Friday, March 21, 2008

Collecting Memories: 1988 Topps Baseball

For as long as I've liked baseball, I've been a fan of the Cleveland Indians.

Living in Buffalo, people assume the reasoning behind this is that the Bisons are Cleveland's AAA affiliate team. Well, although that may be true, I started following baseball in 1988, at which time Buffalo's minor league club was affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In fact, 1987 was the last year the Bisons would be affiliated with the Indians until 1995.

No, quite simply, I'm a fan of the Indians because both of my parents are from Cleveland. My brother, however, was an A's fan since his favorite player was Jose Canseco.

1988 was also the first year that my brother and I started saving the baseball cards we bought. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had purchased baseball cards before. I distinctly remember my dad teaching me to sort 1986 Topps cards by team and I can also recall opening up packs of 1987 Topps cards (those green wrappers are what I remember most) on a TV tray in my living room while drinking a grape soda from a glass bottle. What happened to these cards I'll never know, but very likely they were thrown out when my family moved in the summer of '87.

This memory is a little fuzzy, but in the spring of 1988 my brother and I went with my mom to visit... somebody. I don't remember who. It was definitely a Saturday. On the way home my mom stopped to get us something to drink at a convenience store and we asked her to look and see if they had any Garbage Pail Kids. They did not. Instead, she came out with two packs of 1988 Topps baseball cards for each of us. I remember being disappointed that these cards weren't Garbage Pail Kids and being jealous that my brother got a checklist card, but that's about all I remember about those packs.

Since at the time they were merely a substitute for what we really wanted, my brother and I pretty much forgot about those baseball cards until the day before school started that September. My mom took us to the local convenience store and we looked for, you guessed it, Garbage Pail Kids.


Not ones to go home empty-handed, we were determined to use our allowance on something. He bought five packs of 1988 Topps baseball (The Real One!) and I bought...

...ten packs of ALF cards.

My brother got one double in those five packs- Mike Loynd. He gave the card to me and it was the first 88 Topps card I ever saved. The cards from the packs we got in the spring failed to re-surface.

All throughout the fall that year, we'd buy some packs whenever we could. It's funny now that I can afford a wax box of the stuff pretty much whenever the mood strikes me. I remember when saving up allowance and getting five packs was a big deal. I remember how the outside of those packs smelled and how much I loved it. I also remember being forced to buy a pack of cards from a drugstore after the lady behind the counter caught me smelling it a little too vigorously. "Don't put that back in the box after you've had your mouth on it," she said. Embarrassed, I didn't have the courage to tell her I didn't have my mouth on it, I just enjoyed the smell... aaaand now I'm getting off-track here.

For some reason, my brother and I had a weird fascination with those "leaders" cards. I remember looking through friends' piles and pulling out all of those vignetted beauties I could find. Naturally, they assumed I knew something they didn't and were very reluctant to trade them. The day I came home from school having just traded for a beat-up looking Twins leaders card was a proud day. It was the first time I had acquired a leaders card my brother did not have first.

Another thing my brother and I were always excited to get were manager cards. Especially Doc Edwards and Tony LaRussa, at the time the managers of our favorite teams. We really liked the team checklist feature on the back of them, because at that time, we sorted our cards by team.

Naturally, I tried to collect the complete Indians team. By mid-fall, I had all of them except one.

Tommy Hinzo.

I had never heard of the guy at the time, and his career, as you can see, didn't last very long but I will never ever forget that name as long as I live.

Try as I did, I never pulled him from a wax pack. Neither did my brother. None of my friends had him in their piles. The only person I knew of who had a Tommy Hinzo card was this kid my brother and I hung around with. He had the complete factory set of 1988 Topps. He also had a saying- "One to keep, one to sell, one to trade!" At least he let me see the card. He'd never trade it to me (and I tried really, really hard to get it; I have to believe Mattinglys were offered at some point), but at least I knew what I was looking for now.

Well, November rolled around and by this time my brother and I had started pulling more doubles from packs than cards we needed, so we started buying Donruss baseball (Fleer was nowhere to be found in my parts until 1990 and then you couldn't avoid the stuff if you tried).

Guess who one of the first cards I pulled was?

So there I sat with my 1988 Topps Indians team set with the 88 Donruss Tommy Hinzo that my mom convinced me was just as good rounding things out.

I eventually ended up with the 88 Topps version but I have no idea how. I don't think that bratty kid ever relented and I know my brother got a complete factory set that year for Christmas, but I don't think it came from him. Probably I don't remember because by the time I got it it was likely 1989 and I was too shocked to see cards of Ron Kittle and Terry Francona in Indians uniforms to care much about last year's team set.

Still, it's a pretty cool looking card. And by cool I mean it looks like the photo was shot on an absolutely miserable day for baseball.

Whenever I run across one of these cards today (and it's still not a common occurrence; I've bought maybe two wax boxes, three cello boxes and at least three vending boxes and have maybe 3 of these cards total) it's as exciting as it would have been had I pulled it back when I needed it in '88. It's like I needed this one card for so long that it's kind of programmed in my mind to be excited when I come across it, no matter how many I might already have.

You'd think, having started collecting in 1988, that I'd have memories of looking for that Canseco or McGwire or Bo Jackson card. Nope. Saw lots of those at the time. They were cool, but I didn't need them for my Indians team set.

By the way, I think it was fitting that it took me about a half hour of internet searching to find the image I used in this article. Still as hard to find for me as he ever was, that crafty Tommy Hinzo.


White Sox Cards said...

Your Tommy Hinzo trading experience reminds me of my trading experience for the 1985 Topps Britt Burns card.

I was never able to get it from my friend who had it. I offered everything under the sun for it, to no avail.

Great story!

Bubba said...

The reason no one could ever find any Tommy Hinzo Topps cards is because I had most of them. I think I had 10 or so of that card. Same with the 88 Topps Les Lancaster. But Mario Soto? He was a tough one for me to pull. It's always the card you need/want the most.

Andy said...

i love it, and not just because i am totally biased when it comes to 88 Topps.