Rickey Henderson’s 1980 rookie card is a thing of beauty, no doubt.
Displaying Henderson trademark crouched batting stance, it’d be a nice card even if it wasn’t extremely valuable. High-grade versions of the future Hall of Famer and Oakland Athletic great’s 1980 Topps card cost way more than you’ll pay for a typical complete set.
Rickey’s rookie is the first card you probably think of when you hear “1980 Topps” but let’s dig a little deeper into the box.
Here’s a list of eight from ’80 that’s not strictly based on value, although you’ll find some of the better cards on it. It’s a trip back to the final season in which Topps held the sole MLB license and some of the cards that made their last unchallenged set a memorable one. Click the name of each player to see them for sale on eBay.
Like Henderson, Smith has a valuable early-career card in this set. For anyone who doesn’t want to plunk down for Smith’s rookie card, which can run nearly twice as much in mint condition, this is the next-best thing.
It’s also a good card for any true Smith fan in that it captures the journey he took in the early part of his career. Far from the backflipping virtuoso who redefined the shortstop position in St. Louis, Smith toiled in relative obscurity in San Diego, particularly at the plate. This card couldn’t do a better of showing that (though to his credit, he also won his first of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves that year).
The Kansas City Royals’ legend had arguably his finest season in 1980, flirting with for much of the year with becoming the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400. While Brett ultimately finished at .390, it was good for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, with the Royals also winning the AL pennant.
Brett’s card from that is worth having to recall that last great flirtation with history and you can own a very nice one for under $10.
Throughout the late 1970s, the Philadelphia Phillies perpetually came close, but no cigar, to their first World Series appearance since 1950. This finally changed not long after Rose joined the team as a high-profile free agent signing, with the Phillies winning their first World Series title in 1980.
While Rose only hit .282 that year, with anemic power numbers for a first baseman like a single home run and a .354 slugging percentage, he established himself as a rallying veteran presence for his club. Teammates like Mike Schmidt have reputedly said Rose’s signing put the Phillies over the top.
His 1980 card, a great shot of a field general, often goes for under $5.
With a swing that would shake the heavens, Reggie Jackson smacked 563 lifetime home runs in the regular season, plus another 18 in the postseason. He also struck out like nobody’s business, fanning a record 2,597 times.
It’s hard to tell whether the outcome of his swing in his 1980 card is good or bad, but the shot seems a fitting testament to a man who often swung for the fences. And it’s an affordable tribute, with the card available for just a few bucks.
The Ryan Express began a nine-year run with the Houston Astros in 1980. But even though he signed with Houston in November 1979, his 1980 card shows him playing for his previous team, the California Angels. I guess Topps’ deadline came early that year.
Whatever the uniform he’s wearing, it’s an apt shot of a workhorse pitcher who averaged an unworldly 302 strikeouts and 163 walks during his years in Anaheim. While high grade examples can punch up the price, a sharp ungraded one can be had for under $20.
For anyone dying for an Astros card of Ryan from that year, though, Burger King and Topps put one out, and it’s not expensive.
Ryan solidified his Hall of Fame case in Houston, setting the all-time strikeout record and never looking back. His rotation mate Richard might have joined him, but the hard-throwing former first round pick suffered a career-ending stroke in July. He struck out 313 in 1979, setting an Astros team record that lasted until Gerrit Cole broke it last year.
Richard’s 1980 card, which captures the 6’8” pitcher in all his glory, is a fitting homage to what might have been. You can usually find it in the common pile but it doesn’t really belong there.
For anyone looking for an affordable rookie card in the 1980 Topps set, the debut card for the future Toronto Blue Jays ace is an easy choice at a buck or two. It shows a young Stieb, who was already in his element in 1980, making his first American League All Star team. Only Jack Morris would win more games in the 80s than Stieb.
The 1980 Topps card for the Milwaukee Brewers slugger — who led the American League in home runs in 1982 and helped his team to the World Series — won’t put anyone’s kid through college. It probably won’t even buy them a soda in the student union.
But, like Rose, it’s a great shot of a bygone type of ballplayer. Gorman was an all or nothing player known for bombs, strikeouts, chasing fly balls into fences and hoisting some of Milwaukee’s favorite beverages. They don’t make ‘em like Stormin’ Gorman or Charlie Hustle anymore.