If you were looking for a particular brand of comfort during the strike-torn summer of 1981, well, Fernando Valenzuela couldn’t help you out.

But if you wanted a companion to help you celebrate a few months later, as November dawned — in that case, Fernando was definitely your man … if you were paying attention.

And make no mistake about it — the baseball world was simultaneously reeling and rejoicing as that holiday season approached all those decades ago.

Reeling because The Strike had ripped the season, and the game itself, asunder, threatening to render it unrecognizable to future generations and casting a dark shadow of ill-will over every aspect of the National Pastime even as play resumed.

Rejoicing because the season actually did come to a conclusion, with the Los Angeles Dodgers crowned World Series champions over the New York Yankees.

Even for fans of teams with superior records left jilted by the funky split-season format MLB instituted that summer and fall, there was at least some familiarity in the final matchup — what says “baseball” more succinctly, after all, than Dodgers v. Yankees in the Fall Classic?

And then there was Fernando himself.

The 20-year-old lefty phenom provided highlights all season long, leading all of baseball in shutouts (8) and strikeouts (180), while topping the National League in games started, complete games, and innings pitched.

Besides a World Series ring, that stellar performance also netted Valenzuela the NL Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards.

Oh, and his own mania — yes, Fernandomania swept across the baseball-loving world during that flawed summer, and it hasn’t ever really fully subsided.

But if you were a collector looking for some dedicated quality time with a hunk of *just* Fernando cardboard as the strike approached and then poached the season that should have been, you were out of luck.

Sure, you had Fernando’s Topps rookie card, but that one also belonged to a couple other guys.

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And, yes, you had Fernando’s solo Fleer card that got oh so close to giving you what you craved …

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Look closely, though, and you’ll find that one was actually a “Fernand” Valenzuela rookie card. About par for the course for Fleer’s flawed first full-fledged offering.

Donruss?

Uh, check in with us next year, why don’t you?

Now, if you were a fan living in L.A., or the relative of such a creature, you might have had access to couple of “police” sets that included El Toro.

By and large, though, you had to accept Topps’ and Fleer’s warts and/or wait until awards season.

Because, as the weather turned cold, and as Fernando raked in the hardware, Topps fired their first real differentiating salvo in the newly-flared cardboard wars wrought by the entry of Fleer and Donruss onto the field.

Fueled by the awakening of long-dormant competitive juices and, likely, by Fernandomania itself, Topps fired up and pumped up an old idea and waylaid the hobby with a brand new set to end the year — the first ever 132-cards-in-a-box Topps Traded Set.

Continuing the number scheme from their base set, Topps pushed out past #850, which just so happened to be where a certain young man landed:

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And, suddenly, as we headed into winter after maybe the coldest baseball season of our lifetimes, collectors could bask in the warmth of a true solo rookie card of Fernando Valenzuela.

Now, their was some initial backlash since this was a “hobby only” issue, and not available in wax packs down at the corner store.

We pretty much got over ourselves on that one, especially as the years showed us that you really could enjoy cards from all sorts of sources, and it didn’t take long for Traded/Update/Rookies/Highlights year-end sets to become a steady part of our cardboard diet.

And, even though Fernando slowed down from his blistering early pace, he nver really lost his mystique and appeal to collectors — and neither did his cards.

Today, that 1981 Topps Traded Fernando Valenzuela rookie card is about a $15 buy in PSA 8 condition, jumping to $50 in PSA 9 … and pushing toward four figures in perfect “10” shape.

No matter what the condition or price, though, it’s hard to beat the solo shot of the man who spawned a mania, staring out toward a future we all hoped would remain strike-free.

(Check out our rundown of the most valuable 1981 Topps baseball cards.)

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1981 Topps Traded Baseball - Pick A Player

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1981 Topps Traded Tim Raines #816 RC

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1981 Topps Traded #777 Randy Jones New York Mets

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1981 Topps Traded #841 Frank Tanana Boston Red Sox

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1981 Topps Traded #727 Danny Ainge Toronto Blue Jays

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1981 Topps Traded Set Break #816 Tim Raines EX-EXMINT *GMCARDS*

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DANNY AINGE 1981 TOPPS TRADED BASEBALL #727

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