When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened for business in 1998, they immediately established a reputation as the place to go if you were a long-in-the-tooth legend looking to knock down some career milestones.

Chief among those was 39-year-old Wade Boggs, who entered that inaugural season with 2800 hits under his belt. Three thousand had seemed like his destiny for more than a decade, and now he’d hit the mark (in 1999) with a team that didn’t even exist for most of his career.

And then there was Fred McGriff, maybe just past his prime at 34 but still capable of double-digit homers and triple-digit ribbies … and also two-thirds of the way to both 500 home runs and 1500 RBI.

Would Crime Dog reach either — or both — of those marks in a Rays uniform?

We know now that the answer was “neither,” as he finished his career after a second stint in Tampa with 493 dingers and 1550 RBI — number 1500 coming in 2002 with the Cubs.

But both guys — Boggs and McGriff — gave the new franchise and their fans something to cheer about during those lean startup years when the standings were not their friends.

For longtime baseball fans, the idea was nothing new.

Way back in 1962, for example, the brand new New York Mets brought in local hero Gil Hodges, 38 years old but still with an outside shot at 400 home runs.

And, more recently, the 1993 Colorado Rockies had signed 37-year-old Dale Murphy with the hopes the 1980s superhero would hit his 400th a mile up (he didn’t).

In between, the Seattle Mariners showed everyone else how to time the rent-a-legend play to perfection.

Entering their sixth season in 1982, the M’s had never won as many as 68 games in a single campaign and had remained decidedly light on name-recognition during since their 1977 debut.

As it happened, that spring also saw 43-year-old Gaylord Perry sitting on baseball’s sidelines after being released by the Atlanta Braves in the fall of 1981.

Perry also stood tantalizingly close to a couple of big, big milestones — the two-time Cy Young Award winner had racked up 297 wins and 3336 strikeouts during his 20-year career.

That left him three wins short of 300 (duh) and 172 strikeouts behind Walter Johnson’s all-time mark of 3508 (since revised to 3509).

It was a match made in heaven, and the deal was struck on March 5, 1982 — Gaylord Perry was a Mariner, joining his seventh MLB team.

It didn’t take Perry long to get in gear, either, and he nailed victory number 300 on May 6, 1982.

He’d finish the season at 10-12 with a 4.40 ERA but still 57 Ks behind the Big Train.

We’d all have to wait to see when — and if — Perry would get there.

Thanks to Topps, though, we wouldn’t have to wait to see Perry in a Mariners uniform in our collections.

Because, late that fall, Perry flashed the Mariners trident in the 1982 Topps Traded set:

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A rough start in 1983 left Perry at 3-10 with a 4.94 ERA and 14 strikeouts short of Johnson, but the Mariners couldn’t wait any longer.

The released the future Hall of Famer on June 27.

Just over a week later, on July 6, the Kansas City Royals came calling, and Perry repaid them by going 4-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 14 second-half starts.

One of those was a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on on August 13, when Perry struck out six batters in seven innings at Fenway Park.

That pushed him past Johnson, making him the third man that season to pass the Washington Senators legend (after Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton).

Perry would hang up his spikes after the 1983 season at age 44, and he’d garner a few token appearances as a Royal on 1984 baseball cards.

But that 1982 Topps Traded card of his stands a reminder that, sometimes, legends add their punctuation in the most unexpected of places.


Hobby Wow!

It’s easy to forget that Perry was one of the game’s greatest pitchers in his prime and not just a Vaseline-laden dude who pitched forever.

This lot on eBay does its part to remind us, though:

That’s a Perry-autographed bat, with “1970 All-Star Game” inscription added in his pen, too.

Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).

1981 Topps Baseball Cards 7 cards

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End Date: Tuesday 09/28/2021 19:15:56 EDT
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Lot of approx. 385 1981 Topps Baseball Cards

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