November 11, 2007

Topps Decades: The 792

Numbers. Numbers everywhere. Crawling all over everything, getting into my dreams, playing with my thought process. Notebooks full of them, draft after draft, list after list. It's their ride I'm on, not the other way around, though I'm convinced there's meaning in there somewhere, in the patterns. Something important.

No, I'm not overcome with an especially prolonged episode of OCD. I'm checklisting. It's been a while since I last checklisted a set, and if last time around taught me anything, it's that I'm determining much more than just how a set should be assembled. I'm establishing a hierarchy, an easy way for anyone, not just collectors or those who follow baseball, but anyone familiar with the base-10 system of counting, to determine which cards are worth coveting.

Last time around my big thing was 'Hero Numbers.' First tier, second, third tier; they all took their lead from the heroes. The set was built around them, and I'm certain that when the meritocratic system of numbering is employed, this is always the case. A rising young star does well the year before, the next year he will have a third tier number. If he does well a number of years running, he may find himself given a second tier number. And if he proves himself to be in the upper echelon of the league, not just a star but a superstar, he may be rewarded with a hero number.

But it's been a few months since I did that checklist, and time away from the process has given me insight into something I may have missed: there are other numbers that are on the same level of importance as Hero Numbers. But because the numerical parameters for Hero Numbers have already been expressed, I'm going to call these others by a different name: Glamour Numbers.

I'm not entirely sure when Glamour Numbers started, and I'm not entirely sure they started with baseball. The 1992-93 Upper Deck basketball issue featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on numbers 32 and 33, respectively (their jersey numbers), as a way of honoring them. There are many other examples. In recent years, Topps baseball has reserved #7 for a card of Mickey Mantle, its patron saint.

The reason I bring this up is because as I've started work on The 792, unexpected numbers keep popping up as important. The most glaring example is #482. Why #482? Because of the ten cards assigned that number in regular-issue Topps sets between 1980 and 1989, two are rookie cards of Hall of Fame players: Rickey Henderson (1980) and Tony Gwynn (1983). It can probably be written off as just a coincidence, as such luminaries as Glenn Hubbard, Rick Lysander, Darryl Boston and Steve Peters have also graced the number. Does two out of ten constitute that number being elevated to Glamour Number? Probably not, but it is interesting, in a passing way, that two show-stopping rookies were checklisted on the same, random number. (Maybe we should call #482 a 'Lucky Number' instead of 'Glamour Number.')

A few informal rules of checklisting a set of this nature. First, the basics: there are ten years of sets that I'm pulling from, 1980 to 1989. I'm only considering regular-issue Topps, though when I'm done, I plan on checklisting a Traded set. Numbers for each card are their actual numbers. In fact, the whole purpose of putting together The 792 is to determine which card of the ten that were given that number is the best. 'The best' is open to interpretation. I'm defining it loosely: either the most memorable card, the most memorable player, or an important card from its year. Take the example above. I chose Henderson's #482 over Gwynn's because Henderson set the precedent. I'm not saying that the Topps brain trust monitored how well Rickey did and then gave the promising young Gwynn that number on purpose. On the contrary, I think there's a very good chance that Gwynn's numerical assignment was almost completely random: he was a rookie, so they buried him in the set. Another example of my thinking in terms of determining 'the best': You might say that giving #21 to Cal Ripken's 1982 Orioles Future Stars rookie is a no-brainer. I'd contend that you're wrong. There's a part of me that wanted to assign it to the 1986 card of Milwaukee Brewers' manager George Bamberger. Bambi's card from that set is one of my favorites. But how can you argue against Ripken's rookie? You can't.

I have a few expectations about how this checklist will turn out. Because there are ten sets from which to pull, I would imagine that the end tallies of cards from each set is roughly equal, for the first 726 cards (727 through 792 will pull from eight sets, 1982 to 1989). I don't expect this set to be made up entirely of stars. I expect there will be a healthy amount of common-level players. I also expect, though I have no reason to, that there will be a good level of representation from each team. I can tell you that I will not include more than a respectable level of cards of the same players. I'm putting together a set that is meant to symbolize the best/most memorable of the decade, not a set of Nolan Ryan's Greatest Hits (Topps beat me to the punch almost ten years ago).

So, before I go explaining this set away forever, below is a list of the first fifty cards from my fan set, Topps Decades: The Eighties, or simply The 792.

1. Roger Clemens RB, 1987
2. Rickey Henderson RB, 1983
3. Dwight Gooden RB, 1985
4. Eddie Murray RB, 1988
5. Nolan Ryan RB, 1982
6. Bench/Perry/Yaz HL, 1984
7. Kevin McReynolds RB, 1989
8. Don Mattingly (RC), 1984
9A. Steve Braun (yellow name), 1980
9B. Steve Braun (red name), 1980
10. Tony Gwynn, 1986
11. Bruce Sutter, 1989
12. Billy Sample, 1984
13. Joe Charboneau (RC), 1981
14. Sparky Anderson (MGR), 1988
15. Claudell Washington, 1987
16. George Vukovich, 1983
17. Mike Stenhouse, 1986
18A. Al Leiter (not him) (RC), 1988
18B. Al Leiter (him) (RC), 1988
19. Oscar Gamble, 1983
20. Gary Carter, 1987
21. Orioles Future Stars (RC), 1982
22. Pat Putnam, 1980
23. Bret Saberhagen (RC), 1985
24. Len Barker, 1986
25. Andres Galarraga, 1988
26. UL Washington, 1981
27. Ray Knight, 1986
28. Eric Davis, 1986
29. Tony Phillips, 1986
30. Vida Blue, 1980
31. Tom Seaver In Action, 1982
32. Gene Garber, 1982
33. Rob Deer, 1988
34. Jose Rijo, 1987
35. Rollie Fingers, 1983
36. Rollie Fingers Super Veteran, 1983
37. Rangers Team Leaders, 1984
38. Win Remmerswaal, 1981
39. Rowland Office, 1980
40. Orel Hershiser, 1988
41. Rangers Future Stars (RC), 1981
42. Gary Redus, 1987
43. Gene Michael (MGR), 1987
44. Britt Burns, 1982
45. Kent Hrbek, 1988
46. Dan Gladden, 1987
47. Rudy Law, 1984
48. Tony Fernandez (RC), 1985
49. Craig Biggio (RC), 1989
50. JR Richard, 1980

In a collaborative move, starting tomorrow morning visit Cardboard Junkie to view scans of the cards (in order).

1 comment:

Stormy said...

This is an awesome idea. I can't wait to see the complete list.