In fact, Donruss didn’t put out a line of baseball cards until 1981, the year after I graduated college: not a time when I was collecting many baseball cards. My friend’s gift pack, then, was from Donruss’ second year in the baseball card game.
After Fleer won a lawsuit in 1975 to break Topps’ monopoly on baseball cards, the sluice gates opened to release a slurry of increasingly elaborate and expensive cards. From 1981 to ‘87, Donruss was one of a trio of companies making baseball cards, including Fleer and Topps – all of which gave you gum. However, Topps appealed the Fleer lawsuit and the court ruled that Topps’ exclusive rights only applied to cards sold with gum. So, from then on, Fleer and Donruss were gum-less. Fleer put team logo stickers in each pack and Donruss included three pieces of a “Hall of Fame Diamond Kings” puzzle. (More on this later.) Score made its baseball card debut in 1988 and Upper Deck in 1989. Foil cards, holograms, I lost track.
Enclosed in its wax wrapper, my pack of 1982 Donruss cards held 15 of the 660 baseball cards they produced that year. As always, it was a crapshoot as to who those 15 players would be. The expectation I felt as a child just before opening each pack of Topps still rose in me as I tore off the wrapper. Fanning out the cards, I could see right away…
This particular pack was a Hall of Fame gold mine!
Here’s are the 15 cards in my one pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards: a remarkable package of Major League Baseball heroics and history – plus three puzzle pieces!
1. Mike Schmidt (Third Base) Phillies
Now, that’s the way to start a pack of baseball cards – with the best third baseman of his day, and among the best to ever play the hot corner. Michael Jack Schmidt, born September 27, 1949 in Dayton, Ohio played his entire career for the Philadelphia Phillies – hitting 548 home runs in 18 seasons. He played his final game on May 28, 1989. One of the great Cub-killers ever, Schmidt was voted National League MVP three times, an All-Star 12 times, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. He was voted into Cooperstown on 444 out of 460 ballots. So, who were the 16 absolute morons who didn’t think Mike Schmidt was a first ballot Hall of Famer? Probably bitter Cubs fans.
2. Joe Morgan (Second Base) Giants
A younger generation of baseball fans might think that Joe Leonard Morgan is just another ex-jock broadcaster. But, patrolling second base for the World Champion Cincinnati Reds, Joe Morgan was the central cog in The Big Red Machine: a star among stars. With teammates Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, and Dave Concepción, Morgan led the Reds to back-to-back World Series rings in 1975 and ‘76 — and was also the National League MVP in those two years: the first second baseman in the history of the National League to win consecutive MVP awards. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James named the 10-time All-Star the best second baseman in baseball history, ahead of #2 Eddie Collins and #3 Rogers Hornsby. Of course, Joe Morgan was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1990.
3. Rich Gossage (Pitcher) Yankees
The next Hall of Famer in my pack was briefly a Chicago Cub: Richard Michael “Goose” Gossage — for 22 seasons one of the most feared relief pitchers in the Majors. From 1972-1994 Gossage played for nine different teams but he had his best years with the Yankees and Padres, becoming baseball’s greatest big game closer before the iceman Mariano Rivera cometh. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the 8-time All-Star was the epitome of the Closer as Character with his Wild West whiskers, nasty attitude and screaming heater. He led the AL in saves three times and his 310 saves are fourth all-time. Then again, he’s also the career leader in blown saves (112). That’s what happens when you always get the ball with the game on the line. And Goose Gossage got the final out to clinch a division, league or World Series title seven times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.
For all you Cub fans: Gossage got his 300th career save while pitching for the Cubbies on August 6, 1988. Entering the game with two out in the ninth and two Phillies on base – he got Phil Bradley to pop it up to Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, preserving a 7-4 Cubs victory. Cubs win! Cubs win!
“Sweet Lou” Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but a lot of Detroit Tiger fans think that’s a crying shame. Louis Rodman Whitaker, Jr. played second for the Detroit Tigers from 1977 to 1995. Whitaker teamed with shortstop Alan Trammell to form the longest running double play combination in major league history: arguably the most famous since Tinker to Evers to Chance. Could he field? Sweet Lou set the standard for defensive play at his position for over a decade. Could he hit? He’s one of the very few players to ever to drive a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium. Over his 19-year career, he batted .276 with 244 home runs and 2,369 hits in 2,390 games. Since he hung up his cleats, no Detroit Tiger has worn Whitaker’s jersey number (#1), although it’s not officially retired. Sweet Lou’s jersey should probably be in Cooperstown.
Hey, I got an Indian!
It’s always a big deal to get a hometown player in your package of baseball cards.
Ronald William Hassey doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, either – but he had his Hall of Fame moments. In fact, Ron Hassey is the only major league catcher to catch two perfect games. On May 15, 1981, while playing for my downtrodden Tribe, Hassey caught Len Barker‘s perfect game against the Blue Jays. A decade later, on July 28, 1991, he was playing for Montreal when he caught a perfect game for the Expos’ Dennis Martinez against the Dodgers. (Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?) While with the Oakland A’s, Hassey caught nearly all of Bob Welch‘s games, including during Welch’s 1990 Cy Young season in which he won 27 games. Hassey began his career with the Cleveland Indians, and he and future Tribe manager Mike Hargrove played together in Cleveland from 1979-1984. Many of us also remember him as a dependable late season addition to those beloved 1984 Cubs who won the NL East title before a heartbreaking loss in the NLCS to Steve Garvey and the Padres.
6. Bill Virdon (Manager) Astros
William Charles Virdon was the starting center fielder on the 1960 World Champion Pirates. He hit a ground ball in Game 7 of the World Series that took a bad hop and hit Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. Virdon reached first base and helped ignite a late-game rally that culminated in Bill Mazeroski‘s legendary walk-off home run. When his playing days were done, Virdon managed the Pirates (1972-73), Yankees (1974-75), Astros (1975-82), and Expos (1983-84). As a manager, he added another unique chapter to the annals of baseball trivia — as one of only four men to be voted Manager of the Year in both leagues. Virdon was the 1974 American League Manager of the Year in with the Yankees – and in 1980 he was named National League Manager of the Year with the Astros.
Roger Farrell Erickson was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 6, 1978, with the Minnesota Twins. His rookie year in The Bigs was auspicious: he started 37 games, recording a 14-13 record with a 3.96 ERA and 121 strikeouts. But during his next 5 seasons, he never won more than 7 games, finishing with a career 35-53 won-loss record and a 4.13 ERA. He did, however, complete 24 of his 117 career starts: which would be a rare feat nowadays.
8. Verne Ruhle (Pitcher) Astros
Vernon Gerald Ruhle pitched in the majors from 1974 to ’86, mostly with the Tigers and Astros. In a workmanlike 13-year career, Ruhle had a 67-88 won-loss record with 582 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA. (Which would be pretty damn good if it was you or me pitching.) Ruhle ended his career in the Angels’ bullpen and made his last appearance on the mound in Game 4 of the 1986 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. Ruhle took the ball from Manager Gene Mauch with the Angels trailing 1-0 with two out in the seventh and gave up two more runs in the eighth. Luckily, the Angels tied it in the ninth and won the game in 11 innings. Ruhle fared far better than his fellow Angels pitcher Donnie Moore did in the very next game of the series. In Game 5, the Angels were one strike away from advancing to the World Series for the first time — but Moore became the goat of the ’86 ALCS by giving up a two-out, two-strikes home run to Dave Henderson in the top of the ninth inning — and then giving up Henderson’s game-winning sacrifice fly two innings later. Boston went on to win the AL Pennant in 7 games. Hounded by the media and unforgiving fans, Moore became depressed, sank into alcoholism over the next two years, and killed himself on July 19, 1989. After his playing days, Ruhle became a pitching coach with the Astros, Phillies, Mets and Reds. One game can make a big difference. In Game 4, The Angels hitters came back to save Verne Ruhle from a loss. They didn’t save Donnie Moore.
Outfielder Otoniel Vélez Franceschi mercifully went by “Otto Velez” or a lot of baseball beat writers would have worn out their proofreaders between 1973 and ’83. (This was long before computer spell-check.) To make things even simpler, they nicknamed him “The Swatto”. Otto the Swatto is one of several players to hit four home runs in a doubleheader, a feat he accomplished while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 4, 1980 against my beloved Tribe. But Velez’ hit his four home runs for the cycle: a solo shot, a two-run homer, a three-run blast — and a grand slam. That’s pretty damn cool. He finished his career with 78 home runs – and he ended it playing for the Indians. But Otto didn’t swatto any home runs for the Tribe, which doesn’t seem fair after hitting four against us in just one day.
10. John Urrea (Pitcher) Padres
Los Angeles born pitcher John Urrea was no longer in the Major Leagues when his 1982 baseball card came out. John Goody Urrea was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1974 amateur draft. In 1977, he moved up from Double-A to the Cardinals as a reliever — and won his first five games as a starter. It was a promising debut, but in a five-year career with St. Louis and San Diego, that promise was not kept. Urrea pitched well for St. Louis in ’77, recording a 7-6 record with 4 saves and a 3.16 ERA, but he found himself back in the minors the next year. He fared better in the Cardinals bullpen in 1980, going 4-1 with 3 saves and 3.48 ERA – but St. Louis sent him and Terry Kennedy to San Diego in a 1981 trade for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace and some others. Despite the fact that Urrea posted a stellar 2.39 ERA in 38 relief appearances for manager Frank Howard’s Padres, his career was over after that season at the age of 26. I wondered how a guy with a lifetime ERA of 3.74 could have such a brief and spotty career – but I couldn’t find much info about Urrea. However, one of the few things I did find was very intriguing. It’s an interesting blog article with a provocative series of comments. Check it out at: http://cards.devonyoung.com/padres/john-urrea/
For 11 seasons, journeyman pitcher Thomas Gerald Underwood plied his trade with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Yankees, A’s and Orioles, posting an 86-87 won-loss record and a career 3.89 ERA. Underwood’s career was not without some highlights. He helped the Phillies win their division in 1976 and ’77, and he was part of a Yankees team that won their division in 1980 and the AL Pennant in ’81. In 1978, he was voted the Blue Jays’ outstanding pitcher. Tom’s brother, Pat Underwood, pitched for the Detroit Tigers from ’79 to ’83 – one of 381 sets of brothers who have played in a Major League game. On May 31, Pat made his major league debut pitching for Detroit against his older brother Tom who started that day for the Blue Jays. They both pitched seven shutout innings, but Pat prevailed 1-0 with some relief help in the ninth. It was one of the very few cases where pitching brothers faced each other in a regulation game.
12. Dan Ford (Outfielder) Angels
Darnell “Disco Dan” Glenn Ford played in the Majors primarily as an outfielder from 1975-’85 for the Twins, Angels and Orioles. Besides having a fabulous nickname (and also having the same name as the star of “Blackboard Jungle” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), Disco Dan also had some notable on-the-field accomplishments. He hit the first home run at the rebuilt Yankee Stadium on April 15, 1976 and he hit for the cycle against the Seattle Mariners on August 10, 1979. He hit a home run for the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series on their way to the championship. (Trivia note: ’83 was the last World Series that Bowie Kuhn presided over as commissioner.) In his 11 seasons, Ford maintained a .270 career batting average and slugged 121 homers. A solid career for Disco Dan.
From 1977-1984, Edward Lee Miller was a utility outfielder for the Rangers, Braves, Tigers, and Padres. Miller never played in more than 50 games in a season – and in ’81, the year he played in those 50 games, his 23 stolen bases were 10th in the National League. But Eddie Miller biggest moment in baseball was his last. In his final game on September 30, 1984 — after 7 seasons, 138 games, 332 plate appearances and 79 career hits — Miller socked his only major league home run in his last career at bat.
14. John Stearns (Catcher) Mets
John Hardin Stearns was called up from the AAA Toledo Mud Hens to play for the Phillies, and on September 22, 1974, he made his major league debut, coming off the bench to get his first knock in two at bats. But his first game with the Phillies was his last. With young Bob Boone already established behind the plate for Philly, Stearns was expendable. (Trivia note: Bob Boone is the son of the late MLB third baseman Ray Boone, and the father of two major leaguers: Bret Boone and Aaron Boone. All four Boones were named All-Stars during their careers.) Thus, the Phillies sent Stearns to the Mets, for whom he donned the tools of ignorance from ‘75 to ’84. Stearns had the dubious distinction of being one of the best players on the worst team of his era. He represented the lowly Mets in four All-Star Games — even as his team hovered around 100 losses all four of those seasons. Stearns was fast for a catcher — with nearly twice as many stolen bases as homers during his career. But Stearns best moment in baseball may have been when he got annoyed by the Atlanta Braves’ mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa, and chased him off the field. And remember, Stearns was fast for catcher.
John Harris is 1 of 571 players to have played for the Angels – and like John Urrea, he was already out of the Major Leagues when his ‘82 baseball card came out. Harris was no bonus baby: he was picked in the 29th round of the 1976 Major League Baseball draft – and he was already 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues. His three seasons, from 1979 to ’81, were all with the California Angels. In 56 games for the Halos, Harris batted .258, with 31 hits, 5 homers and 16 RBI. But though his time in The Show was brief, he’s a baseball lifer. This year, he was hired as the field manager of the Amarillo Sox of the American Association. Harris is still living the dream.
The three 3 puzzle pieces in my package are among the 63 total pieces needed to put together the complete puzzle: a Babe Ruth collage entitled “Hall of Fame Diamond King.” Needless to say, I won’t be trying to collect them all. But I am glad that I’ve got these three pieces – and that I spent some quality time with the 15 players in this great pack of baseball cards.
Each baseball card is a life story.
It’s like reading 15 tiny novels.
With or without the gum.