60 Years of Topps Baseball Countdown – #57: 1988 Topps
By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*
Five cool things from 1988: Perestroika in the Soviet Union. Summer Olympics that didn’t feature any major political controversy (first time since 1964). Jerry Falwell lost in court in a major victory for the First Amendment. Kirk Gibson’s home run. Rihanna was born, leading to my current drooling problem.
Five not so cool things from 1988: Dan Quayle becomes known to the American populace at large. Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson tried to run for President. Poison was a popular band. I started school, leading to 14 years of hell. 1988 Topps baseball cards came into existence.
In hindsight, I don’t know how this set was better than 1990 Topps in my rankings. Really 1988 was a weak year across the board in the baseball card world. 1990′s rookie class absolutely stomps 1988′s, which featured Tom Glavine, Matt Williams, Ellis Burks, and Ken Caminiti. Roberto Alomar came up in 1988 as well, but everyone aside from Donruss totally whiffed on him. Topps was too busy to put him in while they were trying to think of ways to answer the question of “Gee, how can we ensure that every even-numbered year of the decade has a crappy set?”
Sidebar: That’s what was so weird about the 1980′s and early 1990′s Topps sets. 1987, 1985, and 1983 were among the best sets ever. But 1984, 1986, and 1988 were giant piles of crap. 1989 was decent, followed by the horrifying 1990 set I covered yesterday. 1991 was excellent, and finally 1992 was pretty good, thus ending the streak alternating awesome with not. End sidebar.
So 1988 got screwed over by a bad crop of new players. I mean really now, Chris Sabo and Walt Weiss were the ROY winners. Mike Schooler and Ricky Jordan received votes. At least there’s a future Hall of Famer making his debut in the set in Tom Glavine, and Matt Williams put together a few good years. And Ken Caminiti and his death really kicked off the research into the steroid era. And Ellis Burks was just plain likeable. So it’s not all bad. However, four Hall of Famers from the 1987 set had retired leading to a weaker group– Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Reggie Jackson, and Steve Carlton all retired, leaving some holes to fill in 1988. And of those names I listed who came into the league, none of them are on par with Seaver, Niekro, Jackson, or Carlton, excepting Glavine.
However, I can also understand how 1988 was ranked higher. 1988′s set at least had an eye-pleasing, clean-cut design. You get a big team name, and the player’s name down in the corner. The only negative is that this was part of a four-year span where the player’s position was nowhere to be found on the front. Not that it’s a huge loss. There’s no good place for it to fit in anyway. And if you really need to know what position Tommy Hinzo played, you can take the time to flip the card over. And 1990 didn’t have positions listed on the front either. So that’s a wash.
The backs weren’t great, but they were likeable. The brownish-orange color reminds me of a Jersey Shore style spray tan more than anything, but I liked the gray baseballs across the top. They didn’t make them all the same either, but had them rotating, like one of those photos taken with a strobe light and a slow shutter speed showing a pitch going across the card. It’s a cool little addition that didn’t get overlooked by this guy.
Also, one of those little things that no one pays attention to: I like that Topps had the player’s head or bat or whatever go over the team name if needed instead of cutting the picture off with the team name going over it. Baseball cards are supposed to be about the player first and foremost. Leave the player name and photo fully visible!
I really want to like this set. A solid design, a future Hall of Famer’s rookie card… but, it’s just so lame aside from that! The Traded set was a nice one at least (the two card I’ve shown came from Topps Traded rather than the main set; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). Borrowing a page from the ungodly awesome 1985 set, they made cards of the Team USA baseball players, and a lot of big names ended up in that Traded set– of 20 Olympic players in the set, 12 went on to decent major league careers, including Jim Abbott, Robin Ventura, Charles Nagy, and Tino Martinez. You also get debut cards of Roberto Alomar, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, David Wells, Jay Buhner, Jack McDowell, as well as the aforementioned Weiss and Sabo. I wish I could count the Traded set toward the overall ranking, but alas, I cannot.
1988’s base set was just a bad luck year, lacking major rookies and losses of guys like Jackson, Niekro, Seaver, and Carlton to retirement. The solid design gets lost in a weak set.
About the Author: Drew Pelto appears in the background of Tommy Hinzo’s 1988 Topps card. Okay, he doesn’t, but it seems plausible, right? Callie, his five-month-old calico kitten (“his” meaning Drew’s, not Tommy Hinzo’s) contributed to this report.
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