There are some collectors who cringe about the 1989 Topps baseball card set. After all, it was one of the sets that was mass produced during the glut of cards from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.
Here’s something more cringe-worthy, however: The ’89 Topps set turned 30 this year. Collectors who were 10 years old in 1989 are fast approaching middle age.
The 1989 Topps product does not measure up well to the debut set of Upper Deck, which truly revolutionized card collecting with its slick stock and sharp photography. However, it’s also not as drab as the Fleer set from ’89, which has that background of thin white pinstripes and thicker gray vertical bars used as the background for the players’ photos. And the 1989 Donruss set is a one-and-done—the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie and 659 other cards. Significantly, Griffey Jr. does not appear in the flagship 1989 set, although he does appear in the 132-card Traded set later in the year.
The nice thing about 1989 Topps is that it is easy to collect, very affordable and easy to complete in high grade. When Topps released its top 60 cards of all time in 2011, one card from the ’89 set surpisingly made it onto the list — the Randy Johnson rookie card (No. 647), which checked in at No. 54. Of course most can be had for a buck or two but PSA 10s usually bring $20 and up.
Cards were sold in wax packs (15 cards/50 cents), cello packs (29 cards/79 cents), rack packs (42 cards) with an All-Star Glossy card insert they’d been dishing out since 1984. There were also 100-card blister rack packs (sold at K-Mart stores) with a special Batting Leaders insert card and 100 card Jumbo Cello Paks with a Glossy Rookie card featuring the top first-year players from the ’88 season.
There are some nice design elements in this 792-card set. The player’s photo on the card front is framed by a white border, and there is a thin border inside the white one that includes one of the primary colors of the team he plays for. The team name is situated in the lower right-hand corner of the card, with the player’s name depicted in block letters inside a wavy ribbon. The top left-corner and lower right corners of the frame are rounded.
The card backs feature statistics, and a paragraph when room allows. The backs are printed in black, set against a red background. Complete major and minor league statistics are included, along with a new wrinkle — a Monthly Scorecard Chart that lists monthly stats from April through September. Categories include hits, runs, homers, RBI, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts and saves.
There are several subsets in 1989 Topps. The first seven cards are Record Breakers, and other subsets include All-Stars (Nos. 386-407) and Turn Back the Clock (Nos. 661-665). There are also 10 #1 Draft Picks, five Future Stars and Team Leaders. Six cards contain checklists.
Here are the #1 Draft Picks: Jim Abbott (No. 573), Sandy Alomar Jr. (No. 648) and Robin Ventura (No. 764) are recognizable, but do you remember Bill Bene (No. 84), Gregg Olson (No. 161), Monty Fariss (No. 177), Mark Lewis (No. 222), Andy Benes (No. 437), Willie Ansley (No. 607) or Ty Griffin (No. 713)?
The key cards in the set are ones you’d expect, given the era. Johnson already has been mentioned, but Barry Bonds (No. 620), Nolan Ryan (No. 530) and Mark McGwire (No. 70) are also cards of note. Future Hall of Famers also mark the set to join Ryan and Johnson, including Craig Biggio (No. 49), Paul Molitor (No. 110), Tom Glavine (No. 157), Cal Ripken (No. 250), Ryne Sandberg (No. 380), John Smoltz (No. 382 rookie card) and Robin Yount (No. 615).
Rookie cards of note include Gary Sheffield (No. 343) and Brady Anderson (No. 757).
The set does have a few errors. The card of Franklin Stubbs (No. 697) has the Dodgers’ team name printed in white, rather than gray, script. Bob Welch (No. 605) originally lacked a tag line for his pitching record. The birthdates of Vince Coleman (No. 90) and German Gonzalez (No. 746) are misidentified. Stan Jefferson No. 689) had two versions of cards, with pink and violet markings at the lower left-hand part of the card. The Tony Oliva Turn Back the Clock card (No. 665) has a copyright line missing on one version.
1989 Topps sets are plentiful on eBay and can usually be had for no more than $15.