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There wasn’t much reason for optimism as the 1984 season got underway for the Cincinnati Reds.

Not only had they lost 101 games in 1982 and 88 in 1983, but they also lost a franchise icon when Hall-of-Famer-to-be Johnny Bench retired at the end of that latter season.

They rolled into a new season with 27-year-old “youngster” Gary Redus their offensive stalwart after a 1983 campaign that saw him hit .247 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI, along with a speedy 41 stolen bases.

Cincy still had Dave Concepcion to remind them, painfully, of the Big Red Machine, and they still had Mario Soto on the mound, but the pickings were slim after that.

Indeed, the 1984 Reds did about what we expected them to do, eventually finishing at 70-92, a step backwards in record, though it pulled them up from sixth to fifth place in the old NL West.

Mostly, though … yuck.

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But a few interesting things happened for the Reds on their way back to (or from?) oblivion:

  1. A youngster named Eric Davis smacked ten bombs and stole ten bases in 200 plate appearances. Hmmm ….
  2. Dave Parker, claimed off the free agent scrap heap after his star crashed in Pittsburgh, showed some signs of life — .285, 16 home runs, 94 RBI.
  3. And the big news — Cincy legend Pete Rose came back to the Riverfront, nabbed from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Tom Lawless. Pete would be the Reds’ player-manager, he would break Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record as a Red, and he would eventually transform that deal into a swap of two lawless dudes. At least sort of.

The team was bad.

But there was hope. A lot of it, suddenly.

And somewhere along the way that summer, Borden Dairy issued a set of eight Reds stickers, pushed out in two panels of four each.

These babies presumably came out sometime between May 19, when Davis debuted, and August 16, when Pete came home. That’s because the checklist looks like this:

2 Gary Redus
16 Ron Oester
20 Eddie Milner
24 Tony Perez
36 Mario Soto
39 Dave Parker
44 Eric Davis
46 Jeff Russell

Those “card numbers” are actually uniform numbers — 44 (Eric Davis) is there; 14 (Pete Rose) is not.

It’s awesome going back through the stacks of cardboard history now to have a bonus Davis rookie card, even if it’s a sticker. I mean, this thing beat all the others by many months, and by a full year based on name (1984 v. 1985).

But for young Reds fans like me, drinking in our first swigs of Big League nectar and finding our team a bit more sour than we had imagined, it was the Parker sticker that gave us a taste of the good life.

It was that sweet left-handed swing.

It was that massive power that just oozed from Cobra’s big frame.

It was the blazing white Reds home uniform on a gorgeous, sunny day for baseball, with fans basking in it all behind the slugger.

It was the promise of better things to come … and they did.

Dave Parker was back, and this Borden beauty gave us our first cardboard proof.

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