If I didn’t have any self-control, I would have featured all of the Pittsburgh Pirates cards from the 1981 Topps set by now. It’s one of my favorite sets, and any time a player comes up who appears in the set, I usually have to convince myself not to use that card. I’ve been good recently. Our last card from the 1981 Topps set was posted here on January 30, 2022. I think waiting more than a year is long enough.
I didn’t just choose this card because it’s been so long since the last 1981 Topps card. I scrolled through scans on Ebay for a Kent Tekulve card, and this was the first one that caught my eye. Tekulve last appeared in our Card of the Day series one year ago today on his 75th birthday. A little quick math will tell you that today is his 76th birthday. In honor of the great Pirates reliever, we look at card #695 from the 1981 Topps set.
Here’s the front of the card:
The front design of this set is one of my favorites for Pirates cards from the Topps company. If we are being honest, I like the 1956 Topps and 1987 Topps sets better. However, I’m not sure that if we limited it to just Pirates cards, I would pick either set over this one.
Part of the reason I love this design is the team colors for those big borders around the photo. Another great thing Topps did was use the cap of the teams to tell you the position/team name. However, some genius at the company took it a step further and decided to use the pillbox cap for the Pirates, while every other team back then (26 teams at the time/25 others) used a regular looking baseball hat. One other thing I probably like more now than I would have if I was around collecting these cards in 1981 is that Topps logo in the bottom right. It was probably boring looking then, but now it looks perfect for being on a 42-year-old set. Then there’s the players/uniforms in the set.
Let’s face it, you don’t get much better that this era for the Pirates. The players included in the 1981 set include some players who everyone loves more because they were part of the 1979 World Series champs. Players like Dave Parker and Willie Stargell would have been fondly remembered regardless of their time, but if you had a player like Phil Garner or John Milner, it’s their connection and contributions to the last World Series that keeps them as popular players. If either of them played for the 1940s Pirates, I may have included them in my Obscure Pirates series on this site.
Tekulve is somewhere in the middle of those two groups. He’s not a Hall of Fame type player, but he was also around long enough to become an all-time Pirates player. We would still know him if his career spanned from 1944 through 1955 with the Pirates. This photo on his 1981 Topps card is a great look at him shortly after releasing a pitch. If you’ve never seen Tekulve pitch, I suggest a trip to your local YouTube to find some videos. That will give you a better sense of what you’re seeing here. The base runner at second base adds a bit of extra to the photo, like you begin to wonder if he got out of the jam. Assuming this photo was from 1980, then a check of the boxscores from that year tells you that he did. The only runner on the Mets who scored from second base against Tekulve that year while in New York was Frank Taveras, and that’s not Frank Taveras behind him.
I’m not a huge fan of the all-gold uniforms from the mix-and-match era, but they do look better on 1981 Topps cards due to the design. One last thing as this article is getting long. Check out all of the Stargell stars on his cap. Pops was busy handed those out to Tekulve.
Here’s the back of the card:
The back is quite as great as the front. The stats are easy to read here due to the scan, especially if you’re not on your phone reading these articles, though you can still expand the photo for details. A card is smaller in hand, and some of those players had longer careers than Tekulve at this point, so it was never a good idea to put any color background behind the numbers. Some are much worse than this color choice, but this set can get bad too. I swear that Topps had a deal going with eye doctors everywhere, like a percentage of their sales for any young male who needed glasses.
The cartoons here give you some great tidbits, but they are confusing for long-time Topps collectors. Why is Generic Gray Topps Man dark pink instead of gray? And why is he wearing dark pink for his entire uniform? I realize that he’s generic (hence the name), where the same guy covers Smoky Burgess, Terry Forster, Dave Parker and Kent Tekulve, but we couldn’t give him the Tekulve glasses here, or just make him a little skinnier? Why are his shoes two different colors in the second photo? I guess it saves on artwork to make every single player look like no one ever.
If you’re interested in this card, there are plenty on Ebay. You shouldn’t pay more than $2 delivered for a copy unless you get one of the autographed copies. Tekulve has signed a lot over the years. His signed cards are currently going for $8 on the low end and $25 on the high end. There are plenty of signed options to choose from.