The first set I ever put together strictly from packs that I opened myself in the year they were issued was 1984 Topps.
It was an interesting and varied issue that featured the usual stars, rookies, and special subsets, plus the addition of colorful “Active Career Leaders” cards that spotlighted many of the future Hall of Famers who were still playing as the 1980s neared their midpoint.
Topps also honored three retiring legends with a “1983 Highlight” card that featured Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry, and Carl Yastrzemski. It was a nice sentiment, and I loved the card in some ways, but it was pretty strange in others.
For instance …
1. Topps didn’t know what “Highlight” means. The Cincinnati Reds were terrible in the early 1980s and, by the time I started following them in 1983, Johnny Bench was about the only interesting thing they had going (aside from Mario Soto). His retirement was no highlight in my book, and I suspect the same held true for Yaz and Boston Red Sox fans. And Perry’s retirement must have dinged Vaseline’s standing in the stock market.
2. Johnny Bench was gone way too soon. Bench was just 35 when he hung up his spikes, but his body was just too broken down after so many years behind the plate in Cincy. You have to think that he’d still be going if he played today, thanks to better handling of players by management, easy movement between leagues (opening up the DH), and bigger contracts. I’d have been down with that.
3. Carl Yastrzemski played until he was 71. Just look at his picture for proof.
4. Carl Yastrzemski suffered from chronic pain — again, just look at the picture. Whether his ailments stemmed from playing the game at such an advanced age, playing in Boston, or bad clam chowder is not clear.
5. Gaylord Perry played until he was 73. Rumor is that he was 40 at birth. There are some rumors that he is actually Bench’s father.
6. All three men played their final game on October 2, 1983. Also on that date, Art Monk of the NFL Washington Redskins began a streak of recording at least one pass reception in a game that would eventually extend to 183 consecutive contests.
7. Perry played for six more franchises (8) than Yaz and Bench did combined. Apparently, his pitches had a lot of *ahem* movement on them.
There is plenty more to be learned from this classic card, but I’ll leave it to you to uncover the rest of the hidden truth. After all, discovery is half the fun of knowledge, right?
But as a quick added bonus, did you know that Johnny Bench was a pitchman of some renown off the field, too? Some would even say he was perfect: no runs, no drips, no error.