Not the most spectacular Topps set, not even a top contender for best Topps set of the 1980’s due to it’s drab design and lack of a strong rookie crop. But it is loaded with variations of all types. Many, many minor ones that have only recently been discovered, well-known errors as well as several early-corrected cards that have proven to be difficult to locate today. As with all unlisted variations, a market price cannot be established until we start seeing them for sale, so while I can’t pinpoint a dollar value for these cards, I can share what I know and how it backs their rarity.
Let’s take a look at some of the toughest 1988 Topps cards to pull:
1. #51 Baltimore Orioles Team Leaders featuring Cal Ripken Jr and Eddie Murray. The error on this toughie is the single-toned back. All the Team Leader cards have a 2-tone orange colored back. A handful of the O’s card received just a solid, darker orange color. At one point, these used to sell for $20-30 but I can’t say I’ve seen one offered for sale in at least 4 years now. Not a single one among my 50+ copies!
2. #381 California Angels Team Leaders featuring Wally Joyner. The first version of this card had a 1″ long vertical magenta slash down Joyner’s right arm. This glaring printing error was swiftly corrected as only a few copies have shown up for sale in the last 4-5 years. While in pursuit of our next card, I have probably torn through at least 500,000 (that may be conservative) 1988 Topps baseball cards and have only found one of the “red slash” errors! Subsequent printings of the card show varying degrees of Topps’ signature airbrushing or “whiteout” technique on Joyner’s sleeve.
(Sorry, no pic available for this next error)
3. #778 Keith Comstock with YELLOW NAME. Most collectors are already familiar with the Comstock error in this set that shows his team name (PADRES) in white lettering. But a third variety also exists and is one of the rarer Topps error cards out there: some versions of the corrected or “blue team” version can be found with Keith’s name printed in yellow, instead of white! This is one of those few variations that I have only seen/owned a single copy in all my years of hunting, and hunt I did. This is another junk era card that tops (heh) most variation collector’s want lists. Unfortunately, at the time of this post, I could not provide a picture. Keith’s name will be in yellow, instead of white on the 3rd and rarest variety.
4. #NNO Glossy All-Stars Offer Insert with Silver Arrow or ‘Cards Not Included’ on front. These are the cards that everyone tossed in the trash that were either at the back or the middle of the packs. They were advertisments for more Topps stuff. They offered some of the ugliest clothing at the time (that I would love to own today, of course) and served a second purpose as an entry form into the “Spring Fever” sweepstakes. Originally, this card was printed with the words “cards not included” next to Jack Clark’s image. This was a huge gaffe since it was an order form to buy a set of cards from Topps, the Glossy All-Star set specifically, so you’d think Topps would at least include the cards that you were purchasing! This was corrected very quickly. Topps first decided to place arrows over the erroneous statement in an attempt to literally cover up their mistake. These arrows come in various shapes and sizes but are most often found in black ink, sometimes with part of the statement peeking out at the far right. The rarest type of arrow is the one that’s printed in what looks like silverish ink, or better, it looks like that silver ink that they use for scratcher tickets, it doesn’t scan well, but it’s very apparent in person. I have personally seen just 2 of these in all my years of hunting them and since so many were trashed back then, they are very difficult to locate today. Even their black counterparts seemed to have dried up over the last few years in comparison to the very common version where Topps removed the statement and the arrow altogether from the card fronts. And for the completist, a blank-backed version can be found in some packs of Topps BIG cards that year, that is also missing the “sweepstakes” statement underneath Clark’s photo. In a later blog, I will dive deeper into the multitude of errors and variations that exist on Topps’ insert/offer/advertisement cards of the 80’s and 90’s.
Some other 1988 Topps variations to watch for:
#21 Bert Blyleven. Apparently Topps didn’t like seeing a player of Bert’s caliber sitting in such a shabby dugout, so it appears that they enlisted their trusty airbrushers to spackle the cracks in the wall (visible over Bert’s shoulder).
#348 Jim Eisenreich. The first version shows a large white scratch on his arm on front. Some correction attempts have the line filled-in with blue, red, green or a combination of those colors. At last count, there were 6 different versions of this card.
#405 Dwight Gooden All-Star. Did Topps run out of blue ink when filling in the words ‘All-Star’ on Doc’s card? The first version is missing the blue ink at the top of the R in STAR, the second has it filled-in with pale blue ink and the final, common type has it solid blue.
#493 Mike Greenwell. First printing shows the All-Star rookie trophy printed over the lettering in his name or touching his name. Later editions have his name spaced away from the trophy.
#767 Jose Lind. This card can be found with a yellow, white or blue “shadow” behind the Topps logo on front or without any shadow at all.
1988 Topps has far too many variations to list so the above is just a sampling. Odds are, there’re more to be discovered still. The first four listed above are pretty much the rarest of the batch with the Comstock Yellow name and ‘Cards not included’ offer card likely tied for the top spot. Anyone finds a copy, send in a scan!