If you’ve ever wondered how to incite heart palpitations among collectors from the hobby’s original boom years, look no further than the 1987 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card:

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Us kids knew from the very first wax pack we ripped open that spring that 1987 Topps was something special.

The wood borders …

The could-be-hot rookie ever three or four cards …

The big-name rookie cards from among 1986’s standouts (Jose Canseco, Wally Joyner, Ruben Sierra, Will Clark, and on and on and on) …

Even the yellow and blue cards backs that felt different for their brightness (even if the cardstock was still mush) …

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It was dynamite soup, just waiting for a pinch of spark.

But McGwire was none too eager to oblige, judging from his early results — after a ten-game cup of coffee yielded three home runs late in 1986, Little Mac managed another four dingers though seventeen April games to start the next season.

That was OK production. Pretty good for a rookie, considering it extrapolated to about 25 homers over a full season.

But even that early on, it was pretty clear that 1987 was going to be different, and that “pretty good” wasn’t going to cut it. Consider, for example, that Brian Downing and Rob Deer had nine dingers through April, and that 50 guys had at least as many homers as McGwire.

May was a different story for Oakland’s first baseman, though.

That month, as the temperatures started to warm, Big Mac sparked, and sparked hard.

How hard?

Fifteen bombs hard, that’s how hard.

And suddenly, with 19 homers through a third of the season, we had a player who might challenge not only the rookie home run record of 38 set by Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, but also Roger Maris’ single-season mark of 61.

It was an exhilarating development for young fans who’d never had any record holders of our “own,” and McGwire’s power surge juiced the fervor of our pack popping.

Pun definitely intended, though it’s an apt description of the electricity that built through the game and hobby all summer long.

Now, of course, we all went scrambling back to our stacks of 1985 Topps to see if we could find that discarded and long-forgotten Team USA Olympic card.

And, yes, McGwire’s Rated Rookie in the 1987 Donruss set was probably even more in-demand than his Topps card — perceived scarcity will do that for you (and for a baseball card).

But let me tell you …

There was little more excitement to be had for a 15-year-old (or however old) boy in that summer of 1987 than that precise moment when the radioactive A’s green busted through the sea of Topps paneling and you knew …

The Big Mac rookie card was yours.

1987 Topps #500 Don Mattingly

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1987 Topps Kmart 25th Anniversary Nolan Ryan #55 Auto

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