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By Christmas of 1979, Jeff Holly was done with baseball, even if he or the Detroit Tigers didn’t know it at the time.
And, even if collectors thought he was just beginning.
See, there were some chapters to his story …
The Chicago White Sox had drafted the left-handed pitcher out of high school in the 17th round of the 1971 June draft, and then he spent five years clawing his way up to Double-A. But after a 10-12 record with the Knoxville Sox in 1974, Holly’s ERA ballooned to 5.21 in 1975, and Chicago released him in April of 1976.
After a couple months on the shelf, Holly was picked up by the Minnesota Twins in late May and shipped to the Double-A Orlando Twins. A 5-5 record with a 2.27 ERA in 96 innings over 25 games earned Holly a promotion to the Triple-A Tacoma Twins to start 1977.
Then, after Holly pitched well in the northwest during April, the unthinkable happened — the Twins called him up on May 1, and he spent most of the season in the Major Leagues. It didn’t go all that well for Holly or the Twins — 2-3, 6.89 ERA — and he split 1978 between Double-A and Minnesota.
Though he was underwhelming again, Holly was better in ’78 than he had been the year before, closing his Big League season at 1-1, 3.57 over 15 appearances. Nothing to write home about, but apparently something to write Topps about, as T.C.G. decided that performance was good enough to include Holly in their 1979 Topps set (#371):
Topps must have felt good about their selection and Holly ‘s rookie card when the 26-year-old began the season in Minnesota, but the bloom quickly fell off the Spring rose. Sporting an 0-0 record with a 7.11 ERA, Holly was dispatched to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens as the season’s opening month waned, and he never made it back to the Bigs.
Like … ever.
But all that summer, collectors could pull Holly’s ho-hum-but-still-better-than-your-non-existent rookie card from Topps wax packs, and they could see how young he was despite the long track record on that green card back.
He’d made it — not in a big way, but he’d be around for awhile.
And, apparently, the Detroit Tigers brass snagged a few of those cards, too, because they traded Fernando Arroyo for Holly on December 5, 1975.
So, for the first time ever, the Tigers and collectors headed into Christmas with a little Holly — cardboard or otherwise — to pad out their holiday trimmings.
That same Christmas, San Francisco Giants first baseman/left fielder Mike Ivie must have been feeling just a bit more secure about his baseball future.
At 27 years of age, Ivie appeared in 133 games for the 1979 Giants, batting .286 over 455 at-bats. He also swatted 27 home runs and drove in 89 runs, both career highs. All of that was good for 2.8 wins above average (WAR), also a personal best.
Yep, Mike Ivie was at his peak, but, unlike Holly, he was a Big League veteran.
After the San Diego Padres grabbed Ivie with the number-one overall pick of the 1970 draft, Ivie made it to the Majors late the next season when he was still just 19. He didn’t see Big League action again until 1974, but he was getting lots of playing time by 1975.
And well before that, the would-be wunderkind was showing up in collectors’ piles of goodies.
Ivie debuted in cardboard along with Darcy Fast and Derrel Thomas as “1972 Rookie Stars Padres” in Topps’ 1972 set (#457). When he didn’t stick — or even make an MLB appearance in ’72 — Topps took another shot with “1973 Rookie Catchers” that showcased Ivie along with Bob Boone and Skip Jutze (1973 Topps #613).
And when Ivie still didn’t make the Big League cut in 1973, Topps didn’t bet on him in 1974 and didn’t bite on his meager 12-game cup o’ joe in ’74, either. After a two-year cardboard absence and a solid rookie season in 1975, though, Ivie was back in the cardboard fold with a pretty sweet 1976 Topps card that Dale Murphy copied in 1983.
From there, it was nothing but the smooth sailing of more or less regular playing time and a trade up the National League West standings to the San Francisco Giants after the 1977 season for Mike Ivie.
So after a to-that-point career year in 1978, Ivie landed his first Giants card in the 1979 Topps issue to set up a historic opportunity for astute collectors.
It couldn’t have been an easy task, though.
Sure, Ivie was a star of sorts, and there is a good chance that Bay Area collectors set aside his cards as something special that year.
But how many Twins fans would have afforded the same courtesy to Holly?
And how many collectors could have possibly thought to make special accommodations for both cards?
And of those, how many could maintain their baseball focus when temperatures dropped and the Doug Williams rookie card started popping out of wax packs of 1979 Topps football?
Darned few, I’d wager.
If any did manage to run the gauntlet to completion and to marry the holiday spirit with their collections that December, though … well, the reward was grand.
Because, even as Holly took his place on the shelf of baseball past and the 1980s crashed around Mike Ivie, with the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers, collectors could reminisce about that magical December of 1979.
After all, it was the only time in hobby history that we were able to decorate our yuletides with Holly and Ivie from the same baseball card set.
How’s that for a priceless Christmas memory?
(Check out our other player card posts here.)