Over the last couple of decades in baseball, WAR has become something of a mainstream statistic and a common tool used by teams, fans, journalists, and even players themselves to discuss the relative merits of one major leaguer v. the field.

But WAR (Wins Above Replacement) also still lives up to its name in some regards.

The most obvious single statistical outcropping of the Sabermetrics movement, WAR remains the subject of much debate, with many traditionalists decrying the effects it has had on the game, reducing player value to a single number.

Heck, the baseball cognoscenti can’t even quite agree on a formulation of the stat — do you prefer the Baseball Reference version of WAR, or the FanGraphs version?

No doubt WAR is imperfect — it sometimes doesn’t know what to do with new trends in player usage, for example, and it doesn’t directly take into account all the things that go into, say, smart baserunning, heads-up fielding, and clubhouse leadership.

Intangibles and gaps aside, though, WAR is at least a handy tool for helping to categorize players across eras and can also lead to some intersting discussions.

For instance, how fun would it be to look at the rookie cards of the ten greatest hitters of the 1980s, by measure of WAR?

Well, it’d be a downright blast! So let’s do it … with the help of WAR.

What follows, then, are those ten standout batters, by measure of the Baseball Reference version of WAR, along with their “best” rookie cards (most popular, most valuable, most first-est, etc.).

Values are based on recent sales of PSA 9 copies of the cards listed, which standardizes our condition consideration but also means big numbers for some of the older cards on our list.

But such is life during a baseball WAR — not all parties agree, and choices will be questioned.

And, if you think that’s a doozy, just wait until you read our “honorable mention” below.

Baseball war, indeed!

For now, we’ll start at the bottom, which is really not so low at all when you’re talking about a guy like …

(Note: The following sections contain affiliate links to eBay and Amazon listings for the cards being discussed.)

1978 Topps Eddie Murray (#36)

1978 Topps Eddie Murray

They didn’t call Eddie Murray “Steady Eddie” for nothing – from 1980 through 1985, Murray hit at least 30 home runs four times and drove in 110 or more runs five times.

The exceptions were when he connected just 29 times in 1984, and in 1981, when he managed 22 home runs and 78 RBI.

Of course, both of *those* totals led the American League during that awful strike-torn summer, so I think his streak gets to live through that “dip.”

Murray was never the flashiest player on the field, but you always knew he’d be there, knocking in runs and manning first base for some pretty great Orioles teams, including the World Series champions in 1983.

All in all, his slow-burn excellence added up to 46 Wins Above Replacement for the 1980s and 68.7 over the course of his 21-year career.

The hobby’s love affair with Murray was a bit of a slow burn, too, but his 1978 Topps rookie card spent most of the 1980s as *the* card to get from that set, and one of the keys to the entire late 1970s.

Value: $1100-1200

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1977 topps Dale Murphy (#476)

1977 topps Dale Murphy

Murphy is the only player on our list who is NOT in the Hall of Fame, which may be telling for his future prospects in that regard. (For some perspective on that front, consider that the next three guys on the 1980s position-player WAR list after Dale Murphy are Eddie Murray, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter, all HOFers.)

Indeed, with National League MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, six straight All-Star selections, and five 100 RBI seasons through 1987, Murphy was in many ways the face of baseball during the 1980s.

Then, of course, his performance fell off the table in his 30s to an extent few other superstars have ever experienced.

Consider that, while Murphy put up 47.1 WAR during the 80s, his career WAR stands at just 46.5.

Even so, millions of fans still love Murph, and so do collectors across multiple generations. His 1977 Topps rookie card has stood on various rungs of the hobby royalty ladder over the years, and you have to figure one more big run is in the works if Murphy eventually gets the call to the Hall.

Value: $275-350

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1977 Topps Andre Dawson (#473)

1977 Topps Andre Dawson

Dawson put up one of the most dramatic in-your-face seasons ever in 1987 after famously signing a blank contract with the Cubs following an ugly bout of collusion that sapped his free agent market.

The funny thing about that 49-homer outburst that gave Hawk his only league MVP award, though, is that it produced the seventh most single-season WAR (4.0) of his career and only his sixth most of the 1980s.

The fact is, Dawson was one of the most complete and exciting players in the game during his ten-year run with the Montreal Expos, showing power, speed, and outfield prowess that had most observers thinking about what his Hall of Fame plaque would look like way before his Cubbies exploits.

And, even when his knees gave out, Dawson had enough left after his move to the Wrigley Field grass that he accumulated 47.3 WAR during the 1980s on his way to 64.8 over the course of his 21-year career.

Along the way, Dawson’s 1977 Topps rookie card enjoyed a strong hobby run, first coming to prominence during the boom of the mid-1980s, then blowing up when Hawk did in 1987. From there, it was a steady ride to Hall of Fame price levels, where it sits today.

Value: $450-550

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1975 Topps George Brett (#228)

1975 Topps George Brett

Nobody had a hotter start to the 1980s than George Brett, who scorched his way to a .390 batting average to open the decade and followed that up with a run to the World Series with his Kansas City Royals.

That performance, which also included 24 home runs and 118 RBI, garnered Brett his only American League MVP award on the strength of an amazing 9.4 WAR in only 117 games.

All of that made Brett’s rookie card the frontrunner in the 1975 Topps set, a distinction it never lost even as he struggled to stay on the diamond – he managed just two what you might call “full” seasons through the rest of the 1980s (1985 and 1988).

Even so, Brett was so good when he did play, he put up 47.6 WAR during the decade, more than half of his 88.6 Hall of Fame total.

Value: $4500-5000

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1982 Topps Cal Ripken (#21)

1982 Topps Cal Ripken

Ripken, unlike a few of the guys ahead of him on this list (see below), was a collector favorite almost from the very start of his career.

Debuting with the Orioles the day the 1981 strike ended, Ripken used the remainder of that summer to warm up for his 1982 Rookie of the Year campaign. By the time he took home that hardware, Cal’s 1982 Topps base card he shared with Bob Bonner and Jeff Schneider was already a hobby headliner.

And you could make a strong argument that Ripken’s 1982 Topps Traded card – his first solo Topps issue – single-handedly ensured that the Traded franchise would continue on and become a staple of the hobby calendar.

Meanwhile, Cal went back to work in 1983, winning the American League MVP award as the Orioles took the A.L. East, then beat the Chicago White Sox in the American League Championship Series and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

That first of two MVP awards came on the back of 8.2 WAR, which Cal would bump up to 10.0 in 1984 (when Willie Hernandez improbably took home the MVP).

All of that set Cal on a path to accumulate 50.3 WAR in the 1980s, on his way to 95.9 over a 21-year career.

Value: $115-130

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1978 Topps Alan Trammell (#707)

1978 Topps Alan Trammell

If you’ve read ahead in this list a bit, then you may have noticed that we’re in the midst of a run on shortstops, which is no coincidence. Because, for as ballyhooed as the triple-headed monster of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra were a decade later, that group has nothing on 1980s middle men when it comes to Cooperstown cred.

In this slot, we have Alan Trammell, who entered the 1980s as part of a young Detroit Tigers core that looked like it might be something special, and who exited the other side as a superstar and potential future Hall of Famer.

In between, Trammell helped the 1984 Tigers storm to a World Series title after one of the most dominant regular seasons in history (and a Fall Classic MVP award for Tram). He also picked up five All-Star nods and four Gold Gloves, and he had a strong case for the 1987 American League MVP award.

That summer, he put up 8.2 WAR to help the Bengals win another A.L. East title but was edged out by George Bell in the voting. (Boggs and Roger Clemens may have had even bigger beefs).

In all, Trammell accumulated 52.9 of his 70.7 career WAR During the 1980s, and he made the 1978 Topps rookie card he shared with three other guys a hot item even before Paul Molitor found the fountain of youth and DH’d his way into the Hall, too.

Value: $1250-1500

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1975 Topps Robin Yount (#223)

1975 Topps Robin Yount

After breaking in as a teenager with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1974, Robin Yount enjoyed a breakout season at age 24 in 1980, leading the American League with 49 doubles and garnering his first of three All-Star selections.

Two years later, the still-young shortstop would serve as the fulcrum for lifting the Brew Crew to their first division title, hitting .331 with 29 home runs and 114 RBI while winning a Gold Glove at shortstop. For his efforts, Yount also won the American League MVP Award, a feat he’d repeat in 1989 as a centerfielder.

Yount’s heroics in 1982 yielded an amazing 10.6 WAR, which combined well with a couple of 7-plus seasons (1980 and 1983) and several in the 5 range to land The Kid this high ranking on our list – 55.4 of his 77.4 WAR came during the 1980s.

As you might expect for a young player coming of age during the hobby boom, Yount’s 1975 Topps rookie card rose to fame and fortune right alongside the man who would eventually amass more than 3000 hits and land in the Hall of Fame in 1999.

And, though Yount’s RC has struggled to keep up with cardboard classmate George Brett’s in terms of value (more on this below), it remains a hobby classic today.

Value: $3000-3500

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1973 Topps Mike Schmidt (#615)

1973 Topps Mike Schmidt

Had Mike Schmidt spent the bulk of his career in either the 1970s or the 1980s, he would almost certainly have been the face of an entire decade. As things stand, Schmidt smacked 235 of his 548 home runs during the 70s and 313 dingers during the 80s.

Of course, the long balls were just the most ostensible of Schmidt’s all-timer profile, as he also won ten Gold Gloves at third base and copped three National League MVP awards (1980, 1981, and 1986), along with the 1980 World Series MVP Award.

Throw in 12 All-Star selections and a .380 career on-base percentage, and you have one of the most complete players the game has ever seen (Schmitty even swiped 20-plus bases in a season twice).

As with his homers, Schmidt was not stingy in dividing his WAR among two decades: 50.3 in the 1970s and 56.5 in the 1980s (that’s 106.8 in all, if you’re keeping score).

That latter number was still enough to land Schmidt third on our list here.

And, of course, Schmidt’s 1973 Topps rookie card takes out all challengers (on this list, at least) when it comes to 1970s and 1980s rookie cards and their values in top shape. Part of that is due to the Schmidt RC inhabiting the tougher high-number series in an “old” set, but Schmidt himself played the heaviest role in elevating this cardboard (with apologies to Ron Cey and John Hilton).

Value: $6500-7000

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1983 Topps Wade Boggs (#498)

1983 Topps Wade Boggs

If Rickey Henderson was a hard-luck MVP candidate during the 1980s (see below), then Wade Boggs might as well have been the invisible man.

To wit, Boggs’ 9.1 WAR in 1985 landed him a paltry fourth-place finish in MVP balloting, his best showing in that measure despite five 8-plus-WAR seasons (and one at 7.8). The problem seemed to be that Boggs’ gaudy batting averages, beginning with .361 in 1983, had pegged him as a one-dimensional star.

But Boggs was more than *just* a hit man, as he drew walks at a Henderson-esque (or better) rate, regularly popped 40-plus doubles, and even fielded a plus third base.

It all pretty much fell on deaf ears when it came to postseason awards, but all those hits and batting titles (five in all) gained him plenty of favor among collectors. All of Boggs 1983 rookie cards rose to the top of the hobby hierarchy by the mid-1980s, but it was his classic 1983 Topps that really made our cardboard hearts sing … still does.

And all those yearly WAR added up to 60.2 during the 1980s, despite the fact that Boggs didn’t debut with the Red Sox until 1982 and didn’t play a full season in the majors until. For his career, Chicken Man put up 91.4 WAR.`

Value: $85-100

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1980 Topps Rickey Henderson (#482)

1980 Topps Rickey Henderson

And now, the king of 1980s hitter WAR ….

Rickey Henderson spent the first few seasons of his major league career building a reputation as the top speedster in the game. All of that came to a head in 1982, of course, when he stole 130 bases to demolish Lou Brock‘s single-season record of 118, set in 1974.

It wasn’t widely appreciated at the time, but Rickey was also getting on base at around a .400 clip those years, topping 100 walks three times and leading the American League in free passes twice through 1983.

When the A’s traded Henderson to the Yankees in December of 1984, though, the stage was set for Henderson to explode onto a much bigger platform – The Bronx Zoo.In New York, Henderson continued getting on base and stealing bases, but he also topped 20 home runs (24) and 70 RBI (72) for the first time in 1985

His gaudy 146 runs scored raised eyebrows, too, and Rickey vied with breakout teammate Don Mattingly for headlines and, eventually, postseason award votes.

Indeed, Rickey finished third in MVP balloting, behind Donnie Baseball and George Brett, though history shows us now that Henderson led all of baseball (non-Dwight Gooden Division) with 9.9 WAR.

By then, though, Rickey was widely considered the greatest leadoff hitter in the game, and he was in the conversation as the greatest leadoff hitter *ever*.

For our purposes here, that 9.9 in 1985 went a long way toward catapulting Henderson above the rest of our pack, but it turns out he had been racking up big WAR numbers all decade long … and he’d continue to do so right through his return to Oakland in 1989 (and beyond).

Overall, Henderson was worth 71 wins above replacement during the 1980s, and 111.1 over the course of his 25-year career.

Through it all, of course, Henderson’s 1980 Topps rookie card rose to hobby prominence right along with the man’s own climb up the all-time charts for so many hitting and base-running categories. Today, the Rickey RC is a stone-cold hobby classic and one of the most beautiful – and expensive – cards from the 1980s.

Value: $1700-2000

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Honorable Mention: 1979 topps Ozzie Smith (#116)

1979 topps Ozzie Smith

Dropping The Wizard of Oz to this “Honorable Mention” slot is a nod to a few things …

  1. This is a list of the greatest “hitters” of the 1980s.
  2. WAR, as a bulk number, doesn’t differentiate between offensive and defensive prowess, though postional considerations are buit in, and there actually are oWAR and dWAR components.
  3. Ozzie wasn’t a great hitter, but he was a great shortstop, overall.

All told, those make Ozzie’s place here a bit hard to figure, just like all those “is he a Hall of Famer” debates a generation ago.

So, I’ve pulled him out of the slot in our lineup that his overall WAR would have afforded him, between Trammell and Ripken, and created his own super-duper, only-Ozzie-could-fill-it position.

Now, on with our regularly scheduled spiel …

Ozzie Smith spent much of his career battling the perception that he was “just” a great fielder, with little to offer on the run-scoring side of the game. Of course, when you’re maybe the GREATEST fielder of all time and make eyes pop every time you take the diamond, even that argument starts to ring hollow after awhile.

Still, Ozzie was always a threat to steal a base, topping out at 57 swipes in both 1980 and 1988, and he continued to work on his hitting all through his 19-year career.

While he never developed into a power threat or a Rickey Henderson-esque on-base machine, Smith did raise his offensive game to the point that it was roughly league-average during his prime years, and he regularly got on base at a .350 or so clip for some great Cardinals teams.

Adding the amazing defensive work to consistent offensive production, Ozzie managed to put up 52.2 wins above replacement during the 1980s and 76.9 for his career.

In an era when collectors really loved sluggers and big-average men (so, like, *every* era), Ozzie’s cards took awhile to warm up. By the end of the 80s, though, collectors had started to realize that his 1979 Topps rookie card showing him with the Padres was tough to come by in top condition (especially well-centered), and it became the key to the entire set.

Value: $2500-3000

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