(Want more of that #FridayFeeling that only baseball cards can give you? Check out the complete series here.)
When I was a kid, nothing gave me that Friday feeling like setting down on my bedroom floor with a blanket and bowl of popcorn or candy to watch The Dukes of Hazzard.
And by the time Waylon Jennings talked me out of whatever mess the Duke boys had cooked up, I was primed for the capper on the night and the real start of the weekend … Dallas.
Looking back now, I realize I was probably too young to be watching either show, and I wouldn’t have let my son watch them at the same age, but …
How exciting was it when the Dallas theme song kicked off? And imagery of the opening, with Texas Stadium, and oil rigs, and ranches, and skyscrapers … it was like being transported to some sort of cowboy wonderland.
When I got just a bit older, by the mid-1980s, I was joined in my Friday night camp by my new cardboard friends. I can clearly remember sorting through stacks of cards, with hundreds of others spread around me on the floor, while J.R. Ewing eviscerated one of his rivals on the screen.
Friday feeling, indeed! What could be better?
Well … what if we got a little fanciful with our memories?
What if …
We recast Dallas with those selfsame baseball cards that dominated so many of our lives for so many years.
Here’s how it might have played out …
Jock Ewing ……………… 1964 Topps Casey Stengel
Jock Ewing was the grizzled patriarch of the Ewing family who spent the middle of the 20th century building an oil and ranching empire that would serve as the basis for the show. By the time we met him in the 1970s, he was circling the drain health-wise but still had strong opinions about his business and strong, gravelly advice to his sons.
On his 1964 Topps card, Casey Stengel is likewise in the process of giving advice, or perhaps telling off some unwitting reporter. Like Jock, the creases in Casey’s face and his sage, aged eyes tell you that he has the experience to deliver the wisdom you need.
Of all our cast members, this one probably bears the strongest physical resemblance to the original.
Digger Barnes …………. 1984 Fleer Glenn Hubbard
Digger Barnes was the bitter rival of Jock Ewing, but he always seemed to draw the short end of the stick when going up against his nemesis. Digger lived long enough to see his son, Cliff, take up the family battle and suffer the same sorts of losses and indignities against J.R. that plagued Digger throughout his life. When we met Digger as an old man, he was holed up, living the life of a bitter hermit and a full-on eccentric complete with wild silver hair and mustache.
While neither Glenn Hubbard nor the 1984 Fleer set can compete with Digger as characters on their own, they’re a formidable duo when paired up on Hubbard’s famous “snake” card. And if you squint just a bit, doesn’t Glenn look like a younger version of ol’ Digger?
J.R. Ewing ……………. 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle “Rookie” Card
When you think of Dallas, which character springs to mind? Chances are, it’s J.R. Ewing, oldest son of the Ewing clan and the driving force behind most of the show’s juiciest plot lines.
And when you think of baseball cards? Well, there are gazillions to consider, but I’ll bet the one that a plurality of collectors think of first is the 1952 Topp Mickey Mantle (sorta) rookie card. For many years, it was the driving force behind overall card prices and hobby hype.
J.R. and the Mickey rookie … both glamorous, though not exactly gorgeous, and both with their foibles.
J.R. was a money-grubbing, philandering oil baron who would do anything for the deal … or the next pretty face that walked through the door, even though he was married to Sue Ellen.
And that Mantle rookie? Well, it’s not really a rookie at all, since that honor belongs to The Mick’s 1951 Bowman card. The ’52 Topps Mantle is also oversized (like J.R.’s ego) compared to modern cards, and it’s flashy but not beautiful. It’s also been the subject of many counterfeiting and tampering efforts over the years.
So, yeah, this is the role of a lifetime.
Bobby Ewing ………… 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan Rookie Card
Bobby was J.R.’s younger brother, and he was always trying to do the right thing and keep the Ewing name out of the mud. He was a talented oil man in his own right but could never seem to escape his sibling’s shadow. Bobby built a nice life with wife Pam and had his moments in the sun, but he never had the entire Ewing empire to himself.
And, as hard as Bobby tried, he made his big mistakes, too. He was more likable than J.R., though, so his missteps didn’t seem as dastardly.
Bobby was the guy you’d want on your pick-up football team or to hang out with at the lake, and you might even have beene OK with his dating your daughter. He’d make you a lot of money if you installed him in your boardroom, too. Heck, he even came back to life after getting run down in his driveway!
But if you had to pick between J.R. and Bobby as the guy to start a company with, the guy to take you to the very top? The devil man would win every single time.
The 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card began life in a burlap bag, definitely more of a humble start than Bobby. But while the Mantle rookie was forging a new path in the hobby and while younger rookie cards were shooting through the stratosphere only to crash back down to the earth, The Ryan Express and his rookie card kept plodding along.
Well, ‘plodding’ at least in the sense of doing the same thing year after year … after year … after year. In Nolan’s case, that meant striking out more batters each season than the Ewings had cars, pitching until he was as old as Jock, and throwing in the occasional no-hitter.
By the end of his career, the kid who had once been too wild to be considered a legitimate ace left the game as a bona fide legend, and Ryan’s 1968 Topps card was the most sought-after hunk of cardboard issued in the 1960s.
No matter how well Ryan did on the field, or how long he did it, and no matter how out of control the demand for his cards became, Mantle and that 1952 Topps non-rookie of his did nothing but widen their lead on the field.
Nolan Ryan was a tough Texan who inspired all sorts of tributes, but Mickey Mantle was Mickey Freaking Mantle, the golden boy of all time against whom all future golden boys have been and will be measured.
And his rookie card is on the Mt. Rushmore of cardboard along with the T206 Honus Wagner card and maybe a couple of others.
The Ryan rookie is still a cornerstone of many collections and an object of desire for adult boys everywhere, but if you had to pick between Mantle and Ryan to start a team?
If you had to pick between the Mantle and Ryan rookies to start a collection?
Nolan and Bobby would end up on the bench together every time.
Miss Ellie (Ewing) ……… 1981 Topps Rob Wilfong
Miss Ellie was the beloved mother figure of the Ewing clan and the glue that held together the raucous, testosterone-driven gaggle of men that threatened to tear apart the family, the business, and Dallas itself in every episode.
Miss Ellie was everything a mother should be — serious but sunny, tough but loving, judgmental but forgiving. If you were her child or spouse, you would have grown tired of her constant, well, mothering, but you also would have been Friday-night happy to see her after a long, hard day or at the breakfast table every morning.
And that’s why the 1981 Topps Wob Wilfong is the perfect choice to play her part in our cast. After all, Wilfong was the card you found in every pack of cards that summer — the summer after we were all asking “Who shot J.R.?”.
You resented him and his card every time you pulled another one, but nowadays, you smile ever time you catch a glimpse.
Cliff Barnes ………….. 1963 Topps Pete Rose Rookie Card
Cliff Barnes was Digger’s son and Pam’s brother.
He was born with an inbred hatred for everything even remotely related to the Ewings, and his sole goal in life was to take down J.R. and make “Barnes” the biggest name in Texas oil.
Like his daddy, though, Cliff just couldn’t compete with the Ewing brothers — he wasn’t as good looking as them, he wasn’t as smart as them, he wasn’t as rich as them.
Heck, he wasn’t even as tall as them.
And his sister didn’t help his cause, either, having taken up with the enemy — neither did the fact that Cliff was smitten with the bride of the devil (Sue Ellen).
Though Cliff would never, ever give up on his mission, he needed a little booster now and then, which he always seemed to find at the bottom of a bottle. Not surprisingly, he spiraled in and out of control and always seemed to be on the brink of complete disaster.
Looking back on the career of Pete Rose, it’s pretty easy to see the parallels, right?
Pete was a blue-collar kid from a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town who hustled his way to superstardom. He climbed to the heights that Cliff Barnes could only dream about, but Pete, too, was a slasher who would do anything to get ahead.
And, like Barnes, Pete needed a release, the most visible and damnable being his gambling habit — including the penchant for betting on baseball that eventually brought him down.
Pete’s rookie card didn’t escape the Cliff Barnes parallels, either. While the Mantle rookie drove the hobby and the Mattingly rookie opened it to a whole new generation, the 1963 Topps Pete Rose pushed forward any way it could.
Famously, that included several rounds of well-done fakes that eventually built a market for themselves.
Drinking, gambling, slashing, counterfeits … it’s hard to separate the character from the player from the card.
Sue Ellen Ewing ……… 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco Rookie Card
Sue Ellen Shepard was a young beauty queen who caught J.R.’s eye and reeled him all the way in to a marriage made in Hell.
Now, you can quibble over what initially attracted the two to each other, and what each one got out of the relationship, but you can’t argue with just how perfect Sue Ellen was as the fiery romantic counterpart to her entitled husband. In many ways, she was the equal that J.R. couldn’t find anywhere else.
Each was glamorous and power-hungry.
Each had copious extra-marital affairs — Sue Ellen’s suitors included bitter J.R. rival Cliff Barnes.
Each wanted to stick it to the other’s self most of the time.
Each seemed to have some real love for the other.
Each found it difficult to stay away from the other.
But whereas J.R. was generally fully in control of what was happening around him, Sue Ellen was a hot mess most of the time. Passionate and angry and jilted and ambitious and smart and impulsive … Sue Ellen was a mix of everything great and terrible that Dallas had to offer.
About in the middle of the show’s run, a young slugger made his debut for the Oakland A’s, and the game would never be the same.
Jose Canseco was a Cuban-born enigma who slugged his way into the Majors at age 20, stroking five home runs for Oakland in 29 late games to close out the 1985 season. That was enough to stoke up the hype machine and land Jose cards in both the 1986 Donruss and 1986 Fleer sets.
As expected, Jose broke Spring Training with the parent club in 1986 and spent the summer bashing homers throughout the American League. As Canseco heated up, so to did his Donruss Rated Rookies card, his only solo rookie card.
By Thanksgiving, Canseco had copped the AL Rookie of the Year award, and his card was the next 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly — destined to only go up in value, crashing past $5, $10, $15, on its way to the stars.
The next season brought more of the same as Canseco paired with rookie Mark McGwire to form the Bash Brothers, and their bulging biceps were all the *ahem* rage.
Jose won the MVP award in 1988, but by then folks had begun to notice that our new superstar was a tad mercurial and eccentric. And not long after that, it became clear that we could never really depend on anything when it came to Jose.
One night he’d hit three dingers, the next he’d bounce a fly ball off his head, the next he’d blow out a shoulder trying to pitch, the next he’d get pulled over chasing down Madonna at 300 mph, the next …
And so it went for 17 tumultuous years until Jose hung up his gym bag … er … spikes in 2001. Along the way, his rookie card spiked and dipped and flat-lined and was resuscitated, and you never knew whether to feel blessed or cursed when you found one in your collection.
You know, the same way J.R. must have felt when he sat down across from Sue Ellen at the dinner table.
Pam Ewing ………………. 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey, Jr., Rookie Card
Pam Ewing had everything going for her …
She was the daughter of an oil barron.
She was beautiful.
She was personable and nice.
She was smart (enough).
And she was married to Bobby, the good-looking Ewing brother with the winning personality.
Together, they were THE rising power couple in Dallas, and their future was brighter than the Texas sun at noon on the Fourth of July.
Of course, life has a tendency to get in the way of destiny, especially in soap operas (and baseball). So there were affairs and failures and losses and stupid dreams, and in the end, Pam was really just a shell of the woman she could have been.
And, always there to complicate matters was the fact that Pam was Digger Barnes’ daughter and Cliff Barnes’ sister. Talk about sleeping with the enemy!
Just as Pam was leaving that golden halo of promise and we were beginning to see her in the harsh reality of daylight, Ken Griffey, Jr., was embarking on his professional baseball career. Everything that Brien Taylor was going to do for pitching, Griffey was going to do for hitting and fielding and having fun on the diamond.
Only … Griffey pretty much delivered on all that promise. Within a few years of his debut, The Kid was one of the two or three best players in the game, and people were starting to whisper his name in conversations about the greatest players ever. Notwithstanding the way he gutted Reds fans over and over, Griffey was darn near a perfect player.
His rookie cards, though …
Everyone knows that Griffey’s 1989 Upper Deck RC is an all-time classic that is a must-own for serious collectors of the era.
But that card wasn’t alone on the Griffey landscape. No, both Fleer and Donruss issued base-set cards of Griffey in his rookie season, too.
And, believe it or not, there was a fair amount of debate in the hobby about which you should be buying. Now, the UD card was always more expensive and more desirable, but there was a fair contingent of experts and collectors who thought it was too pricy and that the other options had a lot more room for value appreciation.
That Donruss card was pretty decent looking, too, so you couldn’t go wrong buying it, right?
Basically, that’s right. Unless you dropped 15 bucks a pop for 100 or more of the cards, you didn’t take to much of a bath, and that Donruss rookie is still a solid historical piece today.
But, man, on the cultural reference bookcase over there in the corner, there is a shelf labeled, “Pretty Awesome but Still Disappointing.”
Pam Ewing lives on that shelf, and she sits there shuffling through a stack of 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie cards every night.
Ray Krebbs ……………… 1975 Topps Bobby Murcer
Ray Krebbs was the ranch foreman at Sourthfork, the Ewing homestead where much of the show’s drama played out. Ray was a carouser who had eyes for the young Lucy Ewing and also collaborated with J.R. on a couple of dastardly schemes. All in all, though, Ray was a good guy and seemed to have a pretty bright future with the Ewings on his side. Then, in 1980, we found out that he was Jock’s illegitimate son, setting up years of nail-biting around whether he would ever learn the truth. After several very human mistakes and the continued rise to prominence of both J.R. and Bobby, we realized it didn’t really matter — Ray would never equal his half brothers in the world of business.
Similarly, Bobby Murcer broke in with the New York Yankees at the age of 19 in 1965, and the buzz was that he was the next next Mickey Mantle. That was a tall order, but Murcer gave it a good go for several seasons, becoming perhaps the best all-around outfielder in the American League by the time Mantle retired in 1969. Mercer peaked (in a WAR sense) in 1972 when he was a legitimate MVP candidate at age 26 but declined sharply thereafter. After the 1974 season, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants
As if to underline the point that Murcer would not, indeed, be the next Mantle, Topps went to work with their airbrush and made the trade official in time for their 1975 set.
Lucy Ewing ………….. 1991 Classic Brien Taylor
Once upon a time, Lucy Ewing was young and hot and exciting, and every man from Weatherford to Emory would line up to get a chance to dance with the sassy flaxen-haired lass. She caused all sorts of trouble for Ray, and plenty of heartache for other suitors, too. But as time went on, folks began to realize just how immature and petulant Lucy really was, and it didn’t take long until her physical beauty just couldn’t compensate for the risk and the hassle of pursuing her.
The 1991 Classic Brien Taylor is an almost perfect cardboard proxy for Lucy because Taylor was young and “hot” — the hottest pitching prospect since before Dwight Gooden — and he was going to rewrite all the record books. But after being drafted out of high school by the Yankees and signing for a big bonus, Taylor self-destructed and never even made it to the Majors. Lots of collectors held onto his rookie card for several years, though, just praying for a miracle.
It was like pulling out your high school yearbook five years after graduation and hoping against hope that the head cheerleader would come looking for you.
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I like this series and wish I could have had a TV in my room.
Mine was just an old black & white with a hanger for an antenna, but it worked OK. Great for background noise while I memorized the backs of my baseball cards.