Monday, April 29, 2013

1981 Topps: Part III


Vital Statistics

As with the previous season, the 1981 set consisted of 726 cards. But for the first time since the small additions made to the 1974 and 1976 sets, Topps extended its offering with the first full update set, called "Topps Traded" at the time. It could only be purchased as a set and consisted of 132 more cards that picked up their numbering from where the base set left off, creating a master set of 858 cards.

My second year as a collector made me deal with a new concept: player movement. Some Dodgers from the 1980 set, and even a few from the current set, were no longer with the team. This required that I make an alteration to my preferred sorting order. For each team, players were sorted by position, and now that meant first the players still with the team followed, again by position, by players no longer with the team. I maintained this practice for at least a few years, and after a while it became interesting to see the progression of players used by a team at each position from season to season. Here are the Dodgers in the 1981 set, listed in the approximate order in which they’d be sorted in my heavily-perused Dodgers stack by the eleven-year-old version of me:

#679 Team Photo/Tommy Lasorda MG
#850 Fernando Valenzuela P
#440 Jerry Reuss P
#565 Burt Hooton P
#624 Bob Welch P
#693 Steve Howe P
#146 Bobby Castillo P
#104 Terry Forster P
#548 Dave Goltz P
#191 Rick Sutcliffe P
#231 Joe Beckwith P
#318 Steve Yeager C
#530 Steve Garvey 1B AS
# 50 Dave Lopes 2B AS
#260 Ron Cey 3B
#465 Bill Russell SS AS
#495 Dusty Baker OF
#787 Ken Landreaux OF
#651 Pedro Guerrero OF-1B-3B
#726 Rick Monday OF
#372 Jay Johnstone OF
#211 Darrel Thomas OF-2B
# 75 Reggie Smith OF AS
#127 Rudy Law OF
#302 Jack Perconte/Mike Scioscia/Fernando Valenzuela (Future Stars)
#605 Don Sutton P
#174 Doug Rau P
# 24 Don Stanhouse P
#711 Joe Ferguson C
#289 Mickey Hatcher 3B-OF
#512 Gary Thomasson OF-1B
#..7 Don Sutton (& Rudy May, ERA Leaders)

The 1980 All-Star Game was held at Dodger Stadium for the first and only time to date. In fact, when the 2013 Midsummer Classic is held at Ebbets Field, Jr., in Queens, the Dodgers will be the team with the longest hosting drought. Dodger Stadium voters went to work, electing 3/4 of their historic infield in '80, along with outfielder Reggie Smith. I felt bad for Ron Cey when this set came out as he was the only Dodger infielder without the cool green All-Star banner across the top of his card. It made him look like the weakest link. Friggin' Mike Schmidt!

Special Cards

These exist. Same as usual. I'm not showing these because it would be a waste of pixels. These are particularly uninteresting because, for some reason, they're the only cards in the set not to incorporate the cap theme, and Topps fails to replace it with anything remotely interesting visually.

Future Stars
Topps continued a stretch of depicting prospects with a three-player Future Stars card for each team, this time spread throughout the set. The design is utilitarian, but works well enough. I like the little caps they use in the subsets, which here frame the company name. You get lots of stars on the card, in case you didn’t get the point of the prognostication, but they aren’t distracting or annoying. The orange squash color used to frame things was the go-to color for the subsets. Not beautiful, but not horrible either, I suppose. This Tim Raines appearance on the Expos Future Stars card (#479) was, and remains, a key card in this set. But (as Yoda had recently explained to the ghost of Obi-Won) there is another…

League Leaders
Cards #1-8. In addition to the seven categories featured in 1980 (AVG, HR, RBI, SB, W, ERA, SO), the 1981 set adds a “Leading Firemen” card, reflecting the evolving role of the closer. Saves were only considered part of the story of a relief ace’s effectiveness, so the points system used to determine the Rolaids Relief Man Award winner serves as the basis for that League Leader card. As for the design, the little hats with the year in them are cute. But the layout used to indicate NL and AL is really weak, as the angle is strange, the spacing is way too close to the pictures, and the design leaves far too much white space in the area of the player/team names. The double border in the middle, with no bottom border around the pictures is also a little weird. Definitely the most poorly designed subset here.

Record Breakers
Cards #201-208. When I was a kid, I barely distinguished the difference when Topps would sometimes chose to include either Season Highlights cards or Record Breaker cards. Looking back, I realize that there really is a big difference, and there’s good reason to prefer Season Highlights. Breaking a major record can be considered a highlight, but not all of a season’s highlights come from records being broken, making a Record Breakers subset far more limiting in scope and variety. Case in point, among the eight Record Breakers in the 1981 set, two pertain to at bat totals. But there are a few nice ones here, too, including most career homers by a catcher (Bench) and in a season by a third baseman (Schmidt). The design is particularly nice. With nothing protruding into the photo, they look like pictures that have been framed to commemorate the achievements. Though why Steve Carlton is wearing a batting helmet on his card (#202) is a bit of a mystery.

Cards #401-404. I'm not sure why a set would ever be without, at the very least, a card depicting the World Champions. And even better is a subset summarizing the entire post-season. But, for some reason, this was the first time Topps had seen fit to include such cards in a set since 1978. We get four cards here. The first three summarize each League Championship Series and the World Series with line scores for each game on the card backs. George Brett is featured on the ALCS card (#401), before his battle with hemorrhoids caused kids around the country (except for those in KC) to have a good laugh at his expense. The final card features the World Series batting and pitching stats for the champion Phillies. More on that to follow.

Team Photos/Managers/Team Checklists
Cards #661-686. Grouped together in the set this time, they hold to the recent pattern: team photo with the manager identified in an inset picture, and the team checklist on the back. Since I'm not sure I'll get back into the 1970s sets when (if) I get through all of the sets of my collecting lifetime, I'm going to take this opportunity to display the Chicago Cubs (#676) and their collection of floating heads. This was the ninth, and final, time that Topps had depicted the Cubs, and only the Cubs (almost), in this strange fashion on their team photo card, beginning with the 1971 set. (Oddly, the Cubs get a regular photo in 1975... and the White Sox get floating heads. Weird.) I'm guessing that they had to do this because for some reason the Cubs couldn't be bothered to assemble for a team photo during this period. Whatever the reason, the cards were always unique in a given set. This particular card features Joey Amalfitano during his short and futile tenure as Cubs manager (redundant), before becoming the longtime third base coach for Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers. You can also catch a glimpse of Hall-of-Famer Billy Williams, then a coach, in floating head form next to the manager.

And that covers the set. But not really. There's one more piece of business that we'll leave for next time.

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