(This is Day 12 of our series on the “Best Card From” each year, 1960-1989. Read all the entries here.)
The 1982 Topps KMart set is a hunk of junk from a design standpoint, and it only gets worse when you throw in concepts like supply and demand.
But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely without merit. In fact, the KMarts seem to come up as a topic of discussion on these pages fairly often, so I won’t bore you gory details here.
Instead, let me just say that that ugly little boxed set featuring miniature pictures of old Topps cards taught me a lot about hobby history. It also forever tattooed certain cards onto my brain and soul to the extent that I’ll drop whatever I’m doing if one appears.
One of them is the mythical 1962 Topps Maury Wills card.
Just a rung below the Wills concoction on my list of must-have, must-love, must-write-about pasteboards is the 1971 Topps Vida Blue card.
That Blue card is included in the KMart set by virtue of his winning the American League MVP award in 1971. Here, I’ll let Topps and KMart tell that story, courtesy of the Blue’s KMart card back:
Vida was winner of both American League’s Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards for 1971 … finished season with 1.82 Earned Run Average and 8 Shutouts to lead league … fanned 301 batters while sporting 24-8 mark … was winner of 10 straight games during campaign … became majors’ first 20-game winner with Shutout over White Sox, 1-0, August 7th.
Even as a beginning fan and collector, I knew those were pretty good numbers.
And I also had a couple of late-career Blue cards by that point, most notably his 1983 Topps card. Aided with that hunk of cardboard, I was able to figure out that Blue was just 21 years old during most of that magical season of 1971.
I was duly impressed.
But Blue’s prowess on the mound was just a small part of the power this card exerted (and still exerts) over me.
Clear Blue Peace
First, there was the soggy field, the dark & empty stands, the gray skies at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium that forms the backdrop for the card’s photo. It was as depressing as the 1981 Topps Steve McCatty that always brought me down, and I wondered how anyone would even bother to go outdoors on a day like that, in a place like that.
But Vida Blue not only braved his drab surroundings to take the field on the day this shot was snapped, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
And he wanted me to enjoy myself, too, or at least to live a peaceful life.
Vida crunched his frame to fit inside the black-bordered TV screen of his baseball card, getting right down to my level to look me in the eye.
“Peace,” I read his extended index and middle fingers to say. Now I see it could have been just a wave. Or maybe a partial pitch-grip demonstration.
At the time, though, I thought he was a hippy because those were the only people I knew of who talked about peace like that.
I also thought he might have had a little help with that big smile of his, but it didn’t matter. Here was a baseball player stuck in a mudhole of a stadium, yet he seemed happy about it.
How could I not be happy, too, when holding his card?
Shining Cardboard Moment
A year or two later, I finally saw the 1971 Vida Blue card in real life, and I’ll be darned if he wasn’t beaming on the back of the thing, too! Crappy black-and-white headshot or not, it cemented this cardboard rectangle in my pantheon of baseball cards for all time. It didn’t hurt anything that it also taught me about Blue’s 1970 no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins.
Blue bounced around for a few more years after I first “discovered” him, and I couldn’t understand how a guy who was such a shooting star at 21 could fizzle to barely an ember by his middle thirties.
I didn’t know about the drugs, not really.
And I didn’t know about the devastating toll that nearly 300 innings can take on your left arm when you do it year after year for a decade.
All I knew was that the 1971 Topps Vida Blue was a work of baseball art.
It still is.