(This is the 17th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

Some baseball cards fit their era so closely that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the card issue and the year itself.

For instance, is the 1972 Topps Walt Williams just a baseball card of the Chicago White Sox outfielder, or is it the year 1972 incarnate, with psychedelic starburst letters and sideburns down to the ground?

Your guess is as good as mine.

And is that 1965 Topps Mickey Mantle just a classic hunk of cardboard, or is it actually the middle of the decade, a personification of The Beverly Hillbillies and the promise of LBJ’s great society?

1986 Donruss Dwight Gooden

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Fast forward a couple of decades, and it’s tough to think of a better representation of the 1980s than the 1986 Donruss baseball card set.

Here we have a gaudy design whose angular and staticky blue and black horizontal border lines look for all the world like they jumped off a CRT television in the middle of a session with your Atari or Intellivision

Pajama-wearing baseball players, some with potbellies, stretch and swing and run and throw inside of cookie-cutter cereal bowl stadiums that could be in San Diego or Cincinnati or Philadelphia, or from inside of trash bags that could only be in Minnesota, though the unnatural green “grass” could have easily “grown” in the Houston heat.

Now, don’t get me wrong — there are some great cards in the 1986 Donruss set.

The Jose Canseco Rated Rookie card ruled the hobby for a long stretch, and Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder had good runs, too.

And, generally speaking, 1986 Donruss cards are better, from a quality standpoint, than the dreck the company pushed out in its first year or two.

But if you had to pick one card from ’86 Donruss that not only best exemplified the era, but also represented the game and the hobby to a stunning degree, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Dwight Gooden card (#75).

Gooden had dominated baseball headlines in 1984 when he stormed through the National League as a teenage rookie, and then he put together one of the greatest pitching seasons ever as a sophomore in 1985.

1986 Donruss Dwight Gooden (back)

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That’s the overpowering Gooden we get on this card, powerful right arm cocked fully behind his head, chest puffed out, legs ready to drive home and blow away whatever unsuspecting hitter might have been sent in to battle the beast.

And while we were pulling this card from wax packs, Gooden and his New York Mets were romping to the National League East division title en route to an NLCS victory over the Houston Astros before squaring off in a thrilling World Series that October against the Boston Red Sox.

Is there any better 1986 Donruss card than this Dwight Gooden?

Not if you’re looking for the true flavor of the moment.

No one was more dominant in the mid-1980s than Doc, and no card was more 1986 than his second-year Donruss card.

Even if it did force me to break my own rules and pick Gooden twice in a row. He was just that good.

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(This is the 17th 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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