Thursday, November 19, 2015

Best set of the year: 1988

I haven't done anything with this series in more than a year. Part of the reason is I knew that I was going to do a Topps set countdown and there's only so much set analyzing I can handle at the same time. Another reason is I knew the year that was coming up, and I knew which set I think is the best, and I know it's not going to be popular.

But I'm not in the running for Mr. Congeniality here. I'm in the business of providing my very subjective thoughts about baseball cards.

So let's get on with the series.

Today we're looking at 1988, the year in which another card company joined the three that had been making cards for the previous seven years. Score produced its first set in 1988 and did a pretty great job with it.

In fact, truth be told, I like every major set issued in 1988. I think all four are very collectible and I've completed two (Topps and Score). It's not out of the realm of possibility that I'll complete the other two as well. They're certainly within my budget.

So how do you rate four card sets that you like? Yeah, it's a toughy. But that's why I get paid the big bucks.

Here we go:

1988 Topps -- the front

Plusses: A very colorful design that doesn't overwhelm. Some of the Topps set designs that preceded 1988 were a bit overpowering. ... Some of the team color combinations are the most pleasing of any set from the '80s, particularly the Mets and Royals. (I personally love the Phillies cards in this set). ... Allowing the player photo to obscure part of the team name is something I've always enjoyed.

Minuses: For those collectors who get annoyed by this, Topps goes without the position designation for the second straight year. ... Some of the photos are pretty damn boring. ... There doesn't seem to be as many distinctive action shots in the set as there were in 1987.

1988 Topps -- the back

Plusses: Virtually nothing exciting about these backs. They're orange for the first time since 1983, but who cares anymore? ... The "This Way To The Clubhouse" feature expands on the vital stat of how the player was acquired by giving you even more detail.

Minuses: I get so bored by 1980s Topps backs.

1988 Topps -- overall

Plusses: A simple, attractive design that works. The pictures don't appear crowded, all of the photos are allowed to breathe. ... One of my favorite treatments of the rookie cup of all-time as the name ribbon expands to include the rookie cup. I also enjoy the manager cards that follow a similar treatment. ... Another nice large set of 792 cards on good old American cardboard. ... Turn Back the Clock, All-Star cards and record-breaker cards return. In fact, the record breaker cards are one of the most enjoyable of the 1980s. ... The double Eddie Murray record breaker card. ... Tom Glavine rookie card. ... The last flagship set blissfully free of draft pick cards for a long time.

Minuses: Some consider this set boring. I don't get it. ... The design steals somewhat from 1964 Topps, but it's not blatant enough for me to care. ... The set is ubiquitous, which may have something to do with people thinking its boring. ... Too many photos look like no thought was put into them at all.

1988 Fleer -- the front

Plusses: This may be the "Barbershop Pole set," but it's also about as patriotic-looking a set as there is. ... The different colored bar at the bottom of the photo that changes with the team is an overlooked quirk. ... This set also features the player "infringing" on the design, which is always fun. I almost expect there to be a pull tab on the back so you can make the player stand up. ... Team logos, of course. ... I like the tilted player name and position on the white background.

Minuses: The design is the star of the show. It almost appears as if the photos are an afterthought.

1988 Fleer -- the back

Plusses: Good ol' Fleer numbering its set by team. ... The "At Their Best" graphic gives you a player's "splits" for day and night, home and road. ... The design on the front extends to the back, which Fleer liked to do and is appreciated.

Minuses: Fleer still wasting space on cards in which the player doesn't have a lot of years in the pros. ... Consequently, the "At Their Best" graphic is too tiny. ... The backs are just monotonous.

1988 Fleer -- overall

Plusses: There is something collectible and attractive about a primarily white set (yikes, that sounded very white supremacist). ... Fleer keeps going with its team logo on the front even while Topps dropped it after a few years of copying Fleer. ... Fleer is just the friendliest set around. I don't know why that is, but it's definitely a thing. ... Rookie cards of Glavine, Mark Grace and a bunch of others.

Minuses: Another set diminished by hyper mass production. I think the difference between finding an '88 Fleer card and an '87 Fleer card in a repack is like 10-1.

1988 Donruss -- the front

Plusses: A nice visual of the player, The "Tron" design does a good job of featuring the photo. ... I like the border design more and more and I have changed drastically on this over the years. ... Got to like the team logos.

Minuses: It's easy to get bored by these cards pulling them out of a pack. There is quite a bit of sameness to the photos.

1988 Donruss -- the back

Plusses: Same as 1987, 1986, 1985, 1984, etc. -- credit for full names and contract status.

Minuses: Same as 1987, 1986, 1985, 1984, etc. -- same look every blasted year. At least the backs are blue and not the yellow of the previous year.

1988 Donruss -- overall

Plusses: This set has grown on me and I really can't tell you why. ... The Ripken Family card. ... Lots of fun cards of superstars of the day, even if the pictures aren't all that exciting.

Minuses: Your great, great, great, great, great, great grandson will be able to buy 1988 Donruss packs for 50 cents (wait -- that might be a plus). ... I think this was the set when the Diamond Kings cards really started to get weird. ... Set seems to have the feeling of "get it done and get it out." It looks cheap.

1988 Score -- the front

Plusses: Virtually every photo in the set is an action photo. Pretty cool. ... The design itself is simplistic, but the most interesting thing is how every 110 cards were a different color: purple, blue, red, green, yellow and gold.

Minuses: A lot of the photos are much too dark. You can't see player faces. ... The three stars on the left, although I'm sure kids appreciated them, seem very random.

1988 Score -- the back

Plusses: The most in-depth write-ups since 1976 SSPC and I never saw 1976 SSPC when it came out, so "wow!" ... A color mug shot on the back. Even Fleer couldn't do that.

Minuses: Vertical backs will never be my favorite. ... The card number is way too small.

1988 Score -- overall

Plusses: What a first effort, one of the best card company debuts in history. ... A good look at what a full action set would look like. ... A subset of Reggie Jackson cards, including a rare cardboard look at Reggie as an Oriole! ... The card backs would keep you informed for months. ... The set just looks like a lot of people cared.

Minuses: The different colored borders, separated in 110-card chunks, makes it appear as if this is six different sets. ... Action is great, but a set loses some of its personality when every photo is an action photo. ... Like every other set in 1988, a victim of overproduction.

And after reviewing four sets, the winner is ...







Yeah, yeah, "oh, no, anybody but Topps!!!!"

What can I say? I like 1988 Topps so, so much.

Ranking: 1. Topps: 2. Score; 3. Fleer; 4. Donruss

Total ranking: Topps - 6; Donruss - 1; Fleer - 1; Score 0


  1. Great article ... What people often overlook with the Donruss set is the black and red design thingy makes a square when the cards are put next to one another .. Uncut sheets are really cool ....

  2. I'd rank them in the same order. As a kid I thought the '88 Topps was too bland (aside from the All-Star cards), however twenty years later I see it as a tastefully done classic, especially compared to the eyesore period piece sets Donruss and Fleer put out.

  3. One of my favorite features you do, glad it is back in the mix. I agree with most of your observations and opinions on the sets. I would agree with the Topps rating as number one. I may go with Fleer over Score as second but it would be a close battle.

  4. I too am glad this is back in the mix. I get why you'd discontinue it for the Topps countdown, which was great.

    I love 1988 Topps because of nostalgic reasons. If I took that factor out of the mix and looked back through an unbiased lens, I would probably go with Score as #1. I think Score and Topps have to be close for 1/2, and Fleer is a clear 3rd. Donruss is easily the worst to me that year. 1986 through 1989 Donruss seem interchangeable to me.

  5. 1988 Topps is a classic design. I think I have under-appreciated it because I always associated it with over produced junk wax. It's*almost* worthy of being forgiven for not having the position on the front.

    I really miss Score. I love the headshot on the back and the extensive write ups. But I didn't notice until now that while they didn't commit the sin of leaving off the position they actually left off the TEAM NAME.

  6. Wow. 1988 was rough in terms of major manufactures. Score is my favorite in a landslide. The rest are at best "meh"... but if I had to rank them, I'd go with Topps at #2, Fleer at #3, and Donruss at #4. Heck... I'd put Sportflics and Topps Big ahead of all three of those designs.

    However... I gotta say... that year's Kenner cards are absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite sets from the 80's.