Monday, May 6, 2013

1982 Topps: Part I


In 1982 I took the next logical step toward becoming a serious baseball card collector. I ordered my first complete factory set.

Didn't you always want to see just what the Topps Baseball Card Factory looked like? I sure did! I had an image in my funny little boy brain of something like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. There were the big boiling ink pots filled with all of those blinding Topps colors, including the bright pink that they always splashed across each year's Dodgers cards. There were seemingly endless sheets of cardboard streaming nonstop out of the printers, glistening with baseball card excitement, then chopped down to their bite-sized 2.5 x 3.5 perfection. Ironically, the gum seemed to be the least appetizing production on the assembly line, like plastic dusted with baby powder. But just think of the lucky people working there, making baseball cards all day. I wanted to see this bit of heaven on earth. I wanted the Topps golden ticket!

But I digress. As I was saying, I got the complete set. The idea of being certain to have every single card in my possession was just too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the experience of receiving and viewing the set for the first time is one of those memories that must have chosen a particularly soft spot on the brain to take up residence, because it's gone completely to mush. No recollection of the event at all, which is a real shame. It makes for a sad contrast with my memories of opening packs the previous two years. In fact, the one thing that I carry with me from the experience is not that of viewing the cards, but of the feeling I had when I'd finished... that within less than a hour I had plowed through every mystery the 1982 Topps set had to offer, and there would be no more until next year (or at least until the Traded set).

I tried to drag out the excitement as much as possible by sorting the cards more than usual, this way and that. But it just wasn't the same. In fact, I kept the set in such a constant state of flux that the cards spent most of the summer on my bedroom's hardwood floor. My bedroom was, let us say, not tidy, and I would sometimes drag in sand from my trips to the beach. And (I feel like a child molester saying this!) I would sometimes... step on the cards. (Oh God, I'm a monster!) So I have more 1982 Topps cards than I'd care to count that suffer from sand-induced pockmarks and scratches. Not only that, but my hunger for new cards drove me to make some of my own for the first time, using newspaper clippings and a bottle of spray adhesive. The glue was hard to control and it got everywhere... including on some of the real cards. What I am saying is that I have to hide a good chunk of my 1982 Topps collection from Card Protective Services to keep from having them taken away from me for card abuse. I'm not proud of that.

But I was proud to be a Dodger fan. After all, we were the champions. Just ask Reuss, Johnstone, Monday and Yeager. (On second thought, maybe you shouldn't.) Things looked bleak in April, as the Braves got off to a record 13-0 start. But the Dodgers would climb to the top by September. My most vivid memory of the 1982 Dodgers' season isn't the back-breaker everyone remembers. I was camping in the middle of a sweltering August with one of my little league teammates, Kevin, after our season had ended. Kevin was also a Dodger fan. In fact (or perhaps exaggeration, or maybe even pure imagination), Steve Yeager was a close personal friend of his family. So when the Dodgers went on the air from Wrigley Field at around lunchtime, we sat at the campground's picnic bench and started to listen to Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett and Ross Porter call the action over KABC Radio.

The Cubs scored in the bottom of the first. Ryne Sandberg, leading off, singled and stole second. Larry Bowa then bunted him to third, where he scored on a Bill Buckner ground out. The Dodgers answered with a run of their own in the next half inning when Bill Russell hit a two-out double and Mike Scioscia knocked him in with a base hit. And not another run would score by the time the sun had set and it was too dark to continue playing baseball at the only big-league park still operating without lights. The game had to be suspended, tied at 1-1 after seventeen innings, and resumed the next day at noon before their next regularly-scheduled game. I could barely sleep in the tent that night, excited to find out how the game would turn out. In fact, Kevin became pretty frustrated because my attention on the game meant that I wasn't interested in playing by the creek, or whatever it was I was supposed to find interesting about camping.

But this game was just too engrossing to allow myself to be distracted. Jay Johnstone, now with the Cubs, as well as their manager Lee Elia and coach John Vukovich had been ejected from the game. Then, arguing the call after being picked off first base in the 20th inning, Ron Cey was ejected, along with manager Tommy Lasorda. The loss of Cey meant that the Dodgers had to move Pedro Guerrero in from the outfield to play third base, and that Fernando Valenzuela had to play in the outfield. This game was so crazy that it began to feel like a heat-induced fever dream! Finally, in the 21st inning, Dusty Baker hit a sacrifice fly to score Steve Sax on yet another controversial call at home plate. Bob Welch, the final available player on the Dodgers' 25-man roster replaced Fernando in the outfield, and LA got three more outs for a 21-inning, six-hour-and-ten-minute, two-day, 2-1 win.

Of course, that's not the game most people recall when they they think of the 1982 Dodgers. But we won't talk about that. Just enjoy whatever emotion this Joe Morgan card (#754) may elicit for you. Friggin' Giants.

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