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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 60-51

My daughter landed her first full-time job a little over a week ago. It was quite the feat in this pandemic time. Things are looking grim for new college graduates, but she scooped up a job a month after graduation in her chosen field. In fact, her thesis is exactly what she will be doing when she starts work. Good for her!

It reminded me of when I got my first full-time job after college. It took a lot longer.

I wasn't hired in the 1980s, actually it was at this exact time in 1990. But I did a lot of my job hunting during the final months of the 1980s. That's what the back-half of 1989 means to me: the first big job search.

In November of 1989, I drove 4 1/2 hours to a job interview for a sportswriting position at a newspaper. I thought the interview went quite well. I went out to dinner with the boss man and we even took in part of a local pro hockey game at the local arena. That's a good sign, right?

I didn't get the job. I was the runner-up. But another interview and actual good news was just a couple of months away. And I've been in the same profession ever since. Thirty-one years this month.

Baseball players never get to work 30 years in the same profession. Some may stay in the game 30 years, but are forced to move from playing days to a coaching gig.

The 10 cards featured below -- cards 60 through 51 in the countdown -- include folks whose jobs lasted only a few years, those who had a couple of successful decades and one guy who was around for half a century.

So let's take a look at those guys lucky enough to call their profession major league baseball, appear on a baseball card and on one that happened to be one of the best of an entire decade.

Come on Eileen, let's go:

60. John Pacella, 1981 Topps, #414

This is a former Cardboard Appreciation subject, like several of the cards in this countdown.

I loathe repeating myself on this blog, but sometimes after 12 years, you've covered everything and there's nothing left to say.

The charm in this card is that it shows exactly what John Pacella was known for during his brief stay in the major leagues, at least for his first year anyway. Pacella would unleash a pitch, lose his hat in the process, bend down to retrieve his hat and place it atop his head, and repeat the same process over and over again.
But here, don't rely on me, let Pacella's card back fill you in:

This is what makes this card special. As I've said before, one of the few drawbacks of cards from the 1970s and early 1980s is that they often refused to portray on cards what everyone knew about that player. You will see no playing days card of Mark Fidrych talking to the baseball.

That is unfortunate and although that was rectified years later, and the '90s are full of cards showing what made a particular player unique, cards like this, from 1981, really stand out because it was so rare.

To this day, I've never heard of another pitcher throwing so hard that he lost his cap on every pitch.

Thank goodness there is cardboard proof that this happened.

59. Dan Quisenberry, 1982 Fleer, #422

If you watched baseball during the period when Dan Quisenberry was a sensation, a regular interview subject on NBC's Game of the Week, then you know that Quiz was a natural for a card like this.

The scene is nothing exceptional in baseball circles -- baseball is a lot more gym class than we want to admit -- but calisthenics rarely shows up on cardboard and, knowing Quisenberry, he specifically arranged for this shot to appear on his card and for him to be the central focus. I can easily imagine Quiz taking aside the baseball card photographer and setting up the whole scenario.

Spring training is full of toe-touching and knee bends, or at least it used to be, and that needs to be represented on cards. I've mentioned many times that baseball cards don't do the greatest job of reflecting the incredible amount of down town that exists in the sport. Yes, I would like to see photos of ballplayers bullshitting in the locker room. Yes, I'd like to see the trainer working on a pitcher's elbow. I want to see all that baseball has to offer (well, almost all).

Thank goodness for the late, great Quisenberry to give us that glimpse.

58. Bryan Clark, 1983 Topps, #789

Sure, you could place this card on a list of the 100 Worst Cards of the 1980s and it's made more than a few internet lists of the "most terrible" baseball cards ever. The card is certainly unflattering to Mr. Clark.

It's also damn amusing. The 1983 Topps set design allows for a story be told between the main photo and the inset photo. It doesn't work in a lot of cases because the main photo is often an action shot. But sometimes, if the expression on the inset photo is just right, the smaller profile shot appears to be making a comment on the larger photo.

In this case, Clark is featured on one of the few '83 cards that is not an action shot. And Clark, the smaller, seems to be saying about Clark, the larger, "have you just seen a ghost?"

I don't know, maybe it's not the greatest card. But every time I see it, it cracks me up. And that's a pretty special talent for a baseball card.

57. Steve Avery, 1989 Topps, #784

I am on the record as detesting the 1989 No. 1 Draft Pick cards in the 1989 Topps set. "Why," I said to myself as I was opening pack after pack of '89 Topps, "are there high school kids in my Topps set?"

I still see it as the first sign of the downfall of baseball cards, the beginnings of the rookie and pre-rookie obsession that has led to all kinds of strange behavior among collectors and card companies, including the strange behavior that we're seeing today.

But, when you have it, you have it, and on this card, Steve Avery knows he has it.

I can't think of a younger player on a card exhibiting such self-confidence. If only major leaguers twice Avery's age in this photo could have appeared as personable and self-assured in their poses. Half of those posed shots come off as forced. Meanwhile, Avery, 18 years old in this picture, is naturally the real deal.

Avery would go on to become one of the key starters in the Braves' rotation during their rise to World Series status. A number of other No. 1 draft pick players with their own cards in 1989 Topps -- that didn't look nearly as great as this Avery shot -- either never made the big leagues or are long-forgotten. Robin Ventura wishes he could have tossed a ball casually from the dugout on his '89 Topps card.

56. Rick Cerone, 1982 Donruss, #189

When I conducted the countdown for the Greatest 100 Cards of the 1970s three years ago, the 1979 Topps Ron Pruitt card came in at No. 40.

The Pruitt card is a little more reflective and less staged than the Donruss Rick Cerone card. You don't see any ball or mitt on Pruitt's card, it's more about looking into Pruitt's catching soul. The Cerone card is all about what it takes to be a catcher, what you must do to be a catcher.

I never thought of the catching equipment in the early 1980s as archaic at the time. But looking at it 40 years later, it does look like something from the stone age. I can practically hear that catcher's flap hanging from Cerone's mask squeaking like an old barn door.

55. Andre Dawson, 1988 Topps, #500

I hope you're not sick of Andre Dawson cards in this countdown. Here's another.

One of the best parts of the 1988 Topps design -- yet another thing that doesn't get enough mention in the always-ignored set -- is that the players are allowed to break through the design. And if you're a particularly powerful player, like Dawson was, then it practically looks like Dawson is going to come OUT OF THE BASEBALL CARD.

I love how Dawson's bat slashes through the word "CUBS" and Dawson is so muscular that he not only appears to be breaking through the card but busting through is uniform, too.

Such an action-packed card for a set long considered "boring." And, here's some news: it's not the only one of its type that will appear on this countdown.

54. Dave Winfield, 1981 Topps Traded, #855

Something you should know about this countdown: The cards included here aren't always about what the card looks like, they are sometimes about what that card means in the moment.

This card meant everything to a Yankees fan who wanted his first card of Dave Winfield in a Yankees uniform. The signing of Winfield to a then-monster contract on Dec. 15, 1980 was the biggest news of that offseason. The deal was for 10 years for $23 million and nobody had ever earned that kind of money for playing baseball.

Winfield was the next Reggie Jackson for the Yankees and from that moment, all eyes were on him to see what he could do to bring the Yankees a title.

This first Yankees card of Winfield wouldn't come out until the fall of 1981. That was after Winfield and the Yankees fell to the Dodgers in the World Series and Winfield's ineptness in that series was front-page news. So, the card had probably diminished in stature by the time he was available in those tidy Traded boxes. But we didn't have Topps Now back then.

(For the record, Winfield was available as a Yankee, usually airbrushed, in the '81 Drake's Cakes set, '81 Topps stickers and the '81 Topps glossy "home-team" sets).

53. Tony Gwynn, 1985 Topps, #660

This card serves as a warning to those who still think it's cool to chew tobacco when they're playing baseball. Don't do it.

However, it's still a great card. It's distinctive and that means everything in a world where every card today is a cut-and-paste batter batting, pitcher pitching. Gwynn is holding court, perhaps in the dugout, with some of the strangest flip-down sunglasses I've ever seen on a baseball card so close up.
I am transfixed when I see this card, I can't stop staring at it. It's one of my favorite Tony Gwynn baseball cards.

52. Mike Norris, 1981 Topps and 1983 Topps, #55 and #620

Yup, I'm cheating here. I hinted earlier that I would throw some hijinks into the series.

I cannot choose between the 1981 and 1983 Norris cards, so I won't choose. They're both deserving of a spot in the countdown. They're quite similar and great for the same reasons -- the full-bodied action shot on the mound, the colorful A's jersey (green top in 1981, yellow in 1983). Norris was one of the coolest players of the early 1980s and these two super-colorful cards get that message across.

Maybe if I was forced to choose, I'd select the 1983. The inset shot of Norris with the shades is so much cool. And I adore the pink outline with all that gold and green. It's garish, it doesn't make sense and it's beautiful.

But then I look at that cartoon A's hat and all that blue in the border of the '81 card and I'm torn once again.

51. Astros Leaders (Yogi Berra), 1987 Topps, #531

Yogi Berra seems to be in on the joke. "Yes!" he's laughing. "I'm a Houston Astro!"

There was never a stranger sight in 1986 than Yogi Berra, Mr. New York, wearing a Houston Astros tequila sunrise jersey. If you were to ask me what was the future in 1986, I would point to this card. Imagine, Yogi as an Astro. Surely everyone has been to Mars by now.

I don't know what's going on in this picture. Berra seems to be with his fellow coaches. That's Gene Tenace on the right. I think to his left might be the Astros manager, Hal Lanier. Perhaps they're lining up during announcements before an opening game? I'd love to know what's so funny.

Maybe it's that Topps made a card saluting the Astros Leaders -- the team leaders in various statistical categories -- but showed the Astros' leaders instead? Get it?


That takes us to halfway through the countdown.

I've found that as I'm assembling the countdown, the cards I've listed so far are much more interchangeable than the cards from the 1970s countdown.

I think that's because the '70s cards are much bigger in my brain, but also because there is much more to choose from with the '80s cards, meaning there was less an opportunity for the card to dominate in your mind.

However, looking at what's left on the list, I think the best of the best will be pretty obvious as we go along and there will be no doubt that they all belong.

So, until then, as always, have a good week and stay safe.



Old Cards said…
Congrats to your daughter. I am retired now, but spent 40+ years as a commercial credit manager. My favorite is the Dave Winfield card. Still staggers my mind how much these guys get paid.
More good stuff as always. The Quiz is my favorite.
Avery is mine, and you know why......
Nachos Grande said…
99 luft balloons - I approve. Definitely one of my favorite tunes from this era (i.e. the decade before I personally knew what music really was).

I'm enjoying your countdown but I'm even happier to hear the good news for your daughter. As a college prof, I know a lot recent graduates are struggling to find meaningful work so good for her for breaking through!
John Sharp said…
The 1982 Cerone is a winner, winner for my catchers card binder.

Good Job. 👍
I wonder if the Yogi card was Topps kind of sticking it to NY? Is is the only Leaders card not to feature actual players? Very nice cards in the countdown today. And happy work anniversary and congrats to your daughter on her job. Great stuff.
RunForeKelloggs said…
Congrats to everyone on your daughter's successful job search. I've not always been a fan of Topps 1988-89 but when I see them as Topps Folders (9x12ish) they are great.
Brett Alan said…
Congratulations to your daughter. I got my first job in 1989, and had to relocate from New Jersey to a dinky city in New Hampshire for very little money.

That Pacella is one of my all time favorite cards. It wasn't that he threw so hard; he hated wearing a cap, so he purposed used a motion that would knock it off.
Chris said…
Great news about your daughter! And I was hoping you'd post one of these today, now that I have some time to read and comment. The sight of Yogi as an Astros coach is a funny one for sure. Paccella's hat routine must have got exhausting after a while. I'd never see the Bryan Clark card before. My first thought was "Oh my gosh, I'm on a baseball card?!? Me?!? But the smaller photo is humorous in a different way. I do appreciate the cool confidence of a young Steve Avery and both Norris cards are excellent.

99 Luftballoons, huh? Interesting choice ;D
Adam Kaningher said…
Because of how Fleer and others arranged their sets alphabetically by team and player, Steve Avery ended up being card #1 in a whole lot of sets.

Continuing to enjoy the countdown!
Nick Vossbrink said…
Mentioned it before on here but I've come to see the 1985 set with the Olympics and Draft Picks (yes I know thew were historical picks) as being the harbinger of what would come in 1988 Traded and 1989. I actually miss draft pick cards. Those were always a fun addition to the team set and in those pre-Bowman days made prospecting at minor league games fun
Fuji said…
Congratulations to your daughter. I've heard it's been kinda crazy out there for college graduates. I definitely wouldn't want to jump back into the whole "looking for a job" phase. I absolutely suck at interviews. I actually totally lucked out. My first principal knew I was nervous... so he changed subjects within the interview several times and made things much less stressful than normal. I might still be substitute teaching had it not been for him giving me a chance.
Nick said…
Big congrats to your daughter! It's tough finding work right now...much less in her ideal field...and much less in the middle of a pandemic. Very happy to hear the good news.

I'd pick the '81 Norris in that battle - that's always been one of my favorites. I remember seeing a short clip on ESPN or something many moons ago about how Norris turned his life around after a few dark post-baseball years. He carried a copy of that '81 Topps card in his wallet to remind himself how agile he used to be, and that part's stuck with me ever since.
John Bateman said…
Wow look at Norris leg on the 81 Topps
Matt said…
Wait...where's Yastrzemski?

My favorite in this batch has to be Quisenberry's.

Congrats to your daughter!
kcjays said…
I’ll always pick a Quisenberry card as a favorite given the opportunity. Somehow I’d forgotten about that one.
Two of my favorite “Quiz” quotes: Most pitchers fear losing their fastball, but since I don’t have one, I have nothing to fear but fear itself.
And: You can’t drown yourself in a shower, I know because I’ve tried.
Matt said…
That 1981 Norris was probably the 1st baseball card i ever really looked at and appreciated the image of a card, as a kid. That leg kick, and those colors, are still hypnotizing to me as an adult. As an Astros fan, gotta love the Yogi too! Great job on the countdown and congrats to your daughter!
Jafronius said…
Way late, but congrats to your daughter for landing her first big job! Welcome to the real world!