I learned a lot about baseball — Major League Baseball — that is, from my first several hundred baseball cards, from 1981 through 1984.

Most of that knowledge came from Topps.

For instance, I learned that Barry Foote was a fine signal-caller who had once hit a Grand-Slammer from his 1981 Topps card back. So, Barry Foote went in the “good” pile from then on.

I learned that Paul Householder was a Future Star (1982 Topps) for my Cincinnati Reds, so I hung my hopes on him for a couple years there while the Big Red Machine rusted away down on the Riverfront.

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And I learned a whole bunch about who the superstars of the game were by virtue of their inclusion on special cards:

  • Atlee Hammaker led the National League in ERA in 1983, says 1984 Topps card #137 … superstar!
  • Dave LaRoche was a Super Veteran (1983 Topps #334) … legend!
  • Amos Otis was “In Action” on 1982 Topps card #726 … Hall of Famer!

It was all right there for me to see and soak in.

Just like that 1983 Topps Record Breaker card of Greg Minton, card #3. I mean, you don’t get a Record Breaker card, and the third card in the greatest set of cards I had laid my eyes on to that point, without being something special.

And, Greg Minton was something special, right? I mean, the dude went 269 1/3 innings between home runs allowed, a Major League record … better than Dale Murray’s 247 1/3 by more than two full games.

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Since Minton was a reliever, that meant his homerless streak stretched all the way from 1978 and into 1982, a time when I was busy learning how to do things like write cursive, sit still in school for a full day, take a baseball to the forearm without running crying to my mom.

Yep, Greg Minton was a superstar, and that 1983 Topps Record Breaker shone a light on his stardom for all to see.

Heck, Minton’s regular 1983 Topps cards bore that out on closer inspection, too, revealing a 10-4 record with a sparkling 1.83 ERA in 1982 for the Giants.

I didn’t understand that the righty was already 30 by then, or that that was getting up there for baseball players.

And I didn’t understand that relievers — middle relievers, no less — weren’t the sorts of dudes who ended up in Cooperstown. (Though Minton had been San Francisco’s closer in 1982.)

And I sure didn’t understand that solid players, the kind who fill up a team and help determine their destinies but just don’t make headlines very often, could break records.

Nope, for me, Greg Minton landed in the “good” pile even long after I knew his cards didn’t really belong with the Mickey Mantles and Darryl Strawberrys (Strawberries?) and Dave Stewarts.

Didn’t really matter even when I figured all that out — Minton was a star. The cards told me so.

P.S. — In case you were wondering what Greg Minton looked like in 1978, when his streak began, Topps has the answer. Brace yourself …

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