Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best set of the year: 1987

Today you're all focused on Game 7 of the World Series (or should be). I am, too, although part of me has turned to mush because that's what every Oct. 29th does to me.

But I try to convert this mushy holiday in which I met my girlfriend for life into something about baseball cards every year. And since that special Oct. 29 came in 1987, I figured that's the best time to feature the sets of 1987 in the Best Set Of The Year series.

In this series I arbitrarily rank the sets issued each year from 1981 forward. Since we're at 1987 now, we've stepped squarely into the junk wax era. Topps, Donruss and Fleer were all very prominent in 1987. Sportflics also issued their second set (and the first one that I ever saw). But I don't consider Sportflics a major set, so I'm excluding them.

I'm a little hesitant to rank these just because '87 sets seem much beloved by the 30-something crowd and I'm entirely too dismissive of sets from the late '80s. In 1987, I was very much into the college and bar scene and cards were barely a thought. I collected a few rack packs of Topps, that's it.

But then that's what this blog is for, opinionating, right?

Here we go:

1987 Topps -- the front

Plusses: A distinctive and memorable design. Wood borders, although a blatant self-tribute by Topps, make for an unforgettable look. ... the photographs are much improved over 1986 Topps in terms of quality ... team logos are always fun ... the colored name rectangle really stands out for certain teams (the Oakland A's, especially).

Minuses: No position designation! This drives some collectors wacky. ... I always though the logo was kind of floating in the air up there. The placement seemed odd. ... Oh, and this:

You already did this design, Topps. For those who argue that Topps was getting stale right around this time period, this is an excellent example.

1987 Topps -- the back

Plusses: Hey, look! Topps put the vital information on the bottom! This was very unlike Topps, although it was probably just copying Fleer, which did that in 1982. ... The back is more readable than the Topps card backs that immediately preceded it. ... For cards where there's room (limited year-by-year stats), Topps includes "On This Date" facts, which are sort of interesting.

Minuses: You will never get me to like yellow on cards, unless it's a 1972 Topps Astros card. ... Still more '80s card back dullness. In many cases the card back is just complete stats.

1987 Topps -- overall

Plusses: For whatever reason, it seems to be the set that got a lot of collectors into the hobby. Maybe because it was everywhere. ... The rookie cup returned! Yay! For the first time since 1978, Topps featured a rookie cup on cards depicting members of its all-rookie team. This is something that should have never left. ... Some memorable cards, like the Kevin Mitchell dust-up shot. ... Got to like the Topps cardboard. I'll mention this every time (at least until the 1990s). ... Another big set of 792 cards. ... Some pretty good rookies during a time when the rookie was king. Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro. Coveted cards of Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco, too. Plus the Bo Jackson Future Star.

Minuses: I have completed every Topps flagship set of the 1980s except 1987. It just doesn't hold my interest. ... I think '89 Topps has it beat, but it'd be a pretty good race between the two in terms of which set is more abundant and therefore more worthless, monetarily speaking.

1987 Fleer -- the front

Plusses: One of my favorite Fleer looks from the '80s. Love blue. Love the gradient design. ... The color bar works very well with some teams in terms of tying the photo with the design. ... It features a cool, sleek look that appeals to me. ... The logo is nice and not big and jarring.

Minuses: The amount of border on the card sometimes crowds the photo. It's more apparent on some cards than others. ... A lot of closeups of players not doing anything, which was rather standard for Fleer.

1987 Fleer -- the back

Plusses: Fleer is still numbering its set by team with the previous year's World Series champions at the start. So much easier for organizational purposes. ... The back is more colorful than past Fleer backs (i.e. more than one color). ... The "How's He Hitting 'Em" is a nice graphic that was advanced for its time. The pitchers cards featured "He's Got The Stuff", which rated a pitcher's repetoire.

Minuses: The famous Fleer "wasted space" for players with few years in pro baseball. ... The graphic is very small and hard on the eyes (especially for non-kids). ... Fleer stayed with vertical backs throughout the '80s, which I never liked.

1987 Fleer -- overall

Plusses: I love "blue sets" ... The cards give off a "premium" glossy vibe even though they aren't. ... The team logo still rules and everyone knows it. For the second time this decade, all three sets featured the team logo on the front. That's Fleer's doing. ... Rookie cards of Barry Larkin and Jamie Moyer.

Minuses: I'm not one of those that loathes it when the design overpowers the photo, but I think this is one of the sets in which this happens.

1987 Donruss -- the front

Plusses: Black borders for the second time in three years. Black borders rule. ... The "path of baseballs" about a third of the way down the card are fun for some people. Emphasis on "some people".

Minuses: These black borders are no more immune to chipping than any others. ... This is one of my least favorite black border sets of all-time. In fact, I think this is the set that made me realize that not all black-bordered sets were cool (later confirmed repeatedly by Bowman). ... I actually hate the path of baseballs. Like many things that Donruss did in the '80s, it looks childish and drawn by a 9-year-old and we probably could have a much cooler card without them (I know you disagree, I don't care).

1987 Donruss -- the back

Plusses: Once again, give credit to Donruss for full names and contract status.

Minuses: The same back every freakin' year. Anytime I see a Donruss back from the '80s, Bob Seger's "Still the Same" plays in my head and BOB SEGER SHOULD NEVER PLAY IN MY HEAD. ... The return of yellow. Ugh. But if we're being accurate, it's actually gold.

Because 1985 Donruss was yellow. (*and you're still the same, I caught up with you yesterday*)

1987 Donruss -- overall

Plusses: You've got to give Donruss credit for trying again with the black border. ... Features one of the more memorable rookie cards of the 1980s in mustachioed Greg Maddux. ... Rated Rookies continue to have staying power, especially with the likes of Mark McGwire and Bo Jackson in the set.

Minuses: It seems that I have an issue with sets with rounded borders (1987 Donruss, 1983 Donruss). ... Overall, it's not a bad set (if you avoid the back), but like many Donruss sets of the '80s, it doesn't float my boat.

And now it's time to reveal the overall winner.

The best set of 1987 is ...






Believe me, I swayed between Topps and Fleer right until the end. If I get more '87 Fleer cards, maybe I'll change my answer.

Ranking: 1. Topps; 2. Fleer; 3. Donruss

Total ranking: Topps - 5; Donruss - 1; Fleer - 1


  1. This seems like a large upset. I have seen you mock the '87 Topps design before and you spoke so well of the Fleer. I am not sure if you just like the tradition or what. Not that I am here to argue, I was 12 years old in 1987 and my team had just won the world series, so you could say I am somewhat fond of that set.

  2. This is the set that got me hooked. It had a lot to do with the Pirates team set... it was the oldest that had players I recognized from 1990. I liked how Topps listed the player's card number in the "on this date" feature. It was always trilling when I owned the card they mentioned.

  3. I am cool with all three sets, really. I'd place Fleer in first though.

  4. 1987 was the year I got back into collecting, but I'm not 100% positive why. I don't think I could find cards for a few years, and in '87 I found a flea market that had dealers there. I do remember buying a lot of 1987 Topps...$15 a box.

  5. I'm with John. I actually own more Topps and Donruss (and at some point in my life, I bought a wax box of Leaf) than Fleer, but that Fleer design wins out for me. And, I like the "heat charts" on the backs of the cards -- the first big effort to incorporate something more than the basic numbers (or biographical information) on the back.

  6. Guess I'm an old codger about this era and these sets. I do have two out of three (sorry Fleer) but only because a friend had a large starter lot and the shop near his house had the rest cheap - we completed the set in two days. Which was only surpassed by the fact that I bought the Donruss set for three bucks from my local shop before it closed several years ago.
    Like you said, a lot of people are big fans of the wood design or the blue. They are both big "meh"'s for me. I kinda like the Donruss design the best and better than a lot of the late 80's offerings from all three companies. But I have no attachment to most any of this era since I didn't collect when they were new and they feel (and look) inferior to most of the vintage sets and newer products from the 2000s. 80's and early 90's designs are so simplistic, compared to some vintage and a lot of newer stuff (see Upper Deck). I realize a lot of it is technological, but so many of this period's designs just simply lack imagination.

  7. If I had to pick. I guess it would be Topps. Bought both the Donruss and Topps factory sets. Don't think I ever opened the Donruss set.

  8. 1987 was my first year of collecting cards. I didn't however collect baseball back then I collected football cards while my brother collected baseball. That is probably the reason I like 1987 Topps so much. It is the only wood border set I like and I really really hate all the other wood design sets. Heck I like 2014 design better than 62 and those stupid TV cards from 55 Bowman are so god awful.