Best subset card is my next category of “best of” awards for the 1980’s decade. I’d like to point out that I’m not treating the Olympic cards from 85 Topps or 88 Traded, or the Draft Pick cards from 89 Topps, or any Future Stars or All-Star Rookie cards as subsets. These are those players’ only cards in that set, which isn’t what I think of when I think “subset”. Otherwise, McGwire’s Olympic card would be tough to top on this list. I’m also doing a top 10 here. This was really fun to do – feel free to chime a comment in with any you would have included!
Honorable Mention – 1985 Topps Record Breaker #2 – Steve Garvey
I really like this card and it’s so close to the next card for my favorite subset card in 1985 Topps, that I figured I’d throw out an honorable mention to it so I can scan it! It looks like the sun in the background, but that’s a Padre retired jersey on the outfield wall. This record breaker commemorates him setting the record for the most consecutive games without an error. Not one of those big, important records, but the photo is very cool.
#10) – 1985 Topps Father-Son #133 – Bob and Ray Boone
The father-son subset is an underrated gem of the 1985 Topps set, and the Boone’s are the more recognizable of the 3-generation families. Yogi Berra also has a card with his son Dale in the subset.
9) 1989 Topps Record Breaker #5 – Orel Hershiser
A very good photo, but what’s important is that this card represents a truly great accomplishment. The way Hershiser broke Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive scoreless innings is legendary. The record came over the last month of the season, when the Dodgers really needed the wins to pass the Reds to get into the postseason. In his last start of the season, he needed to get over 9 scoreless innings to tie Drysdale’s record. He threw the scoreless 9 innings, and his Dodger hitters played their part – scoring no runs. Hershiser pitched one more frame, broke Drysdale’s record, and he led the Dodgers to the World Series title that year. Play Kirk Gibson’s home run all you want, but in mid-August the Dodgers were in a battle for the NL West and Danny Jackson had the Cy Young on lockdown. Until Hershiser went on the most dominant month of pitching since I’ve been alive.
8) 1981 Topps Postseason Highlights #404 – Tug McGraw
I’m no Phillies fan, but I can certainly appreciate this moment. For all the talk of the droughts of the Red Sox, White Sox and of course the Cubs – at the beginning of the 1980 season, the Philadelphia Phillies had never won a World Championship in the franchise’s 97-year history. Only 5 franchises are older than the Phillies (Cubs, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates) – so showing the reaction to the clinching play of the series is really capturing a big moment in baseball history.
7) 1987 Topps Turn Back the Clock #315 – Maury Wills
The TBC subset has always been one of my favorites. It has something to do with me being such a big retro set fan, I think. And this card is my favorite out of all those cards – because it has something unique to it. Yes, it covers the 1962 season when Wills took home the MVP and broke Ty Cobb’s record for stolen bases in a season – becoming the first over 100 in the process. But, what’s notable here is that Wills didn’t have a 1962 Topps card – he didn’t sign a contract for a few years with the company. So Topps had to do some improvising and essentially create a 1962 card of the speedster.
6) 1982 Topps In Action #111 – Carlton Fisk
The best card in an awesome subset that comes behind the relevant player’s base card. This card of Fisk sprawling out to make a play is one of the best cards in the set, period.
5) 1987 Topps Record Breaker #1 – Roger Clemens
The Rocket got card #1 in this set, thanks to his 20-strikeout performance during his incredible 1986 season. It’s since been matched by Kerry Wood and again by himself – but the first to do this in a 9-inning game makes for one of the cooler cards out there.
4) 1984 Topps Highlights #4 – Ryan/Carlton/Perry
This card is right behind the accomplishment of the #2 card from this countdown. After Walter Johnson was the career strikeout king for nearly 60 years, Ryan, Carlton and Perry all passed the Big Train in the same season. Then Ryan and Carlton went back and forth for over a year as the current strikeout king. This was such a big deal, it gets this card up there on this list.
3) 1983 Topps Record Breaker #2 – Rickey Henderson
Another big accomplishment, this card honors Rickey shattering the single season SB record. And it’s a cool photo with him looking for another steal. He’s got some dirt on his uniform, and that looks like a certain young shortstop for the Orioles, so I can assume he’s looking to take third for his 2nd swipe of the day!
2) 1986 Topps Record Breaker #206 – Pete Rose
My favorite Reds card from the decade is my second favorite subset card of any player. Mostly this is because of the historical significance. Of all the accomplishments in baseball during my lifetime, Pete Rose passing Ty Cobb is definitely in the top 5. It’s in the argument with McGwire passing Maris and Ripken passing Gehrig as the biggest events in baseball since 1980. Bonds passing Aaron, the trio above passing the Big Train, Ryan’s 7 no-hitters and the Yankees winning 3 straight World Series is in that next tier. But that still doesn’t get Pete top billing here – that goes to my favorite subset card from the 1980’s:
1) 1988 Topps Record Breaker #4 – Eddie Murray
I’ve always had a ton of love for this card. 1988 Topps was the set I spent hours poring over when I was a kid, and when you’re 8 years old putting Murray next to himself but on opposite sides of the plate – well that just blows your mind! The card honors him hitting homers from both sides in 2 consecutive games. That’s like a lower level of what Johnny Vander Meer did in the 1930’s – but it’s the photo and the design that makes this one awesome card!