If you look up “bummer” in your local baseball dictionary, you’ll see a picture of a young fan who found baseball and the Cincinnati Reds in the summer of 1983.

I mean, not only were the Reds putrid that season, just like they had been in 1982, and just like they would be again in 1984, but June brought THE announcement: Johnny Bench was retiring after the 1983 season.

So, what was a young guy — not mentioning any names — to do?

You can’t just ditch your team because they stink and appear to be on the verge of stinking worse. Not even if you’re a newcomer to said club.

Nope.

Some baseball ties are unbreakable, right from the start.

So …

Said young fan had just one choice — dig in and wait for things to get better, while enjoying whatever magic #5 had left to share.

Which, as it turns out, amounted to 12 home runs and 54 RBI in 110 total games. Not too bad considering it was his last hurrah.

And then there were the baseball cards, singles in every 1983 base set, plus a couple of specials here and there.

And then there were more specials in 1984, with multiplayer retirement dealios in Topps, Fleer, and Donruss, and even a single, true career-capper in the 1984 Fleer base set.

All great stuff and a bit of salve as we entered a less-than-promising 1984 season on the Riverfront, but the soothing was all too ephemeral once the Reds’ losses began to pile up.

After all, you can only see the same cards slide out of a pack so many times before they begin to lose their effectiveness in making you feel better about the bleakness shadowing the diamond every day or so.

It might have been different had some enterprising card company unleashed a *new* card of the Little General ‘round about midseason in 1984. You know, to freshen things up.

And then … they did.

All hail Donruss Champions!

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Yeah, that is another Bench card, one of 60 total pasteboards in the Champions set, with each measuring an oversize 3 1/2″ x 5″.

It was sort of like Action All-Stars, but with new possibilities.

In particular, the Champions divided up the checklist among several statistical categories, each with an all-time “Grand Champion” and then a legion of then-current underlings.

So, in the home run category, you had Hank Aaron as the Grand Champ, with dudes like Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt tagging along.

And, Carl Yastrzemski, for that matter, which was a bit of a hedge considering that Yaz also retired after the 1983 season.

And, even though Bench had more home runs than some other “active” players in the set, he didn’t make the Aaron cut.

Nope, when you turn over the Bench Champion (Benchampion?), you find him with … Mickey Mantle:

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Mantle sat at the head of the “World Series” group of Champions, and Bench had been the Series MVP the last time the Reds won a Fall Classic, back in 1976.

It was all sort of fitting …

That ring had marked the end of the best of the Big Red Machine, and this card marked the end of Bench’s run through the hobby as an active — or at least “near active” — superstar.

In both contexts, the Reds’ soon-to-be Hall of Fame catcher was just what Donruss labeled him: a Champion.

1984 DONRUSS CHAMPIONS WADE BOGGS #16 BOSTON RED SOX

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1984 Donruss Champions #1 Babe Ruth GC

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1984 Donruss Champions #31 Cy Young GC

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