From roughly seventh grade until I graduated high school, my walls were covered with baseball. There was wallpaper there but you couldn’t see it, because every square inch was covered with baseball cards, posters, clippings, box scores, magazine articles, etc. from a select few players: Mark McGwire, Orel Hershiser, Andres Galarraga, and I think Todd Zeile and Jose Canseco were up there as well. However, the largest tract of real estate was taken up by one man.
Last December, Alex Crisafulli of Chirps fame wrote a two-part article (part 1 here, part 2 here) on the top 10 Ozzie Smith ball cards and I was transported back to those days when I would go down to the local card shop and look around, buying various packs and hoping Osborne Earl was in them, or looking for a new Ozzie single in the glass cases that I didn’t have. Like Alex, I got many different ones (though if he got every major one, he might have topped me no pun intended–I could have sworn I had the ’85 Donruss he talks about but I can’t find it now). While I collected a lot of players, Ozzie was the top card (yes, that one was) that I focused on.
Last June, we moved into a new house and a month or so ago we finally finished the last few boxes that were in the garage. Going through them, I found where all my various Ozzie cards were at, still in the sleeves that they were in when I attached them by straight pin to the walls. My son and I had fun looking through them and I brought them inside, trying to figure out how best to display them.
I’ve not figured that answer out yet, but since we’re still desperately keeping this coronavirus series along, it seemed reasonable to share a few of them with you. Unlike Alex, I’m not going to rate them nor am I going to stay anywhere close to 10. That said, as I look at the ones that I have in front of me, we’ll follow his lead and turn this into a multi-part thread. (Heck, I need stuff to keep this series going anyway.) I’m also going to do my best not to repeat any of the ones on his list, which you should very much read if you haven’t already. This is completely subjective, as I just took a selection of the ones that I had that I thought I liked the best today. Ask me next week and the selection might be different.
Since we aren’t ranking them, let’s get into them via company. First up, Donruss.
Donruss started making baseball cards in 1981, so these are the oldest Ozzie Smith Donruss ones there are. There’s something appealing about the simplicity, especially with the ’82 using a bat and a ball for the team and player name. The same went for ’83, when the ball became a glove (and moved to the other side of the bat). That was Ozzie’s first Cardinal Donruss card, because I don’t believe Donruss went for the traded/rookies set that came out later in the year like Fleer and Topps did.
I started collecting baseball cards in 1987. I’m sure I had a few before that, but I didn’t really turn it into any sort of serious hobby until then. (My collecting actually tracks the boom and bust of that era pretty well, as I was starting to get out by ’91/’92). Which means those ’87 Cards have a special place for me because they were the first ones. This black bordered card was pretty appealing to me and it probably helps that red goes so well against it.
Donruss got a little repetitive over the next few years. The orange and black was….a choice. I don’t know that it’s terrible, as it does stand out, it’s just not the colors anyone but Giants fans really associate with the game. I have to say I like the green for the All-Stars in ’89 pretty well, though. I’ve always been a fan of a darker green. The blue might have been OK, but after three years it felt like a lot of the same. Though nice action shot of the Wizard helps!
1992 was a strong departure from the norm that the company had been putting out. The blue and white seemed to give it a fresh feel and technology had moved to the point where they could get some color on the back as well, which was nice.
OK, let’s move on to Fleer. Alex had the ’87 Fleer in his writeup, so I won’t be using it. However, that was the first factory set I owned (which is another reason, as the Ozzie from that year is still in that box) and I remember tracking the price of it in the Beckett monthly magazine every month. I think it maxed at about $100 or so, which I thought was outstanding since I bought it at $20 or $25. Now you can get the full set and the update for $5.50 before shipping.
If there was ever a card that screamed “old”, it’s this one. I honestly think you can make a better card with some apps out there now. I do like the border frame, but the picture almost looks like it was taken by a fan to me. Still, it’s one of the older cards of Ozzie I have, so I’ll give it the hat tip for that reason.
Fleer was a bit hit or miss with me, but I really liked the crispness of the ’88 set. The backs were a nice blue and white as well and it felt pretty professional. The Ozzie and Ryne Sandberg card was a favorite because the girl I had a crush on in high school was a big Sandberg fan and we’d go back and forth on who was better. Then you had the extra subset on the 1987 World Series, which saw Ozzie get his own card there as well.
The 1989 Fleer is most known for the Bill Ripken profanity card, but that wasn’t why I got a lot of them. (At least, I must have–I have at least three of this card in the sleeve.) I think the gray worked for me then, though it’s a little bland now. Kinda cool that Ozzie expands past the borders of the frame, though. (And why did they have to take the picture at Wrigley?) The ’90 was pretty sharp with the white border and the team color providing the frame, a bit like the ’88 that I liked.
Last company for today. Let’s take a look at Score.
I don’t know if I’m in the minority or not, but I absolutely loved the original Score set in 1988. I loved the bright colors as a border/frame. I liked the fact that they were in chunks–the purple ran for the first so many cards, followed by another color, then another, which made the set stand out in the box (and easier for you to find a certain card if you didn’t know the number). I enjoyed the picture on the back and the writeup about the player along with the stats. I even enjoyed the packs, which were more transparent and you could often see who the first and the last cards in the pack were. Plus those little insert motion cards with the info on the back! I bought a ton of these and then finally got a factory set of this run as well.
As Alex said in his posts, if you don’t get the best fielding shortstop ever actually fielding in your cards, what are you even doing? That’s where Score was solid. Almost all of the cards I have of Ozzie from them (save his actual ’89 card–the one shown is from a Superstar subset) had him in the field and some pretty good action shots of his bread and butter.
Next time, we’ll look at Topps and Upper Deck plus some random cards that I picked up along the way!