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Team MVPs: 1988 Topps

This month marks 25 years since my college graduation.

Yep, that's how old I am. I haven't been in a classroom for 25 years.

I don't miss it at all. I was never so pleased on that graduation day to know that I would never have to pass papers behind me, be required to know something I would never use, or be judged based on the red number or letter at the top of my page.

Unfortunately, school hasn't truly gone away for good. It's always there in the form of flashbacks, dreams, my job, and other collateral damage from required learning of the past. Most recently, it's been listening to my daughter's school days lamentations. (Today it was the memory of raising your hand to alert the teacher that you were done with a test, and holding it and holding it and holding it up there until he or she finally recognized that you were finished).

In May of 1988, I was so focused on exams, papers, graduation, parties, work, a girlfriend, other friends, and the general "we're going to knock this world on its ear" attitude, that cards meant little to me.

I've said this before: I bought maybe a rack pack of Topps in 1988 and that was it. No Donruss. No Fleer. No brand-new Score.

Years and years later, when I came back to cards, I set out to complete the '88 Topps set. Even with my small view of cards in 1988, I knew it was a nice-looking set. Because of that -- and the fact that it was so cheap -- I felt it was an easy target.

I think '88 Topps is terribly underrated. It has the misfortune of being one of the most massively produced sets in history and many collectors are sick of it. Some even call it "boring," which I will never understand.

To me, '88 Topps is one of the best-designed sets ever. It's very colorful, which I always like. But it's understated, too. The framed border presents a wonderful showcase for the photo. And, as I've said before, I love the technique of having the image bleed over the team name. There has to be a name for that technique. I don't know what it is.

I like '88 Topps so much, that there are certain teams in the set that I think never had better-looking cards in any other set. I especially like the cards of the Mets, Reds, Royals and Phillies.

So with all of that, it's time to see what the best card is for each team in the set, which is what I am doing for all of my complete sets.

Once again, I am breaking them up by the divisions that existed at the time. And I have excluded the team leaders cards (and all-star cards) just to be consistent across all of the sets in this series.

Back when I did this for the 1989 Topps set, I thought it would be difficult to tackle the '88 Topps set because of a perceived lack of action photos. But actually, there are plenty of action pix in the set, and some pretty good ones.

So I hope you enjoy. Have a beverage or two while you're viewing them. I certainly had a few 25 years ago:

American League East

Red Sox: Wade Boggs; Blue Jays: Jimmy Key; Indians: Tom Candiotti; Yankees: Ron Guidry; Tigers: Pat Sheridan; Brewers: Robin Yount; Orioles: Mike Young

Team with the best cards: Red Sox. I'm starting to think that card companies favor the Red Sox with all of the great cardboard I've seen through this series. Silly me, I thought it was always the Yankees. But besides the Boggs card, there is the wonderful Ellis Burks rookie card, Roger Clemens and a few others.

Team with the worst cards: Indians, with the Blue Jays and Tigers not far away. The Candiotti is average, but there's not much else.

Team I should go back and review: Tigers.

American League West

Athletics: Jose Rijo; White Sox: Ozzie Guillen: Mariners: Rey Quinones; Royals: Bo Jackson; Rangers: Jerry Browne; Twins: Kent Hrbek, Angels: Gus Polidor

Team with the best cards: Royals. The Jackson gets a little favoritism, because it's Bo Jackson. But I almost didn't pick it because I love the Ed Hearn action card.

Teams with the worst cards: Mariners. I just stopped trying after awhile.

Team I should go back and review: A's. I picked Rijo over Canseco and the McGwire rookie cup because I love spring training shots.

National League East

Phillies: Bruce Ruffin; Cubs: Andre Dawson; Mets: Dwight Gooden; Cardinals: Greg Mathews, Pirates: Jose Lind; Expos: Wallace Johnson

Team with the best cards: Mets. Just a fantastic team set. The Gooden card is amazing, but the color scheme used by Topps makes almost all of them look great.

Team with the worst cards: Pirates. I don't really like the Future Stars cards in this set, but I gave Lind a pass because he actually made it (unlike some others). And because there wasn't much else.

Team I should go back and review: Cardinals. I thought the bullpen shot was unique, so I may be biased.

National League West

Braves: Ozzie Virgil; Padres: Benny Santiago; Dodgers: Tom Lasorda; Giants: Chili Davis; Reds: Eric Davis; Astros: Kevin Bass

Team with the best cards: Reds. I'll let you in on a little secret. Eric Davis isn't really my favorite Reds card in the set. And it's not the Barry Larkin card I've raved about before either. No, it's something else. But I'm not showing it here because it would take me too long to explain why I like it so much. So you have that to look forward to some other time. Set your time-keeping devices.

Team with the worst cards: This is the best division in terms of quality photos. The Braves were running on fumes until the final couple of cards, so I'll go with them.

Team I should go back and review: Giants. Davis came out of the box very early and I was entranced by his focus, so I probably glossed over the rest of the cards.

So, that's what I was missing when I was doing all that college life stuff back in 1988.

Fortunately I made up for it in the following years.

You know, when I didn't have to go to class anymore.

For those of you still in school, I assure you it ends someday.


  1. I see two cards I need for my bunting binder.

  2. I like the Jim Gott with an empty Three Rivers Stadium in the background. Brings back many, many memories of having a whole section of the upper deck all to myself!

  3. I always thought the Clemens card from that set was one of the best looking cards ever.

    Cheating slimeball.

  4. I'm in the process of wrapping up a post that talks about this set... and we're on opposite ends of the spectrum. It's my least favorite set of the decade. But I think that's one of the coolest things about our hobby.. the fact that a card set can be one of the best designed ever to one collector... and one of the dullest to another.

  5. I skipped over the years from 1985 thru 2005, so I've been backfilling sets that I find appealing. Just got two cello boxes and a wax box of this set (total cost = under $20) from a friend. Ended up two cards short. Anyone need pack fresh singles? Email at QAPLAGCA at yahoo. Still chasing some of the variations...
    A lot of the simpler, cleaner designs are the best. I like these much better than 85, 87, 89 and most of the early 90's.

  6. I'm making plans for my 45th HIGH SCOOL reunion. I'm preparing by stalking my girlfriend on Facebook. ,-0

    I thought the Orioles cards in this set were great, btw. I loved the color scheme they us.

  7. Great post - I love this set, too. I'm biased, though, because I was 8 and it was the first set I really collected. I'm nostalgic for 88 and 87, even though they couldn't be more different.

    You've got a lot of great selections. The Boggs is my favorite card in the whole set, and I have to agree the Royals cards are great. I picked the Danny Jackson as my favorite action card - just because I like his delivery and how it fits with the design. But the Ed Hearn is great and so is Danny Jackson.

    I picked Eric Davis for my favorite Red as well - very curious about what your other selection is. I have my timer set! I liked Buddy Bell as well - that's my guess!


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