Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reasons to love regionals #1: Earlier rookie cards

If you (or I, I guess) hang around this blog long enough, you'll eventually come to realize that I am a huge fan of regional issues.  This isn't just limited to regional Blue Jays issues, either.  When I was collecting vintage baseball (50's-70's to me) I chased stuff like Red Heart Dog Food and Berk Ross.  There were other sets I coveted (1954 NY Journal, Johnston Cookies, Dan Dee Potato Chips), but never went after them.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of the mainstream issues.  But there's something about regionals that I especially enjoy.  It might be that the sets are usually smaller, that they a little more difficult to find or that in some cases, they're more affordable.  And maybe it's something else.

One great thing about regionals is that they allow you to see cards of players before the mainstream sets do.  See, I grew up in the 80's and 90's.  I'm a product of the junk wax generation.  That was a time when Beckett was king, and to add a rookie card to your collection was a big deal.  It seems I haven't grown out of it.  I'm thrilled to be able to flip open a binder and see Dave Stieb's 1980 Topps card, Cecil Fielder's 1986 Topps card, and Duane Ward's 1987 Donruss card.  But there are some I've never owned -- and always wanted.  Some day I'll flip open a binder and see a 1985 Fleer Kelly Gruber, a 1986 Fred McGriff or a 1988 Score Rob Ducey.  But until then, I have regionals!

The truth is, I didn't even realize Kelly Gruber was part of the 1984 Blue Jays Fire Safety set until I started to load it into a binder.  But there he is -- a full year before he appears on any of his mainstream rookie cards.  According to baseball-reference, Gruber appeared in 16 games in 1984 splitting his time between 3B (12 games), RF (2 games) and SS (1 game) recording a home run, for his only hit, and five strikeouts in 16 plate appearances.  In all likelihood, the card above of Gruber as an "infielder" was probably taken before any of those plate appearances were even recorded.

Also appearing in the 1984 Blue Jays Fire Safety set is Jimmy Key.  Now, obviously Key's mainstream rookie didn't wait a full year to show up, but as part of the Fleer Update issue, it obviously came out well after the card shown to the left.  And check out the number below Key's name.  That sure doesn't say 22.  Jimmy Key was with the Blue Jays from 1984 through 1992.  Once again, citing baseball-reference, Key wore 22 for his entire Jays career, save some portion of 1984.  When exactly he switched, and why, I have not figured out. I also didn't look that hard, if you want me to be completely honest.  But what I do know is this: had it not been for this regional card, I probably would have never picked up on the fact that Key didn't always wear 22.  Not a life-or-death stuff, I know, but I'm a baseball nerd.  I associate jersey number 22 to Jimmy Key.  To know that he wasn't always 22 is interesting to me.

Like Jimmy Key, Rob Ducey appeared on a card issued by the mainstream in the same year as his earliest Blue Jays Fire Safety card.  Unlike Rob Ducey, that mainstream card wasn't a rookie card.  It was a highlight card shared with Fred McGriff and Ernie Whitt.  So in a sense, Ducey's Fire Safety card did precede his mainstream "rookie card" (1988 Fleer/Score/Topps) by a full season.  Unlike Gruber and Key, I don't think Rob Ducey's jersey number(s) with the Jays are as recognizable.  This card shows him as jersey number 40, which he only wore for 1987 and 1988 (thanks again, baseball-reference), but I don't think a lot of people would be as surprised to know that he wore 40 before switching to 20.  If you found any of the 27-to-22 stuff interesting about Key, though, you might be interested to know that when Rob Ducey returned to Toronto for the 2000 season, he wore 22.  Of course, collecting regionals doesn't tell you that, being the aforementioned baseball nerd, does.

But even looking up that kind of stuff can be blamed on regionals.

Thanks for reading!


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