(This is Day 29 of our series on the “Best Card From” each year, 1960-1989. Read all the entries here.)
Choosing the best baseball card from 1988 is like picking your favorite sip of water.
I mean, there are millions of each to consider and they’re all about as exciting as — well, as a sip of water.
Consider the base sets …
There was Donruss, who followed up what we thought was a fairly scarce 1987 issue (it wasn’t) by trying to take their product world-wide. Rumor has it that they produced one set for every resident of China but then just issued the cards stateside when they found out how much shipping costs would run.
The gyrating red-blue-black-white borders, blurry photos, and thin card stock may have seemed like selling points in the planning room but somehow failed to connect with most hobbyists.
Then there was Fleer, whose red, white, and blue slanted design looked like something you might pull out of a box of Little Debbies. The Fleer cards were interesting, sort of, because of that fade-in thing at the top of each card where the player’s head jutted into the clouds and gave the whole thing a vague 3-D effect.
But there was just too much busy white space and not enough meat — player photo real estate in this case.
Score debuted with a lot of fanfare because they were premiumer than the other base sets …
- Score had photos on card fronts and card backs, and the photos were pretty darn good.
- Score cards were also very colorful, with card borders coming in a variety of hues and card backs featuring lots of different colored sections and type
- And, they were the first normal card (Sportflics didn’t count) to not be sold in wax packs, opting for little plastic pouches instead.
- For a few montths, Score also had the hottest rookie card of the hottest rookie on the planet, Gregg Jefferies.
But somehow, Score fell flat.
After awhile, all the colors seemed like a gimmick, and they took up too much room on card fronts, just like the white borders of Fleer. And it didn’t take us too long to figure out that Score had made billions and trillions of their debut cards, just like all the other manufacturers.
Then there was Sportflics … no.
And finally, there was good old Topps.
Now, Topps has been accused of being unimaginative for decades, and I’ve heard that complaint specifically about the 1988 set many times. But if you look at the design objectively, you can see it harkens back to some of the classic issues of the past.
Namely, Topps picked up some of the best elements of their 1957, 1966, and 1967 sets and plopped them onto the front of their 1988 issue.
Unimaginative? Maybe, but you have to use everything at your disposal to win in business, and no company has a deeper, um, Heritage than Topps.
And they do know how to make a timeless, attractive baseball card.
The 1988s are no exception, and given the general dreck issued that year, there’s really no place else to look for the best card of the pasteboard season.
But which one takes the crown?
You Know … Don’t You?
Well, there are 792 cards from which to choose, plus another 132 with the same design in the 1988 Topps Traded set, but a few stand out.
Pittsburgh Pirates cards, with their black and gold color scheme, look good, so the second-year Barry Bonds is a candidate.
Nolan Ryan makes a solid mid-stride appearance, complete with dirt on his knee.
And the Al Leiter error-corrected combo makes for an interesting story.
But there was no more compelling athlete on the planet in 1988 than Oakland Raiders running back and Kansas City Royals outfielder Bo Jackson.
Topps did a masterful job of turning his #750 in their baseball set into a miniature power-swing poster swimming in Royal and powder blue.
Would Bo choose baseball or football? Or both? Or neither?
In the end, a hip injury chose for him and limited Jackson to the diamond, and even that career was too short to satisfy any fan.
But in 1988, Bo had the world by the tail and could do anything he wanted.
And that included appearing on the best baseball card of the year.
Bo knows it’s true, and so do you.