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Card of the Week: 1981 Topps #130 Larry Gura

Posted by Andy on January 20, 2011

(OK, it's pretty brazen of me to still refer to this feature as "Card of the Week" given how long it's been since I posted one, plus at this point I have no intention of resuming weekly card posts just yet. They will come back as a regular feature at some point. As with the other most recent CotW posts, this one is written by Greg from Night Owl Cards. Enjoy his writing, which is way better than my own!)

The "last hurrah" is a familiar ritual in modern life. The last day of high school. The bachelor party. The retirement party.

It is familiar in card collecting circles, too. The last set of the Topps monopoly era (1980). The last licensed Upper Deck set (2009). Often, the "last hurrah" immediately concludes something called "the golden era."

For me, the "golden era" of All-Star cards was from 1975-81. And the "last hurrah" of All-Star cards was the 1981 Topps set.

In 1975, Topps came up with a brilliant plan to take the card of each player who was an all-star starter the previous year and present his card as if it was a badge of honor. In '75, each All-Star player featured a yellow-and-red border and an angular, white star in the bottom right corner. The presentation set those players apart from other players in the set. Young collectors often considered them the most valuable cards in the set, simply because of the design.

This pattern continued for Topps for the next six years. In 1976, the All-Stars featured a smaller, yellow star. In 1977, All-Stars wore a blue or red banner across the bottom. In 1978, the All-Star players actually featured an all-star badge. The pattern continued through the 1981 set.

But '81 was the last time Topps honored All-Stars in such a manner. After that year, Topps began issuing separate cards of All-Stars, creating a subset for the All-Star team. That meant that there was more than one card of an All-Star in each set. That was Topps' intent. After seeing new competitors Fleer and Donruss issue multiple cards of stars in one set, Topps wanted in on the action.

But for me, this practice diluted the impact of the card of the All-Star player. I viewed the new extra All-Star card as exactly that, an "extra card." Meanwhile, the regular card of that player was just that, a "regular" card. Nothing special.

The best part of the way Topps presented All-Stars between 1975-81 was that you looked forward to certain players being "All-Starred" in the following year's set. It was as if they had made the club. I'm not talking about perennial All-Stars, like Pete Rose or Rod Carew. Instead, I looked forward to first-time All-Stars getting that badge of honor.

In the 1977 set, it was Toby Harrah. In 1978, it was Rick Burleson. In '79, Richie Zisk. In '80, Davey Lopes.

And for the last hurrah, in 1981, it was Larry Gura.

Except, wait ...

Larry Gura did not start for the American League in the 1980 All-Star Game. The starter was Steve Stone. Gura didn't even play in the game!

Receiving a card of Gura with an All-Star designation when I collected the '81 set was a complete surprise. And that's because Topps had done something it had never done before in the previous six years. True, it still determined All-Stars based on who the fans had voted in as the starters the preceding year. But it also added All-Stars of its own choosing regarding the pitching staff.

Topps selected three pitchers for each side. For the A.L., it selected Gura, Stone, and relief pitcher Rich Gossage. For the N.L., it selected Steve Carlton, Jim Bibby and relief pitcher Bruce Sutter. But J.R. Richard, who had started the 1980 All-Star Game for the N.L., received NO All-Star designation. None. My mind was blown.

So, Topps had already begun to fiddle with how it treated All-Stars in the 1981 set, a year before completely changing the rules and issuing special separate cards of All-Stars.

It took the appearance of the Larry Gura All-Star card for me to know something was up.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 7:00 am and is filed under Card of the Week. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

17 Responses to “Card of the Week: 1981 Topps #130 Larry Gura”

  1. A left-handed, 18-game winner. That's at least $10 million per year today.

  2. I don't understand the cause of the author's disappointment.

    "Larry Gura did not start for the American League in the 1980 All-Star Game. The starter was Steve Stone. Gura didn't even play in the game!"

    But he was named to the All-Star team (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NLS/NLS198007080.shtml), and he completely deserved the honor.

    "Topps had done something it had never done before.... [I]t still determined All-Stars based on who the fans had voted in as the starters the preceding year. But it also added All-Stars of its own choosing regarding the pitching staff."

    But the All-Star pitchers were not chosen by fan voting. So all I can get from this is that the author was upset that Topps issued cards honoring some All-Star pitchers, but not all of them.

    I'm sorry, but I guess I have totally missed the author's point.

  3. Here is a little write up I did a few months back as I attempt to collect all of the Topps All-Star cards from 1975-1981:

    Back in 1975, Topps tried something new in honoring the previous season's All Stars. In previous years, a player would often have both a base card and the All Star card, and in 1974 the subset consisted of both the NL and AL players (at the same position) on the same card. But in 1975, Topps decided to simply alter the front of the card. On all other base cards, the player's position was listed in a baseball in the lower right of the card. But for players who were starters on the All Star team, Topps replaced the baseball with a star, and stated either AL ALL STAR (in blue letters) or NL ALL STAR (in red letters), as well as their position. For some reason, Hank Aaron's base card (#660, the last card in the set) did not have the star, but the star was on his Record Breaker card (#1 in the set, signifying his 715th home run). All 18 All Star starters had the star except for one: Reggie Jackson. In 1978, they omitted Richie Zisk, so who knows the reasoning used for these omissions.

    Topps must have liked the idea, because they repeated it in 1976. That year, all 18 starters had yellow stars on their cards, but there is one thing I found interesting: both Ron Cey and Pete Rose had their position listed as 3B. There is a good explanation for that: In 1974, Pete Rose played 163 games, all in LF. When the All Star ballot was distributed in 1975, Rose was listed as an outfielder. But in the 25th game of the 1975 season, Rose became the Reds' regular third baseman and played there the rest of the season. He ended up being the starting RF for the NL, but his position on his 1976 card was listed as 3B, where he started 137 games that year.

    In 1977, Topps replaced the star with a colored banner on the card, which they repeated in 1979, 1980, and 1981. In 1978, All Stars had a red, white, and blue shield that designated their inclusion.

  4. And for what it's worth, Gura would have been a far more deserving choice to start the 1980 All-Star game than Steve Stone. Their records at the break:

    -- Stone: 12-3, 3.10 ERA, 119 IP in 18 starts, 4 CG, 1 SHO (6.61 IP per start).
    -- Gura: 10-4, 2.29 ERA, 145 IP in 18 starts, 10 CG, 3 SHO (8.06 IP per start).

    It's not really germane to this thread, but Stone winning the 1980 Cy Young Award was an utter travesty; Gura and Mike Norris both had much better seasons than Stone. Outside of Wins and W%, here's where Stone stood in the league leaders: 7th in ERA, 10th in ERA+, 9th (tie) in IP, 7th in Ks, 7th in H/9, unranked in WHIP and K/BB. Thank you, 5.69 run support!

    P.S. Norris went 22-9. He lost two 1-0 CG (one in the 11th inning) and a 2-0 CG.

  5. Norris was a regular Blyleven.

    JA, you'll have to ask Greg for further explanation, or perhaps he'll post a reply here.

    BTW if you like what you read here, check out Night Owl Cards' latest here:

    http://nightowlcards.blogspot.com/2011/01/10.html

    Warning, or enticement, it includes at least one photo of a celebrity in a bikini, although used appropriate in context.

  6. Yeah, in 1981 they decided to force a RHP, LHP, and RP. (AL - Stone, Gura, Gossage; NL - Bibby, Carlton, Sutter). That still does not explain the inclusion of Jim Bibby over J.R. Richard, though. But there a several examples of players having the designation, but NOT starting the ASG. Like in 1974 ASG Thurman Munson started the game but Carlton Fisk had the designation on the 1975 Topps cards. I believe this and most of the otther occurrences were due to an injury of the leading vote-getter. I do not have the voting results for these years so I can not prove it.

    I have mentioned at least 5 times on the various CofTW threads, that far and away my favorite feature on any Topps card sets was the inclusion of the All-Star designation from 1975-81. (followed by the Topps All-Star Rookie trophies/cups). Thanks for explaining why so eloquently here.

    I LOVE these cards.

    RE: "first-time All-Stars getting that badge of honor"...
    1980 Topps was a breakout year for All-Star (designation) newbies.
    NL 2B - Davey Lopes (as mentioed above in the original post) - over Joe Morgan (75-79)
    NL 3B - Mike Schmidt (finally) over Cey (75,76,78) and Rose (77,79)
    NL OF - Dave Winfield over Rose (75-76 and Luzinski 77-79)
    NL C - Ted Simmons over Bench (75-79)
    NL P - Steve Carlton first time after such "superstars" as Messersmith (75), Reuss (76), R.Jones (77) and actual stars Sutton (78) and Blue (79)
    AL 2B - Frank White following Carew (75-76), Grich (77), Randolph (78), Money (79) - actually some nice turnover there as Molitor would later represent 1981 - 6 guys in 7 years (much of it probably having to do with Carew shifting to 1B.
    AL SS - Roy Smalley over Campaneris (75-76), Harrah (77), Burleson (78, 79 no designation though for one of the biggest mysteries ever on Earth and a black mark against Topps to this day)
    AL C - Darrell Porter over Fisk (75,78,79) and Munson (76,77)
    AL P - Nolan Ryan over Perry (75), Blue (76), Fidrych (77), Palmer (78-79)
    Of couse, there were some holdovers. Garvey (75-79), Bowa (75,79), Parker (78), Foster (77-79), Carew (75-79), Brett (77-79), and the 3 Red Sox OF all with their 2nd AS designations, Lynn (77), Yaz (78), Rice (79).

    Random AS Designation notes:
    Note: Vida Blue is only player with All Star designation for both AL (76) and NL(79)
    Note2: Fidrych is the only player to have both All-Star and Rookie cup designations on the same card.
    Note3: Steve Garvey is the only player to have AS designation every year at the same position from this period 1975-1981. Carew also has one every year but shifted from 2B to 1B for 1977 card.

  7. JA @4,

    I distinctly remember the big deal everyone was making about Steve Stone throughout 1980 because of those wins. That was the only thing anyone cared about. It was no surprise at all that he started the ASG and won the Cy Young.

    It was actually a surprise at how close it was with Norris (they both received 13 1st place votes), but I guess 25 wins was too much to pass up for some voters.

  8. @6 tmckelv,

    "NL P - Steve Carlton first time after such "superstars" as Messersmith (75), Reuss (76), R.Jones (77) and actual stars Sutton (78) and Blue (79)"

    I don't see Messersmith, Reuss, and Jones being bad all star selections.

    Messersmith was one of the best pitchers of the mid 70's and should have won the Cy Young over Marshall in '74. He finished in the Top Five in H/9 eight times in his career. He's one of only 10 pitchers to have 8+ seasons in the top Five in H/9.

    Reuss had flashes when he pitched great like 1975, 1980, and 1981.

    And Randy Jones was the eventual Cy Young award winner in 1976.

  9. @JA

    I guess my point is that from my vantage point at the time, the players with All-Star cards were exclusively starters on the All-Star team the preceding year (unless they were injured as mentioned before).

    The pitcher may not have selected by the fans, but he was selected to start by the manager, and it was reflected on the player's card the following year. It was like that from 75-80 for the most part, until '81 when Topps did its own selecting and added pitchers who did not start as All-Stars the previous year.

    And why is the image of the front of the Gura card not there?

  10. Night Owl, if you're using Chrome, that seems to have some trouble displaying images. I've had a lot of problems with this, but I am pretty confident that the image is uploaded properly.

    Is anybody else having trouble seeing the images?

  11. @10 That was the issue, Andy. Blasted Chrome. Thanks.

  12. Stone got the benefit of having his own manager, Earl Weaver managed the 1980 All Star game as a result of being the World Series participant the previous year

  13. @8 John Q,

    I was unsuccessfully trying to be funny, meaning if you tried come up with a list of great NL starters of the 1970's, you would probably list Carlton before those other guys.

    I did not mean to imply that the selections of the individual season's NL Starters were incorrect. Those were great seasons by Messersmith, Reuss, Jones, etc. and were well-deserved selections.

  14. @9, Night Owl -- Thanks for clarifying. I guess I overlooked the phrase "all-star starter" in the opening. Doink!

  15. Glad to see "Card of the Week" back. I was beginning to think it had left the premises completely!

  16. The baseball card set was actually the 3rd of the 4 major sport sets to go to the "All-Star designation on the players main card" format.

    The Football card sets started that in 1971. Then Topps went to the All-Pro subset in 1972 and had no All-Pro indication at all in 1973. Again had the All-Pro designation on the regular card in 1974. Finally a 2 player-per-card subset in 1975 and reverted back to regular issue card All-Pros in 1976 where it stayed for many years (into the 1990's - long after baseball gave it up).

    The Basketball Sets started a little later (1973-74 set) but were more consistent with the format with only 1976-77 using a subset (which included James Silas' afro as I mentioned in a previous card thread) up through 1979-80. Then back to a subset (on the ill-fated mini-cards) and no designation at all on the last topps set in 1981-82.

    Hockey started in 1976-77 (after baseball) and kept it through 1979-80 before returning to subsets for the last 2 topps sets.

  17. I own that card! Actually, I own several of those cards. Yes, worth nothing but I still have my Larry Gura cards.