Sunday, June 16, 2013

1985 Topps: Part III


Vital Statistics

A 792-card base set, plus 132-card Traded set, equals the norm for the era.

He didn't play a particularly key role for the Dodgers, but Terry Whitfield was the player who made me realize that major leaguers sometimes went to play in Japan, and sometimes came back to play at home. And I thought that was a pretty cool concept, so he's the featured Dodger newcomer of the '85 set. I also liked Whitfield because he was the subject of one of the few good-looking pictures I managed to snap with my spiffy new Cannon camera at the Dodgers-USC Trojans exhibition game at Dodger Stadium before the 1984 season. (More on that game later.) Of course, my picture didn't look nearly as good as the one on this card (#31), one of the better action shots in the set.

Special Cards

Yellow-backed, generic wastes of cardboard.

The 1983 and 1984 sets did this right, returning managers to their rightful place in the base set. Those cards featured stats from their careers as both players and skippers on the back. Unfortunately, beginning with this set, Topps began a run of making the manager cards serve as team checklists, which seems a little disrespectful. Maybe that's too harsh a word for it. But I think the managers should be the focus of their own cards as much as the players are of theirs. I'll certainly take manager cards with team checklists over no manager cards. But it's a shame they didn't keep up with the good thing they had going the previous two years.

Record Breakers
Cards #1-10. This is a case where there were enough interesting records broken by good players to make a Record Breakers subset that can hold its own with a Season Highlights subset. In fact, Topps felt compelled to make this a ten-card run, whereas they had typicality consisted of six cards, and no more than eight, since the dawn of the Reagan Era. Naturally, there's a new NL single-season saves record (Bruce Sutter, 45), since it's a record that gets broken every other year (or at least it seems like it). You get Nolan Ryan passing Steve Carlton, for good, in their race to be the all-time strikeout king. Don Sutton passes the century mark in Ks for the 19th straight season. Carlton Fisk catches a 25-inning game. Steve Garvey sets a standard for consecutive errorless games at first base. Pete Rose becomes the career singles leader. There are a couple of rookie season marks set (Juan Samuel, stolen bases; Dwight Gooden, strikeouts). And little Joe Morgan (#5) becomes the slugggin'est second baseman ever (while wearing unfamiliar green).

Cards #701-722. These are again some nice-looking cards, which diverge only subtly from the base design. In this case a large yellow star replaces the circle with the team logo, with the player name and position moving into the tilted rectangular box. We get the classic posed shots here, which I greatly prefer on All-Star cards. But, in another interesting and unpleasant shift, Topps chose to use the backs of these cards to display the last season's statistical leaders. I'm not sure exactly how long it had been since there were no true League Leaders cards in a Topps base set, but this may have broken a run of more than two decades. I didn't typically love League Leaders cards when I pulled them out of packs as a kid. But, in retrospect, they're among the best cards for creating context and a sense of history after a few years pass by. So they're definitely missed. And using All-Stars for League Leaders creates some annoying incongruities. For example, George Brett's card lists the top-ten AL batting average leaders. But he didn't make the cut, having hit just .284 in an injury plagued season. Also, since there are eight position players and just three pitchers per league, the stats you get are skewed toward a focus on offense. While you get obscure batting leaderboards, such as for the dubious (and deceased) game-winning RBI, you just get wins, (oddly) shutouts, and saves for pitchers. No strikeout or ERA leaders. Don't like this at all.

No. 1 Draft Picks
Cards #271-282. Topps decided to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the amateur draft by including a subset featuring number one draft picks throughout the years. But rather than include all nineteen seasons to date, they chose to only produce cards of then-active players. That means we miss out on Rick Monday and David Clyde, among others. No major losses, but the whole run would have been nice. Darryl Strawberry is probably the biggest name in a surprisingly lackluster collection of, supposedly, the top amateur talent throughout the years. Tim Belcher, who was drafted by the Twins in 1983, but didn't sign until the Yankees drafted him the following year, is pictured with the A's, for whom he never played before being traded to the Dodgers for Rick Honeycutt. So that's kinda interesting to me, as a Dodger fan. But my favorite card here has to be that of Harold Baines (#275), in which he's sporting his early-'80s White Sox leisure suit, accented by a silver chain and impressive sideburns.

Team USA
Cards #389-404. Growing up in Southern California, I got to see Olympic mania first-hand in 1984, though I didn't catch the fever myself. In retrospect, it would have been nice if my 14-year-old self had decided to watch players like Will Clark and Barry Larkin (neither of whom appear in this 16-card subset) play at Dodger Stadium as amateurs. These cards look nice. They take the bar and circle and raise them to the top, turning the circle into a baseball emblazoned with USA. Though, oddly, instead of red, white and blue, the cards tend to look orange, white and purple. USC's Mark McGwire (#401) would ultimately be the big fish here. I'm not over it when it comes to the distortion of the game's history perpetrated by the Bash Brothers' ilk, so you'll probably not see a lot of him around here, despite the fact that he's currently wearing a Dodger uniform.

Father & Son
Cards #131-143. With league leaders stuck on the backs of All-Stars and team checklists going to the managers instead of a Team Photo or Team Leaders card, these are the only multi-player cards in the set. Fortunately, they provide a little spark in a set lacking a strong personality. These cards mark the first of the decade in which Topps gets self-referential in its base set by depicting its own past cards on current ones. It's an idea that may have been done to death by this point, but it's always fun to see the older cards, many of which were beyond the means of young collectors to get their hands on for themselves. It's always good to get a dose of history, especially when it includes baseball card history. And the subject matter is a personal favorite of many fans, including myself. Seeing the generational timeline of the game mirrored by actual family history always seems to strike a chord with fans, and Topps does a nice job of that here.

Happy Father's Day, everyone.

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