As I continue to review and compare the mainstream baseball card sets since 1981, we have arrived at 1985. Like the year prior, 1985 was pretty much a free-for-all between Topps, Donruss and Fleer. After years of being the leader, Topps was making subtle changes that one could tell were in response to the staying power of Donruss and Fleer.
For the first time, all three manufacturers featured team logos on the front of their sets. Topps was a few years behind what Fleer had been doing for a little while already (although, to be fair, Topps had featured team logos on its card fronts way back in the early '50s).
But everything that Donruss, Fleer, and especially Topps did in 1985 was overshadowed by the rookie craze that hit full blast in the mid-1980s. The 1985 Topps set will forever be known as the set that spawned the Mark McGwire rookie, as well as rookie cards of Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett, Eric Davis, Orel Hershiser, and the first flagship card of Dwight Gooden.
Even though Topps is the only set of the three to have McGwire in it, I'm not considering that in this evaluation. As you know, I don't collect for rookies. And I don't evaluate because of rookies. There are plenty of other places to go for that stuff.
In fact, when I look at the sets from 1985, I simply shrug my shoulders. They are OK. Nothing great. For a second straight year, I bought the entire Topps set at the start of the year and all but ignored the other two manufacturers except for a couple packs of Donruss.
And with that -- why am I doing a 1985 Topps blog again? -- here is the comparison of all three sets:
1985 Topps -- the front
Plusses: After two years of a large action photo and an inset mug shot, Topps went with a new design. ... Another very colorful set. It's almost loud. ... For the first time since 1974, Topps matches the colors in the design with the team colors for virtually every team. ... Team logos on the front adds a fun aspect. ... More space for the photo makes the action pix stand out.
Minuses: Wow the team name is BIG. ... The design seems like a jumble of geometric objects all squashed together. ... The position designation is too close to the player's name. It's very awkward. ... The team logo, although welcome, screams desperation by Topps.
1985 Topps -- the back
Plusses: Ugh. The card backs in the '80s were SO BORING. ... But here's a good thing: 1985 Topps is somewhat known for the interesting tidbits written on the back. There is a lot of family information about the players and personal stuff like Richard vacationing in Europe.
Minuses: Red and green works in December, but not when you're trying to read tiny numbers. These backs are brutal on the eyes. ... This is the sixth time in 12 years that Topps used dark green as the background color.
1985 Topps -- overall
Plusses: Topps trying to step up its game with the addition of the No. 1 draft pick, fathers & sons, and Olympic team subsets. ... Refreshing to see a large picture on the card front again. ... Only 1985 set to feature Mark McGwire. ... Lots of notable rookies -- if you like that kind of thing. ... Color coding of the teams looks great.
Minuses: Just not interesting enough on a card-per-card basis. ... After 1983 and 1984 it appeared that Topps was getting away from static head shots, but they popped up again in '85 and really continued through the rest of the '80s. ... The backs make my eyes hurt.
1985 Fleer -- the front
Plusses: Fleer returns to team-color coding for the first-time since 1982. It's very pleasing, especially with teams like the Padres and A's. ... Some interesting photos and nice set-ups, like this Wiggins card. ... The design frames the photo nicely.
Minuses: I am not a fan of gray-bordered sets. Fleer went with gray in 1983, 1985 and 1989 and it was never the right call (although this is the best one of the three). ... There are way too many haphazard photos in this set. Subjects off-centered. Poor pictures of open-mouthed players who don't appear to know their photo is being taken. And stuff like this:
That's not how to show someone throwing the ball.
1985 Fleer -- the back
Plusses: I like the red-and-black combination. ... The small photo on the back is usually different from the picture on the front. ... Have I mentioned that cards were numbered by team during Fleer's days in the '80s? If I haven't yet, shame on me.
Minuses: We've seen this set-up from Fleer for three straight years now. It doesn't make anyone want to look at the back of the card.
1985 Fleer -- overall
Plusses: You get a nice idea of the distinct difference between each team with this set, thanks to the design. ... Several key rookies to chase. ... The SuperStar Specials are fun as always. ... Fleer is still paving the way with that team logo.
Minuses: A step back from 1984 in my opinion. There wasn't as much emphasis on the photo as there was in 1984. Shuffling through the cards I am overwhelmed by what looks like unprofessional photo work -- either that or the poor photographer had to get every ball player's picture in a single week. ... Too many of the cards that I have in this set are miscut, off-center or ragged on one edge. I don't know if that was a problem across the board, but I associate that issue with this set.
1985 Donruss -- the front
Plusses: Just a sterling design. Black borders rule and thin black borders rule for infinity. The red racing stripes make the design all the more bold and distinct. It's almost a bad-ass design. ... Donruss uses the team logo for a second straight year and bumps up the size on it. ... Like the 1984 set, there are a number of nice-looking photos that demonstrate that the photographers were really trying (maybe trying too hard in some cases).
Minuses: The border takes away ever so slightly from the photo, especially when you compare it with 1984 Donruss ... Some dark photos, which as I've said before, was an issue with mid-1980s Donruss. ... Black borders CHIP LIKE CRAZY.
1985 Donruss -- the back
Plusses: Believe it or not, there is a change to the back from previous Donruss years. Donruss enclosed the player stats in a box for the first time. ... As always, the contract status information and the full-name information is a bonus. (Get it? Contract? Bonus?)
Minuses: The enclosed box isn't enough to get me to stop saying it's the same damn back every year from Donruss. Boring, boring, boring. And only five years of boring, too. ... Also, back to the horrible yellow that we saw in 1983.
1985 Donruss -- overall
Plusses: The years of 1984 and 1985 are the high-water mark for Donruss. I was very impressed with the cards that I saw when I opened those couple of packs (although apparently not impressed enough to buy any more!) ... Classy-looking cards. ... When comparing rookie cards, a lot of people prefer the Clemens and Puckett rookies in Donruss over the other sets. ... The Diamond Kings look very nice with that black border. ... It's a set that I might want to complete someday, and there aren't a lot of 1980s sets left that I can say that about.
Minuses: The back keeps a good set from being great. ... The border chipping is frustrating.
OK, now it's time to reveal the winner.
Are you ready?
You should know which one it is already if you read through everything (and everyone reads through EVERYTHING, right?).
The Best Set of 1985 is ...
You're a winner for the first time.
Ranking: 1. Donruss; 2. Topps; 3. Fleer
Total ranking: Topps -3; Donruss -1; Fleer -1