In the second half of the 1970s, there was another major baseball card set distributed nationally available to collectors. These were the Hostess Baseball Cards, which were issued in both individual size and in three-panel formats if you bought a box of Ding Dongs or Twinkies. These were officially licensed, too, so you had the full logos and no airbrushed caps. There were good selections of players in these sets, produced from 1975-1979.
By the time these came out, it was well known that the Post cereal cards from the 1960s were more valuable if you had the entire panel, rather than cutting them out along the dotted lines. Still, the panels came with those same cut lines if you just simply had to have them at a normal card size.
My collection includes a bunch of panels from the initial set, yet fewer as the decade grew on. Not sure why this is. Maybe they were traded for other cards. Or maybe Hostess products got more expensive and mom started buying No Frills stuff, instead. And that was ultimately the issue with collecting these Hostess cards – if you were a child of the 70s, you had to depend on mom to buy these for you. Kids would go to the store and buy packs of cards. But generally we didn’t go to Shop Rite, Pathmark or the A & P and buy a whole box of Suzy Qs to get three baseball cards.
I can remember going to Mary’s department store, the only place in town that sold rack packs. And even though it was a cramped little store, and even though those rack packs were right by the register, I would look through them all to see the cards that were on the top and the bottom, looking for Mets cards or cards that were needed to complete my set.
But did mom do that with these Hostess cards? No, she just grabbed whatever box was most convenient. Which means there was a shocking lack of Mets cards in my collection. No doubt other kids’ moms were going through those boxes, looking for the Tom Seaver ones. At least that’s what I tell myself now, when noticing the almost complete lack of Mets Hostess cards in my collection.
That’s what makes the panel with Lenny Randle stand out.
The Mets got Randle because he got into a fight with his manager. Not just a shouting match, a case where Randle actually punched his manager in the face. It was a story, a big story in fact, at the time. But to my recollection, there was no outrage that they traded for a violent guy. If that happened today, Randle would likely have to go on a major PR blitz to rehabilitate his image, perhaps even to get a chance to play again.
Back then, all he had to do was play. And he ended up one of the few bright spots on that 1977 Mets team, as he hit .304 in an era when being a .300 hitter meant just about everything. That big year led to his inclusion in the 1978 Hostess set, alongside better known 70s stars Frank Tanana and Oscar Gamble.
Being included in the Hostess set didn’t spur Randle on to greater heights. He hit just .233 that season and the Mets released him during Spring Training the following year. Randle went on to play four more years in the majors and had another signature moment in his career, this time with the Mariners. Randle got down on all fours and successfully blew a slow-hit ball foul. Hey, it’s better than being known for punching out your manager.
And on that same note, my mom shouldn’t be known only for her failure to search for Seaver cards on Hostess boxes, either. In the winter of ‘73-’74, she took me and my brother Gary to a card show in Manhattan that was absolutely mobbed with people. And she didn’t balk as we spent all the money we – well, mostly Gary – had buying every Hank Aaron card we could find, including his ‘54 rookie.
I had a lot of fun that day and still think about that trip fairly often. And as an adult and parent, I got to thank mom for doing it. She didn’t think it was anything all that special – but it was. I’m sure she’d rather be remembered for taking me to the Grand Canyon or to Mount Rushmore. And those places were important to see, in their own little way.
But they couldn’t hold a candle to going to a baseball card show. Thanks mom – I miss you.