Most of the cards I collected as a kid could be lumped under the umbrella of “common.”
My collecting heyday was the 1980s, after all, and none of the base cards were too hard to come by, whether they were superstars or bench players.
I bought new cards from 1981 to about 1991, and generally accumulated thousands from each set. It was my only hobby, and my birthday and Christmas gift lists were filled with cardboard requests.
All of this is to say that I don’t recall having a problem locating any particular card, common or not.
So I’m going to take a slightly different angle on Day 22 of the 30-Day Baseball Card Challenge, which encourages a tale about “a card of a common player that always eluded you.”
Pinch-Runners and Forbidden Names
In particular, I’ve always been a fan of the colorful names and personalities that baseball has offered up over the decades. I suspect most fans and collectors share that affinity, and it’s always fun to find cards of such luminaries as Dusty Rhodes, Rusty Kuntz, and Herb Washington.
The problem with most of these guys is that they just don’t stick around long enough to build up a satisfactory baseball card repertoire. I mean, how much better would the world be if pinch-runner (exclusively) Herb Washington had appeared on more than one card, even if it was a 1975 Topps beauty?
And, for me during the 1980s, there was no bigger hobby gap than the dearth of Shooty Babitt pasteboards.
A Shooty Star
Born Mack Neal Babitt, Shooty was selected in the 25th round of the 1977 amateur draft by the Oakland A’s. He worked his way through the Oakland farm system over the course of four seasons and then made his Major League debut on April 9, 1981. He was just 22 years old.
Babitt appeared in 54 games during that strike-shortened season, and his .256 average and 14 RBI (!) were good enough to garner 5th place in the AL Rookie of the Year award voting.
According to Rob Neyer, A’s manager Billy Martin told a peer:
If you ever see Shooty Babitt play second base for me again, I want you to Shooty me.
The fiery manager must have meant it, too, because Babitt opened the next season at Triple-A Tacoma before landing in the Montreal organization.
He never made it back to the Major Leagues, which was good news for Martin but bad news for baseball card collectors.
On the “strength” of his 1981 season, Babitt appeared in all three major issues the next season. His 1982 Topps card is one of my favorite cards in the set — the colors are vibrant, he’s in the batting cage, his signature includes “Shooty”, and … well … his name is Shooty Babitt!
But aside from a couple of minor league cards, that’s all we got.
No Shooty Babitt picture-in-picture 1983 Topps card.
No Shooty Babitt ultra scarce 1984 Donruss card.
No Shooty Babbit cupcake-bordered 1988 Fleer card.
It was a crying shame.
Babitt went on to be a scout and broadcaster, and he made headlines a few years ago for his views on gay baseball players.
I didn’t know about any of that when I was a kid, though.
All I knew was that Babitt’s name looked cool on a baseball card and that I wanted more.
Shooty Babitt was truly one of the most elusive common players of my childhood.