(This is the 16th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

The 1985 Topps Dwight Gooden rookie card is a victim of denial.

My denial.

See … denial is a powerful mechanism.

It makes you think you’re something other than what you are, and it keeps you locked in place.

It can also make you see the past as different than it really was — it’s hard to recognize, or admit, that your beloved high school math teacher just may have been a jerk, for example.

In the case of baseball cards, denial can make us rank historical swaths of cardboard all wrong. We love cards we shouldn’t, like the 1996 Score Bip Roberts sombrero monstrosity, while ignoring all-time gems like the 1951 Bowman Larry Doby beauty.

Even more subtle are the intraset biases we can form.

1985 Topps Dwight Gooden

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I’ve always had an aversion to hyped anything — I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies, for example, and though I may be missing something great, I just can’t stomach capitulating to the will of the masses.

A personal problem probably, but one which is strong.

That bleeds over to baseball cards, too.

I spent most of the 1984 collecting season hoarding as many Darryl Strawberry rookie cards as I could find and then trading them to my friends for large masses of cards that included just about every other star out there.

Strawberry was hype and, while I loved his cards and wanted to have one of each for my own collection, I couldn’t stand the idea of chasing him at the expense of all else.

Same with Don Mattingly, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, and Wade Boggs — I enjoyed the hunt for that mighty foursome during the Olympics summer, but I was most interested in leveraging them for larger returns.

They were hyped.

While all those guys were driving the hobby, the guy who was really making a splash was New York Mets rookie flamethrower Dwight Gooden.

Every time you turned on the news in 1984, it seemed Gooden was doing something spectacular, something unheard of.

And, in those pre-internet days, most of us didn’t even have a way to see Gooden.

We’d get a blurry look at him on the mound and maybe — maybe — a grainy photo in the Sunday sports section, but that was about it.

Collectors were chomping at the bit to get a Gooden card by that fall, and we ate up the 1984 Topps Traded and 1984 Fleer Update sets just to get at Dr. K., but those were hobby-only issues. It wasn’t until the next spring that we could pull Gooden from new wax packs.

In the years that followed, Gooden burned even brighter, for a moment, then dived into the depths of just about every sort of trouble you could imagine for a pro athlete.

His cards rode that roller coaster, too, and eventually became mostly just an afterthought in  hobby history. Sure, they retain some value, but they’ll never be what we thought they might be.

Just like Gooden.

1985 Topps Dwight Gooden (back)

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And I suppose it was the playing out of that hype-bust cycle that has kept me from embracing Dwight’s Topps rookie card more fully over the years.

I mean, when I wrote about the best card from 1985 last year, regardless of manufacturer, the Bret Saberhagen rookie came out on top. That’s still a great card, but …

The truth is, maybe no other card, ever, has made collectors feel the way that the 1985 Topps Dwight Gooden rookie card did when we pulled it from a pack that season.

Here was a guy who had built an almost mythical reputation, who was rarely seen, and now he was staring back at us from a blue and orange Mets card? From a pack we bought at the local drugstore? While Gooden was becoming even more inhuman on the mound?

Gooden scowled/squinted/brooded at us in his dark Mets uniform, against a sky equally as dark and brooding.

Here was a baseball superhero, but not the sunshine-and-cracker-jack kind. Here was Batman, sent to rescue Gotham from obscurity.

And here was the rookie card the world had awaited.

Hyped or not, the 1985 Topps Dwight Gooden rookie card is the best of the set.

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(This is the 16th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

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