Topps Baseball Set Reviews

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1987 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Roger Clemens Record Breaker

Subsets: All-Stars (22) Record Breakers (7) Turn Back The Clock (4) Checklists (6)

The Best Cards: #653 Kevin Mitchell, #520 Jack Clark, #52T Reggie Jackson

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #108 Jim Gantner (reversed negative) #196 Randy O'Neal (loss total wrong) #274 Jeff Hearron (two 1986 stat lines) 

My Thoughts On The Set: One of my all-time favorites. The wood grain look is timeless, and I wonder why Topps has never tried a similar look in any subsequent sets. 

Some reverses featured "On This Date", which was more or less random bits of trivia/info not directly connected to the card's subject at all. OTD would also relay the trivia subject's Topps card number from whatever year was being referenced. It lasted one set.

For some reason Danny Jackson of the Royals was excluded from the base set even though he was a full-time member of the Royals' rotation for most of 1986. He did appear in the Traded set.

Mike Witt (Angels) returned to Topps after a mysterious one-set absence.

Included is a 22-card All-Star subset with league leaders on the reverse. There are also eight Record Breaker cards and four Turn Back The Clock cards, taking collectors back to 1967.

Part of what makes this set special: the common colors match the team colors, which, as we found out in 1988-90 Topps, isn't always a given.

1988 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Vince Coleman Record Breaker

Subsets: All-Stars, Record Breakers, Checklists

The Best Cards: #351 Cardinals Leaders

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #338 Brian Holton (1987 ERA printed as AVG) #692 Mike Birkbeck (1984 saves should be zero, not two) 

My Thoughts On The Set: Most, but not all, commons were color-coordinated to their respective team. For example, the Angels are treated with red and blue, but the Athletics are treated with green and...purple. It was still much better than the 1989 and 1990 Topps sets, which featured almost no team-specific colors for whatever reason.

A famous error card, #18 Al Leiter, depicted teammate Steve George instead. The error was corrected with Leiter's image.

My favorite card in this set is #351 Cardinals Leaders, which depicts active star Tony Pena posing with St. Louis legend Red Schoendienst, then a coach. Cool stuff when baseball's past and present is brought together.

Angels IF Doug DeCinces and Cubs RP Dickie Noles each switched teams late in the year, but are pictured with their original 1987 clubs. DeCinces' card reads "Now With Cardinals" while Noles reads "Now With Tigers".

1989 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: George Bell Record Breaker

Subsets: All-Stars, Record Breakers, Checklists

The Best Cards: #--

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #-- 

My Thoughts On The Set: O--

1990 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Nolan Ryan

Subsets: All-Stars, Record Breakers, Checklists

The Best Cards:

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #-- 

My Thoughts On The Set: O--

1991 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Nolan Ryan

Subsets: All-Stars, Record Breakers, Checklists

 

The Best Cards: #530 Roger Clemens, #155 Dwight Evans, #672 Shane Mack, #659 Oscar Azocar and #760 Benny Santiago.

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #-- 

My Thoughts On The Set: This was the second Topps set I collected "live" (the year it was released). It marked 40 years of Topps baseball cards with a commemorative logo on the front and back of each common. 

For whatever reason, the returned-from-Japan Bill Gullickson was excluded from the set despite being in the rotation all year for the 1990 Tigers.

1992 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Nolan Ryan

Subsets: All-Stars, Draft Picks, Checklists

The Best Cards: #190 Joe Carter, #207 Jack Clark, #555 Frank Thomas, #261 Tom Lasorda

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #150 Roger Clemens (1990 LL ERA not bold/italicized) #574 Steve Avery (1989 games incorrect) #772 Garry Templeton (pitchers' stat heading)

My Thoughts On The Set: O--

1993 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 825/132

Players With Dual Cards: Charlie Hayes, Butch Henry, Eric Young

Card #1: Robin Yount

Subsets: All-Stars, Managers, Prospects, Draft Picks, Coming Attractions, Checklists

The Best Cards: #100 Mark McGwire, #261 Kevin Mitchell, #  Rick Aguilera, #  Kirby Puckett

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #247 Frank Seminara (acquired in '98 instead of '90) #395 Checklist (Eckersley misspelled Eckerlsley) #518 Benji Grigsby (misspelled Bengi on the front) #624 Sam Militello (drafted in 1988 instead of 1990) #633 Three Russians (a batter is given a pitcher's stat heading) #789 Jeff Conine (career stats partially omitted)

My Thoughts On The Set: With two new teams beginning play in 1993, Topps increased the set size from the now-customary 792 to 825. (396 cards in Series 1, 429 in Series 2.) The Rockies and Marlins were very well-represented in this set. Actually, too-well represented if you count the     dual-prospect cards (most of whom never sniffed MLB).

For one of just two times in my 32 years of collecting, 1993 Topps commons featured vertical back layouts (it also happened in 2000 Topps).

The "Three Russians" card #633 was a stray from the norm. None of the three Angels prospects depicted on the card reached MLB, but if you want to know more, click here.

Managers no longer received their own common. In this set you'll find two skippers per card, one from each league, including new 1993 managers Dusty Baker, Dallas Green, etc. rather than those who concluded the '92 season.

Gary Gaetti's front name font is white. Every other Angel received blue front name font.

After a one-year absence, Future Stars returned in 1993 Topps...sort of. Only expansion prospects received this designation, which was not splayed across the front of the card as in the past. You had to flip the card to read "Future Stars Of The Florida Marlins/Colorado Rockies". Of these alleged stars-to-be, only two even remotely came close to MLB stardom.

1994 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 792/132

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Mike Piazza

Subsets: All-Stars, Future Stars, Prospects, Draft Picks, Measures Of Greatness, Checklists

The Best Cards: #511 Devon White, #180 George Brett, #5 Ozzie Guillen, #422 Rey Sanchez, #132 Bret Barberie 

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #158 Prospects (Derek Jeter's career average wrong) #310 Robin Yount (111 3B in 1988) #379 Mark McLemore (numbered #370) #603 Wade Boggs MOG (misspelled "so" as "to") #751 Dan Ehler DP (misspelled "is" as "in") Checklists 791-792 (both numbered out of order) 

My Thoughts On The Set: This was the first set I actually protected as I collected it. No more wrapping unglossed Topps cards in rubber bands and stashing them in a shoebox—now the cards were carefully placed in plastic sleeves and gently stored in a Topps hobby box.

Despite my care, I was initially disappointed with this set. How could Topps return the set back to 792 cards after the addition of two new teams, rather than carry over the 1993 Topps set size of 825 cards? Contributing vets such as Charlie Leibrandt, Scott Sanderson, Jeff Treadway, Rick Honeycutt and several others I'd grown used to collecting had no cards in the base or Traded set—but many did have cards from other companies like Score. That bothered me.

It took the drastic set size reductions in 1995-96 to get me over my disappointment with this set. Now it is one of my favorites. Even minus Tom Brunansky.

Nolan Ryan received a special "27 Major League Seasons" on his (sunset) common. He was also card #34, his famed uniform number.

Topps Gold was a parallel set that featured every base card with gold font...except the checklists, which were replaced by four commons not released in the standard factory set (#395 Bill Brennan, #396 Jeff Bronkey, #791 Mike Cook, and #792 Dan Pasqua.) I did not learn this until around 2013-14.

For some reason, the Series 2 checklists were numbered all funky. It bothered young me so badly I stapled them to read correctly.

This set introduced a new and improved Topps All-Star Rookie trophy. Except for 2010 Topps, it has been in use ever since.

Alex Rodriguez's beef with Topps was underway by 1994; he does not have a card in this set but you can obtain 1994-97 Topps-themed A-Rod cards in what's called the "Alex Rodriguez Spokesman" set, available on COMC.com and elsewhere.

1995 Topps/Topps Traded

Set Size: 660/165

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Frank Thomas

Subsets: All-Stars, Record Breakers, Checklists

The Best Cards: #--

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #-- 

My Thoughts On The Set: O--

Alex Rodriguez's beef with Topps continued; he does not have a card in this set but you can obtain 1994-97 Topps-themed A-Rod cards in what's called the "Alex Rodriguez Spokesman" set, available on COMC.com and elsewhere.

1996 Topps

Set Size: 440

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Tony Gwynn Star Power

Subsets: Star Power, AAA Stars, Future Stars, Prospects, Draft Picks, Checklists

 

The Best Cards: #248 Chuck Knoblauch, #396 Ricky Bones, #150 Randy Johnson

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #-- 

My Thoughts On The Set: Obviously, production took a hit in the wake of the ugly 1994-95 strike. Topps, known for including "everybody" in the past, reserved this set for regulars, top starters, closers, and prospects. And even those guys weren't guaranteed to make an appearance. Too many notable exclusions to list, but the lack of a sunset card for Lou Whitaker was especially disappointing. 

The design was okay, though a different, slimmer name font could've worked better. Alex Rodriguez's beef with Topps continued; he does not have a card in this set but you can obtain 1994-97 Topps-themed A-Rod cards in what's called the "Alex Rodriguez Spokesman" set, available on COMC.com and elsewhere.

Card #7 honors Mickey Mantle, who died in August 1995. There is also card #  recognizing Cal Ripken Jr.'s breaking the consecutive-games record in September 1995.

No All-Stars this year; instead we're given a "Star Power" subset. In addition to prospects, Topps piled on the youngsters with AAA Stars and Future Stars. Topps also produced a (bloated) Draft Picks subset, which included Todd Helton.

Topps Traded & Rookies was temporarily discontinued this year. It returned in 1999.

1997 Topps

Set Size: 496 (minus card #7 retired for Mickey Mantle)

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Barry Bonds

Subsets: Highlights, Prospects, Draft Picks, Checklists

The Best Cards: #71 Eric Young, #452 Ruben Sierra, #65 Chuck Knoblauch

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #84 Mike Fetters (misnumbered as #61) #277 Chipper Jones (misnumbered as #276) #315 Darryl Kile (entire 1995 statline reads as zero)

My Thoughts On The Set: A good set for the times. The set size increased by 55 cards, which alone counts as a victory for 1997 Topps. With the expansion Diamondbacks and Devil Rays' farm systems beginning play in 1996, some of those extra 55 cards were spent on their prospects. Most of them amounted to little or nothing in MLB.

The fonts are all quality, but some blurbs (most notably Dwight Gooden's) dragged on for so long that the text was borderline impossible for even me, with 20/20 vision, to read.

American League commons get red backgrounds, while National League commons get green backgrounds (why not blue?). A handful of cards received the opposite color, likely just printing errors.

Kansas City's Chris Haney, who made 35 starts and threw 228 innings in 1996, did not receive a card. Other notable exclusions: Terry Mulholland (33 GS, 202 IP) Willie McGee (.307 in 309 AB back with St. Louis) Dave Hollins (516 AB) and no sunset cards for Andre Dawson or Alan Trammell.

Season Highlights cards arrived, for the first time in at least my collecting era. There were 10 in all; the five from Series 1 featured the team name on the front, while the five from Series 2 named the highlight instead.

Three 1996 league-leading stats were not bold/italicized on the player's common: Juan Guzman's ERA, Roger Clemens' K, and Kenny Lofton's AB. All three would eventually be corrected down the road.

Alex Rodriguez's beef with Topps continued; he does not have a card in this set but you can obtain 1994-97 Topps-themed A-Rod cards in what's called the "Alex Rodriguez Spokesman" set, available on COMC.com and elsewhere. (Charles Johnson's absence continued as well.)

Still no Topps Traded & Rookies this year. It returned in 1999.

1998 Topps

Set Size: 504 (minus card #7 retired for Mickey Mantle)

Players With Dual Cards: Michael Tucker

Card #1: Tony Gwynn

Subsets: Highlights (10) Prospects (15) Expansion Rookies (8) Draft Picks (12) World Series (7) Interleague Play (5) Interleague Preview (5) Checklists (4)

The Best Cards: #140 Jay Bell, #184 Jeff Montgomery, #3 Billy Wagner, #287 Brian Jordan, #5 Vladimir Guerrero, #146 Jose Guillen

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #499 Prospects (Brad Penny is identified as Nick Bierbrodt and vice versa)

My Thoughts On The Set: #504 Alex Rodriguez was a late addition to the set, having agreed with Topps after the original checklist was released. The company made room for him (duh) and his card made its way into packs; I don't think it was in the factory set box.

This set coincided with my senior year of high school, so a load of nostalgia is attached to it.

Great design, great front text font. I wasn't terribly fond of the reverse name font, but everything else was top-notch visually with interesting blurbs. Front photos were creative and unique (see "The Best Cards" above) at levels unseen since the '95 set. Why can't the company still use these types of images?

Topps should have given the Expansion Draft #1 picks regular common designs, rather than using the same design expansion rookies got. Tony Saunders' Topps All-Star Rookie trophy looks comically out of place.

Some glaring omissions include Rickey Henderson, Randy Myers and Brett Butler; 1997 regulars Brian Moehler, Julio Franco, Ryne Sandberg and Benito Santiago weren't anywhere to be found, either. On the other hand, pleasantly surprised to find no-name middle reliever Tom Martin (#238) and Yankee spare infielder Pat Kelly (#61) in the set.

The unlicensed Charles Johnson remained absent from Topps. 

 

Still no Topps Traded & Rookies this year. It returned in 1999. 

1999 Topps/Topps Traded & Rookies

Set Size: 463/121 (minus card #7 retired for Mickey Mantle)

Players With Dual Cards: None

Card #1: Roger Clemens

Subsets: Highlights (5) Prospects (20) Draft Picks (14) League Leaders (12) World Series (8) Strikeout Kings (5) All-Topps (11) Checklists (4)

The Best Cards: #274 Brian Hunter, #72 Javy Lopez, #111T Matt Mantei, #48 Charlie Hayes

Notable Uncorrected Error Cards: #132 A.J. Hinch (reversed front image) #159 Mike Lieberthal (called "Mark" on reverse) 

My Thoughts On The Set: 1999 Topps was easily the most disappointing set of my collecting era. After each of the previous two sets increased in size (440 to 496 to 504), this set made a sharp decrease back down to 463 despite what was a very special 1998 season. As a result, many deserving vets and youngsters were not included, such as Shane Frikkin' Spencer, who was the talk of baseball in September 1998 after banging 10 homers in 73 AB.

Also absent: Rolando Arrojo (14 wins in 32 starts), Mike Stanley (29 home runs) and more.

If the size weren't bad enough, the look was ghastly plain and most front images seemed to show 75% dirt. Those unique pics we saw in 1998 Topps were nowhere to be found here, except #274 Brian L. Hunter in a mask.

I did like the addition of the award winner logos on the common reverses, although Topps forgot Sandy Alomar Jr.'s 1990 AL Rookie Of The Year victory.

Charles Johnson finally returned to Topps, with card #175.

The 1998 Home Run Chase was acknowledged with special cards for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. McGwire's card, #220, has 70 variations—one for each homer he hit in '98. Sosa's card, #461, has 66 variations. (I was able to procure McGwire variations 7 and 22, and Sosa variation 12.)

Card #34 went to Nolan Ryan as a Ranger in the 1999 Topps design; he's shown in his other three uniforms on the reverse. This is presumably in celebration of his 1999 Hall-of-Fame election. A five-card subset, Strikeout Kings, compares modern K artists to Ryan. I'd have rather had Spencer, Arrojo and Stanley.

Roger Clemens received two base set commons, one as a Blue Jay and one as a new Yankee. This was the first time in my collecting era a Topps Series 1 star returned in new garb for Series 2 rather than the Traded set. Perhaps the company didn't know if there would be a Traded set and couldn't pass up an early card of the game's hottest pitcher in the game's all-time uniform.