I had the good fortune to experience almost all of my high school and college years within one decade, and that decade was the 1980s.
With the exception of the first half of my freshman year in high school, all my high school and college years took place between 1980-88. For this reason, I will always have great affection for the '80s. Many of my most enjoyable youthful memories took place in that decade.
If I had to rank the years of that decade in terms of how much they meant to me in my life, which ones contained the best memories, it would go like this: 1987, 1983, 1988, 1984, 1986, 1985, 1989, 1982, 1980, 1981.
The deciding factors in those rankings are: who was my life, what was happening in my life then, and the music at that time. Baseball cards play into it probably only with 1983. And that's hardly the reason why '83 is ranked so highly.
But because life was rather carefree at that time (although some of those early high school years were pretty much crap), I enjoy looking back on those baseball cards and, as ubiquitous as they are, cards will never contain greatness like the '80s again. Heck, even Topps can't duplicate the fonts in all of its retro tributes.
Cards create memories, too, and that's what this countdown is all about, not necessarily just the look of the card or the photo of the card, but the memories they evoke. Join me now for memory-makers, No. 40 to 31:
40. Reggie Jackson, 1982 Topps Traded, #47T
If this wasn't a card of Reggie Jackson would it be here? No.
It's a super-tight shot, a mug shot, basically. It's airbrushed. I don't think the Angels wore purple helmets. But because it's Reggie Jackson, the card is epic.
Jackson had been a New York Yankee for the extent of my conscious baseball-rooting life until 1982. I don't remember his A's days. I was following baseball during his year as an Oriole, but baseball viewing was limited and I don't really remember watching games of him with Baltimore.
But as a Yankee? Every weekend on the TV, man. And a whole bunch of Monday night games, too.
Jackson was the straw that stirred that television programming and I was there for everything, whether I wanted to be or not -- the feud with Billy Martin in the dugout, the three home runs in the World Series, the whiff against Bob Welch the next year -- I viewed it all.
He was a hated Yankee. And then he wasn't. He was, what? A California Angel?
It barely computed, even when I finally received his 1982 Traded card along with the rest of the Traded cards in that set.
There are people in their 40s now who only remember Reggie Jackson as an Angel. But take it from someone who watched WPIX a lot, Jackson as an Angel was weird. And a relief. And momentous. And also weird. And so is this card.
This card was great fun when we pulled it out of packs in '83. We always knew that Earl Weaver was a wild man. The only thing he seemed to do as a manager was run out onto the field and bark at umpires.
So how funny was it to see this card of Weaver looking very much like a wild man, except in a different way. For probably the first time, I saw Weaver without his Orioles cap and, yeah, that's just the kind of hair a wild man who spent all his time screaming at umpires would have.
I would have loved to seen Weaver's reaction to this card. I don't know why Topps selected this photo to represent Weaver, but it is both mean and accurate.
38. Kent Tekulve, 1983 Topps Super Veteran, #18
Make your guesses on what Kent Tekulve's actually profession is based on this card:
Journalist for the Daily Planet?
Member of Devo?
Perhaps the question should be: Are We Not Men?
Answer: We Are Devo!
I find it a strange coincidence that Tekulve made his debut on baseball cards in 1976, the same time that Devo was preparing to record its first album.
The pairing of the two photos on this card is a delight. I could stare at the photo on the right for hours, trying to determine whether Teke is human. It is one of the funniest cards of the 1980s and a joy to own.
Barely two months into this blogging thing, I read on another blog that this Bo Jackson card was voted the greatest card in the entire 1988 Topps set.
It meant a lot to me to agree with one of the first card blogs I ever knew. I felt that the '88 Topps set -- and the Bo Jackson card -- didn't get enough credit, and I still feel that way. It felt good to have someone independently confirm the greatness of this card.
I prefer it to the '87 Topps Bo or any of the Bo rookies, or even the cards flaunting the famous Bo poses. I am all about card composition and this is one of the greatest-constructed cards of the '80s.
It's filled with beautiful blue and it all matches, Bo's uniform, the team letters, the railing in the background. Then Bo's helmet and sleeves and wrist bands match the blue ribbon that displays Jackson's name. It's simply gorgeous.
Jackson has looked more powerful on other cards. But you can still see his potent, muscular frame even if it appears as if he merely fouled off a pitch.
36. Lee Mazzilli, 1983 Topps, #685
Lee Mazzilli was never a great power hitter and this picture of Mazzilli rounding third in a home run trot with the adoring Yankee crowd cheering in his ears seems more appropriate for Mantle or DiMaggio.
However, I have always been impressed that this moment, taking place during a day game against the Milwaukee Brewers (that's Robin Yount on the edge of the frame) -- is captured on the card, considering that it took place in September of the previous year and that Mazzilli had been traded to the Yankees on Aug. 8. That was usually not nearly enough time, in that period, for Topps to get a card of a player in his new uniform into the following year's set.
Mazzilli played in just 37 games for the Yankees in 1982, but the card is filled with meaning. A native New Yorker, Mazzilli played his first six years with the Mets before being shipped to the Rangers. Unhappy in Texas, Mazzilli's return to New York was trumpeted all over the media. And Topps did what it could do as well.
Even if Mazzilli was no Mantle.
Here we are! The final Yaz card in the countdown! This is the fifth Yaz card to appear in the top 100. That's pretty good for someone who played only the first four years of the decade.
This is a picture of Yaz in Yankee Stadium, hitting fungos to Red Sox fielders before game time. It's an appropriate card for someone in his final year when this card appeared in packs. Yaz looks like a coach and many members of the Red Sox probably treated him like a coach seeing as Yastrzemski had spent 22 years in the majors when this photo was taken.
The background in the shot is beautiful. This is the card I should cite when I complain about modern cards lacking background. So much character in this card, that current cards lack.
34. Bo Diaz, 1986 Topps, #639
I recently wrote a lot about this card as I prepared for the Greatest 100 Cards of the '80s, so I'll be brief here. I've already written about the play being shown, etc.
But one thing interesting that I mentioned in that post was that maybe Diaz might "sneak into the countdown." That shows you how little I know about the order even mere months before the countdown starts. Here we are with the Diaz card all the way up at No. 34! That's not "sneaking"!
I love that we can see the ball in the picture.
33. Billy Martin, 1982 Donruss, #491
Much like Reggie Jackson, when Billy Martin left town and headed to the west coast, there was a little disappointment.
Jackson and Martin received the brunt of our derision as a Yankee-hating household. With those two guys gone, there wasn't a lot to jeer. Yankees announcers attempting to hype Steve Balboni and Dan Pasqua seemed a bit pathetic. They clearly didn't have the winning traits of the volatile pair who had left town.
Martin's 1982 Donruss card is something that should have appeared on his Topps Yankee cards at least a few times. I watched Martin and Earl Weaver publicly harass umpires all through the late '70s and early '80s and not once did that show up on cards until this card here.
I didn't get to see Oakland A's games nearly as much as Yankees games. It was good to see that Martin hadn't lost his touch.
32. Andre Dawson, 1987 Classic Yellow, #124
July 7, 1987 (uploaded by Wrigley Wax!). It's not often that you can immediately pinpoint the exact date of a baseball game based on the photograph of the card.
But Andre Dawson getting hit in the face by a pitch from the Padres' Eric Show was big news in 1987. Dawson had hit a home run against Show in his first at-bat of the game at Wrigley Field. The next time up, Show sent a pitch up-and-in that hit Dawson in the cheek and produced a memorable brawl (the Padres were in a few of them in the '80s) and this frighteningly memorable photograph.
It's interesting that Classic, which made cards for board games, picked this photo for Andre Dawson's card. I'm assuming it was available to other card companies at the time and they didn't touch it. But Classic -- who is Classic? -- did.
The weird thing about it is that there is no description of what is happening in the photo on the back of the card. Perhaps, Classic figured it was such big news that everyone new.
31. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Fleer, #140
The 1981 Fleer card reminds me of a newspaper, which is sitting on a big story that nobody else knows. They're going to break this story and leave their competition in the dust. They publish the story with a giant headline and ... there's a typo in the headline.
That's the 1981 Fleer Fernand(o) Valenzuela card.
Props to Fleer for being the only one of the three card companies at the time to produce an individual card of Valenzuela in its flagship set, its very first flagship set. Jeers to Fleer for getting the FRICKING NAME WRONG.
But the card is memorable because of that fact. And the look on Valenzuela's face seems to indicate that he knows his name is incorrect on his card. "Aww, man," he's saying.
So, there you are, we are now down to the final 30.
I've been sticking to a regular schedule of posting this countdown each Monday. Today was the only day I thought about delaying it because it's Ron Cey's birthday and I usually recognize it with a post.
But I'll do that tomorrow.
One not-so-great '80s memory was when the Dodgers traded my all-time favorite player for a bag of beans.