The Collector

Collecting means something different to a lot of people. It can involve multiple goals, many different techniques, countless motivating factors and it lives on a sliding scale of importance. Ultimately, we all have the same hobby but we just go about it differently from one another in most cases. More often than not, collecting is instilled in us at an early age and both our childhood and our environment play a major role in our development within the hobby as adults. There are a lot of reasons/factors that formed the way I collect today. Some are tangible and some are just second nature at this point; but they all have helped me evolve into who I am today.

Let’s start with this very important truth; There is no wrong way to collect (except searching)! Always collect what/who you want to collect and don’t give a second thought to what other people think about it. If you want to collect only basketball cards with players in blue jerseys that are in the motion of a jump shot; Knock yourself out! Who am I (or anyone else) to tell you that it is weird or somehow not the right way to go about collecting? Collecting is supposed to make you happy or help you step away from your daily struggles and if you don’t do it your way, you are wasting that opportunity.

Let me go over some of the factors that brought me here and tell you what collecting is to me. Again, some of these are tangible lessons learned while some are just experiences that I return to when I’m sorting. In any event, they are what make the hobby fun for me still today. And by definition, a hobby is “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” These are the things that molded me and brought me pleasure over my life, as it relates to the world of cardboard. Maybe by the end of this, you will recognize some of the things that have made you the collector you are today.

Collecting to me as a kid was sitting in my floor and making an all-star team out of the good players in the packs I ripped. Sometimes, the team wasn’t made up completely of real life all-stars. As a kid, I was lucky to squeeze 2-3 packs out of a trip to Wal-Mart with my parents. While that may have been all I got, I sincerely mean that I was lucky because those trips were priceless. My 3 packs of Donruss may have resulted in me having Jerry Browne or Albert Hall on those all-star teams I formed. I would read the stats on the back to help me finalize the team and home runs or average usually won the tie breakers. I laid the cards out in the baseball field layout and that would be my team. I decided to rip a couple packs of ’89 Donruss just for this piece so I could put together an all-star team to picture. What do you think of this team? The bad part is my infield is weak but I had to pick between Glenn Davis and Mark Grace at 1st!

As touched on above, collecting was reading card backs. That is how I learned about players who didn’t play for the Braves or Cubs. I was able to watch those two teams every day because of the national television stations they were on. When they played the Pirates or the Astros, I could usually look out for Glenn Davis or Andy Van Slyke because I had read up on their stats on card backs. I studied the cards front and back and I liked players because of what I learned about them. A great follow on Twitter is @sportcardbacks because he will share some of the more interesting card backs from the “old days”, which happen to be right in my childhood collecting days. Even now, in 2018, I just learned that Glenn Davis’ home was Columbus, Ga!

All-Star and MVP Cards used to mean something. In a world where relics and autographs were unheard of, we spent our time trying to chase down insert cards. While all sets varied with the exact insert sets they had to offer, almost all of them had some form of a “best of the best” subset. Donruss had MVP’s, Score had the All-Star sketches, Topps had the Bold All-Star Cards and so on. Collecting big names was how you filled your binder pages and loaded up on trade bait. Those cards are in dime boxes at card shows now. Back then, they were the cards in the glass cases!

I learned how to collect because of RBI Baseball and the time I spent playing against my uncle’s on that game. RBI 3 even allowed you to play with teams that won pennants during the 80’s. I could play with the 1985 Royals and it made me want to collect George Brett. Sometimes, I would be the ’84 Tigers and I would go searching for “Sweet” Lou Whitaker or “Never Fret” Chet Lemon. I learned about baseball players from two key sources; cards and RBI Baseball. And I took every opportunity to intertwine those two hobbies of mine. My love for Jose Canseco was actually born on RBI 3 and the fact that he was a hobby superstar only made it stronger.

Collecting was reading up on cards in the Beckett magazine. I had a unique way of opening packs in 1989 and 1990 that was totally dependent on me having a Beckett magazine handy. I bought the mag each month so that never was a big problem. I would open my packs with the backs of the cards facing up and would slide each card just enough to reveal only the card number for the next one. I would go to my Beckett and find the number in the price guide and my excitement would be dependent on whether it was listed or not. If it was listed, I knew it was going to be worth .15 or more and if it wasn’t, I knew it was a common. Excitement was really high when those cards turned out to be Jr. or Gary Sheffield or Ricky Jordan. Those were $1.00 plus cards and worth more than what the actual pack cost. If Beckett had published a History or Spanish book that I enjoyed as much as their price guide, I probably would have been valedictorian of my class!

Collecting was sitting in the lunch room of my high school before homeroom and comparing hits with my buddies. I hit a 1990 Donruss Diamond King Ken Griffey Jr and was the talk of the class one morning. You were somehow better than everyone else on the days you had the big hit. I remember the ’89 Bo Jackson baseball/football card, ’90 Score Frank Thomas, ’90 Upper Deck John Olerud and ’91 Stadium Club Phil Plantier as some of the bigger cards I showed off in that lunchroom. I never beat David and his Andre Dawson Elite but I had some pretty good pulls back in the day.

I enjoy going through a box of old cards, even if it’s loaded with Tommy Herr or Franklin Stubbs, because it takes me back to my youth. Even though it’s called “Junk Wax”, I have never considered those cards junk. I have a few boxes that I’ll go through every year and I already know what cards are there but I will sort them in a different way just to have an excuse to go through them again. I’ll do it with ’91 Fleer, ’85 Topps or ’89 Upper Deck; I don’t have any bias against cardboard. I may not like some of the designs, like ’90 Donruss, but that doesn’t mean I’m trashing those cards. I don’t trash cards at all to be honest. I pass them down or send them to other collectors if they aren’t going to stay in my collection. One reason is that you just never know when a particular card value may rebound. But more importantly, the cards just mean too much to me.

I enjoy autographs, patches, printing plates, serial numbers, graded cards, and just about any other modern day frill you can think of. But I’ll never forget my roots and I’ll never get too far from home. I’ll never choose a pack of 2017 Contenders over a pack of 1987 Fleer. I’m being 100% honest when I type that. For my enjoyment, I would rather have a Bo Jackson rookie than a DeShaun Watson rookie. I know that values are different and I could make more money on eBay and there is more demand for Watson; I get all of that. But that’s not why I’m in this game. Would I sell a Watson to make money? There’s no question about that. But do you know what I would do with at least a portion of that money? I’d go buy a box of 1987 Fleer! The cards I sell don’t make me rich and they won’t pay my bills, but they will help me buy more cards to support my Hobby. That’s my stance on buying and selling. I’m probably in the minority but I’d usually rather give the card to someone who would like it in their collection.

Now, if we’re talking about money cards, I have no problem flipping those to buy more cards. Again, everybody collects different and I don’t think any less of anyone who does it different from what I do. I’ve periodically sold on eBay and Twitter and have no problem with others that do so more often. That’s definitely an important sector of the community because I do buy from time to time. I just don’t see dollar signs when I open product anymore. I did when I was a kid but they were literally $1.00 signs. The tireless hunt for the 1:1’s or the star autographs can both drive you mad and break the bank. That’s part of why I still delve so much in the junk wax era. I pay a reasonable price for what I consider to be good cards and I’m not driven by money at any point during the transaction. It’s not a business to me. It can be, and is, to some; and there is zero wrong with that, but it isn’t me.

Finally, and this might be the most important aspect of collecting to me; it gives me a different purpose, tangible goals and an excuse. Let me explain. I have been married for 17 years, have 2 kids (Age 10 & 3) and have worked at the same job for 20 years. Every day I wake up, I know what my purpose is. I have built the life I have now because it is the life I wanted. I married my high school sweetheart, we have beautiful kids and I’m stable in my career. Isn’t that the American Dream? But as with most other people, it is hard sometimes to live a systematic life without sometimes feeling like a robot. That’s where this hobby comes in. I am constantly challenged by cards; whether it’s finding an old classic, reviewing a new product or trying to complete a project. “Every pack is different”, so to speak.

I am able to be the kid that never grew up when I’m sorting cards. I’m able to mentally sit in my old bedroom and watch the neon dance on the front of 1990 Topps just like I did when I was 13. And the key; there is no pressure. I have pressure in every other aspect of my life; the family, bills, the job. There is absolutely no weight that comes with ripping and sorting. It’s a freeing experience for me and is one of the few things in my life that can immediately lift weight off of my shoulders. And because it does that for me emotionally, it gives me the perfect excuse to be that kid that still wants it to be 1989.

Collecting cards truly means that much to me. It is as close to being a religious experience as you can get without actually having a religious experience. It touches me in a real, palpable sense but the hobby also has emotional, spiritual and therapeutic components to it. Cards are a complete sensory experience for me. I can obviously feel the cards but I can usually smell the card and tell you if it is Topps, Fleer, Donruss, etc. I can envision the setting I was in the first time I pulled a particular card. I can taste the horrible gum that still exists in residue form on my old cards. And the sound of a wax pack being opened is one of the sweetest sounds a 40 year old card addict can hear.

I know what you’re thinking right now. You can’t imagine that the act of collecting sports cards could ever be this important to a person’s life. I’m telling you unequivocally that it is. I love this hobby and I want to spread the feeling that I have to every collector I meet. I don’t care what you collect or how you collect; as long as you collect, you are part of the family!

J-Dub

A Project Of Optimism

We all have a story like this. It may not involve Baseball Cards but we all have a similar tale. I know this because I’ve learned that it’s just how human nature works. We all have a certain level of optimism about the things we WANT to work out. I’ve experienced some crushing blows with the UGA and Falcons losses this past week but before those games, I had the highest of hopes. I envisioned parades, trips to conference championships and more. And not in a big mouth, conceited kind of way. You just have really high hopes when you have the potential to win big. You know the road can be tough, there is a lot of faith involved and some of it is just plain luck; but when you really want something to be, it can take a lot out of you when it doesn’t materialize.

I’ve learned that nothing is a sure thing and until something actually happens or someone proves they are what you expect them to be, you have to be ready for anything. There are so many layers to this too. Surely we all had “that girl” (or boy) at some point as kids that we thought was the one. We were just kids but every girl I called my girlfriend fit that description. I went all in and fully invested because Girl X would be the one that I would be with for the next 75 years. But then, somewhere along the way, I saw enough of her to start to wonder if this really was the one or not. Sometimes, they wondered if I was the one first. But the cycle was always the same. We met, we fell in love, we lived only for each other and then, the relationship went bust. That’s when I would look back and say, “what was I thinking” but it was always too late.

There are a lot of things we see and think could be amazing but simply turn out to be entries into our “crash and burn” memoirs. Anybody remember the NES Power Glove? Yeah, Kelly Kapowski couldn’t even save this abysmal product. This was supposed to change gaming forever but all it did was make me long for the days of the Power Pad. It was virtually impossible to play a video game with the controller on one of your arms. But it had so much promise! I wanted it to work out so badly that I gave it more chances to fail than I normally would have any other toy or game at the time. It was just brutal.

Let’s talk about Caddyshack II for a minute. Was there a better opportunity for a great sequel in the comedy genre in the 80’s? I can do a whole separate post about terrible sequels but the original Caddyshack remains one of the funniest movies in the history of cinema and deserved a better follow up. I just KNEW it was going to be awesome and marked it down as a sure thing. But when you replace Rodney Dangerfield with Jackie Mason and remove Bill Murray from a movie cast, you just can’t expect it to be as good as the first. My heart hurts a little when I happen to catch CS II on the tube nowadays. How could something that was destined to be so right turn out so wrong?

Then you have some things that start out blazing and even have a reasonable enough run that you get sucked in more than usual. Notwithstanding the 2017 UGA Bulldogs (which I still love) in that particular scenario, think about Guns N Roses. They put out pure gold when they released Appetite for Destruction in 1987. They gave us such gems as “Paradise City”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child Of Mine” but by 1990, they were kicking guys out of the band, showing up late for gigs or just not showing up altogether. What could have been a magical run as one of the best rock bands ever was derailed by narcissism, greed and hard drugs; or more simply put, the 80’s!

So where am I going with this? You know it always ties into my sports card addiction and this is no exception. I’ve started a new personal project that is related to this premise of Optimism Bias. I started collecting in the late 80’s and there were players that we all had to have and pulling them from folded up wax wrappers was the first step of retirement planning at 10. During that time, the illustrious Junk Wax Era as it’s so lovingly referred to, we firmly believed that these 3×5 pieces of cardboard were going to make us rich. We coveted certain cards like some would bitcoins today. All we needed were toploaders and time and we would be set for life.

Well, like many of the above examples, that didn’t really work out as planned either. A big reason is because the card market was more saturated than any early teen could understand or even be aware of. We didn’t know that there were 10 billion Ken Griffey Jr ’89 Donruss Rated Rookies floating around. What we did know was that Beckett Monthly was our version of Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” and if it was on the hot list, we were investing! Another reason the financial planning hit a Cecil Fielder sized bump in the road was that most of the players didn’t pan out. That’s the reason I’m more focused on with this project.

With the help of my Twitter buddy Nick (@vossbrink), I’ve dubbed this project “Dated Rookies” and I’m off to a pretty solid start. Nick even put together this sweet logo that matches the “Rated Rookie” found on Donruss in the 80’s. I think the name is perfect and appreciate Nick for the idea. The goal of this project is to collect autographed cards of all the players I just had to have when I was a kid. These were the players that would win big and become as valuable as the ’52 Mantle. Oh, Dub was an eternal optimist when it came to cardboard. There are no real parameters set beyond that at the moment but as the project evolves I might tighten up the requirements. Right now, I’m not worried about what Card is autographed or what jersey the player has but as I branch out to multiple autographs, I may focus on the hot card designs that I had to have when the players were hot.

The player list will probably grow over time as well and some players will be more difficult to obtain than others. Luckily, some of the bigger names from those days are coming back in Topps Archives or some similar set and it is easier to add them. I’m not limiting this to baseball either, but that’s where I have started. There are quite a number of football and basketball players that fit the description of “Dated Rookie” from those days as well. I’m a guy who likes projects because they give me goals and make me feel accomplished as I reach them. That’s part of the fun of being a set builder. So I thought this would be a fun challenge that would look great when I was done. Let’s go over some of the cards I’ve started with and you’ll understand the premise pretty clearly.

Jim Abbott was a pitcher for 10 years in the majors despite the fact that was missing his right hand. He actually pitched a no hitter in 1993 and had a reasonable career but his rookie Cards never took off like I thought they would. He finished his career with an 87-108 career record, a 4.25 ERA and less than 1,000 K’s so he wasn’t a statistical monster by any stretch. But I always admired Abbott and stocked up on all of his rookies.

Sandy Alomar Jr was not exactly a bust but he wasn’t even the best Alomar in baseball at the time. He played a robust 20 year career and hit for a .273 average but with only 112 home runs. He won both AL ROY and a Gold Glove in 1990 so his cards were hot but his card values always fell a little short. I still have Alomar as a top 3 catcher from my collecting youth but he’s not making many lists in 2018 with collectors.

Eric Anthony is one of the players that I went after hard! I had a ton of these Score rookies as well as the 90 Donruss Rated Rookies. Even though Anthony played 9 seasons, he did not have a career that will ever equate to Hobby Love. He hit for a career .231 average, never hit 20 home runs, never had double digit steals and never topped 80 RBI in a season. All of my wishful thinking was for naught. He was a home run crusher in the minors with 31 in 1989 and his first MLB Hit was a 414 foot bomb in the Astrodome. But he never put it all together.

Every collector worth his salt knows the name Gregg Jefferies. As this project grows, I will make it a point to find a 1989 Topps Future Star Autograph. That was the first card that was going to make me rich. Ken Griffey Jr wasn’t quite there yet and Jefferies was as sure a bet as ever. After being drafted in 1985, he won Minor League POY in both ’86 and ’87 before being called up in late August 1988. He hit .328 for the remainder of 1988, which led to the Mets trading their starting 2B, Wally Backman, to the Twins to make room for the young star. He responded by hitting .258 in 1989 and the rest is history. He had a career that was probably better than most on this list with a career .289 avg, 196 steals and 2 All-Star appearances. But his career was supposed to be better than all the guys on this list. It was just supposed to be a lot better than it actually was.

This is the guy that makes me unable to trust Aaron Judge. While Judge put up mammoth numbers that make Maas look like Rafael Belliard, Kevin had his own amazing rookie season in 1990. He set a record for reaching 10 home runs in the fewest at bats (72) and ultimately hit 21 home runs in only 79 games as a rookie. For you mathematicians out there, that is a home run every 3+ games which, when extrapolated over a full season, would be about 45. He played 148 games the next year and hit 23 home runs but his 5 year career would close with a .230 average and only 65 home runs. It sure was fun collecting him in 1990 though!

Big Ben McDonald was one of the hot young arms in Baltimore with Curt Schilling and Gregg Olson. He won a Gold Medal as a member of the 1988 Olympic Team in Seoul, Korea and is an inductee in the College Baseball Hall of Fame. But his major league career did not meet the expectations of a young Dub who was hoarding his 1990 Fleer rookie cards. I expected more than his 78-70 record but he just didn’t get it done.

Another Yankee makes the early list with Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens. You may be too young to even remember Bam Bam from the Flintstones but he carried a wooden club around and smashed things with it. Thus, Meulens was nicknamed Bam Bam because of his propensity to smash things. In 1990, Kevin Maas was at 1B and Bam Bam was at 3rd and I had yet to fully develop my hatred for the Evil Empire. In 1987, he hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI at Single A so he was a hot commodity when his cards started getting produced a couple years later. Not only did he never hit .300 or 28 home runs or 103 RBI in a major league season, his career totals never reached those numbers either. He mustered a .220 avg, 15 home runs and 53 RBI over 4 years with the Yankees.

I’m going to add Planier in a Red Sox jersey at some point but this one is a start. I do like Plantier’s autograph as it puts many players today to shame. Plantier finished 8th in ROY voting in 1991 despite only playing 53 games. But in 148 at bats, he hit 11 bombs while maintaining a .331 average. After a disappointing follow up in 1992, he was sent to the Padres. He had a very nice season in 1993 hitting 34 bombs and collecting 100 RBI but that was as good as it ever got by a long shot. He would only have one other double digit home run season and wouldn’t hit more than 41 RBI again either. After a promising start, he finished his career with an average of .243 and 91 home runs.

Here is the pitcher that helped provide Braves fans the wonderful career of Chipper Jones. He was drafted 14th overall in 1990 and the Braves were so bad, Van Poppel said he would not sign with them if they chose him. They didn’t choose him and instead drafted Chipper Jones. They would then go on and win 14 straight division titles. What did Van Poppel do? He put together a career shorter than the Braves run (11 seasons) and finished with a career 40-52 record along with a 5.58 ERA. I was in on him as a rookie and his 90 Upper Deck is a classic but I’m grateful he didn’t like my Braves that year.

Greg Vaughn was a home run blaster for the Brewers and a mainstay in my binder in the early 90’s. He really had a serviceable career but he was the #4 overall pick in 1986 and had high expectations placed in him. He was a 4x All-Star, hit 355 home runs and even won a Silver Slugger award in 1998. He also hit 50 home runs in 1998 but was overshadowed by a couple guys named McGwire and Sosa. He never hit for an average, finishing with a career number of .242 but he also clubbed over 1,000 RBI. He was a very solid home run hitter in the 90’s but is mostly a forgotten man in the Hobby today.

Ole Jerome Walton was quite the tease. The Cubs were on my TV every day thanks to WGN and Walton was somebody I got to see often. He won the ROY in 1989 by hitting .293 and stealing 24 bases in only 116 games. He even had a 30 game hitting streak that season. Together with Dwight Smith, a future addition to Dated Rookies, the youth movement in Chicago, along with veterans André Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace was supposed to translate into big things and they did win the NL East in 1989. But like Walton’s career, they dropped off in 1990. Walton would settle into a career backup role and only muster 25 home runs and 58 stolen bases while hitting .269.

The last player on the list for this first installment is Todd Zeile. Zeile’s career finished better than most on this list but didn’t match the hype that came with his rookie cards. He played 16 seasons and hit for a .265 average to go along with 253 home runs and 1,110 RBI. He topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI just once in that 16 year career and never touched .300. He had a good but not great career but I had a ton of his rookie cards and was hoping that they would one day give me a shot at early retirement. It was not to be and his career highlight for me will always be his appearance on Seinfeld.

So that is how this project starts. I have some players that I am on the lookout for like Dwight Smith, Felix Jose, Ramon Martinez, Dante Bichette, Percy Snow, André Ware, Jeff George, Rumeal Robinson, and countless others. This list will probably be long and might eventually blur the lines of bust and serviceable but rookies in the late 80’s and early 90’s are what got me into the Hobby and kept me here. I do know that this won’t be one of the easier projects I’ve undertaken because there is no set checklist and some of these players may never have authentic autographs in products. But that’s what makes it fun, right? Like the other examples here, I’m going into this with great optimism that I’ll accomplish my goal. And when I do, maybe I’ll have my own little parade much like the one I dreamt of when I thought UGA would beat Alabama a week ago.

J-Dub

Retro Review – Only The Finest In ‘94!

As I’ve gotten older, I have become a little more reserved than I was as a teen. I know what you are thinking. The guy who blogs about his life, has a YouTube channel and jumps at the chance to be on a podcast is calling himself reserved? Yes, that’s exactly what I am calling myself. There is a reason I write down my thoughts and experiences; because I usually don’t talk (verbally) much about them. By the time this post is done, I’ll bet that I have written more words than I’ll actually speak today. I can go hours without saying a word. I can sit in a crowded room and you won’t know I’m there. I can open up here but in person, getting me to open up can be like pulling teeth.

That hasn’t always been the case. When I was a kid, I had to be the life of the party! I was a jokester, always laughing and poking fun or singing some stupid song. I wore Jams, spiked my hair, made my own tie-dye shirts and had pretty close to the rainbow of colors in my Converse All-Stars. I am a child of the 80’s and I lived it back in those days. Life was all about being noticed. You couldn’t get a girlfriend if they didn’t notice you, right? And who wanted to hang out with the guy who sat quietly at his desk all day? No, I was loud, decked out in neon and making sure everyone knew who I was. For better or worse, it worked out when I was a kid.

I remember my mom telling me so many times that I drove my teacher’s crazy but they just couldn’t get on to me like other kids because I was just so dadgum adorable! I used my outgoing personality to my advantage and made a ton of friends of all ages, gender and ethnicity. I didn’t have a problem talking to anybody and usually wasn’t scared to try anything either. I would climb on high objects, jump off of said objects, eat weird foods, say stupid things in class and do just about anything the other kids wouldn’t because that was my schtick. Like I said, it was all about standing out and getting noticed.

Pop Culture in general during the 80’s and early 90’s was all about grabbing your attention. We were immersed in bright colors, crazy hair styles, new wave music and awesome action packed cartoons. Some of our bright landscape was likely because of color television becoming more popular in the 80’s. While around since the 50’s or so, most of America didn’t get fancy color TV until the late 70’s or early 80’s. Once the color TV showed up, television execs and advertisers made sure they used bright colors to the max! See what I did there?

I specifically remember my two favorite cartoons, He-Man and Transformers, being awesome visual experiences. On He-Man, The Castle of Greyskull was a lively green, Skeletor was Blue and Beast Man was orange. With Transformers, Optimus Prime was red, white and blue, Bumblebee was yellow, Megatron was silver and the rest of the characters made up all the other colors in the Crayola box. The Care Bears were identified by color, Garbage Pail Kids were bright and Smurfs were known for bring blue! These characters got your attention when you were flipping through the channels.

The advertisements that came on during those were pretty flamboyant too. How many of you remember Bonkers candy? This commercial was the worst but I still love watching it. Then there was this classic Frankenberry commercial. We all loved Kool-Aid as kids and they had some of the best commercials. There were even cool baseball card commercials like this one for 1992 Donruss. If you have the time, might as well watch this compilation of ‘80s Saturday Morning Cartoon Commercials!

How about some attention grabbing toys?Of course, we had He-Man and Transformers in toy form like the cartoons above. But we also had things like Lite Bright, which was a light box with colored plastic pegs that would glow when you plugged them in. You could make all sorts of designs and it was much more fun than the etch-a-sketch. Rainbow Bright was a big toy for the girls back then and she was just as her name would indicate; bright and colorful! Even our koosh balls were bright and neon!

All of my friends (and me) were big wrestling fans in the 80’s and they were rocking the spectacular brightness as well! Just look at Macho Man and Ultimate Warrior above. These guys went above and beyond but they weren’t the only ones. Hulk-a-Mania was bright red and yellow and his personality was just as vivid. You also had Ric Flair and his sequin robes, Rowdy Roddy Piper and his kilt, Road Warriors and their face paint and Bam Bam Bigelow with his flame infused tights. Pro Wrestling in the 80’s was as big of a “look at me” sector of pop culture as any!

The lively outfits like Ric Flair wore weren’t just for wrestling either. I remember wearing some pretty loud and eye popping clothes as well. I remember the sweet windsuits where you tried to see just how bold and colorful you could get. We wore silk shirts, rayon, tie-dye, Zubaz, and acid wash jeans that usually matched the color of our footwear. MC Hammer pants were all the rage in the late 80’s. I’m telling you, about every aspect of our lives was filled with visual stimulation. We were tired of the drab days of the early 80’s and we were spreading our wings!

Even our teen crushes were ready for the occasion. I remember the two Kelly’s (Kapowski and Bundy) being the most colorful (and revealing) in their clothing options. Everything about Saved by the Bell was colorful. Bundy was always rocking some pretty wild hair, which was synonymous with the rock and roll chicks of the 80’s. I’ve always had a thing for rocker chicks. Alyssa Milano and Elisabeth Shue were fairly conservative (at least in the 80’s) but even they rocked some off the wall clothing.

There is no denying, we were all about flashy! We wanted colors, we wanted bright, we wanted different. This time frame was at least from 1985-1995 and even the card companies tried to get in on the act. The early 80’s card designs were pretty bland from a color and border perspective. Donruss Baseball started changing the playing field with their mid to late 80’s colors and Fleer was occasionally colorful too. Topps was a little later to the colorful stage and while 1990 Baseball was a bold change, it was a pretty dismal effort, though nostalgic on a different level. Pro Set and Score Football brought more color to that sport. Even though Ultra, Upper Deck and Action Packed came along in the early 90’s to try and improve the quality and pizazz of the sets, it was in 1994 when I fell in love with a card that personified the boldness of my youth!

There was a sneak peek at Topps Finest with a set produced in 1992 but you couldn’t just rip packs so I didn’t see much of it. But in 1994, they were on LCS shelves and were too sharp for me to pass up, even if they were a bit pricey. They were the first real “chromium” type card available for football and they brought things to a whole new level. They hit baseball in 1993 and were a late addition to football but they earned the 1994 title. Although labeled ’94, they didn’t include rookies from that year. The rookies were from ’93, making the set at least a little odd at the time.

The box offered 24 packs with 6 cards each. Each pack averaged 1 RC and the box had an average of 2 refractors, also a first in card sets. The refractors aren’t labeled and to be honest, I don’t know which ones they were in my box. I’ll have to go back and take a closer look. Each box also contained one jumbo RC and the one in my box was this Dana Stubblefield. Unlike box toppers today, this was not in a wrapper of any kind and just loose among the packs. Though I would say it was in fair condition overall.

As you can see from the photo, these cards were quite sharp. They were bright, shiny, sturdy, and felt like something more important than football cards. They did have a tendency to stick together some 23 years later but they didn’t destroy each other when I pulled them apart either. Here are a few of the big guns in 93-94. Remember Boomer with the Jets? Oof

I didn’t hit a bunch of RB studs but I did land a Barry Sanders. Another Barry that ran tough in the mid 90’s was Foster of the Steelers. Roger Craig was on his last leg and Ricky Watters was just getting started.

The solid receivers I pulled were reminiscent of my recent ’91 Upper Deck rip. These guys had staying power. I know Shannon was a TE but he fit in with these pass catchers as much as his brother Sterling did. I was able to check Another Tim Brown off my list too.

Three of the best four defensive linemen I pulled were from the AFC West. Only Reggie White was from the NFC and he was now with the Packers as opposed to the Eagles like in my last few rips.

Karl Mecklenburg is somewhat underrated with collectors today but he was quite a player in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I honestly don’t remember Pat Swilling with the Lions but Chris Spielman was certainly memorable in Detroit. Seau, Mills and Norton make this a great group of backers.

The overall DB haul from this box was less than stellar but all of these guys were steady professionals. Mark Carrier was a league leader in interceptions a couple of seasons in the early 90’s and Mark Collins was a Super Bowl winner.

The best rookies will have their own segment in a moment but there were still some highly recognizable names in this stack. Willie Roaf had a Hall of Fame career while Rick Mirer was supposed to. Lincoln Kennedy started his career in Atlanta but had his best years with the Raiders. The others that had better than average careers were Dana Stubblefield, Robert Smith, Curtis Conway and Natrone Means.

The best QB in the rookie class was Drew Bledsoe. Many collectors today remember Bledsoe as the QB who got hurt and led to the career of Tom Brady. But those of us who watched football in the ’90’s know Bledsoe as a dang good QB. He was a 4x Pro Bowl selection, led the league in passing yards in ’94 and is a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame. This is a very nice RC of Bledsoe.

The best RC in the set, and the one I was chasing, was this of Jerome Bettis. The Bus is a Hall of Fame RB who was ROY in ’93, a 6x Pro Bowl selection, Comeback POY in ’96, Man of the Year in ’01 and a Super Bowl Champ in ’05. If that’s not enough, he was also a 2x First Team All Pro and a member of the All Time Steeler Team. The Bus was one of my favorites in the mid to late 90’s and this pull made the whole box worth it. It’s in pretty good shape too!

This set was not the easiest to score for me. In 1994, it would have received a 5 without a second thought. But in 2017, there were just a couple of small issues that brought it down to a 4. The price is a little steep for a mid 90’s product, although a very nice one. This box was $50 and other than Bettis and Bledsoe, the rookie class doesn’t have much to offer. The cards are stuck together after being sealed for a quarter century and although they came apart rather clean, the cards were somewhat warped before ever ripping the packs due to the UV Coating or Chromium Design or something. Still, I couldn’t go less than 4 because they are really nice cards and I remember just how beautiful they were the first time I saw them. At a time when everybody was trying to be bigger and brighter, Topps Finest certainly accomplished that. And even though the rookie class isn’t super deep, The Bus and Bledsoe are two really good players to chase. I also have a box of Baseball that will get a post soon and I can’t wait to rip that one!

J-Dub

Scoring Scale

1. Let me be the sacrificial lamb so you don’t have to buy these cards.  Just read the post and thank me later.

2. There is worse but there is much better – not worth the effort though.

3. Middle of the road – I wouldn’t talk you into buying these but I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of them.

4. You should probably go out and buy a box and enjoy the rip – I did!  It has some downside but worth the ride.

5. Stop reading and find a box to buy and get to Breaking!  What are you waiting on?

Guest Writer – Lanny Ribes

1986 Topps baseball – “A Tale of Two Eras”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Ah, Charles Dickens. Whether you’ve heard the line in a game of Trivial Pursuit, or you were forced (as I was) to read the novel back in high school, we’re all at least somewhat familiar with the classic, “A Tale of Two Cities”. For me at the time, the year 1986 seemed to go hand-in-hand with that ever-popular opening line from the Dickens classic. And in retrospect, the happenings within the hobby world, as well as the MLB world, have only helped to reinforce these parallel likenesses.

It was March 1986, I was eleven years old and in sixth grade. Baseball practice was to begin soon, summer vacation was on the radar, and in a few months, I would be embarking upon my junior high school career. I was also currently skipping my bi-yearly tradition of wandering the hallways with a broken arm, as I had in 1982 and 1984. There was only one problem: the reason I hadn’t had a chance to break my arm yet was because I had been hospital-hopping due to some sort of digestive condition. I didn’t know it at the time, but eventually I would be diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory condition in the digestive system that, at the time, was rarely heard of. Apparently, I was the youngest person ever to have been successfully diagnosed; I’m in some medical journals somewhere, hooray for me. All that concerned me was when I would be able to get back home so I could put some weight back on and start throwing some pitches to Dad.

It was March, so baseball season had not yet started, which means there was no baseball to watch on television. That makes for some loooooong days of lazing around the hospital. Luckily, I had baseball cards to occupy the time, and keep me connected to the outside baseball world. Friends and family knew that I collected, so day in and day out I was showered with package after package containing a few packs of 1986 Topps baseball cards. As I ripped them open, I feverishly looked for the latest issues of the hottest young players – Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, Eric Davis; just to name a few.

As an informed monthly reader of Beckett Magazine, I did notice one thing was missing – a Jose Canseco rookie card. I was too young to know why Topps had not included him. I just assumed all of the same players appeared in all of the sets. I was familiar with his Fleer and Donruss cards, but where was the Topps? Later I would learn that it was a bad oversight on the part of Topps, much like later in 1989 when they did not include a rookie card of a promising prospect named Ken Griffey Jr. It was truly not “the best of times” for Topps in these years, as competitors like Donruss and Fleer, and upstarts like Score and Upper Deck wowed the collecting world with vivid photography, classic card designs, and top-level rookie inclusions.

In 1986, Topps missed out on top rookies like Canseco, Galarraga, and McGriff

“…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Later that summer, I had a financial epiphany – I would use my allowance money to invest in baseball cards. So long as prices kept increasing like they had been for the past few years, I could invest a few bucks over the summer, make a few shrewd trades with my friends, and within a couple years my money would easily triple. It was a no-brainer, why wasn’t everyone doing this? Well, they were. So me and a few million of my hobby comrades all went into the same line of business – buying overproduced cards of overhyped (and in many cases over-“medicated”) baseball players that would eventually fund my college tuition, my wedding, a condo in the Hamptons, my dream car… When I was lucky enough to find Fleer or Donruss cards, the dollar signs danced around my head and I could almost hear the cash register. How was it possible that I could pull a $150 Canseco card out of a fifty-cent pack? The better question, as it turned out, was how could so many of us actually think that this was a sustainable real-world opportunity?

My 1986 retirement plan…as financially sound as Enron stock. Remember the haul this was back then?

“…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” So fitting that Dickens should use the word “season” in this line of the script. Of course, he could not have been referencing a baseball season, although in this text the meaning definitely brings forth so many memories, both light and dark. The MLB season started out like any other. The Cardinals were fresh off getting robbed of a World Series ring, courtesy of Don Denkinger. I have never been a Cardinals fan, even though they are technically my “hometown” team, but even I could see at age 10 that it was a brutal way to lose a World Series. One thing that I could always be legitimately accused of was that I loved to stir the pot. So, when I wasn’t able to take a 4 hour trip up I-55 to watch a White Sox game, I engaged in my second favorite pastime – annoying Cardinals fans.

The Major Leagues at the time was comprised of four divisions, and the Cardinals were most closely rivaled by the young and talented New York Mets. The Mets ended 1985 only 3 games behind the Cardinals in the National League East, but with no Wild Cards and no Divisional Series, all they got was an early offseason and the promise of “next year”. Well, it was next year and young talents like Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, and phenom Dwight Gooden wanted nothing more than to end their franchise’s 16-year title drought. My dad would take me to Cardinals games where we would watch fans walk around with “Pond Scum” banners and “Mets Suck” hats. With the myriad of young players and the implications upon their baseball card values, coupled with the contrarianism of rooting against the Cardinals and rubbing their fans’ noses in the manner in which they lost the previous World Series – how could I NOT root for the Mets?

We all know how the 1986 season ended and what has ensued since. The Mets did in fact win their first World Series title since 1969. The following spring training found certain future-HOFer Dwight Gooden testing positive for cocaine, sending his career and life into a tailspin. Shortly after that, Darryl Strawberry was accused of breaking his wife’s nose, and began several years of criticizing teammates and his manager, missing practices and workouts, eventually checking into an alcohol rehab center. Lenny Dykstra fell to a gambling addiction. Keith Hernandez was found guilty of using and distributing cocaine to other Major League players. For this team, it was truly darkest just beyond the light.

At the time I pulled every Gooden, Strawberry, and Dykstra, placed them in semi-rigid top loaders, and dreamed of the day that I would eventually sell them off to purchase my dreams. Obviously that did not, and will never, happen. But as the title suggests, this is a tale of two eras. Not only in the sense that my financial take on the 1986 card issues has drastically changed from childhood to now, but also now that I am able to look back to that set a generation later, I can appreciate it for what it truly is, rather than in terms of dollars and cents. The 1986 sets, when it was all said and done, did not produce any must-have rookie cards. We have come to realize that the fads of Cecil Fielder, Andres Galarraga, Mickey Tettleton, and yes even Jose Canseco, have come and gone and only the wisest of us unloaded our troves of their cards at the height of popularity. Now that the playing field has been leveled, and players’ careers have ended, we are left with the card designs and set checklists as the very fitting ways to rank the sets and give them their place in collecting history. Fleer is very “Fleer-like”; long time collectors know what I mean. I have to admit that Donruss was exciting at first, but I also have to believe that the inclusion of Canseco and the hype surrounding the card most likely fed that fire. Over time the border colors and diagonal lines have put me to sleep. To me, Topps stands out as the forgone winner of the year, something I never would have said back then.

No Canseco. No Rated Rookies. No multi-player rookies to invest in. Oddly enough, in 2018 none of this matters at all. What we are left with is what I feel to be a beautiful set. It is a purist’s dream and nightmare in one, with an established border for centering issues and two black corners that reveal every touch of age and mishandling that have ever come upon each card. There is a large picture, with clean and clear fonts used for the player name and position. The font used for the team name has grown on me over the years, to the point that I have recently spent hours searching the web to try and find a suitable font style to use on my son’s mock-up cards. So far I have been unable to find one to use. Luckily my son has played for teams with names like Indians and Pirates, so I have been able to doctor up some scans and change the colors. His high school team is the Miners, so I am either going to have to get ultra-creative, or ultra-lucky in my ongoing font search…

The checklist itself looks like a veritable Who’s Who of historic baseball figures. It starts out with the lifetime card collection of Pete Rose, featured on a special subset and celebrating his passing of Ty Cobb on the career hits list. You have early cards of Clemens, Mattingly, Puckett, Gwynn, Sandberg, and Boggs. There are cards depicting the ends of storied careers of Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Rollie Fingers. There is a nice list of future HOFers smack dab in the middle of their legendary careers, players such as Nolan Ryan, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith, George Brett – the list goes on and on. There is even a “Turn Back the Clock” subset featuring past Topps cards of Roger Maris, Frank Robinson, and Willie Mays. And last but not least are the cards of players whose stories must be told when preaching the history of baseball’s past, with promising cards of Dwight Gooden, Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, and Vince Coleman eventually finding their way out of our display cases, but not out of our memories.

The 1986 Topps set has much to offer in the way of superstars and HOFers

When looking back, the 1986 Topps baseball set truly embodies the best and worst of times, both in the hobby and in Major League Baseball alike. As a life-long avid collector, I am happy that I can now enjoy this set for its beauty and for the never-ending list of players included from 1 through 792. I can appreciate a well-centered specimen alike with those lucky enough to have stood the test of time with two perfectly square and black top corners. And in many cases, I can do it all for the same price now as I did back then, even if that wasn’t exactly my original plan.

And for those of you wondering, I did manage to break my arm in my first baseball game of the 1986 summer, fresh out of the hospital. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Lanny Ribes @DOCBZ17