The 1983 Topps Baseball Card set is my favorite set of the 1980's. It is made up of 792 cards, the second year that Topps had expanded the set from 726 cards. Visually the most appealing set of the decade, it is a step up from the 1982 Topps set in production value and miles ahead of the woeful 1981 set. A similar style set was released by Topps in 1984 that didn't catch the eye as well as the Topps 1983 release. After 1984, Topps seems to have let their baseball cards slip in quality with poor designs and unimaginative photography, a trend that would end up costly them dearly a few later as the competition caught up and surpassed them later in the decade.
The entire 1983 Topps set was bought for me at a card show in the mid 1980's but I don't remember the price. This set looked great at the time and hasn't lost any of its appeal over time. Like all baseball cards from this era, though, it has lost a lot of its value. This set peaked at around $160.00, but today can be bought on eBay for $20-$40 including delivery.
Lets look at the Good, the Bad, and the rest of this set.
One aspect of the 1983 Topps card that was innovative and new was the inclusion of a small portrait photo in the lower right or left corner. This allowed Topps to include far more action photography in the main photo without neglecting the traditional head shot. Some of the best Topps cards of the 1980's utilize this feature quite well.
Card #540 Ozzie Smith is a great example of the new design and its improved photography. It is also one of my favorite baseball cards overall probably because the gold chain suspended in mid-air around Ozzie's neck gives the photo such a sense of motion.
Card #604 Joe Morgan Super Veteran and card #101 Pete Rose Super Veteran are great examples of my favorite of the subsets Topps included in most of their 1980's sets. I really like the Joe Morgan card because, as you can see in the photo on the left, he is wearing a Houston Colt .45's uniform. I don't have any Colt .45's cards unless you count this one. The backs of these cards really stand out from the typical written copy that Topps slapped on most of their cards. Instead of "Had 13th-inning Single for game-winning RBI, 5-29-82" like you find on Ryne Sandberg's #83 Rookie Card, the Super Veterans set gives you a wonderful rundown of the player's career and accomplishments including their all-time rankings and awards. Way to go, Topps!
The League Leader cards from 1983 are fairly typical, but card #704 is just amazing. It features Rickey Henderson's 130 stolen bases - the single season record that still stands and probably always will. Rickey's photo is slightly out of focus, but perhaps that's because he never stood still long enough for Topps to get a good shot that year. Second place with fewer than half of Rickey's total was Damaso Garcia and even the National League Leader, Tim Raines, trailed by 52 stolen bases.
Cards #350 Robin Yount, #478 Phil Garner, and #768 Chris Speier are some more great examples of the improved action poses Topps captured in this set. Two of the cards also capture one of my favorite aspects of a card when there are additional players featured in the photo. In this case, it appears that Phil Garner has failed to stop the sliding Lenny Faedo, who wore #12 for the Twins, whereas in the last card, Chris Speier is tagging out the Dodger's Derrel Thomas, wearing #30.
Card #789 Bryan Clark has long been one of of the most memorable cards in the 1983 set, but not exactly in any flattering way. Clark's facial expression captured by the Topps photographer would certainly not have caused any trepidation in the batters he might have faced that day. That, or Godzilla just stepped up to the plate. I have just never understood how photos like this make it past a final review before going to press.
Card #360 Nolan Ryan is one of the most mundane cards I've ever seen of the Ryan Express and probably just a more traditional portrait would have been better.
The 1983 Topps Traded Set is the standard 132 card set and features the rookie cards of Julio Franco and Darryl Strawberry.
Significant cards from this set.
#83 Ryne Sandberg RC
#100 Pete Rose
#163 Cal Ripken
#360 Nolan Ryan
#482 Tony Gwynn RC
#498 Wade Boggs RC
#34T - Julio Franco RC
#108T - Darryl Strawberry RC
This is a very strong set from Topps for the 1980's, definitely in the top 2 of the decade. The use of two photographs on each card certainly foreshadowed the rise of Upper Deck with its improved production values in the 1990's. Why Topps got away from a real winning design that it had in 1983 I've never been sure, but it would take Topps enormous effort and time to regain the lead from the competition that it squandered in the early 1980's