1989/90 Topps SPBA (Senior League) Set: Part 1 – Mets!

A couple of months ago, I was at a show where one dealer had these box sets:
1989-90 Topps SBPA Box
…selling for $1 apiece.

The box is kinda beat up, but the cards inside were fine.

This is the kind of deal I might’ve walked away from in the past, thinking “Well, I don’t want the whole set, I just want certain players”. At some point in the past couple of years, I had a minor epiphany – I really needed to look at it as “I’m paying $1 for every card that I could ever want from this set, plus I happen to get a whole bunch of other cards that I don’t want”.  It’s all part and parcel with the mindshift towards “Just because I have a card doesn’t mean I have to keep it…”

Now for those of you who aren’t aware of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA), it was a decent idea – a winter league for players 35 or older, much like the Senior Tour in golf – that didn’t pan out for a number of reasons. My own thoughts on their issues were were that it’s Florida, where professional sports are a hard sell; the SPBA players who put up the best numbers weren’t necessarily the household names; TV revenue probably wasn’t enough to bolster the league, and finally (IMHO) the team names, logos and uniforms were… well, I’ll just come out and say it, most of the league’s “branding” was pretty damn cheesy.

The league folded during its second season, but there were three card sets produced in the first year, and two in the second. I’m going to go through the sole Topps set on random occasions over the next few weeks, starting with players I wanted because of their place in Mets history.  After that, I’ll get to the more interesting players in the set, plus the one card that’s interesting on its own.

For lack of any better ideas, I’m going to go through the cards grouped by their SPBA teams, starting with the West Palm Beach Tropic, and staring with all-or-nothing slugger Dave Kingman.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Dave Kingman
I’ve always thought of Dave Kingman as a guy who just looks good in a baseball uniform… but I don’t think anyone could look good in those Tropics uniforms. They look like a somewhat-well-funded softball team sponsored by a beach resort seafood restaurant.

Here’s the back of Kingman’s cards. The white card stock is pretty much the same that they used for traded sets at the time.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Dave Kingman back

Ray Burris was one of Kong’s teammates with the Tropics.  Back in late 1979 the Mets picked Burris up on waivers, and he also pitched for them in 1980. He didn’t have a lot of success, but there wasn’t a lot of success to go around with the 1980 Mets.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Ray Burris
Ray Burris is currently the pitching coach for the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

Moving on to the St. Petersburg Pelicans…

Steve Henderson was one of the players the Mets got for Tom Seaver, and in the late 1970’s he was one of my favorite Mets and among the stars (relatively speaking) of those teams.  His Mets tenure came to an end when he was traded to the Cubs for the guy a couple of cards above, Dave Kingman.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Steve Henderson
Steve Henderson is currently the Phillies’ batting coach… What’s with the former Mets coaching in the Phillies organization?

Joe Sambito just barely qualifies for this list; he pitched in 8 games (10.2 innings) with the 1985 Mets.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Joe Sambito
Joe Sambito is not a coach in the Phillies organization, nor has he ever been traded for Dave Kingman. He did pitch against the Mets in the 1986 World Series… and he ended up with a 27.00 ERA and a 12.00 WHIP in two appearances.

Jon Matlack was the Mets 1st round pick (4th overall) in the 1967 draft. He was the 1972 NL Rookie of the Year, and until 2008 he held the Mets team record for K’s by a lefthanded pitcher; Johan Santana passed him by one strikeout (206 vs. 205)
1989-90 Topps SPBA Jon Matlack
By the way, I’m going to nominate the St. Petersburg Pelicans as having the best uniforms in the SPBA… relatively speaking. I like the burgundy and gold combination, and the graphics on these unis aren’t overly cheesy.

Lenny Randle batted .304 as the Mets starting 3rd baseman in 1977. His numbers fell off significantly in 1978, and the Mets would end up dropping him.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Lenny Randle

This is the card that caused me to strain my brain cells the most.
1989-90 Topps SPBA Butch Benton
I looked at this, and a little swirly-circle “buffering” icon popped up in front of my face while my brain tried to figure out why “Butch Benton” sounded familiar. I finally realized that he was one of those guys that had a little thumbnail picture waaaaaay in the back of one or two of my Mets yearbooks.

Benton played in 4 games with the 1978 Mets and 12 games with the 1980 Mets. He would also get cups of coffee with the Cubs and Indians, but ended up as one of the better players in the SPBA, batting .374 for the Pelicans in 1989/90.

There are a number of other cards which feature players with some form of Mets connection, many of them notable figures in Mets history, and many of them (probably not coincidentally) with the St. Lucie Legends… I’ll share those in Part 2, which will probably be next week sometime.


5 thoughts on “1989/90 Topps SPBA (Senior League) Set: Part 1 – Mets!

  1. There were actually 4 sets the first season – Topps, Pacific, T&M and Elite. Elite did a psuedo-Upper Deck set that was probably the nicest of the four. Pacific’s set was the largest. Pacific was the only company to do a set the second season.

    A bunch of the players in the league had played in Japan during the 80’s – Randy Bass, Mike Easler, Felix Millan, Ben Oglivie, etc. I’ve been meaning to do a post on it for a while.

    At one point the founder of the league was hoping to attract retired Japanese players to the league as well to expand interest in the league to Japan. There actually was a similar league in Japan (the Masters League) for a few years in the 2000’s.

    • Thanks for the information! I didn’t know about the Elite set, but I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. I also didn’t know about the plans for future “expansion”. I like the term “Masters” a lot better than “Seniors”.

      I’ll be featuring the Felix Millan card in the next post about this SPBA set, and Randy Bass will definitely be in another post down the road.

  2. Pingback: 1989/90 Topps SPBA (Senior League) Set: Part 2 – More Mets! | The Shlabotnik Report

  3. Pingback: 1989/90 Topps SPBA (Senior League) Set, Part 4: Explorers, Legends And Sun Sox | The Shlabotnik Report

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