Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Tim Birtsas


Tim Birtsas arrived in Cincinnati as a part of the Jose Rijo/Dave Parker trade with the A’s. Fleer included him in their year-end Update set, but Score and Topps both focused on the big-name players in the trade. Birtsas played three years with the Reds and contributed a 3.86 ERA to the 1990 World Championship team.



Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Ron Roenicke


Ron Roenicke bounced around quite a bit during his 8-year big league career, wrapping it up with 14 games in Cincinnati in May 1988. After finishing the season with the Reds’ AAA club, he moved on to Texas’ minor league system, but never again saw action in the majors as a player. From 2011-2015, Roenicke served as the Brewers’ manager.


Topps is not to blame

ToppsMario broke the news yesterday that Major League Baseball has extended Topps’ exclusive license to produce baseball cards with team logos. While there are several serious and legitimate complaints about Topps’ efforts in recent years, we need to remember that in this case, Topps is not to blame. MLB has every right to limit who produces their product, even if collectors don’t like it. If there has to be only one, I am personally glad it is Topps. The company’s long history with baseball makes them the logical choice in an exclusive deal.

Major League Baseball is the one to blame here. While Topps could and should assign a group of employees to focus on quality control so that they are above reproach, I’m not sure a non-exclusive license would necessarily eliminate all the problems they have faced. Humans make mistakes. Typos. Errors. It is what it is. Who knows, competition might cause more intentional errors just to move product.

I’m not thrilled with most of what Topps is releasing. In the past, I was a defender of Archives, and I’m still looking forward to its release this year, but I think there is a bit of retro-overload. Between Archives, Heritage, Living Set, and so many retro inserts, it is easy for an old grump like me to get confused. I can barely read the copyrights on the back, and it is frustrating when I have trouble figuring out if a card is 2015 or 2018. If they didn’t reuse the same designs so often, maybe it would be better. But Topps loves 1987 and 1983 and 1953 and it’s just difficult to keep up with everything.

I don’t buy much product off the shelf. I’m a Reds collector. Buying a blaster for $20 and pulling 2 or 3 cards of my team is silly when I can wait a few months and get the full team set for $4, then pick up a few inserts that interest me here and there. So my money isn’t important to Topps. Unless the high spenders cut back their purchases, Topps won’t try to change. They are successful, and can pretty much do whatever they want without any real competition (don’t get me wrong, I love Donruss, but they aren’t real competition). Complaints lodged on Twitter and blogs don’t amount to squat when you’re still devouring the product as soon as it is released.

MLB is the one to blame for all the “monopoly” complaints, not Topps. MLB could have opened up the license to allow Donruss or Upper Deck or Honus Bonus to produce a licensed product. I’m sad there will be no other licensed cards in the near future, but I’m glad Topps still has a license, even if I don’t buy a whole lot directly from them.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Rob Dibble


Rob Dibble received the call to join the Reds in June 1988 and made a big impact in 37 games throughout the second half of the season. He struck out 59 batters in 59 1/3 innings, and Fleer and Score included the Nasty Boy in their year-end update sets. Topps, however, ignored the flamethrowing reliever since he didn’t play for the Yankees.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Randy St. Claire


Randy St. Claire came to Cincinnati with Jeff Reed and Herm Winningham in exchange for Tracy Jones and Pat Pacillo. He only appeared in 10 games, and photos of the pitcher in a Reds uniform are next to impossible to find unless they appear on baseball cards. The photo I chose comes from the 1989 Upper Deck release.


St. Claire was released by the Reds in 1989 at the end of spring training and spent the next couple of years in the minor leagues before making it back to the bigs in 1991 with Atlanta.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Norm Charlton


Norm Charlton made his debut with the Reds on August 19, 1988, lasting only 2 and a third innings in a loss against the Cardinals. Charlton started ten games through the end of the season, then moved to the bullpen in 1989. During the Reds’ 1990 World Championship season, he split time between the starting staff and the Nasty Boys bullpen.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Marty Brown


Fleer and Score fooled me on infielder Marty Brown. Fleer called him a “Prospect” along with Lenny Harris in 1989, while Score included him in their “Rising Stars” box set. His best minor league numbers, though, didn’t come until the 1990s, and he never made it back to the majors after brief stops in Cincinnati in 1988 and 1989 and Baltimore in 1990.

He also turned to coaching after his playing career ended, spending time with the Buffalo Bisons and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. More recently, he served as the Nationals’ director of Pacific Rim scouting.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Leo Garcia


Leo Garcia did not have much of a major league playing career, hitting just .172 over two seasons with the Reds. His lone home run came in 1987 in a 21-6 win over the Braves. Garcia, however, has remained in baseball and is currently a coach for the Dodgers’ AA affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Lenny Harris


Lenny Harris was the utility man of utility men, playing every position but catcher during his 18-year career. He logged 485 games at third base, 304 in the outfield, and 300 at second. He even pitched an inning for the Reds in 1998, retiring all three batters he faced (including one strikeout).

Harris is the all-time leader in pinch hits with 212.

Fun Cards: 1988 Topps Ken Griffey


Ken Griffey started his career with the Reds in 1973, and appeared in three All-Star Games as a member of the Big Red Machine before the team traded him to the Yankees following the 1981 season. In 1986, Griffey was traded to the Braves, but after a slow start in 1988 Atlanta released him. Just a few days later, as so many aging Reds legends seem to do, he returned to Cincinnati.

The next year, he became known as “Senior,” as his son Ken Griffey Jr. was tearing up American League pitching in Seattle. “Senior” joined “Junior” in Seattle in 1990, becoming the first father/son duo to play on the same team at the same time.


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