Collectors tried to love the 1986 baseball cards.

We really did.

Why, they’re bold and simple, we’d say.

They um … well, they … uh … oh, right! They help team collectors sort their cards.

And, man, those ‘86 Topps cards sure did have, like, red backs.

Don’t even get me started on the rookie card lineup, just bursting with exciting young players!

Let’s see, we had …

Vince Coleman and Ozzie Guillen, the 1985 National League and American League Rookies of the Year, respectively.

And then there were “Len” Dykstra … “Manuel” Lee … Darren Daulton … Joe Orsulak.

A bumper crop, I tell you!

All was well and good until we got a look at those snazzy blue and blue-black Donruss cards, with their lines-on-the-CRT design and their Jose Canseco Rated Rookie and their Fred McGriff rookie and their Tim Birtsas rookie.

Or until we got a look at the classic solid blue Fleer cards, with their, vertical backs and their Super Star Specials and their Jose Canseco/Eric Plunk rookie and their Kal Daniels/Paul O’Neill rookie and their Otis Nixon rookie.

And both sets — Donruss and Fleer, that is — seemed to be somewhat limited, while Topps kept appearing in places that didn’t even exist yet.

So … yeah, we tried.

But as Jose took off that summer, and as Ozzie remained a light-hitting middle infielder and as Coleman stole 100 again but did almost nothing else and as we continued to be enamored by the enormity of rookie card choices in 1985 Topps … well, it became harder and harder to prop up 1986 Topps.

It was a cardboard dud, and we were left to wonder what sorts of Traded and Woody magic Topps might be able to pull off in order to redeem themselves.

The years passed, the hobby continued to boom, and Topps did, indeed, jump back into bona fide most-favored-confectioner territory with a 1986 Traded set that featured RCs of luminaries-to-be like Will Clark, Bo Jackson … Kurt Stillwell.

And then, that 1987 set that somehow packed approximately 941 rookie cards into its 792-card checklist and that forever changed the way we thought about paneling for our Dad Dens.

All was good again, even if we had monster boxes full of black-and-white-bordered nothings that held little hope of ever being anything than a one-set commons bin.

Of course, as with every other hunk of baseball cards of recent vintage we put aside as not quite making the grade, we returned to those stacks of ‘86 Topps cards every year or so just to make sure no one had made their big breakout in the interim.

Dykstra got a bit of a promotion in late ‘86, for example, and Daulton got his reprieve in the early 1990s.

For the most part, though … nothing.

Now, some hopeful and observant collectors might have noticed the minor transaction-wire note in mid-January 1990 announcing the Detroit Tigers had signed a free agent first baseman named Cecil Fielder.

Now, that name *might* have clicked as a previous prospect-type, most likely due to the Major League Prospect card Fielder shared with can’t-miss Cory Snyder in that 1986 Fleer set.

Or, maybe it was that 1986 Donruss RC, sort of a combination of the McGriff rookie and that Willie Upshaw base card, that rang a bell.

Even the most diligent and sanguine of collectors, though, probably didn’t think much about 1986 Topps at that point.

Really, how were we to know/remember/care that this young man lurked in the shadows with the like likes of unloved checklists and in-the-clouds team leader cards?

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Sure, some folks might have heard about Fielder’s exploits with the Hanshin Tigers in 1989, when he hit 38 home runs and drove in 106 games.

But this was before information was available at the click of a button and the bat of a lash, so most of us had no clue. And those who did probably didn’t really expect anything to come of Fielder’s return to the States.

Had he ever been here in the first place?” might have been an obvious question, given the splash he didn’t make in his first MLB go-round.

But then, when Fielder hit seven home runs for the Tigers in April 1990, some folks began to talk about him.

And when he added 11 more in May, everyone was talking about the big first baseman.

By the All-Star break, Big Daddy was more than halfway to 50 bombs, a mark no one had reached since George Foster in 1977. It was more than enough for Fielder to garner his first All-Star selection.

And also more than enough, naturally, to send collectors scrambling to pull his rookie cards from the firepit of obscurity — those 1986 Fleer and 1986 Donruss RCs were suddenly blazing.

Against all odds, so was Fielder’s 1986 Topps card.

Suddenly, after four years in purgatory, Topps’ lost set was found, with wax packs being bought and ripped (though that wasn’t really a term back then), and with sets being plundered for plum singles — notably Detroit’s prodigal baseball son, back from the Land of the Rising Sun.

All of Fielder’s cards rode the wave of his big bat as he cruised to 51 homers that summer, and to another 44 in 1991. And, though he never quite scaled those heights again, he remained a 30-dinger threat for several seasons, and his rookie card never again slid into commons-bin territory.

Today, you can expect prices around $30 for perfect copies of the 1986 Topps Cecil Fielder rookie card, which is right in line with Coleman and Guillen, and well below several others.

But there’s a strong argument to be made that we might have forgotten all about the “boring” 1986 Topps set were it not for Fielder and his christening of a new decade, perhaps a herald to the power explosion that awaited us all just over the horizon of doom that was The Strike.

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