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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 90-81

I've been watching the Netflix documentary series on the doomed Challenger mission, whose anniversary is 35 years ago this month.

Depressing viewing, I know. I was a college student at the time and heard the horrible news as I was driving to the bank to cash a paycheck after classes. I can't imagine what it was like for all those school classrooms that had tuned in to watch the broadcast that day.

The documentary is quite well done, so far. The footage is incredible. Not just from all the space shuttle technology video and the awesome lift-off camera work but the depth of it. Every astronaut's every move from student eight years prior to the fateful day seems to have been cataloged. Also the background music is spot-on as far as time period (always a big thing with me) and takes me right back to those days.

As always, it's difficult to believe that Jan. 28, 1986 was that long ago. I can still feel 1986 in my heart and that year still seems like it was on the cutting edge.

Anyway, I have just one 1986 card in this second edition of the Greatest 100 Cards of the '80s countdown to show here. But there are a few more ahead.

All right, bud, let's party. Time for cards 90-81. 


No. 90. Lou Whitaker, 1980 Topps, #358

Sweet Lou makes this countdown for the mellow confidence he displays on this baseball card.

Look at all the people behind him. It seems like a packed house at Tiger Stadium. Must be a big game. Must be an important game. Pressure and hype and butterflies.

Whitaker ain't having none of that. He appears to be in the middle of a casual conversation and in mid-catch at that. I greatly appreciate Whitaker showing us the ball. So many of those baseball players of the past refused to do that on their cards, leaving you to guess: ball or no?

Before I leave Whitaker to resume his chat, I want to mention that classic Tigers home uniform on display. Long may it reign.

No. 89. Jim Leyland, 1986 Topps Traded, #66T

This countdown would not be anything without amusing photos. People take their '80s cards a little too seriously sometimes. We'll shake that up here.

Exactly how tall were those Pirates pillbox caps in the 1980s? Did they make taller caps for the managers?

It appears that the crown of the Pirates pillbox caps actually grew in height beginning in 1980 and then again around 1983-84. In 1984, it reached "maximum height" according to one mention. I would certainly say that Leyland's hat is at maximum height.

I don't know how it stayed on his head. Dress him in an old overcoat instead of that modern-day Pirates jersey and I'd confuse him for someone in a Dickens novel.

No. 88. Pat Sheridan, 1984 Topps, #121

More '80s hilarity. Pat Sheridan seems to be the go-to player when '80s collectors want to name someone random in their collection from when they were a kid.

Sheridan sums up that Revenge of the Nerds '80s look. The oversized frames. The formative-years mustache. The disconcerting stare in the inset photo. But what grabs me is Sheridan's gate in the main picture. Does he have a cramp? Did someone just shoot him in the left leg?? He looks like he needs a medic.

No. 87. Padres team card, 1980 Topps, #356

I believe this is the only team card in the countdown.

Some people think team cards don't deserve to be anywhere near a conversation on "greatest." It's a team card! A bunch of people sitting! How can this be interesting?

My answer to that is: elephants.

When, up until 1980, had you ever seen elephants -- LIVE elephants, not that Philadelphia A's cartoon drawing -- on a baseball card???

Yet, there they are, smiling along with all of the Padres, possibly even laughing at their brown-and-gold get-ups.

I am impressed with whomever on the Padres promotional staff decided to take the team picture at the zoo. And the Padres manager, Jerry Coleman, seems to be impressed as well, from high on his perch.

No. 86. Joe Niekro, 1980 Topps, #437

A lot of love for 1980 Topps in this portion of the countdown. It really did come up with some interesting photos and I noticed them right away when I was opening packs of the stuff. I tried, more than ever at the time, to complete the set.

On this card, Joe Niekro demonstrates the knuckleball grip, for which he and his brother, Phil, were known. It looks pretty easy, doesn't it? It makes you want to try it right now. It did me. I'm sure I did, too. Went right out to the garage to grab a glove and a couple of baseballs.

I'd wind-up in the backyard, with my nails digging into the ball (remember when discovered that you didn't actually throw a knuckleball with your knuckles?) and let go of the ball, only to watch it travel about 20 feet. This was hard! Then I learned that you had to push the ball as you threw. That didn't help me either.

No. 85. Jim Abbott, 1989 Upper Deck, #775

If you didn't own a Jim Abbott card in 1989, you weren't trying.

A record number of cards were issued of Abbott in '89, most nonlicensed jobbies trying to take advantage of the excitement around the No. 1 draft choice of the Angels born without a right hand.
Just a few of those cards captured Abbott's pitching motion, which actually showed why people were so interested. His wind-up and release was so fascinating and the best way to view it was step-by-step or frame-by-frame.
That's what makes Upper Deck's 1989 Abbott card so successful. Through the multiple-exposure pictures, you can see, partially anyway, what Abbott did to make each pitch. (Yeah, I know the words on this card are sideways, the price you have to pay sometimes).

UD would use the multi-exposure technique many other times, and also displayed it on its Nolan Ryan card in the '89 set. But I don't think it was ever as effective as it was on the Abbott card.

No. 84. 1979 Highlights, Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski, 1980 Topps, #1

If you watched baseball in the late 1970s/early 1980s, you know how much baseball broadcasts liked to use the split screen.

Usually, broadcasts would split the screen when they wanted to show a runner leading off of first base. This was the height of the stolen base era, so there was always the threat of a runner taking off for second. So NBC or ABC would divide the screen, showing the batter and home plate on the left and the runner and first base on the right.

It's natural that the split screen would eventually show up on a baseball card.

This presentation was quite unusual for its time, or so I thought when I saw it. I had seen more than one player presented on cards before, often a head shot on a league leader card. But I don't think I'd ever seen two individual players, shown head-to-toe at home plate, side-by-side in action.

The card is a big deal, naturally, but especially for the time. Players were starting to reach 3,000 hits with greater frequency in the 1970s, starting with Aaron and Mays in 1970, followed by Clemente, Kaline and Rose. Brock and Yaz were the 14th and 15th players to reach the milestone. Before 1970, only eight players had reached 3,000.

Unfortunately, neither photo used by Topps is from either player's 3,000th hit. Brock got his 3,000th on a ricochet off the pitcher on the turf of St. Louis' Busch Stadium. This photo was taken at Wrigley Field. Yastrzemski's photo is old, Boston stopped wearing the red helmets in 1978.

No. 83. Graig/Craig Nettles, 1981 Fleer, #87

 The card that started the error-card craze.

The first printing of the 1981 Fleer Graig Nettles card contained reference to "Craig" Nettles on the back of the card.
Fleer sent out a correction later in the year but too many of the "Craig" cards had reached collectors and the frenzy began. People started paying 20 bucks for the error card, which was a sizable amount for a hobby that hadn't been much interested in the price value of current cards at that time.

The Nettles card was just one of many errors for both Fleer and Donruss in their debut sets in 1981. But Nettles was the first to capture the interest of the masses and it would continue to sell for notable prices for years.
By the end of the 1980s, the decade was awash in error cards. You have Graig or Craig Nettles to thank for that.

No. 82. Bob Boone, 1983 Topps, #765

The 1983 Topps set is in the top five of '80s sets for the sheer number of photos that collectors had never seen before.
The shot of Boone chasing a pop up is thrilling enough in what looks to be a sparsely attended Cactus League game. But the best part of the photo is that the Seattle batter in the background is tracking the ball in sync with Boone.
Part of the reason why I enjoy 1983 Topps so much is that sometimes the inset photo looks like a commentary on the action taking place, like Boone is saying, "yeah, I caught that one."

No. 81. Mark McGwire, 1989 Upper Deck, #300

How tall did kids think Mark McGwire was in 1989? Sure, the back says he was 6-foot-5.
But does that look like 6-5 on the photo to you? Or to a little kid? Mr. McGwire is at least 7 feet in that photo. Probably 8 feet. And that bat is a twig he's going to snap across his thigh.
These are the kind of photographs that should appear at card No. 300. I know that hero numbers are more of a Topps thing, but other card companies dabbled in it, too. This is a case of Upper Deck getting it correct.
We're done with Part 2. The cards will get even better from here on out and, yes, there will be some surprises and a couple of funky treatments.
Hope you're enjoying.
Until then.


I remember that a pack of 89 Upper Deck was out of my price range at the time, and that the Abbott card was not only a tough pull but pricey as well. It was at least a few years before I finally got one.
Daniel Wilson said…
Another great selection of cards!
The Abbott reminds me of "mini collection" I need to cut loose the next time I get back home.
John Bateman said…
I was in College sitting in my afternoon class waiting for it to begin when he announced by the Professor to everyone what happened to the Challenger. Day I will never forget.

Elephants. I have had that card for 40 years and never noticed that.

Boone another classic from the classic set.
Brett Alan said…
I was also in college when the Challenger disaster happened. I was in a radio class; at the break we got the news and the rest of the class was cancelled so that those of us in the class who worked at the radio station, which was most of us, could go help with the coverage.

I think the Boone is my favorite of the page. Nice to see all the 1980 T love, too. I generally don't like multiple exposure cards, but you make a good case for why it's justified on the Abbott.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Okay that Padres team card is fantastic.

Also when I was a kid in the late 1980s I only knew Nettles really from the Fleer error. Except I thought the error was the Graig part because WTH kind of name was that.
sg488 said…
Sad note ,Ellison Onizuka was my little league coach in 1974.
Fuji said…
I was in the 8th grade sitting in class (can't remember which one) watching the launch. Back then it seemed like every shuttle launch was a huge deal and we watched a lot of them in school. But when Challenger exploded it was like the wind was sucked out of the room. It's weird that I can't remember the class... but I can remember that nobody said a word for the longest time (or what felt like the longest time).

Anyways... I love team cards. I remember someone pointing those elephants out before (maybe you in another post). It's such a cool card. But my favorite is that Boone. Something about catchers looking up with their masks cast aside. The Mariners player is a nice bonus.

And if I ever have the opportunity to meet McGwire... that's probably the card I'll have him sign.
GTT said…
Wow, I'd never seen that Padres team card before. That's really cool. And I love the Niekro. Knuckleballers rule!
Matt said…
I have vague recollections of the Challenger explosion, but I don't quite remember it as I probably should have. I chalk this up to the fact my brother was born two days after.

What makes your list so great is that there is always a detail in a card that you point out that blows my mind. Count me among those that never saw the elephants on the Padres card before!
Bulldog said…
Great cards and I remember plenty of them. The Joe Niekro is my favorite but wow...there was actually elephants in that team photo. Crazy. McGwire and Abbott are cool cards I've always liked. They Yaz/Brock card is what we need more of. Highlights from the season. Fun post.
bryan was here said…
I remember when the Challenger blew up as well. Grade 9 gym class, in the school swimming pool. The principal came over the PA and announced it. They sent us home afterwards.

Pat Sheridan always reminded me of Weird Al Yankovic, whose parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was the hot song when I was pulling Pat's cards out of wax packs in 1984.
gregory said…
Another fun section of cards here!

It looks like Bob Boone is going to run straight out of the baseball card on the 1983 Topps entry. I wonder how close he came to colliding with the cameraperson. As for the Padres team card, I know I have it as part of my 1980 Topps complete set, but somehow I've never noticed the elephants!
shoeboxlegends said…
Really like your inclusion of that '89 UD McGwire, great choice. I'm much too young to remember the Challenger explosion, but I watched the documentary on Netflix a couple months back and found it captivating. Another great batch of ten here, can't wait for 80-71...
cardboardhogs said…
Love the Abbott landscape card...assuming the Ryan version is much higher in the count! :).

I think Upper Deck had the same treatment for Mark's brother Dan on his football card. makes the tall look extremely taller.
Adam said…
I was just a year old when the Challenger disaster happens but it’s just so sad to hear about it still.

That Padres team card is excellent and so is that Bob Boone card. Great selection’
Love that Padres team card. I don't think that I have ever really paid attention to that card before. I put together a 1980 Topps set a few years back, feel like I need to go look at the card for awhile, along with the other team cards in there.
I missed this one! Nice selection of cards. Thanks for ordering them and writing them up.