If you were a kid collecting baseball cards in the summer of 1983, you might have stumbled onto a pleasant surprise on your weekly trip to the corner store, or maybe on a stop for provisions during a family drive in the country.

That latter was the case for me …

We were out driving around on a hot Saturday afternoon, stopping at antique shops and garage sales, when we found ourselves in a historic little town in the far reaches of our county.

One of the charms of the place was an old-fashioned drugstore, complete with a mid-century soda counter — ice cream floats all around!

And also candy bars and cokes for the road.

And … well, while rooting around among the Reese’s Cups and Butterfingers, my cardboard senses went off like a siren.

There, tucked away on a dusty old shelf was a box of wax packs, looking for all the world like something straight out of the 1930s — they fit the setting to a “T.”

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I convinced my dad to buy all the packs that remained — maybe eight of them — and eagerly tore into them in the car while I chomped my goodies. It was a dizzying experience, fueled by skyrocketing blood sugar and my exciting new treasures.

Inside those bright red wrappers adorned with a diamond and emblazoned with “Hall of Fame Baseball” were some of the most beautiful cards I’d ever seen — full-color paintings of legends I’d only read about, and quite a few I never even heard of.

Hall of Fame Heroes, they called themselves, and I believed them.

At first, I really thought the cards were “vintage,” but the copyright date on the back of the cards told me otherwise.

It didn’t matter … I loved them!

Still do, and they were one of my early sources for information about the history of the game. The narrative on card backs regaled me with all sorts of information about the legends on the card fronts.

I first heard of the Homestead Grays on the back of Josh Gibson’s card, for instance, and also learned of his untimely death there.

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With names spanning baseball’s eras, from Ty Cobb to Hank Aaron, this 44-card set covered all of the Hall of Fame bases, or at least the early ones.

And … at least almost.

Because, if you look back at baseball’s first Hall of Fame election, in 1936, you’ll find a slate of candidates that survived the most stringent of standards to gain enshrinement:

  • Ty Cobb
  • Babe Ruth
  • Honus Wagner
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Walter Johnson

And if you peruse through the Hall of Fame Heroes checklist, you’ll find these guys …

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Notice the missing fella there?

Yeah, there’s no Bambino.

Donruss made up for the lack of Babe to some extent by including three Mickey Mantle puzzle pieces in each pack, and a card devoted to the complete Mantle puzzle (featuring Dick Perez artwork, like the rest of the cards).

They also made up for it by issuing an amazing set of baseball cards that still tweak the old nostalgia strings today … and that you can usually find on the cheap (affiliate link).

Forty-four gorgeous paintings of baseball legends for under $10 (usually, and raw).

What could be better than that?

Hobby Wow!

Since the Hall of Fame Heroes issue is not scarce, you can still find complete sets today, like this one on eBay:

Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).