(This is the ninth in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

The summer of 1983 was marked by two important diamond-related developments:

  • The three major baseball card manufacturers all stepped up their games considerably and issued base sets that, collectively, blew away everything they pushed out in the previous two years of post-Topps-monopoly cardboard.
  • At the same time, baseball stepped full-bore into rookie mania, and particularly into power-hitting rookie mania.

For collectors, this was a perfect marriage because of course we love great-looking cards and of course we love rookies who can smack the snot out of the ball. Line up those 1983 rookie cards!

1983 Fleer Ron Kittle

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But there was a problem …

Darryl Strawberry, who was lighting up the Gotham night with his towering home runs for the New York Mets was one of the most gifted hitters to come along in years, maybe decades. The baseball cognoscenti knew he was coming, but that didn’t matter much in the world of baseball cards back then.

Because Strawberry didn’t make his Major League debut until May 6 (at 21), none of the manufacturers deigned to include him in their 1983 sets. For the most part, you had to have logged some time in the Bigs in order to warrant a baseball card in the early 1980s.

So as Straw went about establishing himself as the most exciting young player in the game, we were left to dream about his 1983 Topps Traded card and make mental dates with that still-nonexistent set for November.

But even before Strawberry made his first appearance in New York pinstripes, an even more unknown slugger was starting to shrug his massive shoulders in the City of Big Shoulders.

On April 10, Ron Kittle hit his first home run of the season for the Chicago White Sox, and, by the end of that first month, he had swatted five big flies.

By the end of May, that tally was at 11, landing Kittle among the lead leaders and offering a rare bright spot for a ChiSox team that stood at 20-25 and in fifth place in the AL West.

That first home run of 1983 wasn’t Kittle’s first MLB home run, though, and that would make all the difference for collectors as the Sox heated up along with the summer.

See, Kittle was served the proverbial cup of coffee at the end of 1982, appearing in 20 games, and picking up 32 plate appearances. One of those ended in his first dinger.

At that point, he was within a few months of his 25th birthday and had just wrapped up his sixth full minor league season since the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1977. No one was excited.

Well … almost no one was excited.

Because, while Donruss and Topps took a pass on the 6-4, 200-pound outfielder, Fleer took a flyer and slipped him in on card #241 in their 1983 set.

As Kittle’s homer total climbed the next spring, it didn’t take collectors long to connect that 1983 Fleer card to the Sox bopper, and the chase was on.

1983 Fleer Ron Kittle (back)

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By August 1, Kittle had 23 home runs under his belt, and the White Sox had turned things around, up four games in the division thanks in no small part to their out-of-nowhere superstar.

And, as the baseball card boom started to, well, boom, we had our first rookie sensation with big power whose card we could pull from packs we bought fresh at the local drug store.

Kittle didn’t exactly make us forget about Darryl Strawberry, but he sure helped us figure out how to collect a phenom, in the moment.

That’s a “skill” we have collectors honed to perfection in the years since, but there is no denying Kittle jumped rookie cards forward a country mile with 35 swings of his bat during that magical summer.

The 1983 Ron Kittle rookie card is not just the best card from that set, it’s also one of the most important cards from the hobby’s history that no one seems to remember.

But we do.

(This is the ninth in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

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Ron Kittle 1990 Leaf #405 Chicago White Sox

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2008 Tristar Signa Cuts Ron Kittle Autograph Card 37/50 White Sox

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