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38. 1988 Fleer Update
This has four things going for it: it has Alomar, Biggio and Smoltz rookies and it has the clean, 1988 Fleer design. That’s it. This is one of those sets that was just uncalled for. There was no reason to buy this, except for those three cards.
Has anyone else noticed that Roberto Alomar’s cards haven’t aged well? Their value hasn’t really done much in the last 10 years or so, and his rookie card values have sort of slid away into oblivion. Too bad he had to spit in that umpire’s face—he might be the first Hall of Famer with legitimate rookie cards valued at less than $5.00.
37. 1987 Donruss Rookies
This, like the 1989 Rookies set, is totally unnecessary—especially because it’s an obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of Mark McGwire (he’s card #1; that’s the Donruss brand of subtlety). Unlike the 1989 Rookies, however, this set features a pretty outstanding lineup, despite sporting only one or two true rookie cards in the whole set: Matt Williams, who did the best Babe Ruth trot impression anywhere, Ellis Burks and Kevin Seitzer (both of whom I don’t think were included in the regular-issue Donruss, though I could be wrong). Therefore I’m torn about how to feel about it.
Donruss was the Bowman of the 1980s: obsessed with getting rookies out there before Topps and Fleer. And most of the time it worked: Joe Carter in ’84 and Fred McGriff in ’86 are two notable examples. Rookies are part of Donruss’ DNA, yet the company exploited it so much during the 1980s that while the ’86 Rookies set felt right, by ’87 it wasn’t original anymore (and for the most part unnecessary) and then by ’88 and into ’89 it was a forced death march where you knew the sets were inevitable but were also predictable, weak and unnecessary (the worst combination).
36. 1988 Fleer
I forgot that Fleer always put all the players from each team together in its sets. I always thought that was helpful, because then you knew if you were missing a player. But now that I’m looking back on it, this system was totally, unequivocally stupid. OK, that’s a little harsh, but there’s no joy of intermingling in the Fleer sets; everything’s grouped. Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers…that’s lame. I’ve soliloquized long and hard on the ingeniousness of the Topps merit-based numerical system because a) there’s a definitive hierarchy to their numbering (unless I’m reading way too far into it, which could very well be the case) which allows the novice and expert to know and understand who the good players are and to feel an extra sense of accomplishment upon obtaining one of these cards (using a base of 10, for example the player on card #300 is more important than the player on #150, who in turn is more important than the player on #17, though of course there are exceptions, especially in the earlier years) , b) it mixes the players up to mimic how you would receive the cards in packs and in sorting, and c), when subsets occur in the set, they are placed together, making them special.
But with Fleer, there’s nothing special about how the set is put together. It’s almost like an afterthought. And that’s a real bummer. 1988 in general has become sort of an afterthought to many collectors, and to Beckett, because 1987 and 1989 had hobby-changing rookies (Bo Jackson, Will Clark, Barry Bonds in ’87, Ken Griffey Jr, Gary Sheffield in ’89). But 1988 did have some good sets, and I’ll always consider this Fleer set a good one: clean design, good photography and player selection. It was actually the last good set that Fleer made until 1994 (one of my favorite designs of the 1990s).
35. 1987 Topps Traded
Unlike ’87 Donruss Rookies, the Topps Traded from 1987 was necessary, if only because by 1987 Topps Traded was an institution and because Topps (routinely) missed the boat on a number of rookies in the regular-issue set. I think the Fleer Update from 1987 is the best of the lot of u/r/t sets from ’87, but it doesn’t beat Topps by much. Legitimate rookies in ’87 TT: Maddux, Burks, Matt Williams, McGriff, the list goes on. But it’s the others that are included that makes this set better than just a Rookies set: Eckersley’s first card on the A’s, Reggie Jackson’s last Topps card. A hey-that’s-kind-of-neat-but-what-the-fuck card of Cal Ripken, Sr., who is, appropriately, looking old. Plus, this set benefits from the wood paneled look, but a much-cleaner-strangely-crisp wood panel look, like they were wiped down with a rag and Lemon Pledge.
34. 1989 Fleer
Let’s get one thing straight: without two very important cards, this set would be at the bottom rung, right down there with ’89 Bowman. These cards are god-awful to look at, like they could possibly be made of recycled papier maché. I remember packs of this set were expensive, and not for any other reason but that there were two cards that you wanted to get and if you didn’t you were stuck with hundreds of cards you didn’t want and about a zillion little team logo stickers that lost their stick after about ten minutes. And really, this was a bad set to collect because the likelihood of getting either of the two important cards in a pack were slim to none. Of course, I’m talking about the Griffey rookie and the Ripken ‘Fuck Face’ card.
There were three cards made in the 1980s that posed a significant counterfeit problem: the 86-87 Fleer Jordan rookie, the ’89 Upper Deck Griffey rookie and the ’89 ‘Fuck Face’ Billy Ripken. Can you imagine being that desperate to cash in on something that you’d be willing to go to jail making counterfeit Billy Ripken cards? Are you kidding? Or how about the poor sap who bought one? That’s pretty lame. And really, Fleer’s response (or jumbled-up lack of definitive response) to this card was ridiculous, a response I would’ve reserved for Donruss, to be honest.
How did they not see the card before it went to press? If you ask me, it’s like they wanted the card in the set, like they thought it would garner them popularity and success. They were right about the popularity part, but success? Last time I checked, 1989 Fleer was kind of a loser set, 1990 was bad and 1991 one of the worst sets of all-time. All this controversy did was stave off the inevitable decline of Fleer by maybe six months (and give us not one but five versions of the error, including my favorite, the ‘scribble over vulgarity’ version).
But perhaps the greatest thing it gave us was something to call Billy Ripken if we were to run into him at a bar, in holding down at the precinct or found ourselves alone with him in an elevator.
Coming Soon: #33 – 28