1987 Topps Glossy Send-Ins Gary Gaetti … Cause or Effect?

You might not remember this, but Topps took a ton of grief from collectors as the hobby exploded in the mid-1980s.

The problem?

They hadn’t improved the basic quality standards of their cards in decades … so the argument went.

The major culprits were mushy brown cardstock, low-gloss card fronts, and dark, dingy card backs (thanks to the mush).

And, also, too much design.

What collectors wanted — the complainers, at least — was a legitimate version of the 1976 SSPC set, the so-called “Pure Card” set.

You remember SSPC, right? White card stock, nothing but big color photos on card fronts, clear card backs.

And, yes, unlicensed.

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So … why couldn’t Topps put out something that good?

Economics, most likely. Except, beginning in 1983, Topps actually did put together something like SSPC, only better.

Back in those days, packs of Topps baseball cards included game cards that let you win prizes in various ways, and they also allowed you to collect “points.” Collect enough points (i.e., buy enough Topps cards), and you could send those points in an envelope with a buck, and Topps would send back a group of five “Glossy Send-Ins.”

In 1983, you could choose from one of eight groupings, for a total of 40 cards. And, man, did those cards live up to their name and then some!

Thick, premium cardstock.

Blazing white (but thin) borders with even thinner yellow piping inside.

Rich, gorgeous full-color player photos.

And nothing else but the player name in tiny type on bottom white border.

Talk about a pure design!

Of course, such a premium set with such a limited checklist was exclusive air, and with rare exception, only superstars scored a slot.

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Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Rickey Henderson were all there.

So were Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Bruce Sutter.

And, sure, there were lesser lights like Richie Zisk and Terry Kennedy, but even those guys were All-Stars in real life.

Topps kept up their premium game for the rest of the decade, even though they didn’t get a lot of credit for those efforts. They expanded the set to 60 cards, too, but all along the way, the one constant was you had to be a somebody to land a spot on the Send-Ins roster.

All of that was a very, very long-winded way of saying that you could sort of tell when a guy had reall “made it” in the Majors by when he first appeared in a Topps Glossy Send-In offering, and those cards may have even been predictors of a sort.

Case in point?

How about Minnesota Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti?

Now, Gaetti got off to a solid start in the Majors, smacking 25 home runs and finishing fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1982. Another solid season followed in 1983, but he slumped to just five homers and a .665 OPS in 1984 even though he played all 162 games and even though the Twins climbed to second in the old AL West.

Gaetti bounced back with 20 dingers in 1985, though, and then exploded in 1986 — .287, 34 home runs, 108 RBI, his first Gold Glove.

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That performance garnered Gaetti some MVP votes, and a 1987 Glossy Send-Ins card (#3).

And, yep, 1987 just so happens to be the year the Twinkies won it all. Didn’t hurt that teammates Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek made the cut, either.

So, did Topps predict Minnesota’s victory by sending Gary Gaetti cards out in the mail?

Maybe.

Or maybe some old hipster in Brooklyn was just a fan of his 70s mustache.

Groovy!

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