Wednesday, May 1, 2013

1981 Topps: Part III-T


I know that I said the "base" sets would be the scope of my musings here. But I consider the Traded/Update sets to be a part of that. That thinking can easily be challenged, since they are not a part of the factory "complete" sets put out each year. But as they are always an extension of the base set in design and general concept, simply updating the set's "roster" to include player movement and new arrivals, I see it as a part of the basic Topps baseball story each season.

And if I were to "lawyer up" to defend this stance, I would look no further than the precedent established with this inaugural Topps Traded set. Unlike subsequent updates, the 1981 Traded set picks up its numbering where the base set leaves off. Except for the preponderance of spring training posed shots, and a few more tacky airbrush jobs than usual, these high numbered cards are indistinguishable from the base set. Of course, unlike the cards #1-726, you couldn't buy packs of these cards. You had to send away for the set. And this was yet another new experience in my formative years as a collector.

There are many things that I remember clearly about baseball and card collecting in my youth. And many more things that have completely faded from memory. I assume that it was sometime during the 1981 season when I discovered this new avenue for obtaining cards, most likely from ads in Baseball Digest, which in the pre-internet days was a treasure trove of information. Though it's also possible that I didn't order this set until sometime in the next year. I do remember that I also ordered a bunch of small, cheap oddball sets, such as the Topps Burger King sets, Drake's Big Hitters, Kellogg's 3-D Superstars, Galasso Glossy Greats, etc. It was crazy how many different sets were out there. There was no way my 11-year-old brain could imagine what the 1990s would impose upon collectors, but I was already beginning to feel daunted by the truck-loads of existing cards that I didn't have.

I did have this set, though, and I was happy about it. Although, as a Dodger fan, it was a mixed bag. Quantity? No. Quality? Yes. There were only two Dodgers in a set of 128 cards. That was a disappointment. One was Ken Landreaux, the center fielder acquired from the Twins for three kids I didn't know anything about, including Mickey Hatcher. Landreaux wasn't a great ballplayer, but he was a regular on my first championship Dodgers team, and he caught the last out of the World Series. So I was happy to have this card (#787), which features one of the few actions shots in this Traded set. It was the other Dodgers card, of course, that made the lack of hometown heroes in the set palatable. But we'll get to that next time. In retrospect, it's a bummer and a bit of a mystery that Mike Scioscia didn't receive an upgrade to solo card status in this set, considering that he did the bulk of the catching for the Dodgers in 1981.

I don't know that this set featured more Hall-of-Fame caliber players than many later update sets, but it seems that way. In addition to Tim Raines, who received a solo card upgrade, and who should be in the Hall, the set includes eight players who have made it already: Bert Blyleven (Indians), Rollie Fingers (Brewers), Carlton Fisk (White Sox), Joe Morgan (Giants), Gaylord Perry (Braves), Bruce Sutter (Cardinals/beard), Don Sutton (Astros), and Dave Winfield (Yankees). There are a few key rookies other than Raines and the Dodger who caused his own mania, including Hubie Brooks and future NBA star Danny Ainge. But the focus is squarely on the vets, which suits me fine.

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