In the summer of 1984, while the world at large was watching the United States dominate a Soviet-less Olympics in Los Angeles and Ronald Reagan pull away from from Walter Mondale in the polls, the baseball world was marveling at its own set of developments.

In Detroit, the Tigers were orchestrating their own landslide in the old American League East and looked like they might just “bye” their way to a World Series title.

In San Diego, the upstart San Diego Padres, led by out-of-nowhere batting leader Tony Gwynn, were headed toward just their second winning season ever (1978 being the other).

In Chicago, the lovably losing Cubs were suddenly battling for a division title, with the similarly formerly-lowly New York Mets. (Yes, the Dave Kingman throughlines were strong among National League contenders that year).

And, even though the Mets lost that tilt, they were one of the most exciting clubs in years, thanks to young Darryl Strawberry, the reigning N.L. Rookie of the Year, and Dwight Gooden, the rising N.L. Rookie of the Year.

Maybe especially Gooden, the teen wonder who was mowing down batters left and right, but who was mysterious — with no major league baseball cards, and without the benefit of Sports Center (for most fans) or the internet, Doc’s emergence caught the diamond world off guard and left him shrouded in mystery.

For most fans, it took until the All-Star Game to get a good look at the young man, and collectors wouldn’t get the due we desired until that fall, in 1984 Topps Traded and 1984 Fleer Update.

As exciting as all that was, though it still left one division out of the mix.

But, if the rest of baseball was on fire with the shiny and new, the American League West was a glass of warm milk before bed.

You know, the kind Mom would give you to calm you down after the overload of the day.

That is to say, the Kansas City Royals got back to their “winning” ways after a couple seasons lurking in the shadows, copping the division by three games with an 84-78 record.

Inspiring.

And, even though K.C. brought plenty of star power to bear over the years, their top performer by measure of WAR that summer was starter Bud Black, he of the 17-12 record.

Sure, his 3.12 ERA was nifty, but there was just nothing too exciting about the lefty’s game and his less-than-five strikeouts per nine innings.

Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that the Royals were able to win as much as they did considering that George Brett was limited to just 104 games and hit an un-Brett .284 when he did play.

But this was a balanced team, with four guys clocking in north of 3.0 WAR, but no one topping 4.5 (Baseball Reference version).

And those top contributors ranged from the rotation (Black) to the outfield (Willie Wilson) to the infield (Frank White) to the bullpen (Dan Quisenberry).

Balanced.

And, speaking of that bullpen, the Royals relief corps featured a fresh arm that couldn’t match Gooden (or anyone, really) in terms of attention, but nearly matched Doc in sheer youth.

Debuting with a 4 2/3-inning relief stint on Opening Day a week shy of his 20th birthday, this could-be wunderkind spent the entire season in Kansas City.

Working as a swingman, he cobbled together a 10-11 record with a respectable 3.48 ERA in 38 appearances, 18 of them starts.

That wasn’t enough to register with most casual fans, not in the face of Gwynn and Doc and the Cubbies and the streaking Tigers.

But it was enough to catch Topps’ attention, and, that fall, we got a look at the youngster just a few dozen cards down the Topps Traded checklist from Gooden:

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Yeah, that guy.

If we noticed Saberhagen at all as we shuffled through our 132-card box set, it was probably just to do a doubletake of his unusual name.

Maybe we turned the card over …

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A few nice notes.

Some decent minor league stats.

But, hey … isn’t that Juan Samuel just ahead?

Now there’s an exciting player!

And young Bret Saberhagen?

Well, maybe he’ll stick with the Royals. You know, in the bullpen. Long relief, maybe.

Who knows? He might even pick up a few more wins.

Just maybe.

1984 TOPPS # 8 DON MATTINGLY ROOKIE NICE CARD

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1984 TOPPS #8 DON MATTINGLY ROOKIE PSA 6

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1984 TOPPS # 251 TONY GWYNN NICE CARD

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