Tuesday, May 21, 2013

1983 Topps: Part III


Vital Statistics

The set again contains 792 cards, printed on sturdy cardboard like that which Topps had been using for years. This was again appended by an additional 132 in the Traded set, not afforded the same dignity in terms of card stock.

I am going to discontinue the practice of listing all of the Dodgers cards in a set. That's just encyclopedic info that can be found anywhere, and these "set" posts are pretty long as it is. But I'm not gonna abandon my Dodgers focus altogether. I will use this space instead to feature one Dodger "newcomer," as defined as someone who wasn't in the previous year's Dodgers team set. And we've got a pretty fascinating guy to look at here. Technically, he wasn't a newcomer at all, but a returning veteran. Returning not just to the Dodgers for the first time since 1968, but to Major League Baseball for the first time since 1974! Vicente Romo (veteran pitcher alert!) spent the intervening seasons playing in his native Mexico. In fact, he's a member of the Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México (Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame), who sported a career 2.49 ERA in the Mexican League, the best in its history among pitchers working at least 2,000 innings. ¡Viva Los Doyers! Dig the airbrush job on the small portrait portion of the card (#633), which may very well have been taken several years earlier in the mid-70s. Would love to know for sure.

In addition to Ryne Sandberg, the set contains three other key rookies, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Willie McGee, which is not usually of the greatest interest to me. But I am a little fascinated by the odd confluence of photo choices among the three. All are shown running the bases, and all three photos are from strange angles, or at least cropped in a slightly odd way. Weird.

Special Cards

First of all, here's what the set doesn't include. There are no Future Stars cards, or prospect cards of any kind for the first time since... I'm not sure, but certainly sometime before 1970. And I'm really okay with that (especially since the Dodgers were done producing Rookies of the Year, at least for a while). I'm less okay with the fact that there are no post-season cards here. Not as big a deal as last year's snub of the Dodgers, but I see no good reason to fail to acknowledge the champs each year. And Whitey Ball vs. Harvey's Wallbangers made for an exciting World Series.

Okay, so what does the set feature?

For the first time in my collecting lifetime, managers receive their due with their own cards in the 1983 Topps set. This is a huge decision in favor of this set's greatness. I don't know that leaving out managers might actually be worse than skipping a post-season recap. Managers have as much to do with a team's on-field personality as anyone. Not giving them a card means leaving out a big part of the story that a set should be trying to tell. They were relegated to tiny pictures on team photo cards in 1980 and 1981, then ignored completely in 1982. What a difference it makes to have them here. And it's a seriously impressive group of baseball people to be featured in this set, including Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Dick Howser, Dave Garcia, Harvey Kuenn, Chuck Tanner, and Ralph Houk, plus Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams and Tommy Lasorda, and future inductees Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa... not to mention Hall of Fame player and the first African-American big-league manager, Frank Robinson (#576)! Wow. Why would you pass up the opportunity to put that much great cardboard out there in the world? Way to go, Topps.

Nice for their type. Yellow background, easy to read, tight design, not cluttered. Still the closet thing to disposable as a baseball card can get, though.

Record Breakers
Cards #1-6. Back to Record Breakers instead of Season Highlights, and the selection really suffers for it. The "Greatest of All Time," Rickey Henderson (#2), is certainly a worthy candidate for celebration, having established a new modern single-season stolen base record that stands to this day. The rest? Hardly worth a special piece of cardboard, and I won't bore you with discussing them here. The design is a little odd, too. I'm not sure if that arrow/wedge deal that says "1982 Record Breaker" is supposed to represent anything other than a rather random geometric shape. If so, it escapes my powers of deduction. Not horrible, but not up to the standard of the majority of cards in this great set.

Cards #386-407. Once again All-Stars get special recognition with an additional card. The giant star is fun, and the design fits nicely with the tenor of the set. Unfortunately, the photo choices in this subset are slightly subpar, this great dramatically-lit Robin Yount card (#389) aside. The backs feature a series of write-ups about "Great All-Star Games," which is nice. Always good to get some history into a set.

League Leaders
Cards #701-708. The photos are even worse in this subset. It's as if the effort that Topps made with its base card photos was so onerous that they ran out of steam when it came to the subsets. The Stolen Base Leaders card, featuring Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines (a redundant statement in the 80s), would be a classic if not for the fact that Rickey's photo is as blurry as Liz Taylor in a White Diamonds commercial. And it looks like we're supposed to be examining Dan Quisenberry for lice on the Leading Firemen card. About the only well-balanced and aesthetically-pleasing card is the one featuring ERA Leaders Rick Sutcliffe and Steve Rogers (#707). (At least the Dodgers got Jack Fimple in the deal that exiled the Red Baron to Cleveland...) The card design here is again solid, sticking with the tight and uncluttered look.

Team Leaders
For the second year in a row we get Team Leaders for team checklist cards. These stick closely to the design for the League Leaders, with a team logo taking center stage in place of the AL/NL designations on their counterparts. The photo choices seem generally to be a bit better, but there's still an unusual sloppiness in terms of cropping the two photos on some of these cards to create symmetry and balance. Not so, fortunately, with the Dodgers Leaders card (#681), although we do get a bit uncomfortably close to Pedro and Fernando.

Super Veterans
Finally, here's another big reason that this set strikes a chord with me. Instead of fetishizing what might be with Future Stars cards, this set celebrates that which had been accomplished by some of the game's greats as their fantastic careers reached their latter half. There are 35 players to receive Super Veteran recognition, ranging from 22-year veteran Carl Yastrzemski to seven-year big-leaguer Bruce Sutter. The cards show a black-and-white photo which (supposedly) was taken in the player's debut season, next to a color photo representing the current year. In some cases, the photos and cropping make for wonderfully balanced cards. In other cases, not so much. But the concept is so good that each is a treasure. You get to see some players, such as a clean-shaven rookie Rollie Fingers, undergo massive transformations. The Don Sutton card, featuring his giant rookie ears and his gray veteran afro is a hoot. Other players, such as Kent Tekulve, seem not to have aged at all. The card backs display milestone dates, the year the player debuted and his big-league service time, some season-best totals and career ranking in a few statistical categories, and career highlights that mention awards won. It's a shame that Topps hasn't seen fit to reprise this idea. Something around the turn of the century, featuring some of the younger players to be found in this set (Gwynn, Ripken, Raines, Henderson, Boggs, etc.) would have been great.

So, to go along with what could possibly be the best card design of my collecting lifetime, Topps assembled a set in 1983 that comes pretty close to perfection. I could quibble (and have) about the choice of Record Breakers over highlights, and the repeated exclusion of post-season recaps. But the inclusion of managers and the fabulous Super Vets more than makes up for any deficiencies. Front runner, no doubt.

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