The 1981 baseball season may have been a hot mess of strike-torn, two-half, gut-wrenching, never-watching-again angst, worry, and disgust, but … well, it wasn’t all bad.

For one thing, it ended with an actual World Series, something 1994 couldn’t say.

And, for another thing, it had Fernandomania, the mass hysteria surrounding Los Angeles Dodgers rookie lefthander Fernando Valenzuela and his magical Rookie of the Year campaign.

Fernando’s breakout still resonates today, and it also ramped up interest in his rookie cards — in rookie cards in general — and helped angle the hobby into a new era.

And, speaking of baseball cards …

You might have heard the news by now that things changed in a dramatic way for the hobby in 1981, too, what with the arrival of Fleer and Donruss, and, that fall, the advent of a full-blown Topps Traded box set.

Fernando and those new card options converged at just the right spot in history to stir up a special concoction that still makes collector pulses quicken whenever a 1981 Topps, Topps Traded, or Fleer Valenzuela RC comes into sight (Donruss skipped the phenom in their inaugural issue).

You know something else that converged in 1981?

With a little help from 1982?

I’ll give you a hint — it rhymes with “gas to the floor” (more or less), and goes by in a blur.

It’s … #164.

As in card #164 in the 1982 Topps set.

Here, have a look …

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Chances are, you recognize those guys.

They’re a couple of Hall of Famers, after all, and appeared on your baseball cards for a combined 173.213 years.

By 1981, Henderson was already a known commodity, having swiped an otherworldly 100 bases in 1980.

Raines was just a rookie, but one who had seen his stolen base numbers — and pretty much the rest of his game, too — grow steadily more gaudy during a four-year climb through the Montreal Expos’ minor league system.

He was poised to become yet another star in what was becoming a crowded Stade Olympique firmament.

Here is what the two gents were up to in 1981, the first time they spent a “full” season in the majors at the same time:

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But you already knew that from the front of the card, right?

What you may not know, or remember, is that 1981 marked the first of four straight seasons in which Rock and Rickey topped their respective leagues in steals.

And the first of three straight Topps cards that celebrated the dynamic duo as league leaders.

Like a baseball lockout or Rollie Fingers’ mustache, it seemed like those days of wine and cheese might go on forever.

But then, in 1985, Topps decided to skip their league leaders subset in favor of other baubles, like father-son cards, and Team USA cards.

Considering the hype around the Mark McGwire and Oddibe McDowell and, like, Mike Dunne Olympic cards in the ensuing years, it’s hard to say Topps made the wrong choice.

But something had to give in order to make room for those. And you couldn’t very well ditch the Benny Distefano or Buddy Biancalana rookie cards.

So … out went Rickey and Tim.

Out went Tony (Armas) and Dale (Murphy).

Out went Tony (Gwynn) and Don (Mattingly).

Out went — for heaven’s sake — Alejandro (Pena) and Mike (Boddicker).

And then, as if the universe were watching Topps for cues, it delivered Vince Coleman unto the National League.

Just like that, Tim Raines, Stolen Base Leader, was gone, never to be seen again.

But, while Coleman would reel off six straight SB titles with the Cardinals, matching up with Henderson on five of those, he never could hold a candle to Raines in terms of overall diamond performance.

And he never made even one appearance on a multi-dude Topps league leader card, either, seeing as how they ceased to exist after 1984.

But Tim Raines did.

And Rickey Henderson did.

And, for the most part, they did it together, beginning with that amazing 1982 Topps Tim Henderson Rickey Raines “rookie card” that would come a brochure of sorts for anyone who might need a reminder of what the perfect leadoff man looks like.

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This sweet card is just one of many that made hobby waves as one of the top-selling Rickey (and Rock!) pieces on eBay during January of 2022. Check out our full rundown on YouTube:

1982 Topps - #400 Johnny Bench

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1982 Topps Baseball Sticker Album

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1982 Topps Baseball Card Pick

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