If you were a young baseball fan growing up in the 1970s or 1980s, you took your diamond history lessons where you could get them.
For me — and many others — that meant devouring every drop of knowledge you could from whatever baseball cards you could lay your hands on. Hence, my ongoing love affair with the 1982 Topps Kmart set depicting all the MVPs from 1962 through 1981.
A year after that monumental set debuted, though, I got another shot of baseball history from the unlikeliest of places. My family and I were batting around the countryside one hot summer day in 1983 when we stopped at a spot-in-the-road town with a little country store.
There, we bought some snacks — candy bars, cokes, gum, maybe a Zinger or two. And, just as we were heading out the door, I spied them … a box of wax packs, and they looked ancient!.
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Find Josh Gibson cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
I convinced Dad to pop for a pack, and once in the car, I ripped open the wrapper to find paintings of these old-timey looking players, all of them — apparently — Hall of Famers.
Turns out, I had stumbled onto the end of the store owner’s one-box stash of Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes, put together like some wispy dream sequence from a baseball movie. These were Perez-Steele Diamond Kings seen through a more emotional lens, and with the biggest names imaginable.
Well, needless to say I begged and bargained and promised things until I convinced Dad to take me back in and clean the guy out. I think I ended up with about eight packs of cards, and I couldn’t have been more giddy.
There were some names I knew, like Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial.
And there were a few guys whose cards just downright fascinated me, even though I hadn’t heard of them before — Josh Gibson, for one.
And Early Wynn and Bob Lemon for another. Or another two.
I’m still not really sure.
What I did know, and still do, is that both of these guys were Hall of Famers (they’re in the set … duh).
And both toiled for the Cleveland Indians at some point, long enough in each case to appear with the Tribe on their cards here.
And these guys looked just like each other. I mean, seriously — which is which??
Turns out, if you look up their other cards, they’re a bit easier to tell apart, and Wynn played for a lot longer. Started with the Senators, then to the Indians, then the White Sox, then back to Cleveland.
His last few years were a bit rough, making it at least seem like Wynn held on just so he could, ahem, win his 300th game — at age 43. He did also win a Cy Young Award with the Go-Go White Sox in 1959.
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Find Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes on Amazon (affiliate link)
Lemon, on the other hand, “only” played through age 37 but spent his entire 13-year career with the Indians, including that 1948 season when they won their last (so far) World Series.
He lost what might have been his first three years in the Majors to World War II (while Wynn served in 1945), and ended up with a 207-128 record and 3.23 ERA.
Lemon then went on to an eight-year managerial career that spanned 1970-1982 and took him to Kansas City, Chicago (White Sox), and the Bronx.
In New York, Lemon became part of that treacherous Yankees skipper-go-round that included Yogi Berra and Billy Martin, with Lemon never managing more than 68 games in a single campaign but taking the helm for parts of the 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982 seasons.
As in his pitching career, Lemon was a winner as a manager, racking up a 430-403 record overall.
Two masterpiece careers for one dude, set off by a masterpiece card the next year … even if no one was quite sure which dude he was in that 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes set.
Wow! Wax of the Day
The Hall of Fame Heroes (or Hall of Fame Greats, as the packs and box say) were issued right at the cusp of the hobby boom in the 1980s, and not long before the true Junk Wax era began. As such, you can still find unopened packs and boxes without too much trouble, like this beauty available on eBay as I type:
You can see the full eBay listing right here (affiliate link).