After more than a decade of Topps Heritage sets, not to mention various other vintage-themed sets, baseball cards featuring current ballplayers on classic designs almost seems overdone.
In 1984, it was a novelty. Baseball Cards Magazine included a Dale Murphy card in the style of Topps’ classic 1953 set with its August issue that year, starting a trend that continued through 1993.
I say “baseball card,” but the “repli-cards” you got in the magazine weren’t exactly the same as the cards you’d find inside a wax pack made by Topps, Donruss or Fleer. Instead of the poly-bagged promo cards you might find bundled with some current magazines, Baseball Cards Magazine included an insert stapled (or glued) into the spine that was printed on thin cardboard. If you wanted your new collectibles to look like baseball cards, you had to be pretty good with the scissors when you cut them out from the panel.
On December 11th, 1991, the New York Mets made a five-player deal with the Kansas City Royals that brought two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to New York.
With Dwight Gooden recovering from rotator cuff surgery and Frank Viola departing via free agency, Mets GM Al Harazin was looking for an ace and he thought he’d found one.
“I was with [Saberhagen] at the 1990 All-Star Game, and I warmed him up,” Jeff Torborg, the manager of the Mets and a former catcher told New York Times reporter Joe Sexton. “He had as good stuff as anyone on that All-Star staff. A lot of times, until you get close, you don’t know how good a guy is.”
Saberhagen’s tenure with the Mets was marred by injuries – just once in four seasons did he exceed the 150 inning mark with New York. Saberhagen’s best year with the Mets was 1994, when he was named to the All-Star team and finished with a 14-4 record with a 2.74 ERA in the strike-shortened season.
Of course, I hated the trade as soon as I heard about it. Sure, Saberhagen had a good track record, and the Mets were getting utility infielder Bill Pecota (who I probably had never heard of) as a throw-in.
But they were giving up one of my favorite players, Gregg Jefferies, as well as scrappy utility player Keith Miller and 1988 NL MVP candidate Kevin McReynolds. (Ok, I wasn’t all that upset about McReynolds leaving – he always gave me the impression that he’d rather be off hunting than playing baseball.)
The 1986 Columbia Mets had a 90-42 record and went on to claim the South Atlantic League championship. Despite their on-field success, the New York Mets’ Single-A affiliate did not produce many future major leaguers. Just Gregg Jefferies, Brian Givens, Dave Liddell and David West made it to the show, and Liddell’s big league career lasted just long enough for him to have one at-bat.
The 1986 Columbia Mets team set is notable, though it’s no longer very valuable and it’s certainly not very attractive. ProCards, a company based in Pottstown, Pa., made a set for the Reading Phillies in 1985. The next year, they signed up 88 teams. Thanks to Jefferies, who seemed to have had nearly as much hype as Bryce Harper, the Columbia Mets set sold for at least $70 in the late 80s. (I seem to remember the price reaching the $100 level, but I don’t think I could document that today.)
But it’s really not an attractive set. There’s nothing wrong with the simple design, but most of the photos were shot from about 20 feet away with the players just standing in front of outfield wall advertising. A few players posed, a few players happened to be standing in front of a neutral background. But for the most part, the pictures are terrible.