1987 was a big year for baseball cards. Rookie sensation Mark McGwire was all the rage as he hit 49 home runs that year and was extremely popular. But other cards made big splashes, too. Collectors had the first Barry Bonds cards in packs. There was also Bo Jackson. And Will Clark. And Jose Canseco. All of these players were included in 1986 traded/update sets but, aside from Mark McGwire, 1987 was the first time their cards could be pulled from regular Topps, Donruss, and Fleer unopened packs.
So the following year, card companies had a tough act to follow. Manufacturers tried in 1988. Oh, they tried. But, ultimately, they can’t determine what players turn into stars and which ones are duds. They could control population and we’ll get into that in a minute. But, while a few players made splashes (i.e. Gregg Jefferies), those now 30-year-old cards are really the epitome of the junk wax era these days.
Sure, they had the usual stars and such. The problem is that rookie cards often carry the values of the sets’ from the 1980s and 1990s. Those were mass-produced and, well, there’s not a whole lot there.
The update sets did produce some nice rookies of players such as Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio. The 1988 Topps Traded set stood out, too, with the popular Team USA Olympic cards. But the regular season cards that were pulled in packs turned out to be quite a dud.
Looking for rookies? Tom Glavine’s basically it. There’s Edgar Martinez, Al Leiter, and Ken Caminiti, too. But those cards have really minimal value and even Glavine’s are easy to find ungraded for under $1.
Production, as it was in the junk wax era, was the problem with the long-term interest in these cards. All four of the main sets were mass-produced and there’s just a truckload of this stuff. That’s less of an issue if there’s a hook. The 1989 Fleer boxes, for example, can yield Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards or the infamous Billy Ripken obscenity card. 1990 Topps gives you a chance at the Frank Thomas No Name card. But there’s nothing of significance in these 1988 boxes.
Another problem? The designs left a lot to be desired. I suppose for the time period they weren’t bad. And there’s something nostalgic about the 1988 Topps design to me since I collected them so much as a kid. But, looking back at them today, I don’t know that they’re great looks.
You’re not getting high-dollar inserts here, either. In the 1990s, companies began heavily producing inserts. But in 1988, aside from things like Topps Glossy inserts in rack packs and Donruss’ puzzle cards, inserts just weren’t a big deal back then and weren’t in most packs.
So is there any reason to start buying 1988 junk wax and go on a ripping spree? Well, I suppose shooting for PSA 10 Glavine rookies could be kind of a minor thrill. But even those can be had for about $30 so you’re clearly not getting rich after submission fees, mailing fees, and the cost to buy the product itself. Want a PSA 10 Glavine? You’re probably better off just buying one outright.
In other words, if you’re buying 1988 baseball wax, you’re mostly doing it for the love of the hobby.