It’s always nice when a story in our archives is discovered by someone who appreciates the subject matter. It’s even more fun when a little tidbit is brought back to the surface because of their discovery.
In the latest post on the SABR baseball card blog, long-time baseball writer Rob Neyer wrote about the long-forgotten 1985 Circle K All-Time Home Run Kings set. It was among the first of a slew of little boxed sets, mostly produced by Topps and Fleer and distributed through various types of retail outlets in the mid-to-late 1980s. He referenced our pretty extensive rundown of them from a few years ago.
The fun part of the SABR blog post was the reference to the Home Run Kings set putting Joe DiMaggio on the checklist without actually having him in the set. DiMaggio, by that time, was starting to make decent money off his name and likeness and apparently Topps couldn’t strike a deal to use his card in the set.
Neyer mentioned the design of the cards, which were made in Ireland, where Topps printed its white stock products during that time. The cards used photos with a small, plain white border and the player’s name in small letters at the bottom. It’s a very simplistic look that Topps also used on its wrapper redemption mail order “send in” glossy sets for several years during the 80s. The cards are a little like the classic 1953 Bowman set in that regard.
I’ve always felt that for collectors of modern era cards, some of the sets Topps produced as “side bars” during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 90s were underrated—or at least more fun than they get credit for. I’m referring to the inserts in various types of packaging or used as mail order sets. Not unlike today, the different distribution methods are what makes many of them unique. Topps’ 100-card jumbo cello packs held the 22-card Glossy Rookie sets; the big blister rack packs sold at K-Mart in 1989 and ’90 gave us the Batting Leaders glossy insert sets that are very tough to find today (how many people bought blister packs at K-Mart for 3 bucks a pop?).
The Mini League Leaders produced from 1986-88 were fairly innovative little glossy (there’s that word again) sets that were sold in wax packs—and even vending boxes (bet you didn’t know that). Today, they remain almost completely ignored and available for the cost of a fast food lunch despite having about a dozen Hall of Famers in each.
For sure, it was a different time. Card companies were still looking for unique little bonuses that would drive sales and partnering with as many retail chains as they could rather than being slaves to the autograph and relic cards and pricey boxes that would soon engulf the hobby. If nothing else, they’re a reminder of the different places one could find baseball cards just in the course of running errands and saving wrappers.