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G.O.A.T, the '80s: 20-11

Big news at the night owl nest today. I subscribed to MLB.TV. Finally, I can watch any game I want this season.

I no longer have to suffer with seeing the Mets play the Marlins for the 197th time or grit my teeth through Michael Kay because there's no baseball to watch anywhere else. I can ignore the Yankees for 162 games if I want! And that's what I plan to do. The Phillies-Orioles spring training game is on right now and then I'll search out something even more obscure later.

I know, I know, I'm late to the party. That's the way it's been when it comes to entertainment viewing for most of my life. Taking years to land an MLB subscription was more of a cash-flow issue, but when I was younger, I'd miss out on the popular movies all the time because of a relatively sheltered existence.

While high school classmates were quoting lines from Caddyshack and Stripes in the lunch room and on the school bus, I knew mostly Star Wars movies and E.T. HBO was the big thing when I was growing up. But it never made it to my house. 
I made up for lost time in the back half of the '80s when I took in movies almost every week. But I think the lack of movie-viewing the first 16 years of my life explains why I don't care about them much now and have seen so few of the biggest flicks of all-time.

If I had to list the '80s movies that made the biggest impression on me when I watched them, I couldn't go past five. They'd probably be: Raiders of the Lost Ark, After Hours, Raising Arizona, Back to the Future and Broadcast News.

But mostly what I prefer to watch when it comes to carving out a 2-to-3 hour block of time is baseball. It's always been that way.

Let's get to the latest series in the countdown. It's cards No. 20 to No. 11! These cards are a big deal!

20. Wade Boggs, 1983 Topps, #498

I led off the trifecta of 1983 Topps rookie cards in the previous segement with Ryne Sandberg at No. 21. Here is the middle card in the trio.
Of those three big rookies (Boggs, Gwynn and Sandberg), Wade Boggs is the one I heard about the most -- BY FAR -- in 1983. Gwynn and Sandberg were somewhere out there, I don't remember whether I even knew who they were in '83. But Boggs? I knew.
I was in tune with the Red Sox because of allegiances in my family, and Boggs' status as a top prospect preceded this card. I knew that Boston was making way for him. I liked the Red Sox's third baseman at the time, Carney Lansford, quite a bit and I feared his time was short.
Sure enough, after the 1982 season, Lansford was traded to the A's in the Tony Armas deal. Boggs was about to be a full-time player.
It's interesting that his '83 card reads "1st base-3rd base." I don't really remember Boggs playing first that early.
The card is an interesting one. There isn't a lot to it and the Chicken Man is positioned way off to the left for some reason. But the hand-on-knees pose sticks in your head as it's a little unusual.

19. Tony Gwynn, 1983 Topps, #482

Just 16 cards away from Boggs' card is Tony Gwynn's rookie card. It's the best of the '83 Topps rookie trifecta and probably the most valued.

Gwynn's arrival marked a transition for the Padres, from the gaudy mustard-and-chocolate days of the late '70s to a more hopeful time in the mid-'80s. Gwynn would bring the Padres their first World Series appearance and his positive demeanor and love for baseball was contagious.

Gwynn's rookie card is a fun one. Sure, I could point out that Topps seemed to make his butt the star of the show. But more to the point, Gwynn appears to be delighted by the sight of his liner reaching the outfield as he takes off for first base.

18. Gary Pettis, #497, 1985 Topps

According to who you talk to, this card is either the biggest practical joke on cardboard during the 1980s or a mysterious case of an old family photo slipping into a Topps set.

Either way, it's that kind of intrigue that gets a card into this countdown.

The photo here is not Gary Pettis but of Pettis' younger brother, Lynn. Although Gary Pettis had just started appearing on cards at this point -- his first cards arrived in 1984 -- it's pretty obvious that this is a photo of a teenage kid and I'm not sure how it got past Topps.

Topps claimed Pettis was playing a practical joke But Pettis said there was a family photo of young Lynn Pettis in an Angels uniform and somehow it ended up in Topps' possession.

At any rate, the best part of the picture is the knowing look on Lynn Pettis that says "I"m not really Gary Pettis."

17. Gary Carter, 1980 Topps, #70

For my money, one of the first cards to signal that 1980s baseball cards would not be like 1970s baseball cards.

It is similar to the 1976 Topps Johnny Bench card, which I declared the greatest card of the 1970s when I did the '70s countdown. It is a catcher in the heat of battle. There is a chest protector, there is rising dust. There is a grim-faced competitor.

What made this card "new" at the time is it's very clear in comparison. Also it adds an image of triumph as Carter grits his teeth and holds his catching mitt aloft with the ball inside. It's one of the greatest pictures to appear on 1980s cards.

16. Darryl Strawberry, 1983 Topps Traded, #108T

Moving on to Gary Carter's future teammate, here is a card that was selling for 100 bucks back in the 1980s. That isn't today's 100 bucks. That is 100 bucks in 1984. That's how big a deal Strawberry was at the time.

Strawberry is probably the first non-Dodger prospect that I was aware of. I remember reading a big article about him probably three years before he even appeared on this card. The name "Strawberry" caught my attention, but the article was so glowing, I spent the next few years waiting for his inevitable arrival in a Mets uniform.

(The Mets were even the Mets then, so I also hedged my bets, thinking that he would end up getting injured and never reaching the big leagues).

One of the great aspects of this card is on the back Topps listed dates for notable moments by the player pictured on the front. Those factoids get pretty boring with most of the other players in the '83 set. But with Strawberry you find out when he got his first major league hit (May 8 against the Reds) and his first major league home run (May 16 against the Pirates).

It's a pretty cool card of a young slugger (thank goodness he's shown swinging at the plate) and he looks skinnier than ever.

15. Rickey Henderson, 1982 Topps, #610

By 1982, Rickey Henderson's base-stealing ability was all over baseball. He stole 100 bases his rookie year -- an American League record -- and led the league again with 56 steals in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

But 1982 would be special and Topps somehow knew.

Henderson would shatter the all-time single-season stolen base record with 130 bases in '82. I compiled a scrapbook of the 1982 season, cutting out clippings from the newspaper, and I remember devoting an entire page to the article on Henderson's record-breaking steal in late August.

This card appropriately sums up that '82 season by showing Henderson poised off of first base, in his starter's crouch, studying the pitcher. If I had to pick one card to represent the 1982 season, it would be this card.

14. Mickey Hatcher, 1986 Fleer, #396

This card is absurd. It is silly. It is ridiculous. It was a must-have for my collection.

For years I saw this card yet didn't own it. I barely collected in 1986 as I was going to college at the time. I never bought any packs of 1986 Fleer and for years afterward I couldn't even tell you what the '86 Fleer design looked like.

But I knew that card. It kept appearing. Then when I started looking online, that card was EVERYWHERE. I knew I had to have it.

Finally, a couple of years ago, I gained a copy. It's a bit embarrassing how long it took. I've always been a Mickey Hatcher fan. As a longtime Dodger collector and follower, I remember Hatcher showing up as one of the Dodgers' top prospects in the back of the Dodgers yearbook. I waited for him to show up on baseball cards.

He did briefly, in 1981, but then he was traded to the Twins and I had to view Hatcher's goofiness from afar.

The story goes that this giant glove just showed up one day at the spring training park. Hatcher, naturally, put on the glove, the photographer snapped a shot, Hatcher said something clever about needing all the help he could get, and then it was on a baseball card.

Fortunately, Hatcher would return to the Dodgers, win a World Series for them, and appear with that big glove on a 1991 Upper Deck card.

13. Tom Lasorda, 1988 Topps, #74

More spring training greatness.

This is the highest-ranking Dodger card in the countdown and it pictures a person who absolutely dominated the Dodger scenery during the 1980s.

Lasorda was the manager for both of the Dodgers' World Series titles in the '80s, in 1981 and 1988. And look how much he's enjoying the '80s! Kicking back in a golf cart, having the time of his life.

This is the most appropriate card for this time of year.

12. Eddie Murray, 1988 Topps, '87 Record Breakers, #4

This is the second straight 1988 Topps card in the countdown. And you thought the set was boring.

Topps is often accused of not being able to think outside the box when creating their cards. There may be some truth to that, but I don't want to hear it with this card. What a great way to demonstrate Murray's ability from both sides of the plate!

Murray made the record-breaker subset by becoming the first player to hit home runs from the left and right sides of the plate in consecutive games.

I've often found it weird that there is nothing on the front of the '88 record breaker cards mentioning the player's feat. But in this case the lack of words adds more weight to the dueling Murrays on the front.

11. Jay Johnstone, 1984 Fleer, #495

The first thing I think of when I see this card is that five years later Fleer would go out of its way to airbrush a Marlboro ad out of the background of a photo of Randy Johnson. Meanwhile, Johnstone is plainly wearing an advertisement for Budweiser.
Johnstone is wearing the famed Brockabella, a hands-free umbrella named after late, great baseball speedster Lou Brock. The unusual head gear is appropriate for the man wearing it. Johnstone was known as the biggest practical joker in the game at this time.
Johnstone has said that he grabbed the hat from the dugout on a muggy day at Wrigley Field. He didn't know that someone had snapped his photo. I find the expression on Johnstone's face comical. He appears distressed that he's wearing the item, like someone forced it onto his head.
Johnstone had been appearing on baseball cards for almost two decades when this card came out but this one is  his most famous one. The Cubs won the NL East pennant in 1984 with Johnstone on the team, which probably helped the popularity of this card.
I ended up watching the Dodgers-Rockies spring training game after the Phillies-Orioles. I'll wait until the Dodgers aren't on to search out the Mariners-A's or something else obscure.
In the 1980s, all I had to watch on TV were the Yankees on WPIX, the Mets on WOR and the NBC Game of the Week on Saturdays and Monday Night Baseball.
When cable arrived, I was able to catch the Braves games on TBS and sometimes the Blue Jays and Expos games on Canadian channels. Then ESPN came along and aired selected games throughout the week.
But it's always been somewhat limited for me and this MLB.TV subscription opens up a whole new world. I'm looking forward to knowing -- really knowing who is on the Royals roster and who pitches for the Twins.
The baseball season can't get here soon enough. I may never watch another movie again.


Laurens said…
I guess there a caption variation of the Murray card with his feat mentioned.
A great mix of "serious" and "fun" cards. Excited to see the final ten. Got the Sandberg cards you sent. Thanks!
John Bateman said…
The Henderson and Strawberry cards make me ponder. The Henderson card is better looking than I realized but it just seems a little too blurry. There is just a gray background at the top part of the card. The whole 1982 set is a little drab.

The Strawberry is iconic but the pose is pretty mundane but it was the rookie card (with Ripken, Boggs, Sandberg, Gywnn) leading to the Mattingly explosion.
John Sharp said…
Catcher c ards are cool, but the Gary Carter card is awesome!
Nice selections this week. As I was looking and reading the cards counted down faster than I realized. I was disappointed to see there was nothing beyond the Johnstone. I love that you featured the Darryl Strawberry card. 1983 was pretty well represented for base and traded the last two weeks.

Shame you don't have T-Mobile (or do you?) as they give out free MLB.TV every year.
hiflew said…
When I started seriously collecting in 1986 and 1987, I remember the trio of 1983 Topps rookies were out of my price range. Although at the time it was a quartet of rookie with Frank Viola included. The one thing about them that I remember them is there was always a clear pecking order in the minds of most. It was Boggs first, Gwynn second, Ryno third and Viola a close fourth. It stayed that way the whole time I was collecting as a kid. Then somewhere during my years away from collecting Gwynn and Boggs reversed positions. Maybe it was the move to the Yankees that turned off Boston collectors and didn't really excite NY collectors. Who knows, but I think you are correct that the Gwynn is the top one from that set now.
All great choices. 7 of the 10 are cards in my PC, and 5 of the 10 are in mini collections of mine.
gregory said…
"... or grit my teeth through Michael Kay because there's no baseball to watch anywhere else."

I feel that pain, my friend. I just can't bring myself to believe that enough people enjoy that guy's work to have kept him employed with the Yankees for so long.

As for the cards, that Strawberry smile in the photo inset is hard to beat. Also impressive is how Boggs had a major-league mustache even as a rookie.
Brett Alan said…
The Gary Carter is my favorite of the bunch, although maybe if I owned the Strawberry I'd feel differently.

It strikes me that Lynn Pettis looks a bit like Jake Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Given that Jake and his father were big fans of the ancient game of baseball, and given that his father turned up in 2024 due to a time travel mishap (look for him when the Bell riots break out), is it too much to suppose that Ben Sisko got his kid put into a Topps set though time travel, and the younger brother story was concocted by the Department of Temporal Investigations to cover it up? Hey, where is everybody going?
Nick Vossbrink said…
Yeah all of these are straight fire with a few of them being fantasic photos too.
Excellent selections! I own all of them, several in a 'weird cards' mini collection. Also, I was a big 83 topps guy, one of my favorite sets. And Boggs was definitely #1!
Fleerfan said…
The Eddie Murray record breaker can be found with a variation where there is a caption of the record being broken on the front. For some reason, that is the only 1988 record breaker card with a caption variation.

The 1980 Gary Carter is a great shot. Here is a look at the uncropped photo:
Fuji said…
I was wondering if (and where) Gwynn's Topps rookie card would land on your list. It's been my favorite 80's card for since the 80's. Glad to see the 82T Rickey make it too. Another 80's favorite.

Congratulations on signing up for MLB.TV!
GTT said…
I'd really like to get too, but for the opposite reason: so I can watch the Yankees 162 games a year. I have to admit, though, I find the YES broadcasting team kind of annoying. I watched a Mets-Yankees game last year, on the Mets' station, and the commentary was so much better .The announcers were actually saying interesting things about the game! Inconceivable!
Matt said…
I've been fortunate to get MLB.TV for free through T-Mobile. The only downside is that I can only watch it on my phone, which isn't that huge of a deal.
Bo said…
I'm a Yankee fan and I can't stand Kay. Heck, I even like John Sterling, it's not like I'm particularly picky.
cardboardhogs said…
the '82 Rickey may be my favorite Rickey card of all-time. loved the pesudo action shot...i can almost see his fingers twitching, getting ready to go boost secondbase
Nick said…
I'm not a huge fan of '82 Topps, but that Rickey is definitely one of the greatest cards of the '80s. Rickey's got a lot of great cards, but that's probably his best.