42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 1)

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes browsing through the posts in this blog would have no doubt that I am a Met’s fan.

How I came to be a Met’s fan is likely attributed to where I am grew up and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with New York.

I grew up in the Tidewater area, which for anyone outside of the “Tidewater” area means nothing.  Another local name for the Tidewater area is “Hampton Roads”, which to anyone not from the area ALSO means nothing.

The Tidewater/Hampton Roads area is what we locals collectively call the areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and depending on which local you ask; the Virginia/North Carolina border areas.  Local travel and tourism organizations have been debating for years about whether the state should replace the term “Hampton Roads” with something more descriptive and meaningful to where we live.  If you live in Ohio and you tell your family that you’re taking them to “Hampton Roads” for a week of fun probably doesn’t generate very much excitement.  It has been suggested that we rename the area “Coastal Virginia” to reflect our most popular attraction, waterfront views, seafood, and ocean breezes.   

But I digress.

My connection to the New York Mets lies in Norfolk, Virginia.  The longtime home of their AAA minor league affiliate, the Norfolk Tides.  From 1969 to 2006, the Tides would serve as the Mets’ minor league affiliate and call Metropolitan Park or, as the locals called it, simply “Met Park.”  In 1992, the Tidewater Tides would move out of Metropolitan Park into their new home Harbor Park and would change their name to the Norfolk Tides. 

Metropolitan Park – Norfolk, Virginia

From the mid 80’s through today, I have attended many games at both stadiums and have seen many future major leaguers come through the area.  Getting to see former Tides in their Met’s uniforms on TV was a thrill.  I have great childhood memories of attending games at “Met Park” and getting autographs of future stars like Darryl Strawberry, Gregg Jefferies, Clint Hurdle, and Ron Darling.

Here is a list of the Mets cards that I consider the “best” of each Topps flagship set.  These are not necessarily the best player each year, but rather, the card that I like the best.  In some cases, the card may not be that impressive.  There will be some cards that you look at and wonder why it was chosen. It is simply the best of the other bad ones. 

Let’s begin in 1978. One for each year that I’ve been alive – three up, three down.

Leading off the countdown is Jerry Koosman and he comes out on top two years in row with my favorite cards of the 1978 and 1979 sets.  At first glance, one would think that Topps recycled the same photos.  They are slightly different though.  Koosman would have a terrible 1978 as did the rest of the team.  The ’78 Met’s had the worst record in the National League, with a 66-96 mark, coming in 24 games behind first-place Philadelphia.  The Mets would be in rebuilding mode for a few more years with no clue what they were trying to rebuild.  Despite being pictured in his Met’s uniform on his 1979 Topps card, Koosman never played a single game for them.  He had already been traded to Minnesota where he would have a resurgence and go on to win 20 games.  Ed Kranepool has the top card in 1980 and is another featured player that never wore the Mets uniform that year.  He would retire at the end of 1979.  His last at-bat of the season resulted in his 225th career double and would secure one of the many team records he would hold for years to come.  In 1980, he and several other potential investors made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Mets.  I like this card as it features him in the on-deck circle and that’s not something that you see very often.

Topps pretty much summed up John Pacella on his 1981 card.  You can see him unleashing a fastball with such fury that his cap has fallen off.  The Mets’ play-by-play guys would make a big deal about Pacella’s cap falling off and how it was a result of how hard he threw.  The fact of the matter was that it was really his poor mechanics.  On the back of the card, Topps would make mention of impressive or interesting things about the player. For John Pacella, the only interesting thing they could come up with was “John has a unique habit of losing his cap each pitch.” 1981 would be another dismal year for the Mets as they finished 5th in their division.  Mookie Wilson takes the top spot in 1982 which also happens to be one of my favorite Topps designs.  We see a great shot of the Mets center fielder following through on what may have been one of his five home runs that season.  Yes, the Mets were terrible in 1982 and finished in last place. 

1983 would prove to be no different in terms of division standings.  They would come in last place again, BUT 1983 was the beginning of the club’s turning point as it would be the last losing season for the next seven years.  Darryl Strawberry’s 1983 Topps Traded card is the best of the bunch.  I don’t own it but hope to someday.  He was a hometown favorite during his time here with the Tidewater Tides. Strawberry would win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1983, and go on to make eight consecutive All Star Game appearances and win four World Series titles.

Keith Hernandez takes the top spot for 1984 and 1985.  In 1984 Hernandez would come over from St Louis in a trade for Rick Owneby and Neil Allen.  He would take over first base for the rest of the season and send the aging and strikeout prone Dave Kingman to the bench.  The addition of Hernandez and Strawberry along with George Foster and Rusty Staub both bouncing back with great seasons put the Mets on the path to being a winning club.  They would see a second-place finishes in 1984 and 1985.   The 1985 card of Hernandez resonates so much with me (I think) because it was featured on the top of the 1985 Topps wax boxes.  I remember seeing it every time I would reach for a pack at my local card shop.  As a kid, you always thought that the “best” cards were the ones featured on the boxes. Of course, you can’t call yourself a baseball fan if you’re not familiar with the Met’s magical year of 1986.  I’ve always been a fan of cards featuring catchers and plays at the plate so the top spot for 1986 goes to Ronn Reynolds.  Literally a guy who “couldn’t hit his weight” (career .188 batting average vs 200 lbs), he would be shipped off to Philadelphia at the close of the 1985 season as the newly acquired Gary Carter would take over duties behind the plate for many years to come. 

1987 was the toughest year for me to pick the “best” Met’s card from Topps.  There are several that are some of my all-time favorite cards…of any set for that matter.  You have two cards featuring gritty plays at the plate with Kevin Mitchell and Wally Backman.  Ron Darling is depicted driving off of the mound with his picture-perfect mechanics and newly acquired third baseman Howard Johnson also has a nice card.  The top Mets card for me in 1987 however, is none other than Gary Carter.  This card would make him my favorite player and the set in general would go on to become a favorite of many collectors that grew up in the 80’s.  1988’s top Met’s card goes to Carter again.  It’s a nicely framed action shot from Shea Stadium featuring Carter at the plate.  That year Topps produced 2-pocket folders that replicated their 1988 Topps baseball cards.  My Granny purchased a few for me.  One of which was Gary Carter.  This went right into my Trapper Keeper and I stared at everyday of sixth grade.  The Mets would find themselves back at the top of their division in 1988 only to lose to the LA Dodgers in the NLCS.  Darryl Strawberry takes the top spot for the 1989 Met’s set.  A prolific home run hitter for the Mets, Topps captures Strawberry at the plate and laser focused on the next pitch.  He would make the All-Star Team that year with 29 home runs and the Mets would finish in second place. Topps produced school folders in 1989 as well. They pop up on Ebay from time to time.

 Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have absolutely no use for the 1990 set.  I absolutely hate it and should mean something as it is coming from a collector who really looks for all the good things in a set before I look for the faults.  In this case, the design is terrible, the color scheme is terrible, and the photography is terrible.  It’s literally 791 cards of complete and utter junk.  I do like Howard Johnson’s card though which is why I didn’t say it was “792 cards of complete and utter junk.”  The Met’s weren’t “junk” that year either as they finished in second place, four games behind Pittsburgh.  1991, however marked the start of the toilet bowl spiral for the Mets.  With a weird mix of checked-out former stars from their ’86 World Series squad, free agents that were not really interested in being a part of “rebuilding phase” and prospects that probably had no business being on the big-league club anyways. It’s no wonder that they would finish 20.5 games out of first.  Darryl Strawberry pulls the best card of the Mets that year despite not actually playing for them.  The 1991 Topps design has always been a favorite of mine and other collectors and they gave Strawberry a great card as he closed out his career with New York.  Strawberry signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 1990, marking the end of his time in blue and orange and inking a lucrative five-year $22.25 million deal.  1992 would get even worse for the Mets despite the owners breaking out the checkbook and signing what they hoped would be major acquisitions that would curb the losing and make everyone stop wishing it was the mid-eighties again.  Despite the talent, the team was an absolute disaster and would go on to lose over 90 games.  Even Topps seemed to have little interest in the “Worst Team Money Could Buy” (according to Bob Klapisch’s book), as nearly every card is unremarkable.  They did feature an aging Hubie Brooks and former Tidewater Tide rounding third base.  He gets the top spot for 1991 but by the time that card hit collector’s hands, he was playing for the California Angels. 

The next three years all go to catchers.  The best thing about the 1993 team set is this Todd Hundley card and it’s not even that great. The photo looks to have captured the aftermath of a passed ball or errant throw from an infielder. I can’t think of any of situation where a catcher would end up like this. Sure, it’s a Mets card of a catcher and it even features the cool rookie cup, but it’s simply the best of an overall very mediocre collection of Mets.  While every Mets’ fan was hoping to forget the disaster that was the season of 1992, the Mets actually got worse in 1993; losing 100 games – the worst season since 1967.  1994’s players strike actually allowed the Mets to hang on to a third place finish in their division.  Charlie O’Brien gets the nod for 1994 and is featured on his Topps card getting ready for a play at the plate with Houston’s Steve Finley.  Coincidentally, it would be Todd Hundley that would replace O’Brien behind the plate.  O’Brien was traded to Atlanta in November of 1993 so he never saw action for the Mets in 1994.  1995 would be a nicer year for the Mets as they finished 2nd in the division.  Third-string backup catcher Kelly Stinnett gets the top card for that season.  Despite the terrible Topps design, he is featured nicely framed and following through at the plate. 

Due to an injury, Bill Pulsipher sat out the entire 1996 season.  It was a return to the Mets losing ways as they finished 4th in the division.  He does get the top card of the 1996 Mets set though.  I’ve always liked this card as it was his first Topps base card that showed him actually on the field playing.  He was a member of the Norfolk Tides for much of the 1995 season and then off and on through 2000.  I saw him play here locally many times.  Another former Norfolk Tide gets the top card of the 1997 Mets set.  This is the year I graduated from high school and Mets would roll to another mediocre 3rd place finish but this season was the start of a turnaround.  Infielder Butch Huskey can be seen on his 1997 Topps card signing autographs for fans at Shea Stadium.  This is something that he did often during his time here in the minor leagues.  The 1998 Mets season was a heart breaker.  They were one of the best Mets teams to come along in a decade and they played splendidly throughout the season.  However, any hope of making the playoffs was dashed as they squandered away the last five games of the season.  John Olerud gets the nod for the top card in the 1998 Topps set.  The design of this set is not particularly my favorite, but I do just love this card.  I love the bright uniform set against the dark background and the gold border works well.  We also get a great shot of Olerud fielding with his signature batting helmet on. 1998 would be the best year of Olerud’s career setting a franchise record for both batting average and on-base percentage, both of which still stand to this day.

I had to go with Mike Piazza for the top card of 1999.  It has a very “1987 Gary Carter” throwback feel to it.  1999 would be Piazza’s first full season with the Mets and he would help them break into the post season and reaching the NLCS before losing to Atlanta.  It would be manager Bobby Valentine’s first taste of the post season in his 30+ year career.  2000 would be another great year for the Mets as they reached the World Series for the first time in 15 years.  The Mets starting rotation featured five men who all finished with a record of .500 or better and while not unheard of, one must remember that this was the height of the steroid era.  Hitters were swatting more home runs further than they ever had before.  Shortstop Rey Ordonez gets the top card of the 2000 set.  Given Ordonez’ athleticism on the field, it’s kind of a boring card.  Nothing more than a routine tag-out of Ellis Burks at second.   He gets the top card of 2001 as well which tells you how bad the OTHER cards in the set are.  The card is unremarkable despite a remarkable year.  2001 was not only the year I graduated from college but also a turning point in American history.  On Tuesday September 11, a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks became the deadliest on American soil in U.S. history.   As New York suffered horrific losses, baseball was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind and with that; Commissioner Bud Selig would cancel all games through the end of the week and announced that the season would resume on Saturday, September 17.  After three games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Mets would return home to a battered New York City to play the Atlanta Braves.  It would be the first baseball game in New York after the attacks and no one was sure how to approach this game.  It would be a Piazza 3 run home run in the eighth that would bring all 41,000 fans in Shea Stadium to their feet…together as one, momentarily forgetting the pain in their hearts.  The Mets would hold on to the lead for the win and baseball would find itself as an integral part of the healing process. I wish Topps

As we wrap up a heavy moment; let’s close out the blog for today – 1978 through 2001 which is 23 years of Mets’ cards and commentary. Stay tuned for Part 2 as we explore 2002 through 2020.

March Card Show Pickups

One night I was checking out some of the other collector blogs and as a few of the guys were showing off their card show finds, I realized how long it had been since I had been to a card show myself. After a quick google search, I saw that there was a card show in my area that was only a few weeks away. I shot my buddy Matt from Passion for Cards a text and he said he would meet me out there.

I didn’t really have any major cards on my wish list but I knew that he has been working on his 1963 Topps set. You can check out his pickups from the show HERE. Go ahead and subscribe to his channel as well. He never lets me down in showcasing his sweet collection. It’s a MONSTER too!

The show was at a local bingo hall and featured about 25 dealer tables. Lots of vintage cards and autographed memorabilia were mixed in with the usual dime-boxes, quarter boxes, and buck-boxes. I only had a few hours so I pulled a chair out of the corner and posted up at one of the dealer’s dime-box tables. Picked up about 300 cards in total. Here are a few of my favorites.

I recently started a player collection of Rickey Henderson. These cards will help fill some gaps. You can check out a post I did on Rickey a few months ago HERE. In 1995, Topps featured Rickey in their Bazooka set. He hit .300 that year with 9 home runs and 32 stolen bases. I was happy to find the 2001 Topps Traded as it features Rickey in his Padres uniform and books for $12. Not bad for a dime. Lastly, Rickey showed up in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Leaf featured his on the base paths in their relatively uninteresting base set.

I found myself pulling more and more of the Topps Archives out of the boxes. I’ve always thought that Topps Archives was one of the more creative sets out there. Each year, the 300 card set is broken up into three different designs from the past. I’ve always liked the 1991 Topps design and anytime I can find someone from the Mets is always a bonus. Mookie looks great on the 1984 Topps design again as well. Topps really outdid themselves with the photo choice of Xander Bogaerts. This one will go into my “personal favorites” binder.

I’ve already completed my 2014 Topps Gyspsy Queen set but I wanted to add this Johnny Bench to my catcher’s collection. Same goes for the 2000 Fleer Greats card. Despite never being a set that caught my eye, I grabbed it for a dime. Allen & Ginter is a great set for signatures and some years the design strikes my eye, 2012 wasn’t really one of them but Bench looks good on this one.

I decided I would start a mini-collection of cards with the ivy-covered outfield wall in the background. I was able to add three good ones out of the dime-box. The Fleer Ultra Ray Lankford is much more vibrant in person. He is a widely underrated player given that he played most of his career in a lackluster Cardinals era. He came in at the tail end of the Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith era and was traded to San Diego just before the Pujols/Molina era. Even still, his 38 career WAR as a Cardinal is 13 more than McGee, and just 3 behind Lou Brock. Andrew Cashner’s Topps Chrome rookie card features him warming up at Wrigley. Today he can be found at Camden Yards in an Orioles uniform. Predicted to be the worst team in baseball this year, they are off to a hot start with a new GM, new manager and virtually a new 25 man roster. Leaf captured a likely force out at second for Ryne Sandberg’s base card. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

As a nine year old little league player, I volunteered to play catcher at one of the team’s first practices. Mainly because I thought wearing the equipment was cool and because Gary Carter was a catcher. The other reason was because if I didn’t do it, we probably wouldn’t have had a catcher. Our main pitcher threw harder than anyone in the league. I learned to catch the ball at all costs because if I didn’t, it was going to hurt – bad. I love cards of catchers. I love to see the changes in the protective gear and the mitts over the decades.

Three more for the Adrian Beltre player collection. Those 2018 Archives on the 1991 design get me every time. Beltre is one of the greatest third baseman of our generation. With Beltre, you have the big traditional numbers: 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 runs batted in. You have the awards: five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 Most Valuable Player Award finishes. And you even have an outrageous advanced statistic: 95.7 career wins above replacement, which trailed only Albert Pujols among active players when Beltre retired last year. He also hates to have his head touched. I love to watch YouTube clips of teammates trying to catch him off guard and touch his head.

The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has been a hotbed for Major League baseball talent and I try to collect the local guys. Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 draft and has played for the entirety of his 15 year career. If he can stay healthy, Ryan may close out his career with 300+ home runs. I picked these up for .30 cents and realized that I had picked up the middle SP card not only once, not twice, but THREE times. Not the first time that’s happened. Ryan’s parents still live here in the Virginia Beach area and his mother used to come into my restaurant pretty frequently. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. You can learn more about the disease and help the cause through Ryan’s “ZiMS Foundation.”

David Wright is another local baseball star that I collect. I always said that I would never collect unlicensed brand cards like Donruss but these Wrights look so good that I had to pick them up. Wright was not on the Captain of the Mets but played 1,585 games across 14 seasons, with 1,777 hits and a .296 batting average. Spinal stenosis took him off of the field for the last two years but he remained firmly at the helm of the team from the dugout.

There is another show in a few weeks. We are getting a new driveway installed soon so the Wife has me on a budget. It’s a good thing I still have $59 in cash left over from this show.