One of the longest running and slowest chases of my collecting life is about to enter its 16th year. And like most long journeys, this one has had its share of twists and turns over the years. I'm talking about my efforts to acquire all of the Cubs in the 1986 Baseball Star Buttons issue.
The 1986 Baseball Star Buttons are a classic sports memorabilia oddball issue. I think a lot of people see them listed on Beckett's checklist and wonder what exactly they are. That particular question is one that you might get a lot of different answers to. I'm going to provide my version of an answer here, as well as give some questions I still don't know the answer to about this issue.
My chase for these particular items started in 1995. It was in that year that I first saw a checklist for these, and it was in a pinback collecting guide rather than a baseball card publication. At that time, all I did was copy down a list of the prospective Cubs in the set and add them to my wantlist. This was the dark ages of collecting, also known as B.E. - Before eBay. So I asked around at shows occasionally but really made no progress on the set until sometime in 1997.
At that time, I saw an ad in Sports Collector's Digest for Baseball Star Buttons. Rick Sutcliffe and Bob Dernier were the Cubs among the players offered so I bought the two of them. The buttons I received in the mail were your classic 3 inch diameter buttons that you used to see people wearing at the stadium. I questioned what made these special and why they would be listed as a separate issue set. It seemed like there must be thousands of different player buttons floating around, and I certainly wasn't going to chase something like that. But I kept the remaining buttons on my list.
Then a few years later, I found a lot of '1986 Baseball Star Buttons' on eBay. I bought it for cheap, but when I got it, it wasn't what I expected. The buttons were small, much smaller than the ones I had of Sutcliffe and Dernier. These were 1.5 inch diameter buttons, just slightly bigger than a quarter. They looked the same, just smaller. The picture below shows a large Sandberg and a small Sandberg for size comparison (it also shows off the original packaging of the large size button).
Hmmmm. So I asked around a bit more, as the internet had become more of a factor in the collecting world by that time. I wasn't able to get any firm info at that time, but I did run across some other collectors who were either looking for their players or who already had them. Out of the ones who 'had' them, about 2/3 had the small size and 1/3 the larger size. I really didn't know what to think at this point.
The next step was that I purchased a lot that included about 10 buttons (all Cubs) with the design I was looking for, in the 3 inch size. This happened at some point in the first half of the 2000s. So I was wondering at this point if I had what I needed? But then soon thereafter, I found a lot of 75 or so of the smaller buttons. This lot included several Cubs and I picked it up for more than I wanted to pay, but I was hooked on this item by that time.
At that time, I also started doing some heavier research on this set. I found out quite a bit, but also ended up with some questions that still remain unanswered. During this time I pretty much figured out that the smaller version of the buttons are the ones that Beckett lists and that are listed by several other catalogs nowadays. I kind of questioned why the small versions were something unique while the large versions were just your standard unremarkable player buttons (of which there are thousands and thousands from throughout time and are not that widely collected). Basically I was asking myself why Beckett and various pin guides chose to single these out. I figured out the answer to that question in 2007 on February 17th (which happens to be my birthday!).
On that day, I ran across something on Amazon.com that I immediately bought for a pretty cheap price and then waited with some excitement for its arrival. What was it? It was an unopened 24 pack box of 1986 Baseball Star Buttons!
Once I saw the item, things finally clicked into place for me. The reason Beckett chooses to list this particular set is that it was issued in packs! So it was a separately defined set and it had the lottery aspect of packs (2 random buttons per pack) to go along with it, making it a classic style collectible.
As it turns out, the 1986 Baseball Star Buttons issue is closely related to similar issues from 1990, 1991, and 2 different sets from 1992 that were also issued in 2 button packs. I think many people are at least somewhat familiar with these sets. I had just never made the connection prior to finding the unopened box. There are actually larger versions of the 1990 buttons just like in 1986, but I have never seen larger versions for 1991 & 1992.
So at this point I have it narrowed down to the fact that the small buttons are the ones that Beckett catalogs. But a few questions have popped up over the course of time for me related to this issue that still remain unanswered. The first question relates to the checklist itself. There was a checklist in every pack, so there is that as a reference.
But I'm sure many of you are aware of a well known collector who searched for a very long time and very aggressively for a Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd out of this set. Having never found one, the question remains whether all pins listed on the checklist were made. As part of his search, he spoke to the owner of the company that produced the buttons and was told that the checklist was correct, but in a fairly unconvincing manner. He also found someone who had purchased what was purported to be a complete set, but that set did not have a Boyd or certain others from the checklist.
I also have a question about whether any buttons not on the checklist were produced. The reason for my wondering is related to two separate things. First off, I posted a pic of a Sandberg above, and I know for a fact that you get this pin out of the packs (because I got one out of my box). But I have also seen pictures of a different small sized Sandberg button with an alternate picture on it. I know that at least a couple of Sandberg collectors have this button in their collection and have checked off the 1986 Baseball Star Buttons box because of it;
I have no idea of the origin of this button, but it is the correct size and design. That makes me think there may be two different versions of at least Sandberg and maybe some other players in this issue.
The other thing that makes me question the accuracy of the checklist in the packs is an entry from a blog called A Pack a Day. In this blog, they got their hands on some packs of this product and opened them. One of the buttons they list as a pull is Terry Francona. Terry is not on the checklist, but he would likely be a Cub in this set. So I have his button on the research section of my wantlist.
At this point, I know of only 1 button that is on the original checklist for this product that I still need. That would be Bob Dernier, ironically he's the player I thought I had checked off 1st way back in 1997! And I need the Terry Francona if there is indeed a Francona in the set and there wasn't some type of a mistake in the blog entry that mentions it. A pic of each Cubs button listed on the checklist is below. If anybody has any additional information on this set, I would love to hear it. Feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.
Cubs on the Checklist (12)