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1981 Baseball Cards

By Patrick Mondout

Nineteen-eighty-one was a big year for baseball cards. It is no overstatement to say it was the most significant year in the hobby since Topps bought out Bowman in 1955. Since then, Topps had a virtually monopoly to produce cards of current major leaguers.

A judge's ruling in 1980 made it feasible for Fleer to reenter the market and Donruss joined them. Together with Topps, three major sets were produced and the hobby really began to explode as the football, basketball, and even hockey card hobbies would later in the decade when multiple companies began producing those sets. 

Even so, this was perhaps the worst year for a new company (or two) to enter the market. Inflation and unemployment still gripped the nation and the baseball players went on a midseason strike. Such a strike usually turns fans against players and their teams. The strike in 1994, for example, ended a decade long run of spectacular and near uninterrupted growth in the hobby. Overall sales of baseball cards reached a new high despite the 1981 strike.

One reason for the increased sales was the other big story in the hobby that year: The large number of scarce variation cards. Donruss and Fleer, in their rush to get the sets out after the court ruling, made a lot of mistake. They also corrected many of them - sometimes more than once. This led collectors on pursuits to have truly complete sets, including the variations. Perhaps the best remembered error card of 1981 is the "Craig Nettles" Fleer card.

The large number of errors and the unexpected benefit to the two companies who produced them brought out the conspiracy theorists. No one who went to baseball card shows in 1981 will forget the year of the error cards.

Note: There began to be so many sets of cards starting in 1981 that we have decided to list the so-called "oddball" sets on a separate page and will do so for the rest of the decade.

1981 at a Glance
Topps Topps Traded Donruss
Fleer ''Oddball''


Images courtesy of Topps, Donruss, and Fleer

'81 Sets!
'81 Singles!
'81 Unopened Packs!
'81 Lots!
'81 Cases!

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