I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming.
The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament.
This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring.
(I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netflix or Amazon).
Sitcoms were a big part of my life in the '80s and I thought I'd look back and provide my top 10 weekly shows from the '80s. These were the shows that entertained me the most back then. Most were sitcoms, but not all:
1. Cheers; 2. It's Garry Shandling's Show; 3. The A-Team; 4. Family Ties; 5. Benson; 6. The Wonder Years; 7. The Cosby Show; 8. Moonlighting; 9. The Greatest American Hero; 10. Too Close For Comfort.
The '80s covers a wide maturation period for me, from age 14 to 24, so my interests varied wildly (Too Close For Comfort is basically there because 14-year-old me couldn't wait to stare at Lydia Cornell).
For you '80s fans, I'll throw in a few more shows I liked to watch, some long-forgotten: Hill Street Blues, Mr. Belvedere, Valerie (what became Hogan's Family after they killed off Valerie Harper's character), My Two Dads, Night Court, Empty Nest and It's a Living.
Notice there is no St. Elsewhere, Dynasty or thirtysomething on there. Nine times out of 10, my entertainment needs to make me laugh.
OK, so enough of that. What cards was I collecting when I was watching those shows? Specifically, what were the best cards that I was collecting when those shows were airing?
It's time for cards 30-21 in the Greatest 100 Cards of the 1980s countdown. They're getting pretty famous now.
Queue the TV show theme music.
30. Tim Flannery, 1988 Fleer, #582
By 1988, Fleer was really getting into the rhythm of featuring props on its baseball cards, something that would become a common tactic in the '90s, with Fleer's products and other card companies, too. (Heck, there was even another "Padres player with a surfboard" card in the '90s).
The story behind this card goes that the photographer who took the picture of Flannery had a brother who made surfboards. Meanwhile, Flannery surfed and he needed a new board. So a deal was made and Fleer apparently thought it was interesting enough to feature on a card.
Sauritch Surfboards still exist. Maybe that's because Flannery's card continues to be a promotional vehicle as it's become a key part of baseball card lore among 1980s collectors.
Let's stay in San Diego, shall we?
The Chicken began as a '70s phenomenon in San Diego, branching out through major league baseball. It was first known as "The KGB Chicken," but then the mascot actor, Ted Giannoulas, battled the KGB radio station over legal issues and the mascot was redubbed "The San Diego Chicken" or just "The Chicken".
It was one of the most unusual one-off cards that was still part of a set. The Chicken card sits at card No. 531, between the Cardinals' Tom Herr at No. 530 and the Twins' Sal Butera at No. 532. It doesn't seem connected to anything else in the set, yet you needed to collect it to complete it.
It was popular enough that Donruss released cards of the Chicken in its 1983 and 1984 sets, too.
Each of the cards contains a write-up on the back full of easy chicken puns. "No one playing baseball today is better than the chicken in hitting fowl balls, getting scratch hits or calling bawks" reads the '82 back.
The '82 card also invited collectors to send the card to The Chicken for an autograph. The card is just plain fun, which is what a baseball card should be.
28. Roy Lee Jackson, 1984 Fleer, #158
Fleer's early '80s baseball cards stood out in comparison to Topps' established snapshots. But while Topps slowly moved to action photography during the '80s, Fleer moved in a different direction, showing the quirkier side of the game.
Fleer's "odd photos" really moved to the forefront with the 1984 set with several notable examples, which will appear later in the countdown. Roy Lee Jackson, though, is a fine instance of what Fleer was doing with the 1984 set.
Jackson played in a band briefly in high school and always enjoyed singing, according to this interview. When someone in the Blue Jays marketing department found out that Jackson could sing, she asked whether he'd be willing to sing the national anthems before the game. Jackson surprised her during his "audition" by knowing all the words to The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada.
Jackson sang before two Blue Jays games in 1983, once in Toronto and once in Texas. This card is cropped perfectly, focusing on Jackson but showing the Rangers catcher and umpire standing at attention in the background.
27. Nolan Ryan, 1980 Topps, #580
Nolan Ryan was the consensus most powerful pitcher in the game for the first six years that I was following baseball.
The problem was his Topps cards didn't show that. His cards from '75 through '79 show Ryan either in a pose, a head shot or just staring out onto the field like in his baffling 1976 Topps card. Ryan hadn't appeared in an action card since the 1974 set.
Then this thing arrived. My goodness, I loved it. Ryan practically glows as he rears back and fires in front of a darkened background. The chosen Topps design colors mesh well with Ryan's image and it is a card worthy of a titan of the game.
Yet, it's a bit sad as when kids were pulling this card out of packs, Ryan had already moved on to the Houston Astros. Too little, too late, Topps.
Still, this Ryan card remains one of the most elusive cards in a set that is not known for hard-to-obtain cards.
26. Reggie Jackson, 1988 Score, #501
Before the glut of current cards, where you can find any notable player in the most obscure major league uniform, it was very difficult to see a card of a player showing him in a uniform he barely wore.
Reggie Jackson was the best example of this. He played one full year with the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, yet the only card of Jackson as an Oriole available for more than a decade was an exceedingly rare test proof featuring Jackson in an Orioles uniform with the 1977 design. Less than 10 are believed to exist.
Meanwhile, Topps added to the rarity of seeing Jackson in orange-and-black by airbrushing him into a Yankees helmet in the '77 Topps card it actually issued.
That's why this card of Jackson as an Oriole -- in Baltimore's classic orange jersey tops, no less -- is so interesting to collectors. Where else could you find a card of Jackson as an Oriole?!?! (1977 Topps team card excluded).
The picture is fascinating still. I followed baseball when Jackson was playing for the O's in '76 but I don't remember much about it. This is a window into that season.
25. Pete & Re-Pete, 1982 Fleer, #640
One of the first examples of a kid showing up, front-and-center (not in the stands), on a baseball card.
It's a disarming shot of Pete Rose and Pete Jr. on the on-deck circle. Perhaps Pete is giving the future professional baseball player a couple of pointers about the pitcher. I love the dugout scene in the background and the fans above.
This is one of the first signs of Fleer thinking outside the box with its cards and it gets a little too clever with the "Pete & Re-Pete" caption. On the back, Fleer writes about Rose's achievement as the new National League all-time leader in hits. It doesn't get to Rose Jr. until the final sentence, which reads, "Cheering him on throughout his great career is his faithful and loyal son, Pete Rose, II."
Sounds like they're describing a dog.
24. Kirk Gibson, 1989 Upper Deck, #666
Everyone knows the story of the Upper Deck employee who disliked the Dodgers so much he gave one member of the team "The Number of the Beast" for a card number for each of the first four years of UD's existence.
This charming habit first started with the '89 set and Gibson's epic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The next year, Gibson is shown celebrating as he begins his triumphant trip around the bases on card No. 666.
But that's what makes this card significant. It's an unforgettable moment with a card story to go with it. As a Dodger fan, I love this card, and I chuckle at the thought of Gibson's feat sending a jealous Giants fan into such a rage that he'd do something like that. Well done, Gibby.
Aside from Fleer's World Series tribute set and the O-Pee-Chee set at that time, this is the only card tribute to Gibson's home run issued at that time (thanks a lot, Topps). There have been many cards since that have made up for that oversight but this one was the most memorable first.
The first meta baseball card photo? A baseball card on a baseball card! Sure, there were those Topps tributes to Hank Aaron and MVPs in the mid-1970s, but they didn't get the baseball player himself to show off those cards. Fleer did!
I enjoyed this card so much when I pulled it in 1982. I had also pulled Falcone's 1981 Fleer card, so to see it pictured in this photo was a kick. The '81 Fleer wrappers on the stool next to Falcone shows that he's in the process of opening cards and he must have just pulled his own card! Awesome! (I don't know what card is pictured on the top of that stack on the stool. If I went through all my '81 Fleer I might figure it out).
The locker room scene is an added bonus, although the bare-backed player and the sunglasses-wearing dude in the background is a bit weird.
22. Don Mattingly, 1984 Donruss, #248
I've barely touched the topic of 1980s rookie cards in this countdown because it's not that kind of Greatest '80s cards countdown. But there are some rookie cards you can't ignore. I've included a few already and there are going to be even more in the future.
Mattingly's Donruss rookie card may not be the most interesting picture -- both his Topps and Fleer '84 cards at least show him in action in the field. However, the close-up shot fits as "a rookie's first card photo" better than an action shot, especially for a player who would go on to be a star (I know, I know, "then why isn't the '86 Donruss Jose Canseco card on the countdown?" Because I like this card more that's why).
Mattingly's Donruss rookie is more sought-after, I believe, because it's more difficult to find. Donruss was not as available as Fleer and Topps in 1984, although I didn't have any problem finding Donruss that year.
Also, this card really kicked up a notch the rookie-card craze that would dominate the rest of the 1980s and that makes it even more significant.
We're kicking off a 1983 Topps rookie trifecta with this card. I know that's a spoiler -- you already know what cards No. 20 and No. 19 will be -- but really, how do you separate the three?
I actually considered making this entry all three of the famed rookie cards from this set. Three cards in one spot. But then I decided each deserves its own number.
That means ranking each of the three and they're such similar cards. The Sandberg card brings up the rear because the main photo is pretty run-of-the-mill and the background is so spare. I'm just now noticing, though, that there is a Marlboro ad behind Sandberg's photo inset!
We're down to the final 20 cards now. And I'm pretty sure all will be quite familiar to everyone.
As I mentioned at the start of this countdown, there is much less consensus on the '80s countdown than the '70s countdown. There were more cards that created more opinions.
But there will be no disputing cards 20 through 1. I don't think, anyway. Who knows? I guess there's still plenty of mystery left!
So, like those old sitcoms, you'll have to wait another week for the next episode. Stay tuned!