No activity killed the time of my boyhood more than building sets of baseball cards.
I bet half of my discretionary hours were spent splayed out on the shag carpet of my Alabama home, arranging sets of cards. Topps. Donruss. Fleer. Score. You name it, I built the set.
A buddy of mine and I used to trade cards, i.e. see if we could rip one another off. I’d offer a Biff Pocoroba for Don Mattingly, straight up. I suppose I learned my adult negotiation skills from those exchanges.
One of the greatest moments in the life of a baseball-mad youth was to acquire the latest installment of Beckett Monthly, a price guide for baseball card collectors. Beckett was the unquestioned authority in the field, and each month, their experts alerted hoarders like me whether the price of my cards went up or down. It was my understanding that this inflation (or deflation) was based on simple economics of supply and demand, and we used those statistics as leverage while bartering.
Anyway, to this day, there are a few baseball cards from that era that still leap out in my mind as being special. Here they are:
1986 Donruss Jose Canseco Rated Rookie
Admit it. You wanted to be Jose Canseco. If there was an ‘80s baseball player young boys aspired to be it was the slugger for the Oakland As. Canseco was the prototype Alpha. Tall, tan, and handsome. Lived in California. Had the hot chicks. The cars. Arms big as drain pipes. Bashed home runs like a fat man bashes an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. For many of us, Canseco was the first example of what a real man was supposed to be.
1980 Topps Rickey Henderson
This may not be a sexy pick, but no one was a better overall player in the 1980s than Henderson. His rookie card once skyrocketed to more than $100 a pop when Henderson was at his peak. Rickey used illeisms, referring to himself in third person. As he once said, “Listen: People are always saying, ‘Rickey says Rickey.’ But it’s been blown way out of proportion. People might catch me, when they know I’m ticked off, saying, ‘Rickey, what the heck are you doing, Rickey?’ They say, ‘Darn, Rickey, what are you saying Rickey for? Why don’t you just say, ‘I?’ But I never did. I always said, ‘Rickey,’ and it become something for people to joke about.”
1984 Donruss Darryl Strawberry
This was the card everyone wanted, but no one could have because it was so expensive. In ’83, “Straw” burst onto the scene and began clobbering balls out of Shea Stadium. For his exploits, he was voted Rookie of the Year that year. From 1983-89, Strawberry clouted 215 dingers, and in ’88-’89, he had back-to-back 39 HR seasons. During the decade, he was an eight-time All-Star and finished second in the NL MVP voting in 1988.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr.
This was THE card of 1989. Couple the fact that Upper Deck was a slick new brand (no eye had ever seen such a fine-looking card) and it was “Junior’s” rookie year, and you had pure magic. Kids from coast to coast were raiding shelves to find this jewel of a card. I still have four of them.
What say you? What is your Rushmore of 1980s Baseball Cards? H&A