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Ranking the designs of Topps 1980s baseball cards

I grew up on this stuff. They’re like my babies.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

I am a child of 1980s baseball cards.

Baseball cards helped me become obsessed with baseball. I became fascinated with the sport, due in large part to these little rectangular pieces of cardboard with players’ names, faces and statistics plastered all over them.

Each winter, as the days grew warmer and longer, I waited impatiently for Topps to release their newest set. Starting in early February, I’d head to the local drug store every day to see if the new ones were in (this was before there was online promotion and companies like Topps made any kind of launch date public knowledge), and would be crushed each and every day until the brand new packs would appear.

I wondered in my mind, “What would this year’s cards look like? How would this year’s be different? What Phillies players will they feature?”

I dreamed about them. Seriously. I had dreams about baseball cards.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this Baseball Prospectus piece this week in which they ranked the designs of all the 1980s Topps baseball cards, perhaps the last great decade of baseball card design in the hobby’s history.

I had so many of these cards and pined after the ones I couldn’t afford. I still love them.

For review, here are the 10 designs, starting with 1980-1984 on the top row, and 1985-1989 on the bottom row.

Gaze at the beauty, people (photo taken from BPro).

That is some gorgeous stuff right there. Even the lackluster ones are still light years better than much of the garbage that graced card shop shelves in the ‘90s and 2000s.

According to the Baseball Prospectus rankings, here is where all 10 card designs ranked according to 15 experts they spoke to.

1980s Topps BP Card Design Rankings

Rank Year
Rank Year
1 1986
2 1982
3 1987
4 1983
5 1980
6 1989
7 1988
8 1985
9 1981
10 1984

I have some issues.

First, how is 1986 the best card of the ‘80s? How did five experts think this was the best the decade had to offer?

I mean, it’s not a “bad” design. It has its positives. It’s simple, the blocked, colorful letters at the top are cool, and the black border is fine. But it was way too easy for these cards to lose their “mint” status. If they touched human hands, the black would wear away and they would look ratty. Not only that, they were not terribly creative.

It’s a decent card, but not the best Topps put out in the 1980s.

As for the worst card of the ‘80s, I disagree with ‘84 Topps being at the bottom of the heap.

Are these all that different from the ‘86 set? Yes, it’s an all-white border, but it’s funky and different and, for me, it’s no lower than No. 8. Maybe I’m nuts, but this works for me.

The largest error made by the experts who participated in this poll was appointing any card other than 1987 Topps as the best overall card of the 1980s.

Leaving aside the fact Lance Parrish was included in this set, just feast your eyes on these things. The wood background of a Louisville Slugger, the team logo in the upper left-hand corner, the fun font inside the colorful box in the lower right-hand corner, and the outstanding photography.

Simply put, this may be one of the five best baseball card designs of ALL-TIME.

Here are my ranks.

Stolnis’ Top 10 1980s Topps Card Designs

Rank Year
Rank Year
1 1987
2 1983
3 1981
4 1980
5 1985
6 1986
7 1982
8 1984
9 1989
10 1988

The ‘83 design is gorgeous. 1981 and ‘80 are both beautiful, and the ‘85 set holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first set of baseball cards I ever owned.

Those Team USA cards were pretty terrific.

What do you think? Leave your comments and rankings in the comments section and rank the ‘80s Topps designs!