Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pretty Damn Good Mail Day Part II: '81 Topps Baseball Stickers And The Summer Of Mike Norris

This one's pretty near and dear to my heart, and is kind of long.
I got a sweet deal on an '81 Topps Sticker set last week, and it came in the mail yesterday. Talk about memories. Unless the Mego Teen Titans figures (man, I wish I still had those) counted, the 1981 Topps Baseball Sticker Set was probably the first thing I ever collected to completion in my life. I really loved those white-bordered little bastards, and can remember tearing open untold numbers of sticker packages in search of the missing ones. Sometimes, I'd do it just for the sake of it, completion be damned. All of the stickers got placed in albums (I had multiple '81 albums) and eventually, one day, I did actually finish an album with this sticker...

Yep, good ol' Mike Norris, sticker #6, was the most elusive of them all!
I'm getting ahead of myself, though, skipping to the last sticker I found before I've even started. Let's spend a little more time talking about Mike, as he was sort of the alpha and the omega in the sticker-collecting world that year. Mike, under Billy Martin's tutelage (or abuse, depending on your point of view), had a fantastic, should've won the Cy Young-kinda season in 1980 (look it up here), so when designing the sticker album, there were a whole bunch of spots for him in it. Mike had 4 stickers in total in the '81 set, or 3 and a half if you don't give him full credit for the sticker he shared with Tommy John. He pulled this off without even being part of the foil All-Star subset!
As a kid who collected these stickers, despite it being a year removed from the peak of his career, and despite no recollection of having seen the man pitch until his brief comeback in the early 1990s, I can tell you with all certainty that 1981 was The Summer Of Mike Norris.

Sticker #4, for instance is the one I think of first when I think of the '81 set, and it's pretty much perfect. It's got nothing but sky and what looks like a white picket fence (!) as a background. Mike's got this weird, awesome A's uniform on (Was that actually regulation, uniform experts?). Mike's young here, whole life ahead of him, really. Hope springs eternal.

Here's #122, Mike as part of the A's team page. This is him in-game, with that crazy bubblegum card mosaic of people in the stands behind him. Can anyone identify the 3rd base umpire?

And here's Mike's 3rd and a half sticker in the set. He looks like he's in a much better mood than Tommy John is here. Mike's like "Hey, I got on another sticker!", where Tommy looks like he's thinking "I only get to be on half the sticker? Jeez."

As I mentioned above, despite it being The Summer Of Mike Norris, Mike didn't make it onto an All-Star foil sticker, which would've been his 5th sticker. Just like he was in the 1980 Cy Young voting (stats at that link so you can compare their seasons), Mike was foiled (*groan*) by his arch-nemesis,

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

Remember what I said about Stoney in my "Saturday's Haul" post? I swear he looks like a different guy than he did on his '80 Topps card. Anyway, while I decided to scan the base sticker rather than the foil one, Steve Stone did indeed beat Mike Norris out of not only the Cy, but also an '81 Topps foil sticker! That scoundrel! (Disclaimer: I actually like his broadcasting work, so he's done at least something to make up for his crimes.) I don't wanna dwell on this for too long, so let's move onto someone else who looked a little "stoney" in the '81 set...

Seriously you guys, it's probably just glare from all that sun or something, but Ted Simmons (who'll hopefully be voted into the Hall Of Fame next week) looks BAKED here.

"Someone lookin' for me?"

No, Bake McBride, we said "baked". Can you call Pete over here, though?

"The hell you want?"

Interestingly, this shot of Rose, while not quite as surly as his '89 Topps card picture (I'll get to that one someday), is still pretty unfriendly lookin', yet it ended up being the sticker example picture for the front cover. If I'm the Topps marketing guy, I have the layout guy swap it out with the shot of George Brett that they used for the back cover...

...and go with a different guy for the main cover picture, maybe Mike Schmidt (since the Phils won the Series in '80) or even Reggie, even though everyone outside of the Tri-State area (and half the people here) hated him by then. Better to be hated and feared than to be made fun of by little kids for having hemorrhoids, as poor George was so often on the playgrounds of America in the early '80s. OK, let's make a left turn here...

This Ed Farmer sticker, #64, was a real pain for me to get, too. I think I ended up mailing away for it. Topps had an offer on the '81 stickers, where you could send them money and a SASE or something like that, and they'd send you sticker fills. This offer was reprised and abused in '84, when people sent away for a ton of Mattingly and Strawberry rookie cards, but it got me my Ed Farmer, who I thought was a funny lookin' dude as a kid.

While we're on the White Sox page, let's talk about an important life lesson I learned from the '81 sticker set.

"Mom, it says that this guy's name is Jim Morrison, but he doesn't look anything like him! Is Jim Morrison playing baseball now, under a secret identity?"

...and that was the day that I learned that two very different people could have the exact same first and last name! I didn't even have to wait until "Office Space" came out!

Speaking of "Office Space": Gorman Thomas, who is quickly becoming the patron saint of this site for reasons that should be obvious just from looking at this picture, kinda looks like he's thinking about asking Bud Selig for a raise here, so he can have two girls at once.

Hey, check out Carew's mustache!

I think Dan Driessen digs it. I loved (and still love) this sticker as a little guy. The dude just looks so happy.

Nolan Ryan, on the other hand, is SRS BUSINESS. Not only that, but he also looks like an astronaut (guess those uniform designs worked!), a member of Clutch or both.

I bet Joe Charboneau likes Clutch.

Yaz, on the other hand, is just busy being clutch. The crowd mosaic on this sticker leaves some of the faces almost recognizable. How cool would it be if you went to a Red Sox/Tigers game in 1980, had good seats, and then found out later that you were immortalized on the 1981 Topps Carl Yastrzemski sticker? Talk about bragging rights...

...I mean, you couldn't exactly call yourself "the greatest of all time" like Rickey did, but it'd still be pretty cool. Rickey hasn't really aged much in 30 years, has he?
As we round the corner into the home stretch: the lowly Mets. As a young kid, even though they were in my '80 Topps cards, I couldn't even grasp the concept of the Mets.
"Wait! There's a second team in New York? And they're bad?"

With hair like Neil Allen's in this shot, though it was common for athletes of his era (I see it more in old football and hockey pictures, though), it was even harder for a 6 or 7 year old kid to believe that the Mets were actual baseball players. I don't think I actually admitted to myself that the Mets existed until Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks showed up, and that was mostly because they had such great names. Not long after that, though, Dave Kingman returned to the Mets, and in my eyes, they were finally a real team, because Kong was a real baseball player.  Before then, they were just Lee Mazzilli, trapped on an island with some dudes who couldn't play baseball very well, practicing his DeNiro impression.

"Are you talkin' ta me?"

For the final part of the visual portion of today's very long program, here are two examples of those foil All-Star stickers that Mike Norris was so cruelly denied.

Willie freakin' Wilson. Man, this guy was fast. I was stunned when, in about '86 or so, I read that he ran as quickly as he did despite being a cigarette smoker. I don't know if Willie still smokes. I hope not. But man, hats off to him for being the kind of athlete who could fly on the bases despite putting all that gunk in his lungs. I'd sit here and wonder "what could've been" on that front, but honestly, I don't know if Willie could've gone much faster than he did.

And finally, fresh off his tour with Earth, Wind and Fire, here's George Hendrick! Seriously, the gold foil and the All-Star frame only add to the EWF-ness of this sticker.

To finish up my story about finishing the set, I was actually in The Hobby Shop (yes, even back then; next Thursday will be 30 years that I've shopped there), and despite the discouragement of looking through their sticker singles and not finding Mike Norris (after a long summer, I really thought I was never going to find this guy), I decided to buy a few more packs. First pack I opened, not even out of the store, there he was.

I felt like I'd won the lottery.

Sadly, my full, completed '81 sticker album has gone MIA. It may still be here, buried under a bunch of stuff, but it's not with the rest of my sticker albums, nor did I find it in the containers where I have my complete sets, which was where I thought I had it. I've got the set now, though, and I'll probably pick up a new, empty album sometime soon. I do still have a second, near-complete album, so I think I'll leave the album clean and the backs on the stickers this time, but it's definitely nice to have Mike Norris around again, regardless.

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