Don’t be confused by its drab, almost amateur appearance. Simplicity, quirkiness, and historic value make 1981 Donruss Baseball one of the most significant and fascinating sports card sets ever produced.
The 1981 Donruss Baseball Card set was the first complete set since the early 1950s not to bear the name Topps. For the first time since 1955, more than one company was producing extensive sets representing major league players. A legal decision in the fall of 1980 gave both Fleer and Donruss the legal right to produce cards. The verdict cleared the path for Upper Deck to enter the fray and revolutionize the hobby with its premiere baseball card set in 1989.
Fleer and Donruss finalized their deals with the Major League Baseball Players Association in September 1980, leaving just five months to produce and deliver cards to stores by the last week of January 1981 to compete directly with Topps. Gathering
photos, matching players with photos, writing informational blurbs, and proofreading statistics, proved to be a daunting task for companies producing baseball cards on a grand scale for the first time.
There were more than 30 error cards in the 1981 Donruss Set. Houston Astros pitcher Vern Ruhle’s card actually pictures teammate Frank Lacorte. Cleveland Indians infielder Duane Kuiper was listed as “Dwayne” Kuiper. In a strange but true tale, Donruss listed Cardinals’ outfielder Bobby Bonds – father of current “Home Run King” Barry Bonds – with 986 homers, 231 more than Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader at the time.
There has been interest in both the error and corrected versions for nearly three decades because both versions are more limited than the other cards in the set. The 1981 Donruss series has also kept the growing number of baseball historians and “oddball” card collectors entertained over the years.
Tim Raines’ induction into the Hall of Fame has given the 1981 Donruss Set a recent spark. Although Donruss somehow skipped over National League Rookie of the Year Fernando Valenzuela that year, it was the only company to picture Raines by himself on a rookie baseball card. Topps featured Raines with two other rookies on a prospect subset card, while Fleer swung and missed altogether. The series also includes rookie cards of Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, and Toronto Blue Jays infielder Danny Ainge before he became a three-time championship winning guard and executive with the Boston Celtics.
Rushing into the production of the 605-card 1981 Donruss Set also caused collation and printing issues. Factory sets were not produced. Instead, hobby dealers had to buy wholesale from TCMA, Donruss’ exclusive hobby distributor. Cards of each player were shipped to dealers in 100-card lots secured by rubber bands. The cards then needed to be hand collated. The collation of wax packs caused further problems for collectors. Several of the same card were often found in a single wax pack, which was great news if the card featured Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski or Johnny Bench. Not such good news if the Leo Sutherland card was the featured player.
The cards bend easily and show tremendous wear over time due to flimsy paper stock. The lackluster design consists of predominantly blurry portrait or posed photos against mostly empty stadium backdrops. Time constraints prevented Donruss from airbrushing uniforms or caps. Players changing teams during the offseason appeared in their former uniforms with the name of their current team displayed across the bottom of the card.
Donruss also had considerable trouble securing player photographs. Ray Burris was traded by the Cubs to the Yankees who later sold him to the Mets during the 1979 season. Although he hadn’t played for the Cubs in nearly two years, Burris sports a Cubs uniform on his 1981 Donruss card. Many of the pictures were taken in Wrigley Stadium or Comiskey Park by amateur photographers as Donruss scrambled to put together a set. A handful of photos were taken by political and sports commentator Keith Olbermann, then a 21-year-old photographer with a passion for baseball.
Although limited in value, the 1981 Donruss Set has its own charm with an array of hard-to-believe mishaps and a unique history.
The 1967 Topps set is celebrated for its simple, yet eye-pleasing design, a Hall of Fame checklist, rookie cards of two baseball greats and card No. 355 featuring Carl Yastrzemski.
In 1967, the man they called Yaz had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, winning the Triple Crown and leading a fading franchise to the World Series. Yastrzemski hit .326 for his second consecutive batting title, tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers and and led the American League with 121 RBI. He also led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, and total bases to earn American League MVP honors. Thriving in the clutch, Yaz hit .417 and slugged .760 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in the month of September while leading the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox to the AL Pennant.
The ‘67 Topps Yaz card is a must for any long-time Red Sox fan or Triple Crown memorabilia collector. Excellent to near mint versions are readily available on eBay for $30-$45. Crisp, highly-graded samples sell for as much as $950.
The 1967 Topps set is arguably the most popular set of the decade. Advances in photo and printing technologies produced the most vibrant-looking cards to date. The clutter free, borderless design is ideal for both head-and-shoulders and close-up “posed action” shots featured throughout the series. Unlike other Topps issues from the ‘60s, the emphasis is clearly on the player, not the team name or card design.
The card backs lend a hand in grading the 50-year-old cards. The solid lime green backs help identify wear and damaged corners almost as well as the black borders of the 1971 Topps issue. With flaws easily identified, mint conditioned 1967 Topps cards are a true rarity.
The card backs also display a vertical design, allowing more length for season-by-season statistics, while leaving room for the Topps cartoon and player notes. Did you know that Yaz won two batting titles and finished second twice in his first eight seasons of professional ball? The card back also tells us that Yaz signed a $100,000 signing bonus while attending Notre Dame and worked at a Boston printing firm during the winter months early in his career. Amazing how much we learned about our favorite players on 2 ½ x 3 ½ in. baseball cards in the days before the internet.
The 1967 Topps Set also includes the first Topps card of Maury Wills and the last Topps card of Whitey Ford. Wills is pictured in a Pirates uniform (he played with the Pirates and Expos in the middle of a standout career with the Dodgers), while Ford is pictured completing his famed Hall of Fame pitching motion. At this stage of his career, Ford — still one of the game’s most popular players — battled injuries, while serving as an unofficial pitching coach for the Yankees. You will find classic cards of baseball greats Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and the last card to list Mickey Mantle as an outfielder.
The “Rookie Stars” checklist is headlined by Rod Carew and Tom Seaver. In 19 major league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels, Carew compiled 3,053 hits while winning seven batting titles and hitting .300 or better for 15 consecutive seasons. Topps didn’t include Carew in its original release, but after a hot start at the plate, the 22-year-old second baseman was added to the more limited high-number series. His ‘67 Topps rookie sells for $175 in excellent to near mint condition, while highly graded versions are valued over $1,000. This card is a double print, making it a bit more common than most cards from the high-numbered series.
Seaver achieved 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, and 61 shutouts over a 20-year career. His arrival in New York began to change the fortunes of the Mets, a perennial doormat since joining the league in 1962. The Mets all-time leader in wins, Seaver was the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year and a three-time Cy Young Award winner. His highly coveted ‘67 Topps rookie — an extremely limited high-series card — commands $700 or more in decent condition, while highly graded versions are valued over $2,000.
Drab, ordinary, jurassic are terms that come to mind when describing the Hostess Baseball Cards of the the mid-late ‘70s. The sets were nothing more than marketing ploys to sell more Twinkies, HoHos, Suzy-Q’s and King Dons (Ding Dons if you lived on the West Coast) . Big on errors and small on creativity, the Hostess sets featured the game’s biggest stars with simple head shots displayed against uninspired spring training backdrops and white borders.
Yes, the Hostess sets were dull, almost cheerless, but just about every 40-something to 50-something
baseball fan/collector (like the guy I see in the mirror every morning) has fond memories of Hostess’s lame attempt at manufacturing baseball cards. After all, this was the set that we assembled piece by piece while waiting for Mom to rummage through the produce isle at the local grocery store. This is also the set that got us hooked on The Sporting News, which played a huge role in the development of our baseball fandom.
Back in the day,Topps dominated the baseball card hobby. If the single Topps set — there were no premium, platinum or chrome releases — didn’t satisfy your collecting needs, the Hostess sets produced from 1975-1979 gave you another option. Dealers and collectors couldn’t buy Hostess cards directly from the company, so they had to work and spend to complete these sets.
Beginning in 1975 Hostess cards were produced in three-card panels on the back of each multi-pack Hostess box. The best part of this new wave of collecting was seeing what you were buying, which encouraged set building. Hostess panels — complete with an offer for a free issue of The Sporting News — kept in tact are more valuable and coveted today that cards cut from the box. Some cards were printed on not-so-tasty products and are more difficult to find today. Cards printed on the back of the smaller HoHos multi-pack boxes are often creased at the corners from handling.
Proofreading, editing and reading the daily box scores were not priorities for Hostess baseball card editors. The initial set was loaded with mistakes. Slugger Bill Madlock was listed as a pitcher, Rangers catcher Jim Sandberg was named Mike and outfielder George Hendrick became George Hendricks. Robin Yount, a teenage phenom at the time, is one of the more popular players in the set. Unfortunately, Hostess did not include a rookie card of future Hall of Famer George Brett.
Despite the quality-control issues, the debut Hostess set remains popular today with over 3,000 listings, including a handful of graded panels, currently on eBay. The 1975 panel set is worth as much as $400 depending on the condition. The single-card set varies widely because of stain issues — creamy cake fillings sometimes seeped through the packages — and cards being miscut.
Celebrating the nation’s bicentennial, the Hostess 1976 set includes red, white and blue stripes surrounding the player’s name, team and position. Collectors familiar with the 1976 Topps set will recognize some of the same photos in the Hostess series. The set is loaded with stars, including Brett, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, a Dennis Eckersley rookie and one of Hank Aaron’s final cards.
The 1977 Hostess set includes Hall-of-Famers-to-be Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Thurman Munson and Johnny Bench. By this time, collectors learned to save the cards as complete panels. The complete panel sets are valued as much as $300 with the single set selling for nearly three times as much due to scarcity.
Although Eddie Murray was considered just another player at the time, his rookie card in the 1978 Hostess sets remains highly coveted. For the first time, a few action shots were used to liven up the product. Unfortunately the cost of producing baseball cards out-weighed the marketing advantages. As a result, the 1979 edition was the final Hostess set. Hostess went out with a bang, featuring an Ozzie Smith rookie card on the same panel as Nolan Ryan as well as Willie Montanez.
As David Ortiz climbs the charts among baseball’s all-time great sluggers, we see the name Jimmie Foxx appear in the record books over and over again, but for some reason Ole Double-X is seldom discussed. Dubbed “The Beast” because of his powerful right-handed swings, Foxx was one of the most underappreciated players in baseball and sports collectibles history.
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once proclaimed, “When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and his space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I immediately knew what it was. That was the home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx.”
Foxx equaled or surpassed the production of nearly every slugger not named Babe Ruth, but he his rarely mentioned among baseball immortals such as Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle et al — and the demand for his baseball cards lag considerably behind baseball’s most revered sluggers.
Foxx hit at least 30 home runs and tallied 100 or more RBI from 1929 with the Philadelphia Athletics to 1940, his fifth season with the Red Sox. His 20-year total of 534 home runs ranked second to Ruth for many years. His 58 home runs in 1932 fell just two short of Ruth’s single-season record. Interestingly, two home runs were taken away from Foxx because of rain and 10 more were lost because of newly constructed outfield screens in Cleveland, St. Louis, and Philadelphia that were not erected until after Ruth hit 60. So if the baseball stars were properly aligned in 1932, Barry Bonds would have eclipsed the magical number of 70 set by Foxx.
While serving as the Red Sox first baseman, Foxx quickly learned to take advantage of the cozy confines in front of Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster. In his first three seasons with the Red Sox, he hit 41, 36, and 50 homers respectively.
Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey said of Foxx’s ridiculous power, “If I were catching blindfolded, I would always know it was Foxx who connected. He hit the ball harder than anyone else.”
The toughest Foxx baseball card to find in reasonable condition is the 1934 Goudey (#1). First cards of vintage sets received the brunt of the rubber band damage that decimated so many ’50s and ’60s baseball cards. A handful of PSA-8 versions exist, selling for $8,200, a remarkable buy considering ’34 Goudey PSA-8 Gehrig cards command as much as $15,000.
Foxx, provided Boston with their first bona-fide star since Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919. Double XX set Red Sox records for home runs (50) and RBI (175) during his 1938 MVP season. More than just a slugger, Foxx won the Triple Crown in 1933 and excelled defensively, primarily as a first baseman, but also as a catcher, third baseman, and outfielder.
Foxx was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, but strangely there has been little or no protest over the Red Sox failure to retire his number. Surely someone who is mentioned in the same breathe as Ruth and Gehrig deserves the same elite status as Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs in Red Sox annals.
Playing his only season with the Red Sox in 2006, infielder Mark Loretta told the Boston Herald that “Foxx never received the credit he deserved for being one of the game’s all-time great sluggers.” Loretta honored Foxx by wearing number 3. Foxx, who played 20 seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics (1925-35), Red Sox (1936-42), Chicago Cubs (1942 and 1944) and Philadelphia Phillies (1945), is arguably the best slugger not to have his uniform retired by any team.
Modern day cards of Foxx are somewhat limited, but affordable. His 2005 Upper Deck Trilogy Bat displays a vintage photo of Foxx in his Philadelphia Athletics uniform with a piece of an actual Foxx baseball bat embedded into the card can be had for under $45 — a great buy for limited card serial numbered to just 99.
Happy birthday to Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, who turns 77 today. A leader in virtually every major offensive category in Red Sox history, the man they call Yaz is still one of the franchise’s most popular players.
Revered for playing the lead role in the “1967 Impossible Dream” season, Yaz became baseball’s 14th Triple Crown winner, while leading the Red Sox to the American League Pennant. Powering the Red Sox from last place in 1966, Yaz hit .326 for his second batting title, tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers and drove in 121 runs. Yaz capped the season off with 10 hits in 13 at bats.
Upper Deck commemorated the historic feat with the 2007 UD Premier Stitchings “Triple Crown Commemorative Patch”. The card back salutes Yastrzemski’s three AL batting titles, six gold gloves, 18 All-Star Games and his 1989 Hall of Fame enshrinement. Limited to a production run of 50, this popular Yaz item is a great buy for $20.
In one of the greatest seasons ever for a Red Sox player, Yaz led the team to the World Series and bolstered his Triple Crown numbers by pacing the AL in runs, hits and total bases. Over his 23-year-career, Yaz collected 3,419 his, 1,844 RBI, 452 homers — at a time when 400 homers was an accurate benchmark for a top slugger — and seven gold gloves. The 18-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 on the first ballot.
Yastrzemski’s 1960 Topps rookie card, part of the Sport Magazine “Rookie Star Subset”, sells in the $160- $180 range. Print marks on some copies — a problem throughout the 1960 Topps series — limits the number of truly mint Yaz rookies. The only other major rookie card of the set belongs to Willie McCovey. Finding a well-centered Yaz or McCovey rookie is a daunting task. The popular 1967 Yaz card is a great buy for $18 in excellent condition.
With each passing season the legend of Yastrzemski’s accomplishment grows. Only 15 players have had Triple Crown seasons — Miguel Cabrera joined the select group in 2012 — with Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams each achieving it twice. Former Red Sox Slugger Jimmie Foxx slugged for the Triple Crown in 1933 while playing for the Philadelphia Athletics. Baseball immortals such as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays didn’t do it. Babe Ruth came close in 1924, leading the AL in batting and homes, but losing the RBI title to Goose Goslin.
Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds have led their respective leagues in all three categories, but never in the same season. In 2006 David Ortiz was first in the AL in homers and RBI, but hit just .287. With more and more batters specializing in either hitting for batting average or power, a Triple Crown winner in the near future is becoming less and less likely.
Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, two of the most popular players in Red Sox history, were rightfully inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame last night. The two Red Sox icons announced their retirement and simultaneously tossed out the ceremonial first pitches in the home opener four years ago.
Although Red Sox fans were well aware of Varitek’s significance since his 1998 debut, his rookie baseball card — the 1992 Topps Traded (#123T) — did not receive national acclaim until the Captain’s infamous tussle with Alex Rodriguez that sparked the team’s World Series drive. At the time, this true rookie card sporting the former Georgia Tech star in his Olympic Baseball uniform was selling for $15. Today the same card is a great addition to any Red Sox collection for $5.
On July 31, 1997, the foundation for the the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox World Series teams was put in place. That was the day the Red Sox GM Dan Duquette flee
ced the Seattle Mariners, Heathcliff Slocumb for Varitek and pitching prospect Derek Lowe. Managers, coaches and teammates all confirm that Varitek set the tone for those championship teams.
A catcher with questionable skills in the minor leagues, Varitek became an expert handler of pitchers over his 15-year-career with the Red Sox. He quickly became a fan favorite for his determination and unselfish commitment to winning. As much as anyone, Varitek was responsible for the Red Sox World Series drought ending at 86 years.
So where does Jason Varitek stand in Red Sox history? He caught a major league record four no-hitters, steering Hideo Nomo (2001), Lowe (2002), Clay Buchholz (2007), and Jon Lester (2008) into history. He is the only player in history to have played in the Little League World Series, College World Series, Olympics, Major League World Series and the World Baseball Classic.
The 2007 Upper Deck Goudey “Big League” throwback card (#54) captures one of Varitek’s many unique accomplishments. The card back highlights Varitek becoming the fourth consecutive Red Sox player to hit a home run in an April 2007 game against the Yankees as the Red Sox became just the fifth major league team to smack four straight homers.
The Red Sox Captain has two World Series rings, hit 11 home runs in 63 career postseason games and made three All-Star appearances. His career does not scream Hall of Fame, but he was one of the most significant players to ever wear a Red Sox uniform.
Wakefield also made his mark in Red Sox history. The knuckleballer had 200 career victories, including 186 with the Red Sox, just six shy of the team record shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Wake’s 17 years of service with the Sox is exceeded only by Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Dwight Evans. He’s featured prominently on the team’s all-time list: first in appearances (590), starts (430) and innings pitched (3,006); second in strikeouts (2,046).
Not bad for a minor league first baseman turned knuckleballer claimed off the scrap heap nearly two decades ago. Wakefield’s limited 1988 Watertown Pirates minor league card is a great buy for $10.