The year is 1987. The nation is reeling from a combination of Iran-Contra hearings and Cold War-induced deficit crisis. Toni Morrison publishes Beloved, depressing the hell out of everyone. Vince Coleman becomes baseball’s new darling, and Full House appears on television screens for the first time. Patrick Swayze has not yet recorded “She’s Like the Wind”, but he is about to do so. Clearly, American morale is foundering, and the baseball card manufacturing companies are needed to revive the spirit of America. No longer was one set per brand enough; we need more.
They fill this demand by selling small, forty-four card individually boxed sets. These cards were sold, through exclusive retailers, on the premise that if people liked to collect pictures of baseball players printed on small pieces of cardboard, they might want to collect pictures of baseball players printed on different pieces of cardboard. To increase jubilance, these cards were given red, white and/or blue borders and exciting names. They loaded these cards with as much Gershwin-esque bombast as they could scrounge.
Essentially, they lied to us. They lied to America.
Here are a few of the cards issued in that single year that we impressionable youths might have found in our binders:
If Carson were somehow tasked with creating game previews and NERD scores for twenty-five years in the past (and I think it would be a fine exercise), Sid Bream would score a zero on a 1-10 scale. To put it another way: Sid Bream once had a conversation with Von Hayes, and they both had to go onto the DL.
To the knowledge of the internet, Craig Lefferts has never set a record. This is because the internet isn’t perfect. I prefer Fleer’s strategy, which is to assume that there is some record out there, unnoticed and unrecorded, which Craig Lefferts accomplished either first or most. Isn’t this the more optimistic way to look at things? Did Craig Lefferts attempt the most failed “look-at-third-throw-to-first” pickoff attempts in baseball history? Does Craig Lefferts rank as the baseball player who has acted in a movie with the most tomatoes? Yes, in fact, he has.
This is what it looks like when a baseball card company phones it in. Fun fact: Andres Thomas played six seasons and posted a positive WAR once (0.4). Needless to say, Thomas has never been to an All-Star Game. He is not allowed in.
In 1986, Ivan Calderon accumulated -0.6 WAR. This put him into a tie for the 1,089th best player in baseball that year. This means that 1,045 other, perhaps deserving players were edged out of the set. Note: Calderon was one of baseball’s best when it came to sexiness.
This time, nearly a three-quarters truth: Tony Pena did lead the league in two categories in 1986. Unfortunately, these categories were errors as catcher and GIDP. But perhaps we’re taking a too-limited viewpoint on what it means to lead a league. In the conservative times of the late eighties, perhaps we can already see in what fashion Pena was a paragon among his teammates. Namely: He is sitting.
It’s this, the absence of action, by which he led not only baseball but America. Perhaps he was enjoying a conversation about the benefits of supply-side economics. What he wasn’t doing was raising taxes, like a certain President would do not long afterward. He wasn’t on his giant mobile phone, selling junk bonds to Rick Rhoden. He was staying the course, unflinching, smiling. Like Fleer, like baseball, like America. In retrospect, 1987 doesn’t seem so bad after all.
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