Monday, March 2, 2009

The Kid for a Kid

I had an idea a few weeks ago. This may not be an original idea, and it may not even be a very good idea, but it was an idea nonetheless that I'd like to try out. I was inspired in part by a post by Jason at Faith and Fear, about collecting Baseball Cards. I've written in some vague depth about my own collection of Baseball cards, which may be about as expansive as Jason's, at the centerpiece of which is a collection of Mets cards spanning their entire history, going back to 1962. To say I'm OCD about this collection is kind; I keep everything in an album, in order, and currently is lacking only 3 cards, those which I'm sure you could guess rather easily (1967 Topps Tom Seaver RC, 1986 Topps Nolan Ryan RC, 1970 Topps Nolan Ryan). Cards from the 80s and 90s, and even today, are rather easy to come by, at least if you're sticking to the gold standard of regular issue Topps. I've got a large number of cards from Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Donruss and the others, but and those are catalogued in a similarly anal fashion, but it's the Topps cards that carry the prestige. They've been around since the beginning, and that was how it all started for me.

It was 1987. The Mets had just capped off a magical World Series victory, I was 8 years old and attending Saturday afternoon Sports Club, something that seemed to be a staple of the youth of just about any male child who grew up in New York City in the 80s. One of the counselors thought it a good idea to give out packs of Baseball cards as a prize for the kids who did well in Basketball drills. Somehow, despite my general lack of aptitude for Basketball, I managed to score myself 3 packs of the just-released 1987 Topps. The first card I turned over in the first pack was #20, Gary Carter. That was how it started. Pretty soon, I was getting more and more, and trying to finish off a set of 792, and starting in with albums and plastic pages, and it pretty much blew up from there.

So, now we're in 2009, and I'm still collecting cards, though in a much tidier fashion. I don't buy packs anymore, just cards I want. Mostly Mets. Sometimes I try to build an older set. But I keep going back to the albums of Mets, going all the way back to '62, and I thought I would share some of them with you. 1987 was the first year I collected cards, and I put the Topps set together by hand, and here, in order, are the Mets cards from that classic 1987 set.

#20 - Gary Carter

This is where it started for me. It's a pretty good shot of The Kid's form behind the plate. Topps, still based in New York, always seemed to have a majority of their photos taken at Shea Stadium. It was always pretty easy to pick it out. The '87s were no exception. The woodgrain borders, not seen on Topps cards since the original Mets year of 1962, were a nice touch.

#48 - Wally Backman

The card back states that Wally "is an avid hunter in the offseason." This particular photo shows Wally sliding in under a tag from Pirates Catcher Tony Pena. I believe the photo also made the Daily News.

#75 - Ron Darling

I got this card in a pack, and showed it to one of my sports club counselors. He started going on about how Darling dated all these models. That, back then, seemed more impressive to me than his numbers in 1986, 15-6, 2.81 ERA and 184 Ks in 237 IP. If he put up numbers like that today, he'd probably finish in the top 3 in Cy Young Award voting, and people on WFAN would be screaming about how he was due for a dropoff because he threw so many innings. Darling wasn't terrible in '87, but he fizzled out with a string of no-decisions before his season ended early, not because of arm trouble, but because of a broken thumb suffered in a most infamous game.

#103 - Rick Aguilera

Aguilera's hitting prowess was always overlooked. He hit 2 HRs in 1986 and another one in 1987, but after that year, he was moved to the bullpen and rarely, if ever, saw an AB. Then, he was traded to the AL in 1989 and made his name as a closer.

#130 - Dwight Gooden

This, along with Don Mattingly, was the prize card in the set. I got this one in a pack and 3 other kids immediately crowded around me yelling "WOAH! LUCKY!" and tried to trade me for it. Gooden's personal problems were a mystery to us kids back then. We knew he was out, but I don't know if we ever really grasped the magnitude of the situation until we were older.

#147 - Randy Niemann

Niemann was let go after the '86 season and only pitched in 6 games for the Twins in '87. He did return later on as the Mets Bullpen coach. Topps, through most of the 1980s, put out a 792-card set, which sometimes included goofy subsets like "Turn back the clock" or "Super Veterans", but it generally afforded the ability to include cards of just about every schlub who saw some action in the Majors the previous season. Niemann, an unremarkable middle reliever, is one such example of this. We'll see others before too long.

#158 - Tim Teufel

1987 was the year the "Teufel Shuffle" made its debut. This, combined with his surprisingly strong play when Backman went down with an injury, served to indelibly mark his time with the Mets. In reality, the season Teufel had in '87 (.308/14/61) was more or less the high point for him.

#185 - Roger McDowell

Hotfoots, Hernias, Crushing HRs, Masks and wearing his uniform upside down. That pretty much summed up McDowell's '87 season.

#198 - Lee Mazzilli

Maz shows his form as a 1st Baseman in this photo, or at least that's how it appears. In his second tour of duty with the Mets, Maz hardly, if ever, got a start, and usually didn't justify doing so. He did do well as a Pinch-Hitter though, and he was still remembered fondly for his time as one of the few bright spots on some pretty lousy Mets teams.

#213 - Randy Myers

Who knew that behind this almost-cherubic face lurked a maniacal, fatigue-wearing, ninja star-throwing lunatic? Of course he was closer material! Myers only had brief cups of coffee in '85 and '86 and he took some time to establish himself in '87, but by 1988, there he was.

#241 - Danny Heep

Unassuming Heep was another minor chip let go after '86. I remember getting his card and wondering where he was on the '87 Mets. I didn't even know he was gone until an Early September game in LA that ran long, and Heep ended up chugging around the bases to score the winning run on a Ho-Jo throwing error in the 16th inning.

#267 - Howard Johnson

There were some cards in this set that we always used to love to pull because of the jokes that would ensue. This was one such card (I remember Sparky Anderson and Dennis Boyd being some others). Ho-Jo's name aside, what's even better is that on the back of the card, it states that "Howard was co-winner of a rib-eating contest among professional athletes after 1985 season."

#295 - Len Dykstra
I used to love this guy. As an 8-year old, my 2 favorite players were Dykstra and Hernandez. I was also a big Gregg Jefferies fan, but he'll come later. He was small, he liked to run into walls, and his book, Nails, that came out in '87 was loaded with the kind of 4-letter words that I wasn't supposed to say but they made me laugh. What wasn't to like? Hell, I shouldn't even say I used to love him, I still do!

#331 - Mets Leaders

Another 80s staple that keeps coming back and disappearing, it's basically a summary of the Mets team leaders in an assortment of statistics. It's usually accompanied by a dreamlike photo of the team's better-known or longest tenured players. Carter, Strawberry, yeah, that's acceptable. Though it's worth noting that Keith Hernandez, featured off in the shadows on the right, led the Mets in most offensive categories in '86.

#350 - Keith Hernandez

You knew when someone had a card that ended in numbers like -00 or -50, he was probably pretty good. Keith Hernandez at #350 was pretty good. This is a nice candid shot of Keith, with the moustache in full bloom during Spring Training. It's unlike most other cards of Keith, which feature him in action. Keith's card doesn't have any fun facts on the back, just stats. Besides, by '87, what could you say about Keith that hadn't already been said?

#378 - Rafael Santana

Santana was the classic 1980s Shortstop. Came out of San Pedro de Macoris, DR, great glove, and he didn't hit a lick. 1987 was no exception.

#404 - Doug Sisk

According to this card, "Doug received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Washington State University." This fact is probably more noteworthy than anything Sisk did during the '87 season.

#433 - Ed Hearn
Hearn, like Heep, was one of those guys who I had a card of but was puzzled as to why I never saw him on the team in '87. Then, I heard he was traded to Kansas City for a pitcher named Cone, which was another one of those names that made me laugh, kind of like Howard Johnson or Sparky Anderson.

#460 - Darryl Strawberry

We didn't laugh about Darryl Strawberry, for some reason. Probably because he was nearing that rarefied air of Mattingly or Gooden. This was another one of those cards that you got and would flash to your friends to make them jealous.

#488 - Ray Knight

After Knight's performance in the '86 World Series, his card became another one of those "gotta get" cards. After all, it was also his last card with the Mets. Knight didn't do much with Baltimore in '87 and his career pretty much peaked in the '86 Series, but getting that Last Mets card of Ray Knight was a pretty big deal back in the Spring of '87.

#512 - Dave Magadan

Magadan's card drew that ubiquitous, colorful "Future Stars" tag that would grace many an '80s Topps Card. Magadan figured to get a strong look at 3rd Base for the '87 Mets, but he wasn't quite there yet, and his glovework at 3rd Base left a bit to be desired. And he wasn't replacing Hernandez at 1st just yet. So, Magadan bounced between AAA and the Majors for another year.

#543 - Dave Johnson
For some reason, I really liked the checklist cards in sets. I would always get them and furiously check off all the cards I had, thusly ruining the card with my sloppy penmanship. The Manager cards were a big deal too, because it had all the cards on the team listed on the back. So it was thrilling when I pulled Johnson's card and checked off all the boxes on the back. At a much later date, I replaced all the marked checklist cards with clean cards.

#570 - Sid Fernandez

From the card back: "Sid wears uniform #50 for two reasons: His native Hawaii was the 50th of the US States, and his favorite television show is "Hawaii Five-0." I remember that Sid used to enter to the Hawaii Five-0 theme too.

#582 - Bruce Berenyi

It seemed like every year, Berenyi was supposed to be a key member of the Mets rotation. And every year, he got hurt and barely pitched. After two seasons of this, Berenyi was let go following '86 and that was it for him.

#594 - Rick Anderson

I'll reiterate what I said in reference to Randy Niemann. When you have a 792-card set, you have to fill it out, and sometimes, you have to fill it out with some pretty obscure names and guys who had never or will never see the light of day. Not that anyone would remember, but Anderson made it into 15 games with the '86 Mets after 8 years of toiling in the Minor leagues, at the age of 29. And just as quickly, he was gone, to Kansas City with Ed Hearn for that Cone fellow.

#595 - Keith Hernandez All Star

Here's one such subset. The All Stars. Each All Star Game starter from both leagues got their own card, and on the back, there was a list of the league leaders in a particular stat that they might have excelled in, and another fun fact. Keith's All Star card has the NL Leaders in Runs scored, for which Keith finished 6th, with 95. The leader, Tony Gwynn, had 107.

#601 - Darryl Strawberry All Star

Darryl's card features the NL Leaders in RBIs. Strawberry finished 7th in the NL, with 93, however this is an odd choice of stat for his card, since he wasn't even first on his own team. Carter, with 105 RBIs, finished 3rd in the NL.

#602 - Gary Carter All Star

And you don't even have to go far to find Carter, who has the League Leaders in Game-Winning RBIs, a particularly useless stat that only existed from 1980 to 1988 and which, oddly, Keith Hernandez was the career leader in. In '86, however, Carter tied for the NL Lead with Houston's Glenn Davis with 16 (and added another 3 in the Postseason). Strawberry was second with 15. Hernandez and Knight each had 13.

#603 - Dwight Gooden All Star

Gooden seems rather perturbed in this photo. I'm not sure why. Fittingly for Dr. K, his card features the League Leaders in strikeouts, which Gooden finished tied for 4th with his teammate Sid Fernandez, but way off the 306 put away by Mike Scott.

#625 - Mookie Wilson


Yes, we laughed.

#653 - Kevin Mitchell

Mitchell was gone in the Kevin McReynolds trade before 1986 had even ended. He went on to some pretty good seasons with the Giants before his attitude and conditioning got the better of him. He was a pretty solid contributor for the '86 Mets, though, and this rather dusty photo is a good example of Mitch in the middle of things.

#704 - Jesse Orosco

Fresh off the iconic image of Jesse with his arms raised in celebration in '86, Orosco failed to even come close to duplicating his success in '87 and by '88 was shipped off to the Dodgers, beginning a career odyssey that would span clear to the year 2003.

#746 - Bob Ojeda

Ojeda hit his peak in '86, and as we would later find out, he basically did it at the cost of his '87 season, and perhaps further than that. Pitching in pain most of the season, Ojeda was the perfect complement to Gooden's heat and his 18 wins were a testament to that. Also took the ball in the two biggest games of the season and won them both with outstanding performances. Again, think about it. 18-5, 2.57 ERA. His season, more or less overlooked, was about the same as Johan Santana in 2008.

#1T - Bill Almon

Ah, but we're not done! There's the Traded Set, which is now commonly known as "Topps Updates and Highlights." Back then, it was a 132-card set packaged in a cute little box and sold only as a factory set, and it usually came out in November or so, featuring Rookies and, naturally, Traded players. Almon was one such player who came to the Mets in '87 and didn't amount to much.

#24T - David Cone

Here's that Cone fellow. Acquired for, among others, Hearn and Anderson in what was more or less a nothing deal late in Spring Training. I think it's safe to say the Mets got the better end of that one.

#63T - Terry Leach

Terry Leach had had some cards in prior Topps sets, but he didn't make the '87 set since he'd barely stuck with the team in '86, appearing in only 6 games. But he turned the corner and was a revelation in '87, filling in admirably when guys like Ojeda, Aguilera and Fernandez went down and ran off 10 consecutive victories to start his season. Plus he had that bizarre submarine delivery that we would always try to copy. Badly.

#68T - Barry Lyons

The Mets only used the script "New York" on their road jerseys for one season, 1987. In '86, their road jerseys just had "Mets" in script, and in '88, the script was dropped in favor of a rather plain looking "New York." Here's a good shot of it, albeit on Lyons' warmup jersey.

#76T - Kevin McReynolds

This is, oddly, McReynolds first Topps card, despite the fact that he was already well established in the Majors with the Padres. He had Fleer cards and Donruss cards, but no Topps, and I've never found out why. Of course, his Topps debut features him with that wispy moustache that he would sport from time to time, though it seemed to be primarily in Spring Training. Which is good, because I don't see how you could take him seriously with that thing in the regular season.

#83T - John Mitchell

Ragtag righty who came in the Ojeda trade, made a bunch of spot starts and earned himself this card. Did nothing remarkable otherwise, though I suppose it's worth noting that he was considered to be among the Mets top pitching prospects back then, along with guys like Jack Savage, Julio Valera, Jeff Innis or David West. I went to school with a kid who really liked him, and used to make little clay sculptures of him in shop class.

So, there you have it, the full tour of the 1987 Topps Mets team set. It's pretty expansive, and one of the larger ones, clocking in at 39 cards. I don't have exact counts handy, but I think it's pretty much par for the course among the 80s team sets. We'll revisit this with some other Mets team sets over the course of time, at least until we've covered all the years.

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