Heading into the 1984 baseball season, the average baseball fan probably couldn’t have told you the difference between Tom Tellmann and Don Mattingly.
After all, neither one had done much of note in the Major Leagues to that point, and there was no real reason to think that would change in 1984.
Tellmann turned 30 years old just before the new season began, and though he entered the campaign with a lifetime record of 12-4 with a solid 2.89 ERA, almost all of his work had come as a long reliever.
That’s pretty much the baseball equivalent of long-snapper when it comes to fame.
And, though he had spent 1983 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Tellmann had toiled throughout the Brew Crew’s 1982 pennant-winning season in the San Diego Padres’ minor league system.
Mattingly, meanwhile, was a young Yankee, on the verge of his 23rd birthday (April 20), but the Yanks weren’t really all that much to write home about back in those days. Contenders, maybe, but miles from being a juggernaut.
And Mattingly didn’t really inspire all that much hope, either. Sure, he had hit for high averages in parts of five minor league seasons, but he’d shown very little pop — not the sort of profile you expect from your first baseman, usually a prime source of power for successful teams.
After hitting .283 in 91 games with the big club in 1983, though, Mattingly punched his ticket to an everyday job in 1984.
Still, not all that many folks noticed, or cared.
As for the big three card makers, well, they noticed, and cared, enough for Mattingly to land rookie cards in that year’s Donruss, Fleer, and Topps sets.
And Topps noticed enough to dump Mattingly there in their sticker set, but they only cared enough to give him one of those skinny stickers that shared space with another skinny sticker of another dude …
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That other dude?
Yeah, that’s Tom Tellmann.
Both mustachioed baseball players from the American League East, neither one of whom seemed likely to make much of an impact in the new season.
By October, Tellmann had put up another Tellmann-like campaign: 6-3, 2.78 ERA, zero recognition.
Maybe less than zero recognition, in fact, seeing as how the Brewers released Tellmann in March of 1985. He caught on with the Oakland A’s in April but was unable to work more of his magic, and he made his last MLB appearance in June.
Meanwhile, Mattingly regained the .300 stroke he’d had in the minors, and then some … and he added the power that had alluded him on the farm.
That summer, in fact, Mattingly waged a legendary battle with teammate Dave Winfield for the American League batting title, with Mattingly taking the crown on the last day of the season at .343.
Along the way, Mattingly smacked 23 home runs, connected on a majors-leading 44 doubles, drove in 110 runs, and made his first All-Star appearance.
And, once Donnie Baseball started making national news as the weather heated up, the chase was on for his rookie cards, available in “live” packs at your local drugstore or gas station.
Prices for Mattingly’s RC climbed throughout the season, with the perceived scarcity of the Donruss card pushing it to price levels we’d never seen for a new card … $3, $5, $10 … the sky was the limit!
But all the while, that other Mattingly “rookie card” — the sticker he shared with Tom Tellmann — trundled along with hardly anyone even remembering it existed, if they ever knew at all.
These days, the Tellmann/Mattingly duo gets a little more hobby love, with copies in PSA 9 condition selling for $50+, and a perfect “10” well north of that level (the last 10 to sell dropped in the $40 range before the 2020 boom).
Still chump change when it comes to Mattingly RCs, but likely more than anyone ever thought they’d pay for a Tom Tellmann baseball card.
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