When I started collecting sports cards in the late 80’s, the card industry was quite a bit different than it is today. There were only 3 “major” manufacturers at the time; Topps, Fleer, and Donruss. I use the term “major” because there were a lot of oddball products out there. The oddball products were many times produced by Fleer or Topps but they were labeled as cards for KMart, Rite-Aid, Purina, Quaker Oats, and Circle K; and these are just a few examples. But when you went to Wal-Mart, you were looking for the flagship sets and there weren’t very many of the oddballs there.
Before the product explosion, it was pretty easy to identify the most desirable cards each year. I remember the exact cards that I targeted and moved to the front of my ring binder. They were usually rookies but they could sometimes be errors or other cards that were considered “rare” at the time. We didn’t have the internet during those days so the only way we could track the popularity of our cards was either with the Beckett Monthly Price Guide or by visiting a card shop. Thumbing through the monthly price guide became a ritual for me and I would shift cards all around my binder based on the up and down arrow that may be found next to their name.
I experienced a card tragedy one year with my binder in middle school. I had a presentation in one of my classes where we had to choose someone to write about, dress up as the subject and then read it to the class. My subject was Jose Canseco because he was the hottest player in the sport at the time. I brought my binder to school that day. I was riding high but during my science class, much like Icarus, I flew a little too close to the Bunsen burner and my Oakland Athletic wings were smoldered by the wrath of my Science teacher. She confiscated that binder and I would not get it back until the end of the school year. That was a long few months as I tried to rebuild another binder in its absence.
Replacing the base cards in the binder was pretty easy as I just had to convince my mom to take me to Wal-Mart and spend a few dollars on more packs. I was already begging and pleading with each trip uptown so it felt like second nature. The hard part was replacing some of those hot rookie cards that weren’t so easy to come by. Many of those weren’t the result of opening packs as much as they were obtained through trades. I quickly found out I would have to wait until the end of the school year to have those in my possession again.
The cards that I missed during that time were treasures to me. If you collected during that time, you will know them well. Here are the top 5 cards I had stashed in that front page of the binder that sat under Ms. Merritt’s Science Class Podium until May of 1990.
1979 Topps Ozzie Smith
I was able to score this card in the 5th grade via a trade in my music room with a classmate. This was actually before I officially started collecting but I loved Ozzie Smith at the time and I happened to have a WWF Action figure that a friend wanted. I still have this card but it’s not in the best shape. I will forever keep it though because it was one of the first cards I ever owned.
1984 Topps Darryl Strawberry
I have never been a big Mets fan but I was a huge fan of Strawberry in the late 80’s. I can’t be 100% sure but I think I got this card from my uncle in a trade for multiple cards. At the time, we played a lot of RBI baseball and he was a big fan of the California Angels. If this is the trade I remember correctly, this only cost me Dave Winfield, Brian Downing, Kirk McCaskill and Wally Joyner. In 1989, it was quite an awesome feeling to own a card from 1984. It felt so retro at the time.
1985 Topps Mark McGwire Team USA
McGwire was one-half of “The Bash Brothers” with Canseco and this 1985 Topps was his first baseball card. I remember having to trade a ’89 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. and ’89 Topps Future Star Gregg Jefferies to obtain this one. It is actually the only one I have ever owned too. I haven’t had the good fortune of gathering up duplicates of this one like I have his ’88 Topps.
1986 Donruss Jose Canseco
This is still one of my favorite cards of all time. The design itself was classic 80’s as the border had a nice Max Headroom feel to it. This is probably the best design in Donruss’ history with 1989 coming in second. When the 90’s hit, we had the retina challenging 1990 ketchup set and the mid 90’s had totally left the card border in the dust. As for Canseco, he was #1 for me when I was 12 and was partly to blame for the binder being taken away in the first place. To top it off, this card was worth a cool $100 at one time!
1987 Topps Future Star Bo Jackson
If you want iconic, it doesn’t get much better than this. Bo Jackson was one of the greatest pure athletes I’ve ever seen play sports. And the 1987 Topps design remains one of the most well-known of all time. The wood grain found on the border of those cards could be found in living rooms and on the side of station wagons nationwide. What really set the Future Star cards apart was the awesome rainbow font on the bottom of the card. This has always been such a cool card.
I eventually got that binder back and I checked to make sure all of the cards were still there. For some reason, I thought that my science teacher wanted my binder so she could actually have the cards. Looking back, I guess cards weren’t as big of a deal to some people as they were to me back then. I never made the mistake of having that binder at school again. I did have some singles with me in High School once and a 1990 Ken Griffey Jr. Diamond King ended up being ripped in half in the lunchroom. But I guess that’s another story for another day.