Throwback Thursday: A Look Back at 1987 Topps Baseball


Thirty years after its release, 1987 Topps remains a valuable set -- just not the type of value collectors once hoped for.

The wood-grain cards, celebrated with an insert set in 2017 Topps Baseball, are among the most distinct and recognizable Topps cards ever produced. The cards carry nostalgia for many collectors -- the first set they ever collected, their cardboard introductions to their baseball heroes.

The 792-card set was released as the baseball card market was booming, at a time when 1950s children were cashing in on collections of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron that survived tidy parents and bicycle spokes.

People generally weren't collecting Topps' earliest baseball cards with retirement funds in mind. But by the time of the Reagan White House, there were magazines and shops and shows devoted to collecting.

1987 Topps embodied those conflicting cultures -- old and new, materialism and joy -- as a tradition-steeped set full of hot young rookies.

The wood-grain frames on the card fronts were a callback to an earlier Topps release, 1962. The fronts also feature a box for the player's name at the bottom of the card and the team logo in the upper left corner.

The set was the first since 1972's psychedelic design without player positions noted on card fronts.

The backs are yellow and blue, featuring full stats and player information.
Some of the reverses feature quirky facts about the players.

Ryne Sandberg: "Ryne once co-authored a book entitled, 'Ryno.'"
Mickey Brantley: "Mickey was childhood chum of boxer Mike Tyson."
From Gary Redus' card, we learn the names of his daughters: Lakesha, Manesha and Nakosha.


Any good card set is anchored by its rookies, and 1987 Topps is no different, featuring many young players who would rewrite the record books.
Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Larkin's Rookie Cards are both in the set. Palmeiro, then on the Cubs, appears on card No. 634 in the "Future Stars" subset. The card shows "Raffy" watching the flight of a line drive, showing the pure, sturdy swing that would compile 3,020 career hits.


Card No. 648 shows Larkin in the on-deck circle, watching the game action while lugging a bat in his left hand, the beginnings of a Hall of Fame career.


Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Bo Jackson, Will Clark, Jose Canseco, Andres Galarraga and Wally Joyner's first Topps base cards are also included in 1987 Topps -- they were all featured in 1986 Topps Traded, which was only released in factory set form.


While Mark McGwire appeared in 1985 Topps as a member of Team USA, his 1987 issue is his first Topps card to depict him as a member of the Oakland Athletics.

Other early cards of note include Jamie Moyer, Bobby Thigpen, John Kruk, Kevin Mitchell, Ruben Sierra and Devon White.

With so much young talent, Topps needed to find a way to highlight all of it, so they used two different distinctions that hadn't previously appeared in the same product -- Future Stars and the Topps All-Rookie Team.

The "Future Stars" designation, in splashy rainbow lettering across the card front, was reserved for six players, including Palmeiro, Bo Jackson and the unforgettable Tim Pyznarski, who appeared in 15 games for the 1986 San Diego Padres and would never play in the majors after his card was released. He's since owned a Chicago-area metal finishing company.

The set also features a number of significant cards of veteran players.


Other standout players on their final Topps base cards during their careers include Tom Seaver (No. 425 with the Red Sox), Steve Garvey (No. 100 with the Padres), Reggie Jackson (No. 300 for the Angels) and Steve Carlton (No. 718 for the White Sox). Carlton and Jackson also appeared in that year's Topps Traded set.

Phil Niekro's final individual Topps base card is No. 694, although he would be seen on a card in 1988 Topps with his brother Joe.


The 1987 set opens with Record Breakers. Roger Clemens got the call for card No. 1 after striking out 20 batters on April 29, 1986.

Other Record Breaker cards feature Jim Deshaies (most consecutive strikeouts to start a game), Dwight Evans (earliest home run to start a season), Davey Lopes (most stolen bases for a 40-year-old), Dave Righetti (most saves in a season), Ruben Sierra (youngest player with switch-hit home runs in the same game) and Todd Worrell (most saves in a season for a rookie).

Cards 311-315 highlight previous seasons and Topps releases with "Turn Back the Clock" -- Rickey Henderson (1982), Reggie Jackson (1977), Roberto Clemente (1972), Carl Yastrzemski (1967) and Maury Wills (1962).

If the initial Maury Wills card doesn't look familiar to you, don't worry -- it doesn't exist. Wills didn't have a Topps contract at the time he broke the single-season stolen base record, so Topps used a mock-up 1962 Willis card for its "TBTC" subset, as it did with retrospective cards created in 1975 and 1982.

Each team received its own individual card in 1987 Topps, as does each manager.
Cards 595-616 are reserved for the All-Stars -- including Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly and Clemens.

And let's not forget the six checklist cards scattered throughout the set so you can keep track of the cards you need.

Due to plentiful production -- collectors refer to the time period as the "junk wax" era -- packs and boxes of 1987 Topps are readily available and generally inexpensive today.


"The Real One!" green wax packs proclaim, offering a long-expired chance to win a Spring Training trip, along with 17 cards and a stick of gum.

Please think twice before chewing the gum.

For risk-takers and thrill-seekers hoping for one more taste of the 1980s, your best approach -- and the word "best" is used loosely here -- is to place the 30-year-old sugar slab beside your cheek or on your tongue and wait for it to disintegrate into a paste, which happens within about four seconds. Chew on the stale slab and you could get gum particles older than Jason Heyward stuck in your teeth.

A lot has changed in the hobby since 1987 Topps was released, from game-used jersey and autographed cards to printing plates and parallels. The set endures in part because it doesn't feature any of those frills -- just 792 baseball subjects bounded by wood-grain frames, Barry Bonds and Tim Pyznarski sharing space with gum.
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