In the dog days of the 1983 pennant race, with October looming lonely and empty at Fenway Park as the Red Sox crept toward the bottom of the division, a fire inside Boston legend Carl Yastrzemski burned out.

It was then he let the baseball world know: that same fire, the one that had blazed through the MLB firmament for 23 seasons, would blaze no more in 1984.

And so it was that, on October 2, 1983, at Fenway Park, Yaz played his last game in the majors, going 1-for-4 with a single and a walk against the Cleveland Indians.

From a baseball card perspective, that “early” announcement sealed Captain Carl’s fate: there would be no 1984 Topps career-capper, because Topps just didn’t make cards of guys who weren’t likely to be on major league rosters, no matter who they were.

But that definitive end to Yaz’s career did give the three card manufacturers time to prepare tribute cards, and they did: Topps gave him a headshot on a pasteboard shared with fellow retirees Gaylord Perry and Johnny Bench, and Fleer and Donruss each paired him on a card with Bench.

Fleer did him one better, with a “normal” Yaz single, and a slot in their sticker set from the year.

And Donruss did him one better than even that with a huge entry that designated him exactly what he was — a Champion …

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The 1984 Donruss Champions featured 60 oversize(3 1/2″ X 5″ ) cards distributed among various groups representing major statistical categories — home runs, hits, wins, strikeouts, etc.

For each category, the all-time record-holder was represented by a Dick Perez painting, and then-current standouts were featured on separate, photo-bearing cards, and compared to the all-time great.

Interestingly, even though Yaz was known most for his all-around game at the plate, and even though he stood eight on the all-time hits list (3419), Donruss included him in the rundown of home run leaders.

Those 452 homers on the back of Yastrzemski’s card looked sort of anemic laid side-by-side with Hank Aaron’s 755, especially since we knew by the time it was issued that he would never hit another.

Still, this final Yaz card featured at least part of his full career line — the power portion — making it a rare gem of the era … another career-capper to slide in alongside (and to tower over) that ’84 Fleer.

And the Champion card front offered something unusual, too — a smiling, somewhat bright-eyed Yaz, which was a stark contrast to the serious, almost worried visage the future Hall of Famer had adopted on most of his cards, at least in the latter stages of his career.

Maybe by the time the image was snapped, Yaz could already feel the carefree days of retirement headed his way.

Or, just maybe, Donruss managed to capture the Champion in a moment of reflection, when the joy of dreams realized and another day at the ballpark overpowered more mundane concerns like a declining batting average.

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