From the mound at Shea to the booth at Citi
Ron Darling should be familiar to Mets fans either from his days as a pitcher or his days as part of the best broadcast team in baseball. Either way, Darling is a key part of the Mets family. Interestingly though, he hasn’t had a very large presence in cardboard since his playing days; the bulk of his cards are base cards from 1984 to 1995.
When game-used memorabilia cards became commonplace in 2001, Ron Darling was one of the featured subjects. In one of the last (and best) products of the year: 2001 Upper Deck Legends of New York. Darling had pieces of a pinstripe Mets jersey included in the Legendary Mets Jerseys set. For some reason, this set also had a parallel set that was identical to the base set except for the addition of a serial number. Hey, it was 2001, they were still figuring these things out.
The rest of Darling’s memorabilia cards were released by Topps from 2002 to 2004 and included swatches of gray fabric. There’s not really much else to say about these.
Darling’s first certified autograph card was released in 2003′s product formerly known as Topps Archives. Archives Fan Favorites? All-Time Fan Favorites? The cards couldn’t even agree on what product they were from, so I sure can’t figure it out. As for what’s going on with that signature, you’ll have to ask him about that (which you will have the chance to do at the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention, 1pm on January 18 at McFadden’s Citi Field, tickets still available).
Topps gave Darling’s pitching arm a workout again in 2004, this time signing four of his old Topps cards to be encased and inserted into 2004 Topps Originals, one of the great buyback autograph products in the biggest year of buybacks. The four chosen cards include Darling’s 1985 Topps, 1986 Topps, 1987 Topps, and 1993 Topps cards. 1993 Topps? That’s a bit of an odd choice, must have been what Topps was able to get a hold of in quantities of at least a dozen. This is Darling’s only certified autograph card that shows him with a team other than the Mets.
2005 was the end of an era in baseball cards and Darling was back with autographs in Topps Retired (encased chrome and refractor autos) and Topps Pristine (his first sticker autos). Interestingly, despite having cards in Topps Archives (or whatever they were calling it that year), Darling was not part of the record 18 Mets in that year’s Fan Favorites Autograph set.
Mets fans would have to wait until 2009 for another Darling autograph. The Ring of Honor insert set in the base Topps products brought together autographs from several players from the 1986 team. Looks like his pen control was hurt by the time off (though who knows when those stickers were really signed…).
The dark years came to an end with the arrival of 2012. Topps Archives was reborn under its proper name, though without Darling in its first year. Leaf (under new management) brought back buybacks in 2012 and Darling was one of the many Mets to be featured. Darling made his triumphant return to Archives in 2013 and also lent his pen to 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes. In all three cases, his signature had reached perfection, a far cry from the abstract scribble from a decade earlier. Ron Darling’s iconic signature had finally taken shape.