Subsets, secondary sets, superstars and a trio of popular rookie cards had cardboard fans excited as the baseball card company wars heated up.
"Vintage" depends on your perspective. For collectors of old baseball cards, 1983 might be a modern era set. For those born in the ’70s and later, it’s definitely old school.
1983 was a great year in baseball and a banner year for baseball card collectors. Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan battled it out for the all-time strikeout crown. Robin Yount, coming off an MVP season, hit his 100th career home run and on the 4th of July, Dave Righetti threw the first Yankees no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Carl Yastrzemski, Gaylord Perry and Johnny Bench appeared on Topps cards by themselves for the last time and would soon join the year’s new crop of Hall of Fame inductees: Brooks Robinson, Juan Marichal, George Kell, and Walter Alston.
Then, of course there was the Pine Tar Game; when George Brett’s ninth-inning, two-run homer was disallowed when Yankees’ manager Billy Martin protested about the amount of pine tar on his bat. The decision was later overturned and the game that began in July was finished in August.
For baseball card collectors, 1983 was an exciting time, with players like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Ryne Sandberg causing a run on cases, boxes and packs as the relatively young ‘rookie card’ craze took hold. Even then, the three were ticketed for stardom and collectors knew it. 26 years later, those cards hold up as among a select few from the decade to still be held in high regard.
It is uncommon for a major league baseball player to spend the whole of his career with one team; rarer still to see a player hit consistently over .300 the way Tony Gwynn did during his 20 years with the San Diego Padres. Known for continuously studying and working on his swing, Gwynn was the contact hitter of his time. In fact, if it wasn’t for the baseball strike of 1994, Gwynn probably would have earned a spot in the .400 hitters club; listed with the greats like Ty Cobb, Roger Hornsby, and Ted Williams–a Gwynn fan and San Diego native himself.
There are three 1983 Tony Gwynn rookie cards, with his Topps #482 holding a slight lead in value. To date, Gwynn’s rookie cards have carried similar values to those of his contemporaries. However, considering his superior career and recent Hall of Fame induction, it would be prudent to think that his cards will at some point begin to reflect that.
Ryne Sandberg made his debut in 1981 with the Philadelphia Phillies but was traded to the Cubs prior to the 1982 season. In 1984, he was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player and led the Cubs to their first post season appearance since 1945. He achieved nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards due to his incredible range and accurate throwing. At bat, Sandberg had 282 career home runs, and in 1990, he became the first second baseman since Davey Johnson (1973) to hit 40 homers in a single season. The 1983 Topps set includes Sandberg’s rookie card, #83. Like Gwynn, he also appeared on Donruss and Fleer cards that year.
Wade Boggs was a left-handed hitter who won five batting titles, beginning in 1983. In 1982 he batted a .349, which would have earned him his first batting title, but the young third baseman was short of plate appearances. He holds the American League record for consecutive 200-hit seasons and he is the only player in Major League Baseball history to hit a home run as his 3,000th hit.
Boggs, too, was featured as a rookie card on the three rival companies of the day with Topps #498 being considered the most popular by most collectors. At this point in collector history, rookie cards were not readily produced before a player hit the majors. So, except for a hard-to-find Minor League card, 1983 marks the beginning of a player’s career.
The 1983 season ended with the Baltimore Orioles beating the Phillies to win the World Series.
The three rookie cards, combined a second year Cal Ripken and "Super Veteran" cards of many of the game’s top players, make the ’83 sets a pretty good value at around $60. That’s about what you’ll pay for NM copies of the three main rookie cards. Topps also produced a "traded" set for the third year in a row, with Darryl Strawberry’s once-popular rookie card and a Julio Franco first year offering about the only highlights. The company caught collectors’ eyes with a sharp, 40-card All-Star Glossy set available by mail-in on its scratch-off game. The set feature several stars, including Nolan Ryan, Brett, Yaz, Yount, Mike Schmidt and others, but can be found for less than $5.
The regular issue 1983 Fleer set was packed with a sticker, since Topps still held the exclusive rights to distribute cards with gum. The $40-50 set includes some quirky cards (who could forget the cards of Bud Black and Vida Blue, that when pieced together, formed "Black and Blue"?
Donruss cards again came with puzzle pieces and collectors chased the company’s second offering of the Diamond Kings series, portraits by Dick Perez turned into a popular subset. Popular as a factory set, one can usually land the ’83 Donruss for around $50-60 at most.
1983 singles, sets, wax on eBay