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Greatest 100 cards of the '80s: another progress report

I am making enough progress in starting my Greatest 100 Cards of the '80s countdown that I think I can start cutting candidates down to the final 100 fairly soon.

It's all a bit muddled now because I've been reviewing the '80s sets in order from the start of the decade to the end of the decade and I'm currently in the middle of an evaluating disaster, also known as the overproduction era.

There were just so many cards between 1986-89, almost too many to process in any kind of objective manner. Not that there is any threat of this happening, but I will never do a top 100 cards of the '90s countdown because trying to trim that specific card avalanche to a final 100 would finish me off.

I've pretty much gotten through 1986 and 1987 -- again, it's a bit murky -- and am in the middle of 1988, and I am discovering that I am in disagreement with a lot of previous "great 1980s cards" countdowns. It has to do with cards like this:

I don't care what anybody says, that is not a great card.

Neither is that one.

And neither is that one.

Braves collectors and 1980s rookie collectors may disagree, and again, that's fine. Eye of the beholder and all that. But my issue with '80s cards like this, as far as evaluating them for a list of greatness, is that in the '80s, too much credit was given to a card's "rookie-ness" or more accurately, too much credit for being first.

You still see this in top cards of the '80s lists. How do they differentiate between the six different Bo Jacksons issued around 1986? Well, they simply go with the card that came out first. And they do have some justification for doing that. Often the card that came out first was the most sought after back in the day and remains the most coveted today.

But for my evaluating money, I would much rather define greatness with a card like this:

Instead of a card like this ...

Or this ...

The second two Jacksons are merely point-and-click shots. There is almost nothing interesting about the card itself. I don't care whether they came out first, I don't care about the hype, that doesn't say anything about the actual card to me. And that's what I'm evaluating.

(The only Bo Jackson I can assure you will absolutely be on the Greatest 100 list is his 1988 Topps card).

This doesn't mean I am down on rookie cards in this countdown. If you read my Greatest 100 Cards of the '70s list, you know that there were rookie cards in that review:

But with the exception of the Ozzie Smith card -- and he can use that glorious chocolate-and-mustard uniform as his defense -- the '70s rookie cards that made the list had more going for them than being rookies or being first.

That's what it takes to make the list: a well-rounded card.


I know collectors go nuts over this card. All I see is a boring photo on a brutal design.

I would much rather put this card on my top 100, if I want to represent young Canseco, even if it wasn't the first card to come out. It's a much better composed card, with a much more pleasing logo (rookie cup over rated rookie ALL DAY), showing a hopeful Canseco on the bench in that glorious all-green A's uniform.

Yup, not a chance '86 Donruss Canseco.

Neither of these are the first cards of Bo Jackson or Barry Bonds, but they are "greater" cards simply because the photo and the design is better. Yeah, my faithfulness to Topps is showing, but it seems pretty obvious to me -- Topps wasn't just pointing and shooting in the '80s.

However, I said back during my Greatest 100 Cards of the '70s countdown that context meant a lot when making up this list and context means not relying solely on the photo when evaluating.

Photo is a big part of what makes a card great, but it's not the only thing. The story behind the card matters, too, and there are a lot of things that make up that story. One of those things is: "what was going on with baseball cards at that time?"

So, yes, I will consider the craze over rookies that happened in the '80s (and continues to this day). But I'm not going to put a card of a head staring at a camera in the top 100. I didn't like that when I saw it in cards from the '70s and '60s and I don't like it now.

You will see the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card in the top 100 countdown -- even though it's basically a head shot. But that card has so much more going for it than just the photo.

But overall, if you're talking about an '80s card of a young superstar ...

A card that looks like this.

Has a better chance than ...

A card that looks like this.

Anyway, the next time you see a Greatest 100 cards of the '80s progress report, it will be to announce the date that the countdown will begin.


I can't wait for the countdown. Good luck building it. That 1988 Topps Glavine is very funny for me because it looks like he overslept, got dressed, and clearly forgot to brush his teeth. They look gnarly.
John Sharp said…
That will be fun, looking forward to it.
BaseSetCalling said…
It would probably be impossible to count how many lists of baseball cards have been published that consist exclusively of Rookie Cards.
I agree with all your assessments here, so I'm excited to see the full list.
bryan was here said…
If you want a Glavine rookie, the Score card is a good choice. That classic delivery...
Elliptical Man said…
I don't get all the hate Donruss '86 gets. I won't say it's the best design, but I don't think it's a bad one.
After recently looking at every 80's card I own (in set form) I have a new appreciation for all of them. Boo Boos and all.
Brett Alan said…
If one intends "greatest" to mean "most important" or "most valuable", then I suppose being first is important (although is anything from 1987 or so really valuable?). But clearly you intend "greatest" to mean something very different, and I'm much more interested in reading that list than one that could just be cribbed from a price guide!
I saw the colorful logo at the top of the page before I saw the title of the post, and I thought, "YES, it's here!!"

That's okay though. I know it's going to be worth the wait.
Captain Canuck said…
as a rather enthusiastic collector of Glavine, I would still have to agree with you. His RD's are boring. Especially that Topps disaster.
One of the reasons why I have never and will never like the '89 UD Griffey Jr. Boring. Airbrushed. Horrible.
Fuji said…
Started collecting during this decade, so I'm always interested in seeing what stands out to other collectors. The way you feel about breaking down a list for the 90's... is how I feel about breaking down the 80's. I tip my cap to you for sifting through this decade's worth of cards and picking your top 100. If I were to ever take on this idea, I think I'd start by creating a Top 10 list for each of the major 80's sets (which would take a year or two) and then slowly narrow it down. Don't think people have the patience for that. Luckily there are bloggers like you who are willing to dive in. Looking forward to reading this list of yours.
Matt said…
Since the 80's gave birth to the rookie card craze, I'm not surprised by lists featuring cards like Glavine. I'm happy to hear you'll be taking a different approach. Outside of truly iconic rookie cards I'd much rather see great photographic elements!
Bo said…
If you like fun photos, I hope there is a lot of early 80s Fleer in the countdown!
gregory said…
I agree with your criteria, and look forward to your top-100 list. I'm sure there will be some "knew that card would make an appearance" responses and also some "never seen that card before, but it's really cool" responses.
friend11 said…
Action photos always top the staged photos for me.
Anonymous said…
1981 Topps Mike Norris deserves serious consideration to make the top 100.
kevvyg1026 said…
I am attempting to discern the print pattern for the 1966 Topps BB 5th, 6th, and 7th series. Any miscuts for 374,386, 389, 394, 399, 402, 403, 409, 416, 418, 427, 443, 528, 532, 538, 541, 543, 552, 556, 566, 570,576, 586, 590 would be greatly appreciated.