The Saturday after Thanksgiving I was asked to retrieve the Christmas decorations from storage. To do this, I had to maneuver several boxes out of the way one of which I knew contained my old baseball cards. I also knew if I opened that box, I would fall into a bottomless chasm of Diamond Kings, commons, and “Jesse Barfield? I had forgotten about Jesse Barfield!” moments. Naturally, I dove in. (Photos can be clicked on to see at full size.)

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Some quick history: For years, Topps had what was basically a stranglehold on the baseball card industry. In 1981, after several years of court battles, Fleer and Donruss were granted the right to start producing cards. One caveat, their packs couldn’t include the stick of gum which was a staple of Topps. Instead, packs of Fleer had team stickers and Donruss had puzzle pieces.

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1987 Fleer was perhaps my favorite card ever produced. They had what looked like a gloss finish and were incredibly hard to find.

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I haven’t looked at a Beckett Monthly since probably 1994, but I recall an ’87 Fleer Don Mattingly would often be worth twice as much as say an ’87 Topps Don Mattingly. Not that there was anything wrong with ’87 Topps. In fact, just look at that unmistakable wooden border. It really didn’t get much better than that.

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Donruss in the mid-80s was a pretty classy card. Pretty simple, yet durable.

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Circa 1989 and 1990 that had all sort of changed. They seemed cheaper, like if you blew on them they’d immediately disintegrate, and the designs were unimaginative and resembled a bad MS paint job. Of course, I have THOUSANDS of them.

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Fleer and Topps were also better with stats. Donruss provided a maximum of five years whereas Fleer and Topps showed you a player’s entire career – often including minor league stats. In fact, as seen below, ’88 Fleer had day/night and home/road splits for a player’s slash line. For 1988, that was pretty advanced. Usually you were only provided with batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and runs scored. You were lucky to get on-base percentage.

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Score entered the game in 1988 and the next year we were introduced to Upper Deck.

Let’s talk about Upper Deck. Upper Deck cards were fancy, they were beautiful, and introduced at an inflated $1.50 a pack. They also, in my opinion, ruined the baseball card industry. We’ll save that for another column. But here’s a little secret I learned early on about Upper Deck: You could easily deface or manipulate the cards with an eraser. As noted here, with a little work, Doug Jones simply becomes “Jones.” (Doug, please forgive me.)

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Or as I told my neighbors, “Look at this RED HOT error card. Upper Deck must have made a few without Jones’s first name. And I have one! When Beckett gets wind of this there’s no telling how much it will be worth. Now why don’t you go ahead and hand over that ’87 Fleer Barry Bonds and we’ll call this trade even.” (I was horrible.)

We all aspired to be the Howard Hughes of card collecting; maneuvering and dealing until we were perfectly set up to retire from life at age 40 on the back of our Gregg Jefferies’ rookie cards. That never happens, which is why, as shown above with Doug Jones, it was more important to remember that this stuff was fun. Next time, we’ll dig a bit deeper and share some good times.

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10 Responses to “Time Capsule: Cards from the ’80s & ’90s (Part 1)”

  1. Jason Gruzeski

    This is a phenomenal piece! I had forgotten about some of these things and maybe even learned some new things about my childhood hobby! Seriously though I can stop paying for a safety deposit box for my Greg Jeffries rookie cards??? I was mere years from cashing in and looking for an island to buy!!

    Thanks for the nostalgia!!

    Reply
  2. Kosmo

    I actually liked the 1990 Donruss set. Donruss also had the full names of players. I always enjoyed seeing players whose birth name was different than their commonly used name.

    When Score burst onto the scene, they were my favorite, because they had one more card per pack than the other brands (and also had minor league stats, I believe). Also, you could maneuver the pack to get a glimpse of a couple of cards.

    Reply
  3. Alex

    Excellent point. Realizing now it was because of Donruss that I wanted to name our cat “Osborne Earl Smith.”

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Time Capsule: Cards from the ’80s & ’90s (Part 2) | Banished To The Pen
  2.  Time Capsule: Cards from the ’80s & ’90s (Part 3) | Banished To The Pen
  3.  Time Capsule: Cards from the ’80s & ’90s: IMPORTANT UPDATE | Banished to the Pen

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