After weathering the entry into the baseball card market by Fleer and Donruss in 1981, Topps needed a strong product by the time 1983 rolled around. As if to convince itself and baseball card collectors, Topps kept pushing the slogan “The Real One,” with “Real” underlined, on packs and boxes to remind fans who had held the license to produce baseball cards for so many years.
The 1981 and ’82 Topps sets did not have many design elements on the card fronts, and while simplicity appeals to some collectors, the formats were not terribly exciting. Topps seemed to rebound with the 1983 set, putting together what many believe was its nicest-looking product since 1976. Topps used a format on the front that utilized a large action shot and a smaller, circular portrait shot at one of the bottom corners.
1983 Topps Baseball Basics
For the second straight year, the set contained 792 cards, distributed in wax packs, cello packs, rack packs, grocery racks and vending boxes. Topps also issued a factory set that was available through J.C. Penney’s catalog.
Wax were 30 cents apiece and included 15 cards plus a stick of gum. They also produced a packs wrapped in a mylar material that were only distributed in a small area of the country and are referred to as “Michigan Test” packs. There were 36 packs to a standard-size box. In the cello format there were 24 packs, each containing 28 cards and a stick of gum; that pack sold for a whopping (by 1980s standards) 49 cents per pack. A grocery rack held 36 cards,a standard rack pack had 51, and as always, vending boxes had 500 cards.
Picture in Picture
Topps’ design had a rectangular box near the bottom of the card that displayed the player’s name and position. The player’s team name was right beneath in white block letters. The color scheme on the card front utilizes one of the team’s primary colors.
The card backs have a horiztonal design and have the player’s name at the top in black block letters. The player’s vital statistics are printed in smaller type underneath his name. The player’s card number is tucked into the upper left-hand corner, and year-by-year statistics are included in the middle of the card. When there is room, a short bio/highlights paragraph is placed beneath the player’s statistics.
Subsets and Stars
There were several subsets to be found, including Record Breakers (Nos. 1-6), All-Stars (Nos. 386-407), and League Leaders (Nos. 701-708). Super Veteran cards are cards one number higher than the base card of the star, and the design is horizontal.
The 1983 Topps set has a few stars in it, but it is notable for the three rookies who would go on to Hall of Fame careers — Ryne Sandberg (No. 83), Tony Gwynn (No. 482) and Wade Boggs (No. 498). Other rookies of note include Willie McGee (No. 49), Bud Black (No. 238), Gary Gaetti (No. 431) and Frank Viola (No. 586).
1983 marked the final year of regular base cards for Johnny Bench (#60), Gaylord Perry (#463) and Carl Yastrzemski (# 550). Other veteran stars in the set include Pete Rose (No. 100), Cal Ripken Jr. (No. 163), Mike Schmidt (No. 300), Nolan Ryan (No. 360), and George Brett (#600). You can also find many of the top players of the era on ‘Super Veteran’ cards that are numbered directly after the player’s standard card.
Plenty of 1983 Topps have been submitted to PSA for grading — 98,517 as of this writing, to be exact. There have been 20,733 Gwynn rookie cards examined by PSA, with 605 coming back gem mint. Sandberg has 574 PSA 10s out of a total of 16,109 submitted, while Boggs has 329 gem mint cards out of 11,658 submissions.
On the SGC side of grading, Gwynn has 11 cards (out of 2,080 submissions) that grade out at 98 (10), Boggs has eight (out of 1,332) and Sandberg has seven gem mint cards out of 1,031 submitted.
Complete sets of 1983 Topps are plentiful. NM/MT sets with solid copies of the three major rookies are readily available for around $50.
But Wait…There’s More!
For the third straight year, Topps issued 132-card “Traded” set late in the season. The format was basically the same, but a “T” was placed next to the card number to designate its status as a traded/update set.
These cards were sold through dealers and were especially coveted by collectors because of the first card of Mets rookie Darryl Strawberry. Other rookies of note included Julio Franco, Greg Brock, Mel Hall, Ron Kittle, Craig McMurtry and Tony Phillips.
Today, you can buy one for around $20.
The 1983 Topps baseball set remains easy to put together and easy to find in high grades. It is enjoying a revival this year since Topps’ flagship set is using the ’83 design for one of its inserts.
Click here to see 1983 Topps baseball on eBay.