The Ken Singleton rookie card remembers something about baseball cards in 1983 that you might not — namely, this hobby was a different beast back then.

Big revelation, right?

But hear me out …

Back in 1983, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and Gaylord Perry all broke Walter Johnson’s strikeout record.

Ryan got there first, but Carlton finished the season in first place.

Most folks thought the standings would stay that way, too, as Carlton was one of the greatest pitchers ever, while Ryan was just a one-trick pony (two, if you count the no-hitter thing).

Carlton’s 1965 Topps rookie card was one of the hottest in the hobby, while Ryan’s ‘68 Topps debut lagged behind set-mate Johnny Bench, who retired after the season, like Perry (and Carl Yastrzemski).

At the plate, some young guys were making noise — Ron Kittle and Darryl Strawberry lit up the homer boards as rookies, and Cal Ripken, Jr., was leading his Baltimore Orioles toward October in his sophomore campaign after nabbing American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1982.

Kittle’s 1983 Fleer card was the Face of Chase in those days, and the hobby breathlessly awaited Darryl’s 1983 Topps Traded card that fall.

And, by the time we got our first cardboard glimpse of Strawberry, Cal had put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, helping Baltimore win a World Series title and copping the AL MVP award in the process.

Not surprisingly, Cal’s 1982 Topps and Topps Traded cards began the climb that would eventually make them the hottest cards of the ‘80s for a stretch there in the early 1990s.

But Ripken wasn’t the only source of firepower for the O’s.

No, along with first baseman Eddie Murray, veteran designated hitter Ken Singleton was more than capable of going deep at any time.

He made good on that promise 18 times during the summer of 1983 and, at age 36, looked like he might have a shot to put up Hall of Fame numbers before all was said and done: 1951 hits, 240 home runs, 1029 RBI, and a .286 batting average by season’s end pointed to some big milestones ahead.

Now, as luck would have it, Singleton had landed his first rookie card in the iconic, love-’em-or-hate’-’em black-bordered 1971 Topps set.

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While the ‘71s have always been a lightning rod for strong opinions about their aesthetics, the truth was, the rookie selection was a bit weak — Steve Garvey topped the class and sold well, but then things fell off to the likes of “Bob” Grich, Bert Blyleven, and Ted Simmons.

While those guys ended up being Hall of Famers or should-be Hall of Famers, they have never been needle-movers in baseball card terms.

So the big bucks among the 1971s fell mostly to the established stars and high numbers — Rod Carew, Boog Powell, Willie Mays, Pete Rose, and the like.

Along with his exploits in the batter’s box for the Orioles, and against that milquetoast backdrop of fellow rookie cards, Singleton’s own dramatic RC started to gain some momentum.

Would Singleton keep busting out the double-digit homers through his late 30s and maybe even into his 40s?

If he could, well, Cooperstown might just come calling, and wouldn’t that rookie look pretty sweet then?

Yeah, that’s what more than a few folks were thinking as 1983 played out, and that first Singleton pushed up into the few-dollar range — pretty heady stuff for a non-superstar in a maybe-popular-maybe-pariah set.

Alas, Singleton’s production fell off the table in 1984, and he retired at the end of the season, winding up with a .282 batting average, 246 homers, 1065 RBI, and 2029 hits.

great career, to be sure, but well short of Hall standards, and Singleton’s RC began to fade from collector conscientiousness faster than you can say “Nolan Ryan’s STILL pitching??”.

Today, that first Singleton card has long been surpassed by many other pasteboards in the 1971 set, but it’s done alright for itself here in the midst of our latest hobby boom — expect to pay $15-20 for copy in PSA 7 and $50+ for a PSA 8 specimen.

Of course, if you were a collector or fan back in 1983, it’s hard to put any sort of real price on the memories that Bunyanesque swing fans your way, no matter what condition it comes to you in.

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1971 Topps Bob Lurtsema VG card #241

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1971 Topps #341 Steve Garvey PSA 8

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