(This is the 12th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

The 1984 Fleer baseball card set is like that vanilla ice cream cone you ate last summer at the State Fair.

You remember that one, right? You slid it in right after the giant turkey leg but before the deep-fried Twinkie, and you washed it down with an elephant ear?

Yeah, that ice cream cone. Sorta got lost in the shuffle, right?

Same story with the 1984 Fleer base set.

It was a nice, bright issue, maybe the crispest of the year when you consider overall design, cardstock, and photos.

But, aside from funky cards like Jay Johnstone in a Jay Johnstone hat and Glenn Hubbard in a snake, 1984 Fleer didn’t’ really do anything to stand out from Topps and Donruss.

Sure, Fleer had rookie cards of Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry, but so did Topps and Donruss.

And, while Fleer felt less plentiful than Topps, it couldn’t compete with Donruss on the scarcity front. And Topps was loaded with special stuff like all-time leaders cards and a card honoring 1983 retirees Gaylord Perry, Carl Yastrzemski, and Johnny Bench.

Just to pile on and help bury Fleer a bit deeper, Donruss unveiled their Rated Rookies in 1984 (at least on card fronts — they designated guys with that award on card backs in 1983).

1984 Fleer Kevin McReynolds Rookie Card

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Those cards — Rated Rookies — felt special right from the beginning, even if we didn’t know who all the players were. One player we did know, however, was San Diego Padres outfielder Kevin McReynolds.

Sitting as we were right at the sparking point of rookie card mania, collectors were hungry to find out who would be the next big thing, and hobby and baseball magazines and pundits were eager to help us out. In the case of McReynolds, that meant pointing out he was the first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 1981 and that he had monster power potential.

So it didn’t take long for the McReynolds hype to couple with the Donruss hype to form one of the hottest and most expensive cards of the new card year.

But as the hobby went batty over that RR of the young slugger, astute collectors figured out there was an alternative.

That would be the 1984 Fleer Kevin McReynolds rookie card, in case you missed the title of this piece.

Now, that Fleer card didn’t bestow any special status on McReynolds but it was bright and sunny, and it showcased an athletic young McRenolds finishing his swing and starting his run to first after tagging a baseball.

It’s a really great-looking card, complete with Padres logo in the lower right-hand corner and a shot into the Padres dugout behind McReynolds.

And all those Padres references took on added meaning as the summer wore on and it became clear that San Diego was going to make the playoffs.

McReynolds played a big part in that success, too, batting .278 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI to help the Pads outdistance the Atlanta Braves in 12 games to win the old NL West. If you like your stats just a bit more eggheady, those numbers were good for 5.4 WAR.

1984 Fleer Kevin McReynolds Rookie Card (back)

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Thanks to Fleer, we could pull McReynolds’ rookie card from packs even as his star blossomed on the field, something most of us couldn’t afford to do with the escalating prices of Donruss.

That fall, McReynolds kept his name in the hobby limelight despite the excitement surrounding Mattingly, rookie sensation Dwight Gooden, and Ryne Sandberg‘s breakout season with the Chicago Cubs. Combining his efforts in the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs and in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, McReynolds hit an even .300 with one dinger in the postseason that fall.

It would be the Padres only hurrah during his tenure by the sea, which ended in a December 1986 trade that sent him (and others) to the New York Mets and brought Kevin Mitchell, Stan Jefferson, and Shawn Abner to the Padres.

All told, McReynolds crafted a solid 12-year Major League Career that didn’t quite live up to the hype laid out before him, much like his 1984 Donruss rookie card.

Neither one never really stood a chance when you consider the expectations their early success engendered.

But his 1984 Fleer rookie card?

Now, that’s a different story. It was and is an underrated gem that you might even say is the best card in the set when you consider the whole — aesthetics, sneak-up-on-you goodness, and historical significance.

And, in fact, I do say that.

(This is the 12th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

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