpick thing with Washington was news to me. Either I never watched a Royals/A's broadcast... or I was just too young to remember.

And I discovered that Reggie Smith a few months ago. Definitely one of the coolest card cameos that I can remember.
Matt said…
Three Yaz cards on the list already is impressive considering he only played until 1983. You said there was one more, meaning he'll have as many cards on this list as years he played in the eighties!
gregory said…
The scruffy goatee that Dawson is sporting adds to the card's coolness factor, too. And I like how the 81T Valenzuela and Raines land next to each other on the list. Great observation on the "press time" statement on the back of the Tim Raines card!
Matt said…
That 1980 Yaz is a thing of beauty for me, it was in the very first pack of baseball cards i ever opened! Love it!
As a kid, I thought Yaz's signature was the coolest.

I didn't have any Alan Parsons Project records as a kid although I did have a Ktel record that had "Time" on it. It was when I didn't have very many records so I played it constantly. So in my brain, after that song comes the "Stars on 45 Medley".
CinciCuse Bill said…
The Mike Perez card has always blown my mind.

RIP Mr. Don Sutton.
Derek said…
I love this series that you're writing.
Your assessment of the Pettis card alone make this worth a read

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