Mr. Irrelevant Reprint: My Top 5 Baseball Card Sets of the 1980s

Mr. Irrelevant version 1.0 existed from 2004-07 on AOL Journals. That site is now lost in time, but, thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can find most of what once was. We’ve reprinted a couple of old posts before, and I’d like to keep doing that. So here’s something that originally ran on April 15, 2006

My crush on The Baseball Card Blog intensifies as they set out on the most ambitious of endeavors — counting down the best baseball card sets of the 1980s. Since collecting cards was my second-favorite pastime (next to actually playing baseball) from about ’86 to ’92, this has the potential to be my favorite list ever.

The mission is simple. The amazin’ Baseball Card Blog identifies the 53 major-issue sets from the ’80s and counts them down from worst to best. Here’s the criteria: “design, short and long-term impact of key cards (including rookies) and how I feel about the set.”

So far he’s just begun, making it through 53-50 on the list and naming ’89 Bowman the worst of the decade. While that particular set was godawful (overproduced, abnormal height, and a faux signature on the front of each card), they did have a simple enough design and a boatload of rookies. That set wasn’t nearly as bad as ’88 Donruss (#52 on the list!).

Anyway, without further adieu, here’s my off-the-top list of the top five sets of the ’80s*…

5. ’85 Topps — Including the ’84 Olympians (McGwire!) was a masterstroke. Former top draft picks were nice too, although that was probably just an excuse to work in an extra Strawberry. Bonus points for the Clemens, Puckett and Gooden rookies. Plus, I just love Topps.

4. ’83 Topps — Probably my favorite design of the ’80s. The picture-in-picture headshot was a nice touch. I think there were Boggs, Gwynn and Sandberg rookies in here too.

3. ’87 Fleer — Whoever designed these must have been an eccentric genius. The electric blue borders were borderline horrendous but somehow work and this was just a bumpercrop year for rookies (although they neglected to include Maddux and McGwire, I believe).

2. ’84 Donruss — The long-time gold standard of the ’80s. With a sharp look, limited run and stud rookies (Mattingly and Strawberry) it was tough to beat. That is, until Mattingly’s back gave out, Strawberry’s white lady kept dancing and along came…

1. ’89 Upper Deck — Revolutionized card collecting as we knew it. Awesome design. Great photos (front and back). Tons of rookies. Premium run. Getting the first card in the series (Griffey Jr.) was like winning the lottery. Although buying a pack wasn’t cheap either. Come to think of it, this set probably killed card collecting as we knew it as all of the companies began trying to top one another (see: ’90 Leaf, see also: ’91 Topps Stadium Club), and packs just became too expensive. Great while it lasted, though.

Thoughts? I mean other than, “You’re a freaking loser.”

* I didn’t include any Topps Traded or Fleer Update-type sets here because, frankly, I’d have to go to my parents house and rifle through all my old sets to recall who was in which set, and that’s just too much of a pain in the ass. For them and I. Bless ’em for continuing to store my 50,000+ cards though. Love you guys!

3 thoughts on “Mr. Irrelevant Reprint: My Top 5 Baseball Card Sets of the 1980s”

  1. Nothing beat buying a Topps wax pack from the Yeonas snack bar after a game. You got a Vienna Inn chili dog, soda, looked through your cards, then ate the gum.

  2. No snow cone? It was always a one two race of VA and VN for the District Title. Great Falls, McLean, Falls Church, etc. never stood a chance with either team. American League always bested the National League in All Star History. Especially my 92 AL team. The pinstriped uniforms and hats were pretty damn sweet too.

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