Let's start at, what was for me, the beginning. These were the revelatory little pieces of colorful cardboard that jump-started my strange addiction. When I was first pulling these out of packs, my inability to grasp a wider context led me to believe that a complete set of these baseball cards would represent the complete population of baseball players, on the complete list of 26 baseball teams, in of all of recorded human history. I'd like to think that it didn't take too long to wise up a bit. But, at any rate, this wasn't about wisdom. It was about passion. I loved these cards.
This was the set that imbued in me a love of sorting baseball cards. I didn't do alphabetical yet. That smacked a little too much of some type of school work. I did do numerical, periodically, to check how close I was to completing the set. But my default mode for grand card organization quickly became TEAM/POSITION/PLAYER BY "IMPORTANCE." (The checklists, league leaders, highlights, etc., got their own "I don't know what to make of these yet" stack.) The first category was self-explanatory. I topped each team's stack with the team photo card. I somehow managed to grasp the position system from an early stage, going with the standard P, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, DH order. Where it got tricky was when a team had more than one player at a position. It usually wasn't too tough to figure out who the main man was among position players. But my grasp of the roles of pitchers was far from fully developed. And the fact that Topps didn't include key stats like games started or saves at this point did nothing to help me out there. But it was sure fun trying to figure it all out.
Naturally, I securely bound each of these stacks with a tightly twisted rubber band to make sure they maintained their carefully choreographed sequence. Whoops.
The sorting is what I remember most about this set. Oddly, I don't remember much about the purchasing of packs. I suspect that's because the majority reached me via my Grandparents' shopping trips (groceries for Grandma, beer and vodka for Grandpa).
The other thing that I distinctly remember is the manic need to complete the Dodgers team set as quickly as possible. This led me to a bit of unfortunate criminal activity. Mind you, I was pushed to take this drastic action. The only other kid I knew of at the time who also collected cards was a boy named Burt. He had in his possession what had become, in short order, my Holy Grail.
1980 Topps Don Sutton (#440), the final Dodgers card that I needed. And I do mean needed!
I tried to be reasonable. Unfortunately, I had no concept of the poker face. I made no effort to disguise how badly I wanted that card. Kids that age are starting to understand the power they have to manipulate the emotions of others. And little boys can be sadistic. In Burt's cost/benefit analysis, the pain he could cause me by withholding the card far outweighed any return I could offer in a trade. I offered two cards for one. I offered any and all cards I had doubles of. I may even have made the drastic, borderline sacrilegious, offer of cards that I only had one of (though certainly not any Dodgers). But Burt wasn't biting.
So, in my desperation, I pulled some version of the old "Hey, look, what's that behind you? Oh, I guess it was nothing. Okay, see you tomorrow!" trick. I may even have ditched school the next day, hoping that postponing the inevitable was the same as preventing it. No dice. Burt wasn't as stupid as I'd hoped. He was able to solve the mystery of his missing Don Sutton pretty easily, and had already bypassed the threat of "I'm gonna tell my mom" by actually doing so. After a rather embarrassing phone call from his mom to my Grandma, I was forced to reluctantly and sheepishly return the card. Naturally, it wasn't more than a few days before I pulled one of my own out of a pack, and the resulting joy was more than enough to put the whole kleptomaniac episode in my past.
These are the things I think of when I see a 1980 Topps card. Tomorrow it will be a little less about me (Finally! the audience, if there is one, sighs), as we'll take a look at how the cards look.