Many of the memories from the first 10 years of my childhood seem to involve dreary Saturday afternoons spent holed up in my room while my dad either 1) slept off another brutal work week in the next room or 2) worked on his car  with hand tools and duct tape so he could make it out for another brutal week of work on Monday.1981 Topps Steve McCatty


While I know that’s not entirely true, that our little family had many more good times than tough times, it’s those boring, rainy Saturdays that most often come to mind when I think about the late 1970s and early 1980s.

And there are plenty of triggers from that period that can bring back those old drab feelings, too.

Reruns of M*A*S*H.

Rambler sedans.

Trapper Keepers covered with scratch-and-sniff stickers.

And maybe more than anything, the 1981 Topps Steve McCatty baseball card.

Cardboard Darkness

Now, I didn’t collect baseball cards in 1981, but my mom had started buying me a pack here and there when she went to the store. I couldn’t understand why she did that — I hated baseball and didn’t want to collect anything — but she did.

So, by that fall, I had a few stacks of pasteboards piled up around my room, and I had no idea what to do with them. I’d shuffle them and flip them (literally, not as in the well-known playground game) and *gasp* bend and crease the holy heck out of them, just because.

But no matter wh1969 Rambler Steve McCattyat I did to them, the 1981 Topps Steve McCatty card always found its way to the top.

Especially on those rainy Saturdays when Dad was trying to get through life so he could give me a better one.

And, boy oh boy, did old #503 fit the mood of those bleak days.

The pea green A’s hat and windbreaker reminded me of those horrible M*A*S*H scrubs and told me that it was just as cold and nasty wherever McCatty was as it was outside my door on whatever rainy weekend he turned up again. McCatty’s face was caught halfway between a grimace and mild interest, like maybe he’d just witnessed a teammate tossing his cookies and realized that they had shared a meal earlier in the day.

Even the stadium scene behind McCatty was dank, like the aftermath of a monster truck rally under a dome when all that’s left is the cleanup.

The back of the card didn’t offer much hope, either. The typical soft and dingy Topps card stock of the era did little to doll up the four meager lines of stats that I didn’t understand or the understated season highlight: “Steve pitched A’s to 5-2 win vs. O’s, 9-7-80.”

Was that good? I didn’t think a win could be bad, but wasn’t there more fanfare to be had — somewhere — for a professional baseball player? To me, McCatty looked like an old man, and I figured a lifetime full of baseball should have yielded something more grandiose than that single line of faint praise.

Of course, maybe McCatty was just getting by, like the rest of us.

Maybe being a professional athlete didn’t guarantee you happiness any more than being a secretary or truck driver did. And if that was the case, why bother? And why would I want to collect little pieces of cardboard that reminded me of that depressing thought.

I wouldn’t.

And I didn’t … at least until 1983.

Cardboard Sunshine

That spring, several interesting things happened:1983 Donruss Wax Pack

  1. My mom and dad started collecting antiques, so …
  2. We spent our weekends traveling to shops and shows rather than walled up in the house. Along the way …
  3. I started seeing baseball cards for sale and realized that people actually did collect them.
  4. I also caught a few early Reds games on the local television station, and they weren’t drab at all. In fact, there was a lot of sunshine.
  5. And there was also, Johnny Bench, who I heard was a future Hall of Famer and in his final season.
  6. The new baseball cards my mom brought home seemed brighter than the ones I already had.

All of those factors converged one bright spring day when I popped open a pack of 1983 Donruss and pulled a smiling Cesar Cedeno card.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how sour Steve McCatty looked on those old dog-eared cards in my room because Cedeno was there to light up Riverfront Stadium and to remind me that the future looked g1983 Donruss Cesar Cedenoood — even if “my” Reds were mired in last place.

I grabbed hold of the hobby with both hands and never looked back, but ol’ Steve McCatty stuck with me.

As my collection grew, McCatty sightings came less and less frequently, but he would still pop up when I was shuffling through a stack of 1984 Donruss or 1989 Upper Deck.

How did he get there, in those exact moments?

I have no clue. But I know, even now, he’s lurking — waiting — in the darkest corners of my collection, and of my memory.

I always have an antidote close at hand, though.

(Check out our rundown of the most valuable 1981 Topps baseball cards.)