Let's celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1985 season, an exciting one for several reasons. New York fans were able to enjoy a pair of young players cementing their status as superstars. Dwight Gooden won the Cy Young and put up the most dominating pitching season I ever saw (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 Ks). And Don Mattingly locked down the AL MVP with a ridiculous .324/35/145 season (an award he should have won three years in a row - look at his 1984-86 stats here and try to make the case for Willie Hernandez in '84 and Clemens in '86. I dare you.). Fans across the country were able to enjoy Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals, who had an incredibly exciting team. As a Yankee fan in New Jersey, I thoroughly enjoyed watching them play against the Mets on the black and white TV I got from my folks that year (Note to self: add "black and white TVs" to the list of things I'll explain to my kids that will make them look at me like I grew up a million years ago.). The Cardinals team was just awesome - Vince Coleman stole 110 bases, four others stole over 30, only one player hit over 13 HRs and Tommy Herr had one of my favorite stat lines from the whole decade, with 8 HRs and 110 RBIs. And don't forget Willie McGee. And his face. The Cards lost a tough World Series to the underdog Royals that year, who had a Brett (George) and a Bret (Saberhagen) leading them.
I'm gonna dwell on the season a bit more, because it was really a tough one for New York baseball fans. The Mets got to celebrate Gooden's monster year and see Strawberry continue to develop, but they failed to keep pace with the mighty Cardinals in a brutal NL East race. The Mets won 98 games that year, 3rd best in all of baseball, but failed to make the post-season. Brutal juice for Mets fans. And things weren't much better in the Bronx. A solid Yankee team, on the back of Ron Guidry's second-best season ever, won 97 games and almost edged out the Blue Jays for the division title. I vividly remember this race for two reasons. First, the Yankees ended the season with a three-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto. They were two games down heading in and needed a sweep to win the series. They won the first game, but lost the second to end their season. Also, this series would decide the AL batting champ, as Mattingly and everybody's favorite alleged VD-carrying right-fielder, Dave Winfield, went down to the wire. Mattingly ended up winning, possibly due to racist Yankee fans who turned on Winfield and threw out racist comments to him while rooting for Mattingly. You stay classy, Bronx. My Yankees narrowly missed the post-season, my favorite Yankee narrowly missed the batting title and the team's best pitcher narrowly missed the Cy Young, as Bret Saberhagen edged out Guidry. Bad times all the way around.
Back to the cards. To recap, here are the rankings to date:
#10 - 1986
#9 - 1988
#8 - 1982
#7 - 1980
#6 - 1985
Pros & Cons
I know you are all asking yourselves - why are the pros and cons together!? They've always been separate!? Well, sports fans, the items that make this year's set so intriguing are what make them so tragic. I'll just list some rookies and you can wince on your own: Roger Clemens, Eric Davis and Kirby Puckett. Orel Hershiser was also in this set. But he was so damn boring and inconsistent, that we'll ignore him. I'm not sure why he couldn't pull it together over his career. Maybe he had a Garvey-esque dark side. And, last but not least, Mark McGwire, the biggest rookie card of them all, appeared that year. He showed up courtesy of his presence on the 1984 Olympic Baseball Team. An interesting brain fart by Topps that year was to only include the 16 US Olympians who had been drafted in that year's card set. Players who made the cut with McGwire included luminaries such as Cory Snyder, Odibie McDowell, John Marzano and Scott Bankhead. Omitted from the set were Randy Johnson, Will Clark, BJ Surhoff and Bobby Witt. Inconvenience for you, I'm sorry. Wrong set of Olympians altogether. (first to source this borrowed movie quote gets a french kiss from our bashful The Teej)
But back to the rookies. We had the B-12 Rocket, Captain Andro and little Kirby Puckett, who was so well loved that he undeservedly made the Hall of Fame even though he was a tremendous dirtbag. If you're too lazy to click through on the Puckett story, read these quotes from Frank Deford's riveting article several years ago: "Over the years, (his) ex-wife told SI, Puckett had also tried to strangle her with an electrical cord, locked her in the basement and used a power saw to cut through a door after she had locked herself in a room. Once, she said, he even put a cocked gun to her head while she was holding their young daughter. Puckett’s upcoming trial stems from charges that he pulled a woman into the men’s room of a restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sept. 5, 2002, and fondled her."
But even the late Mr. Puckett is not the most tragic figure in this rambling post. The most tragic figure is Eric Davis. Of all the promising rookies to start their baseball careers in the 80's, I'm not sure if there was one who made fans salivate with anticipation about a player's potential more than Eric Davis (Pedro Guerrero may have made some female fans salivate, but that is a story unfit for this family blog). A Gold Glove defender with prodigious power and blazing speed, he was touted as a legitimate 50-50 Club candidate. In 1986, he hit 27 HRs and stole 80 bases in 132 games. The next year, he hit 37 HRs and stole 50 bases in only 129 games. Sadly, injuries decimated his career. And, most tragically, they decimated the worth of his 1985 rookie card, which I owned.
Unfortunately, the degenerate and ill-fated rookies and the mistakes involving the Olympians overshadowed most of the good things about this set, namely the great season and some good looking cards. Topps finally realized that the colors in the cards should pertain to the team's colors. Although the colors wasn't perfect, they were better. But sometimes good colors, or 98 wins, just ain't enough.