Growing up in the pre-Internet era, many fans of the game collected baseball cards. It appears to be a dying hobby, but for years, it was one of the more popular ways of connecting to the game we know and love. Looking through old collections conjures feelings of nostalgia and wonder. What could match the excitement of tearing open a pack of cards, hoping to find that elusive piece of cardboard with your favorite superstar? Who could resist popping that stale piece of chewing gum in, never quite knowing what flavor it was?
As with all collections, some items are more desirable than others. Sure everyone hoped to discover a Honus Wagner card hidden in some musty box in the corner of grandma’s basement, and there was always someone’s dad who had that Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle locked away in an office desk. For those not lucky enough to obtain a priceless card, there were plenty more to focus on. Here are my top 10, what were yours?
10. 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken
Admittedly, this one had nothing to do with Billy’s on-field performance. Like any young kid I had a fascination with obscenities. Upon hearing that Fleer inadvertently released a card with a certain “F” word scrawled on the end of the bat, I was immediately intrigued. In attempts to correct the error, Fleer airbrushed, whited-out and blocked out the foul language.
9. 1987 Sportflics Big 6
Donnie Baseball, the Rocket, Doc and Rickey Henderson on one card? Who wouldn’t chase down a card with 4 icons like that on it? Not to mention that you had to tilt the card different ways to see each player, very cool for the time frame. My own copy is stashed away in a closet somewhere, but after a little research, I discovered the other two on the card were Dale Murphy and Eddie Murray; not too shabby.
8. 1989 Donruss Randy Johnson
Classic Randy, a confounded look on his face, probably wondering what he is doing getting his picture taken rather than firing fastballs. No offense big guy but if someone photo-shopped that pose into one of those “People you find at Wal-Mart” albums, I don’t think anyone would argue.
7. 1989 Topps Steve Avery
Another sub-set by Topps, #1 Draft Pick (believe you had to be a first rounder). Avery’s first card pictured a fresh-faced, young lefty in what I think was his high school uniform. What kid didn’t picture themselves on a baseball card after seeing that? Too bad his career fizzled out, but in the early 1990s he was one of the best in the business. Kind of akin to plucking a Barry Zito card in 2000-2001.
6. 1991 Score Dream Team
A candid series Score produced, I don’t think they were all ever actually on a team together, but a fun sub-set nonetheless. My favorite had to be Robbie Alomar in face-first dive. There were a few good ones: a stoic Barry Larkin, Dave Stewart holding a ball in front of that patented stare and a not-so-flattering shirtless Kirby Puckett.
5. 1994 Upper Deck Michael Jordan
Sure, it’s another novelty card, but who could resist hunting down one. He was arguably the most popular athlete of all-time. He probably wouldn’t have made it past single-A ball if he hadn’t been whom he was. Still, I bet it was a retail success; I mean, even though it was at the end of my collecting days, I tracked one down and probably overpaid for it.
4. 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Team USA
Despite more recent accusations of PED’s, Big Mac was still one of the more prolific power-hitters of all-time. Even prior to his epic home run chase with Sammy Sosa, it was fun knowing every at-bat presented a chance he’d send one into the stratosphere. After his mammoth rookie season in ’87, I was part of the mad scramble to hobby shops looking for his first card.
3. 1983 Topps Ryne Sandberg
Feel free to insert your favorite player at this slot; he happened to be mine as a kid. This card was vintage looking; prior to all the flare you see on modern day cards. I went on to gather about 100 different cards of the Cubs 2B, but this was always my favorite, and, at the height of my collecting, Beckett valued it pretty high as well.
2. 1987 Topps Bo Jackson
Part of the Future Stars series (sorry B.J. Surhoff and Dave Magadan). The distinctive wood border made this one of my favorite sets of all time. In, ’87 Bo’s popularity was gaining steam; the two-sport star was exciting to watch on both the diamond and the gridiron. What better way to express your admiration than popping this card in the center slot of your best binder?
1. 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.
Had to be the most highly sought card of the late ’80s, early ’90s. As soon as Jr. burst onto the scene, cards bearing his likeness were an instant hot commodity. I was stuck with Donruss and Score versions of his rookie year, until I finally talked my way into the elusive Upper Deck one. Turns out, it had a slight crease in the corner. But I never planned on selling that gem, and I held it up as the cornerstone of my collection for years to come.