1981 Topps Overview

21 07 2010

Now that I’m above 90% complete on the first set of my collection, I’m allowed (per the Rules of Engagement) to move on to 1981.

Here’s an overview of that set:

  • 726 cards in the set, same as the prior year.
  • Subsets: League Leaders (1-8), Record Breakers (201-208), Post-season (401-404), Manager / Team Checklists (681-686), Future Stars (26 cards throughout).  66 cards in the set are double printed.
  • Set Design: The front features a baseball cap in the lower left corner with position and team name in team colors, bordered by a separate color.  The player name is in the bottom of the border, next to the cap, and the “Topps” company name printed in a small baseball in the lower right corner.  The red card back features stats from each season and career totals and, if there’s room, personal facts about the player along with a comic type-drawing related to those facts.
  • Packs: Cards were issued in 15 card wax packs (30¢ SRP) that came 36 packs per box and 20 per case.  Also available in 48 card rack packs, 36 card grocery rack packs, 28 card cello packs (49¢ SRP) and 28 card super cello packs with 3 sticks of gum (59¢ SRP).
  • Rookies: Not a great crop of rookies in this set – certainly nothing like the Henderson rookie from the year before.  Tim Raines is the best player historically, though the Future Stars card of Fernando Valenzuela (which also contains Mike Scioscia) is the one I think collector’s would most identify.  Other rookies include Harold Baines and Kirk Gibson.
  • Hall of Fame: There are 46 Hall of Famers in this set, one more than the year before.  Brock and McCovey had their last card in 1980 and are not in the set, while Whitey Herzog got hired by the Cardinals in 1980 and thus warranted a card in 1981.  Tim Raines and Harold Baines were both in Topps sets for the first time as part of the Future Stars subset.
  • Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, George Brett, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Jack Morris, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Phil Niekro, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Alan Trammell, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, Earl Weaver (manager), Tommy LaSorda (manager), Dick Williams (manager), Sparky Anderson (manager), Joe Torre (manager), Bobby Cox (manager), Tony LaRussa (manager), Herzog (manager) Baines, Raines
  • Last Active Player:  Rickey Henderson.  Jesse Orosco doesn’t have a card in this set, so Henderson is the only player from the set who was still active in 2003.

The wax box has a large baseball in the center with the “Topps” logo and the words “Major League Baseball – the Real one” inside, along with 8 action photos adorning the outside.  Similar to the 1980 Astros guy, it might be fun to try to figure out who those players are in the future.

Due to the case “Fleer Corp. v. Topps Chewing Gum, 1980”, this was the first year Topps did not have a complete monopoly.  Fleer and Donruss also issued sets in 1981, packaged with bubblegum, though they were required to sell with different “side items” beginning the next years.  This was probably interesting since Fernando-mania hit baseball in 1981, and thus collector’s now had multiple venues to obtain a card for the new fad.

Other items of relevance (or irrelevance, depending on your perspective):

Update Set

Topps re-established a tradition, with a twist, by issuing an “update” set – Topps Traded.  This set had 132 cards #’d 727 to #858, and, similar to some sets from the 1970’s, included various rookies from the previous year and traded veterans.  Different from the 70’s sets – the set was only issued in factory form.  I’ll probably end up collecting these sets, though I haven’t completely decided yet.

Parallel Set

Canadian-based O-Pee-Chee again issued a set that was a partial parallel to the Topps base set.  Each of the cards in the 374-card set had the same design and photographs as the Topps set, with lighter card stock and bi-lingual backs (French and English).  As always, the set leaned toward the Canadian teams; the Manager and Future Stars card for the Expos and Blue Jays were the only subsets included as part of this set.


  • Every pack contained a scratch off game called Topps “Hit to Win”, where various hits would win you prizes ranging from a Wilson Jim Rice model glove to various supersize glossy photos of “top players”.
  • You could again, (though for 75 ¢ now) send in 1 Topps baseball wrapper for an uncut sheet of all the Team Checklist cards.
  • For $1 and a baseball wrapper, you could receive a collecting box with 5 “easy-to carry files”.
  • For $8 bucks and a wrapper, you could get a “classic stripes cap” of an MLB team of your choice.

Other releases associated with the Topps flagship

#1 – Topps issued a 11 team sets in 1981 as a promotion with Coca-Cola.  Each of the 12-card sets features 11 players from the team and an advertising card.  The sets have the exact same photo as the base Topps cards.  The teams featured are the Reds, Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox, Astros, Mets, Royals, Phillies, Pirates and Cardinals.  Cards of the Yankees were going to be issues – there are a few known in existence according to the SCD Standard Catalog (Gossage, Reggie, Cerone).

So that’s an overview – a box is on its way to my new residence in New Jersey, so I’m looking forwarding to busting a 1981 box sometime over the next couple weeks.  If I was collecting cards around my first birthday.  I’d be really stoked around now.  Though I’d also be disappointed to know that an impending strike would leave us without baseball for over a month, and would cost the Reds, who had the best overall record in baseball, a chance at the World Series.

1980 baseball season in review

20 07 2010

After getting through most of the 1980 set, and now being ready to move on to 1981, I thought I’d give a quick run down of the 1980 season. So in my hypothetical situation – an intelligent, baseball loving kid new-born kid buying a 1980 set – here’s what I would have been paying attention to that summer:

Highlights and Events:

In the offseason, a group led by Fred Wilpon bought the New York Mets for a record $21 million. The Oakland Coliseum refused to let the A’s out of their lease, which effectively blocked a sale of the team from Charlie O. Finley to investors planning to move the team to Denver. Free agent signings had playoff impacts – Nolan Ryan returned to Texas to sign with the Houston Astros along with former Big Red Machiner Joe Morgan.

The season saw a number of pitching milestones. Ferguson Jenkins won his 250th game on May 23rd, throwing a complete game against the A’s. On July 4th, Ryan struck out Cesar Geronimo to become the fourth MLB pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts.  Steve Carlton threw over 300 innings – the last pitcher to do so. Jerry Reuss no-hit the Giants in Candlestick on June 20th; the only baserunner reached on a first inning error.

The end of the season also saw an MLB first.  Maury Wills had been hired mid-season as the manager for the Seattle Mariners, and when Texas came to town on September 25th, his son Bump Wills was in the lineup for the Rangers.  This marked the first time in history that a son played against a team managed by his father.

The National League won the All-Star game 4-2; Ken Griffey (yes, the senior guy) of the Reds was the game’s MVP after breaking up a no-hitter with a homer in the 5th. However, tragedy hit one of the game’s current stars; only a few days after being the N.L. Starter in the All-Star Game J.R. Richard suffered a life-threatening, career-ending stroke due to blood clots in his arm.

Two teams that had been recent Championship Series bridesmaids rode exceptional performances to make the World Series. Kansas City’s MVP George Brett gave legitimate chase to become the first player in 39 years, since Ted Williams, .400, finishing at .390 and garnering 118 RBI in 117 games. Brett was under .300 on May 30th, then missed a month to injury. He came back on a tear, and was at .400 as late as September 19th. He was the first player since 1950 to have 1 RBI per game. Brett’s teammate Willie Wilson had a phenomenal season and became the first player to notch 700 at bats.

Phillies MVP Mike Schmidt hit 48 homers, a record for third baseman, and clinched the division with an extra-inning homer off the Montreal Expos. The LA Dodgers swept the Astros in the season finale to tie for the West division lead, only to lose in a one-game playoff to the domers’ Joe Niekro. The Yankees took the East with 103 wins, the best record in baseball.

The Royals finally beat the Yankees after losing to the Bombers in the ALCS 3 times during the previous 4 years. The NLCS featured an incredible matchup, with the final 4 games going extra innings. The Phillies came back from 3 runs down during game 5 to win on a Gary Maddox 10th inning double. The Phillies would go on to win their first World Series in 6 games, becoming the last of the original 16 franchises to do so. Mike Schmidt followed his MVP season with the WS MVP, becoming only the 5th (and the most recent) to do so. But the lasting images were Pete Rose backing up a Bob Boone muffed foul ball, and Tug McGraw earning a save after loading the bases in the 9th.

The title of “best player in baseball” at this point was definitely a third baseman, and the two MVPs only enhanced that in 1980 as both had the best season of their careers. It was probably Schmidt by a nose over Brett.

The best pitcher in baseball was probably Steve Carlton at this point, though there is an argument that an aging (41 in 1980) Phil “Knucksy” Niekro was the best pitcher in the majors prior to 1980.


Reds season

Team MVP: Ken Griffey (.294/13/85)

Best Pitcher: Mario Soto (10-8/3.87/182)


Griffey, AS MVP


Johnny Bench (starter)

Griffey (MVP)

Dave Concepcion

Ray Knight

The remnants of my hometown Big Red Machine were slowly leaving the team; Morgan left the team via free agency prior to the season and Rose had gone to Philly via the same route the year before. Sparky had been fired the same year Rose left, and “Big Dog” Tony Perez was the first to go – he was traded to the Expos in 1976 (Bob Howsam’s biggest mistake). As a Reds fan – there is some of “what might have been” with that. The Reds were still respectable, but it would have been something to see what all those guys could have done as Griffey, Concepcion and Foster became stars in their own right. Rose and Sparky would both win World Series titles with different teams.

The team was still very good, though; under John McNamara, they finished 89-73, only 3 games back of the division leading Astros and Dodgers. They were in a tie for first as late as August 16th and had 4 All-Stars, including the game’s MVP Griffey. Bench’s knees were getting worse and worse and Cesar Geronimo was no longer good enough to be a full-time starter. Ken Griffey was the team’s best player, batting .294 with 85 RB, 89 runs and 23 steals. Foster hit 25 HR  with 93 RBI while Bench knocked out 24 was also excellent. Dave Collins stole 79 bases, one short of the team’s single season record. The pitching had no stand-outs; Tom Hume was a solid closer saving 25 games, and Frank Pastore paced the team with 13 wins.

Been a while…

5 07 2010

I’m still kind of getting settled in Jersey, and I’ve been all over the place for work, so I haven’t been able to update much yet or work on my Topps project. I actually have opened a non-Topps box (SP from 2005) and I’ve bought some Jalen Rose cards – so I’m still working a bit on my other collections. Hopefully I can get to 1981 Topps sometime soon.

My trips have gotten me to some Major League cities, though! I’ve been to 4 parks thus far – Rangers, Braves, Red Sox and Mets. 4 parks – neither of which is Great American, which is crazy for me! The Braves was the only new city for me, though seeing the Mets at Citi Field was the first time I’d seen them. Going to Fenway was awesome – that’s the best park in baseball for my money. The wife and I are going to Citi again tonight, to see the Reds take on the Mets and protect their first-place status! See some pics below…