In the 80's, anyone who was anyone had a retail box set. Every Revco and Rite Aid, Woolworth's and K-Mart, Toys 'R' Us and CVS. These stores and dozens more all had vanity 33 and 44 card sets made for them by Fleer and/or Topps of the superest superstars or the highest highlights or the rookiest rookies or, in rare instances, some combination therein. I am not going to lie, when I was a kid, these boxed sets seemed like a grand idea. You could spend $3 or $4 and get a bevy of stars and you even got a checklist telling you exactly who you were getting. At one point, I must have owned 40 or 50 of these sets. Time and a greater sophistication of my collecting tastes has dissipated this pile, not to mention some just got broken up and absorbed by player and team collections. Some of these sets are held in such low regard to me now that when I find them, I just give them away.
But one retail boxed set has stayed near and dear to my heart and instead of being broken up or discarded, it found its way into my set binders: the 1985 Topps Circle-K Baseball All Time Home Run Kings.
This box is typical for any retail box set of the time: simple graphics, the store's logo prominently on the front, a checklist on the back. Oh, but what was inside this box is very different indeed from most of the tacky over (or under) designed cards that you usually found in these sets.
Quick aside, for those of you who don't know, Circle-K is a convenience store found mostly in the south and midwest but really all over, though not nearly as much as say, 7-11. The rest stops on the Mass Pike used to all have Circle-Ks, which is how I know them. Their most famous moment by far is when they got a shout out in the 1989 film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
Those of you with a fine knowledge of stoner cinema already knew that (and that that is where the title of this post originated).
OK, enough of all that, let's take a look at the cards.
Now that is a classy looking set - great pictures and a clean simple design. You should recognize that the design comes from the Topps Glossy All Stars Set that they used to advertise on their wrappers. You collected wrappers and mailed them into Topps and got part of a 60 card set of the year's All Stars and All Star Rookies. The sets were available from 1983 to 1991 and the only difference in the look year to year was the color of the border around the picture. They are about as minimalist as you can get without just having a full bleed picture alone on the front of the card.
I cannot tell you how much I love the look of these cards. The Glossy mail in All Stars always looked good, but with the vintage Hall of Fame stars, the simple design is 100x cooler and Topps wisely co-opted it for this set.
Not to mention they also picked a dramatic subject for the set, it is full of the great sluggers of all time up to that point. Topps always dabbled in subsets of all time leaders in their main sets and had some oddball issues with them as well, but I think this set is by far their most effective use of all time greats, both in subject (home runs) and presentation (classic).
Hey look, that page is all color photos. Neat!
Of course, this is almost 30 years ago. The all time home run list has shifted
just a tad since then. If they were to reissue a similar set
today, the cut off point of 33rd would not be Lee May at 354, it would be Dave Winfield at 465. If we were gonna issue a set today that got down to Lee May it would have to be a set of 83, not 33. (of course the cut off in this set is really 34, not 33; I often wondered why Joe DiMaggio wasn't in this set. I can
only assume he wouldn't give his permission or wanted more money than
Topps was willing to pay, Joe D was known to be a little, um, difficult.)
I decided not to use this post to deride the decline in prestige of the home run but rather to celebrate an awesome looking set. I bought this set 27 years ago and it is the last of the retail box sets that I own that is intact. I kept this set in my collection this way because of my love
of retro vintage stars and you have to remember, this
was one of the first ways for a kid in 1985 to get cards of players like Babe Ruth or Lou
Gehrig or, heck, even Johnny Bench and Willie
Stargell. Now, if all retail box sets were 33 subjects, I would consider having more of them in my binders, as 33 can work well since every third set makes 99 - a perfect 11 pages worth. Alas, most of the Fleer sets of the era are 44 cards, thus screwing up the whole system and ruining my love of the factors of nine. But this one is here and it isn't going anywhere. In fact, rather than adding other retail box sets, I should start combing eBay and pick up the All Star Glossy mail in sets to match it instead.
This will be the last Complete Set Sunday for a while. First of all, because I am running out of complete sets in my binders. Second of all, football is gonna start up next week and I can't think of a better day and a better way to highlight this than designating Sunday for football cards. I have organized a whole mess of football cards recently and made not one but two new binders just for these newly sorted cards. I think they deserve a showcase, don't you?