By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

Please excuse any over-pontificating that I happen to do of this set, but let’s be serious here.  1987 was possibly the best year for cards in my lifetime.  The field was expanded to three companies and all three had something to set their set apart from the rest.  Topps and Fleer had great, simple, yet nice looking designs and Donruss… well, they were Donruss.  Donruss saves itself with the lone non-update issue Greg Maddux rookie card.

The oldest cards I remember having in the first incarnation of my collection were from 1987 Topps back around 1989 or 1990 or so. I think this is why I use 1986 and 1987 as my arbitrary points to separate “old” from “new” whenever I was sorting baseball cards by year.

First up, the design is a classic. Just 25 years before, Topps did their first wood-bordered set with the 1962 offering. In honor of its silver anniversary, whether consciously or subconsciously, 1987 had wood borders as well. With 2012 being 50 years from 1962, I was hoping for a wood-bordered set again, but no. All we’re going to get is a 1/1 wood parallel randomly inserted.  No me gusta.  The set lacks player positions listed on the fronts of the card, but at the same time, where could they fit it in easily?  It’s missing, but I think it’s better to leave it out than to clutter the design.

The cards are memorable, even the ones of total schlubs. If someone asks me to describe Donnie Hill’s 1987 Topps card, off the top of my head I think green A’s jersey, posed with bat on left shoulder at spring training.  If someone asks me what oddity there is on Mark McGwire’s card, I know that it’s the fact he’s listed as a third baseman, which oddly enough, he was in 1986 and most of the 1985 minor league season.  For the record, his last game at the hot corner was the eighth inning of the A’s August 8, 1987 game against Minnesota.  Not sure what prompted the switch; he was a first baseman in his first pro games in 1984 and in the 1984 Olympics, as well as in college at USC.

Yep, nailed it!

Second, this set was the last to feature a lot of Hall of Famers: Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro. Pete Rose’s last card is here too. And even just plain mid-career cards Hall of Famers absolutely jam pack this set. Mike Schmidt, Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, Sparky Anderson, Carlton Fisk, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Goose Gossage, Dick Williams, Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Whitey Herzog, Andre Dawson, and Bert Blyleven are all in it, along with a number of could-be Hall of Famers. 27 players already in, plus some potentials and longshots like Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Roger Clemens. You even get a College Football Hall of Famer in Bo Jackson.

Third, before steroids tainted the record books, 1987 Topps– and really all three 1987 sets– had rookie cards of three likely Hall of Famers in Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, and Rafael Palmeiro. All three had Hall of Really Good For A While member Will Clark. Mark McGwire’s second year card (and first card with Oakland) was in the Topps set as well as Donruss. Jamie Moyer, who I believe has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame if his arm holds up after surgery and the fact he’ll turn 86 next month, has his debut in Topps and Donruss.  Topps does lose points here though– Donruss hit on another young Cubs pitcher who went onto big things in Greg Maddux. Hindsight, 20/20, you know how it goes.  Maddux was largely an unheralded prospect and even considered a bit of a reach as a second round draft pick, so it’s not as bad as missing out on Ken Griffey Jr. in 1988 and 1989.

Sorry, but I don't see a difference there. I also saw Elvis at the supermarket yesterday.

It seems Topps had a bad streak for a few years in the late 80′s of leaving out some rookie who went onto big things that at least one other set got in.  In 1986, it was Jose Canseco, who was in Fleer and Donruss. 1987 was Maddux in Donruss. 1988 was Edgar Martinez in Fleer.  1989 had Griffey in every set but Topps and Score and Curt Schilling in Donruss.

LEFT: Why? RIGHT: Why not?

Bland photography holds this set back as well. The 1987 Topps set returned to a lot of head shots of players or posed full shots. Action photos were more rare, and when they were used, they were pretty simple pictures of a pitcher about to start his windup, or a batter just stepping into the box.  Not exactly exciting, but such was a hallmark of Topps set photography until about 1991 when the Stadium Club Trickle Down Effect was born.

A classy design, some nice rookies when viewed without the steroid cloud, and a high memorability factor, the 1987 Topps set is an affordable option when trying to get one of Topps’ best sets.

About the Author: Drew Pelto bought a rack case of 1987 Topps a year and a half ago and finally got around to sorting it this past summer. A complete set of it looks awesome in a binder. He currently lives in North Texas with enough 1987 Topps commons to someday wallpaper an entire room with them.