Beckett and the 80s

Note: I wrote this before Night Owl’s post but for some reason it got stuck in the queue at SABR so I pulled it from there and am just leaving it on my blog, back-dated to about when I wrote it, since I may want to reference it in the future.

The most-recent Beckett magazine was an homage to the 1980s and hit a lot of us right in the emotional feels. For anyone of my generation who was a collector, these were our cards and sets and Beckett was the singular authority on both what to collect and what things were worth.

As a result I saw blogs and podcasts and tweets from people reminiscing about their favorite sets and cards from the 1980s. The set discussions have been fun—especially in terms of seeing how many people my age loved 1988 Score.* The card discussions though have been getting me down. They started off kind of fun but quickly became a by-rote listing of the top rookie cards of the decade.

*In lieu of a paean to 1988 Score I have a few paragraphs in the 1988 section of my Reminiscence Bump post.

Yeah. Where a discussion about the top cards of the 1970s would feature great photos and the biggest stars in the game at the heights of their powers, the 1980s is all about that investment in the rookie card. That this is what my generation waxes nostalgic about kind of depresses me.

When I saw Beckett’s list of the top 80 cards of the 80s, I immediately started counting. 80% of them are rookie or pre-rookie cards where the primary point of interest is the investment potential that the card represented at the time. There are six error cards—most of which were also important because of the investment value. Which leaves only five cards that are on the list because of the photo or what the card represents.*

*Note that there is a rookie error card (Donruss Opening Day Barry Bonds/Johnny Ray) and a pre-rookie interesting photo (Bo Jackson Classic) which fall into two categories.

This is very on-brand for Beckett since value and investment was what it pushed in the 1980s* but it also represents a lot of what made it so easy for me to quit the hobby when the strike hit in 1994.

*Yes this is also very on-brand for the 1980s too.

My generation bought the rookie investment thing hook line and sinker. We grew up wanting the same cards and as a result all had very similar collections. Most of us never really developed our own collections or projects and the main distinctions between what we owned reflected our budgets and what cards were accessible.

When I went through my childhood collection I was reminded of how much I ran with the flock and how many cards I wanted just because I was supposed to. I was also reminded of the cards I really enjoyed—Giants and oddballs mostly—and had to shake my head at how if I’d been more self aware at the time I would’ve focused more on those.

I was following Beckett instead of my heart and so once the strike hit it was easy to never look back.

I look at the list of top 80s cards and am reminded of an age when the hobby stopped being about the cards. It’s a good list, it just reflects a set of values I no longer adhere to.

What do I want to celebrate from 1980s baseball cards? Action photography coming into its own. Food issues. Retail boxed sets. The last hurrah of awful airbrushing. Goofy Fleer photos with snakes and surfboards and Budweiser hats. Donruss’s designs. Box bottoms. Stickers. Stadium giveaways. Nine different World Series winners (none of them the Yankees). Oversized cards. Undersized cards. Lenticular cards.

The 1980s was a wonderful time for all kinds of cards. I’m looking forward to a list that reflects the fun stuff instead of the expensive stuff.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

2 thoughts on “Beckett and the 80s”

  1. You should make a list of your Top 80 80’s cards. I’d love to see it. I’ve enjoyed lists like that since way back in the day. My favorite thing to look at were the hot and cold lists. As soon as I found out about this issue, I knew I had to own a copy. Plan on covering my thoughts on this issue in the near future.

    1. When everyone was doing their top 5 cards and sets lists I realized that couldn’t do a top 5 cards. I could probably try 8 different top ten lists: rookie cards, error cards, silly cards, photographs, retail boxed sets, food issues, team issues, and other oddballs (other in this case meaning box cards, Topps Super, Topps Big, Donruss action all stars, mini leaders, etc.)

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