I lost most of my treasured childhood belongings when my parent’s basement flooded a couple of years ago. “Jurassic Park” dinosaurs, “Power Rangers” action figures, miniature “Star Wars” figurines, and an entire civilization of stuffed animals ended up in the town dump rather than in my future kid’s playroom.
While doing laundry during a weekend home recently, I noticed two yellow binders hiding behind twenty-year-old cobwebs. My fingers darkened as I picked them up, instantly stained by dirt so black it would have been at home in a coal miner’s lungs. Any other germ-fearing person would have dumped a vat of hand sanitizer into their hands, but I couldn’t wait another moment to see if the binders’ content had survived the storm.
“No shit,” I said.
The baseball cards I had collected and meticulously curated were in pristine condition inside the cellar-beaten books. Arranged by team and league, the cards represented a time when my only responsibilities included memorizing batting averages and negotiating a later bedtime. They also showcase a wonderfully weird time in baseball—late 1980s, early 1990s—that seems so much more innocent than it really was.
I ended last year by sharing 50 of my favorite pictures from my life in baseball. I figured it would be appropriate to end the summer by sharing 100 of my favorite baseball cards. Part 1 will feature 50 cards from the American League (which will be New York Yankees heavy for obvious reasons) and Part 2, which will go live next Sunday, will feature another 50 from the National League.
Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section or tweet me at @danielfford!
1. Derek Jeter
Who else would I lead off with? I’m going to miss watching him play.
2. Mariana Rivera
According to this rookie card, Rivera started 10 games for the 1995 Yankees. He also isn’t wearing his trademark “42” in this picture.
3. Tim Raines
Please, put this man in the Hall of Fame.
4. Don Mattingly
Mattingly was my older brother’s favorite player, so I knew I couldn’t adopt him as my own. His retirement and Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill’s time in the Bronx solved that childish problem, but that didn’t stop me from loving “23” in my own way. My favorite Donnie Baseball moment was when he stole popcorn from a young fan after chasing after a foul ball that made the stands.
5. Tino Martinez
Martinez once slapped me in the chest after I had dropped off a jug of water to the South Florida team he was volunteering with in 2006. It hurt. A lot.
6. Matt Nokes
I would take Nokes’ .268, 24 homeruns, and 77 RBIs in 1991 after watching the 2014 Yankees this summer. He even stole three bases!
7. Andy Stankiewicz
I have a lot of Andy Stankiewicz cards. I remember really liking him as a kid, but I have no memory of his time as a Yankee.
8. Mariano Duncan
“We play today. We win today. Das it!”
9. Kevin Maas
Terrific baseball name. Wonderful start to his career. That’s about it.
10. Charlie Hayes
Who didn’t love Charlie Hayes?
11. Ricky Henderson
“Ricky wants to take this picture in his underwear.” “Ricky wants to show off his muscles.” “Ricky’s hair could be used as an aircraft carrier.”
12. Dennis Eckersley
Eckersley still has a Hall of Fame caliber mullet.
13. Terry Steinbeck
A baseball card that makes my head look normal-sized in comparison!
14. Frank Thomas
I was one of those kids that was in awe of “The Big Hurt.” I loved watching him play the game.
15. Steve Sax
I have one of him as a Yankee (and possibly as a Dodger), but making cracks about his throwing is lazy writing. I prefer to think of him as having one of the all-time great baseball names.
16. Ron Karkovice
This has to be up there for world’s ugliest baseball cards, right? I know Karkovice was a catcher, but geez, snap an action shot with his mask on for the poor guy.
17. Carlton Fisk
I think I have one of him as a Boston Red Sox, but fuck them.
18. Harold Baines
Baines ended up with 2,866 hits. That’s a lot of goddamn hits.
19. Charlie Hough
Technically this is Hough’s first card as a member of the Florida Marlins. Look at that mug.
20. John Olerud
I wish the Yankees had traded for Olerud well before he put on the pinstripes in 2004.
21. Joe Carter
Every baseball player should be this happy playing the game. And this never gets old:
22. Roberto Alomar
Action card pre-GIF!
23/24. Jim Thome
Even as a young player, Thome looks gentlemanly and wise. Feared every at-bat he had against the Yankees. My generation’s Frank Howard or Harmon Killebrew.
25. Manny Ramirez
I hate you.
26. Danny Tartabull
Tartabull wearing the Kansas City Royals’ baby blue uniforms. Perfection.
27. George Brett
I remember my father cracking up when Brett got picked off first base after picking up his 3,000th. I don’t remember a lot about Brett’s playing days, but I could watch his tirade during the “Pine Tar Game” endlessly.
28. Nolan Ryan
Ryan still looks like he could throw no-hitters. And I’m pretty sure he believes that as well.
29. Julio Franco
This card is from 1990. Franco would play another 17 years.
30. Ken Griffey Jr.
I used to be able to duplicate Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing pretty well. So what if I wasn’t a lefty and possessed no baseball skills? It’s still true!
31. Jay Buhner
Yankee killer. Let’s keep moving.
32. Tom Kelly
I have quite a few managers in my baseball card collection. It came down to included this Tom Kelly card or one of Bobby Valentine when he was managing the Texas Rangers. I think I made the right choice.
33. Kirby Puckett
Another great baseball smile.
34. Chili Davis
Chili looking intimidating!
35. Al Newman
Newman would eventually coach the New Britain (soon to be Hartford) Rockcats.
36. Paul Molitor
The Milwaukee Brewers need to go back to these uniforms full-time.
37. Brady Anderson
This card hit 50 homeruns while I was writing this caption.
38. Billy Ripken
I’m including Billy Ripken because I think his commentary on MLBTV is fantastic. He broke down a bunt play one night a couple of seasons ago that I still think about.
39. David Wells
This is a great throwback look for David Wells.
40. Cecil Fielder
I have a soft spot for the oil painting look. I was ecstatic when Fielder became a Yankee in 1996. He made it a playoff run to remember.
41. Jim Abbott
A former coworker snagged me an autograph from Jim Abbott at a promotional event a couple of years ago. I still remember jumping up and down at my uncle’s house when he nailed down his no-hitter.
42. Dave Winfield
The Angels’ old uniforms did Winfield no favors.
43. Chad Curtis
Chad Curtis! One of the most serious flat tops in recorded history.
44. Luis Sojo
Sojo gave my brothers and I a ball at our first game together at Fenway Park. He’s one of my favorite bench players ever. Look at that little Luis Sojo go!
45. Wade Boggs
A great New York Yankee.
46. Jack Clark
I like this card because you get a nice look at the Green Monster before the ads took over.
47. Mike Stanley
Another great Yankee.
48. Jose Conseco
Trying to come up with a David Ortiz steroid joke…it’ll come to me…
49. Mo Vaughn
I can’t think of a better picture to sum up Mo Vaughn’s career.
50. Dennis Lamp