It's time to figure out the best card for each team of my next complete set on the list, 1989 Topps.
Unlike the previous two sets I reviewed, 1991 Topps and 1993 Upper Deck, 1989 Topps is not known for its great photos. This set is at the tail end of an era in which Topps sometimes featured action shots and sometimes relied on standbys from the 1960s, cheesy, posed shots and portraits. Once Upper Deck and Stadium Club hit, a lot of that went away.
In fact, when I was going through my '89 Topps binder, I found myself looking at the cards in a different way than I had with the more recent complete sets. Instead of valuing action and creative new photography, I started admiring a player's smile or someone looking up in the dugout, because that's ALL YOU HAD back then.
But there are some decent cards in this set. I'm a little numb to it because I bought '89 Topps like it was bread and water, and there isn't anyone I know who collects bread and water. But after taking about 25 years to reflect, I can see some goodness in this set.
Once again, I broke the teams up by the divisions that existed at the time. AL East, AL West, NL East and NL West. (By the way, I excluded from contention the team leaders cards from this set. There are actually quite a few, nice action photos on these cards, but I didn't want to consider subsets because I didn't do that for any of the other sets).
I have yet to sit on the floor for any of these exercises. In fact, I think I'm backsliding. Instead of going through the cards at the dining room table like I have for the others, I looked through my '89 binder while slumped in a chair watching "The Muppet Movie" on Netflix.
Somehow that seems appropriate for '89 Topps.
Here are the cards:
American League East
Orioles: Terry Kennedy; Yankees: Don Mattingly; Blue Jays: Fred McGriff; Indians: Joe Carter; Red Sox: Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd; Brewers: Paul Molitor; Tigers: Chet Lemon
Team with the best cards: Red Sox. This is the sixth time I've done this series and the Red Sox have had the best cards 4 or 5 times. I'm trying to be impartial here, so even though I like the Red Sox, I'm pretty sure it's an objective evaluation.
Team with the worst cards: Tigers. They just edge the Blue Jays. For a long time I thought Sparky Anderson standing in the dugout was going to be the Tigers' best card.
Team I should go back and review: Blue Jays. I like the McGriff, but a lot of the Jays cards were similar.
American League West
Twins: Dan Gladden; White Sox: Daryl Boston; Athletics: Walt Weiss; Royals: Mike MacFarlane; Mariners: Jay Buhner; Angels: Chili Davis; Rangers: Oddibe McDowell
Team with the best cards: A's, probably. This was a weak division. White Sox and Mariners were OK, too.
Team with the worst cards: Angels. Lots of static shots.
Team I should go back and review: Royals and Rangers. I got transfixed by all the bats and the gum and blanked out on everything else. But I am still obsessed with the gum that McDowell has. If it is a piece of Topps gum, kudos to Topps for the product placement. If it is another brand, kudos to Topps for displaying a competitor.
National League East
Cubs: Damon Berryhill; Phillies: Mike Schmidt; Mets: Len Dykstra; Pirates: Bobby Bonilla; Expos: Mike Fitzgerald; Cardinals: Tony Pena
Team with the best cards: Expos. If you saw them all, you'd probably be annoyed that the Fitzgerald card is here instead. But I just love the Fitzgerald card.
Team with the worst cards: Mets. They have lot of action shots but they're all so boring. Guy standing at plate waiting for pitch. Whoopee.
Team I should go back and review: Phillies. Mike Schmidt historically was given lousy photos by Topps. It's shocking to me that there is a Schmidt card that is halfway representative of what he was known to do.
National League West
Braves: Steve Avery; Giants: Will Clark; Reds: Chris Sabo; Padres: Benny (Benito) Santiago; Astros: Ken Caminiti; Dodgers: John Tudor
Team with the best cards: Reds. Some good stuff, but it couldn't beat Spuds.
Team with the worst cards: Braves. The Avery card is borderline iconic. I was relieved to finally come across it at card #740 in the set, because before that, I was embarrassed for what I'd have to choose for the Braves. That said, I think picturing players in their high school uniforms on cards might be what got our hobby rolling downhill to the point it is at today.
The Padres cards weren't great either.
Team I should go back and review: Did I actually choose a Will Clark card as the best at anything? Clark with the squeaky voice and the personality of every character on "Survivor" that you hate? Yes, I did. (The Mike LaCoss card, in which he's showing his grip, is pretty good, maybe I should have picked that).
You may have noticed that four players with rookie cups made it as the best. I think Topps tried extra hard some years to give nice photos to its rookie cup players, and '89 Topps had a good crop of rookies.
So, there you are. Proof that you can find "the best" in a set where maybe photography wasn't at the level that we demand today.
But get used to it. Because next is 1988 Topps.