Once upon a time, Nelson Norman was on a beeline for a long Major League career.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Pittsburgh Pirates at the tender age of 17 in 1975, the young shortstop clicked off minor league stops like they were runners at first base.

By the end of his third professional season, Norman was at Triple-A Columbus, ready to take the next step.

Problem was, the Pirates were already building a young core that would eventually turn into the 1979 “We Are Family” World Series champions, and they had speedy Frank Taveras at shortstop.

So … they shipped Norman to the Texas Rangers in December 1977 as part of a four-team swap that also involved Al Oliver and Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven.

Once with Texas, it didn’t take long for Norman to escape Triple-A Tucson in 1978, making his Major League debut on May 20.

But the Rangers were contenders, too, and that made the going tough for a light-hitting rookie, so Norman found himself back in the minors.

In 1979, though, new manager Pat Corrales installed the youngster as his starting shortstop, and Norman appeared in 147 games. Though he hit just .222, it was good enough to land a splendid action shot in the 1980 Topps set.

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It wasn’t good enough to keep his job, though, and the 22-year-old spent most of 1980 back in the minors.

Even so, Donruss saw fit to include him in their inaugural set in 1981. They had a lot of real estate to fill, after all, with a 600-card checklist.

After more mostly-minors action with Texas, Norman apparently caught the eye of the Bucs again, who sent Victor Cruz to the Rangers to get their still-young infielder back in the fold.

Of course, that fold was mostly of the minor league variety, though Norman did make three appearances in the bigs with Pittsburgh that season.

But then … his Major League days were done, and so were his baseball card appearances (outside of minor league sets).

Nelson didn’t give up, though, playing through a free agent signing with the Orioles and a trade to the Expos.

By 1987, Norman was a 29-year-old lifer playing at Triple-A Indianapolis when the Expos called him up for a single game in Philadelphia against the Phillies. Norman started at short, went 0-for-4 at the plate with a strikeout, and recorded one putout and one assist.

Then … it was back to the farm.

For good.

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Find 1981 Donruss Nelson Norman on eBay (affiliate link)

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Nelson Norman played through the 1989 season, spending the rest of his professional days with the Indianapolis Indians, before embarking on a coaching and scouting career.

If you were were a collector in the 1980s, you might have noticed Norman, just briefly, while you were building out a your 1980 Topps or 1981 Donruss set.

But, though the man never made it into a wax pack again, he was still out there grinding, all decade long.

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