Monday, 9 March 2009

1983 Topps Review

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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 Rest...

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


  1. I got back into ball cards around 1986 after a hiatus beginning in 1981 and I didn't understand why the set was going for $50. Who really cares about a guy's rookie card?

  2. The term for the picture in picture is "Mortis box", and it does look good on a baseball card. It gives the opportunity for an action shot and a close up.

    While I'm not a fan of white card stock, chiefly because of what happened to the hobby when that business started,I do like that it also give the opportunity for more photos on the back.

  3. 1983 is also my fave of the 80s for all the reasons you mentioned and one other - it was the last year of Johnny Bench.

    While I certainly appreciate rookie cards I've long been into 'last year' cards as well.

    The reason is I grew up a serious stat junkie and can still tell you numbers from some players. For example, Bench's 45 HR, 148 RBI 1970 season (1st MVP) will always be etched in my mind.

    The 'last year' card of course includes the player's entire history, minus their final year.

  4. Late to the party, new to the blog game.

    Just wanted to let you know that Card #478 Phil Garner was attempting to tag out Mets Catcher John Stearns at Shea Stadium

  5. The 1983 set is one of my all-time favorite Topps sets for a number reasons. One is the nice action shots like you mentioned in your post. The second is the double photos on the front. This was a copy of the 1963 set that also utilized two photos in a similar format. I liked the color of the backs too. The 82 set was a dark green that made them hard to read while 83 was a pale orange with an easy-to-read font. The number of veterans was amazing too and I loved the a Super Veteran series. And lastly it was probably the last year before rookie card speculation really took off in the hobby. Strawberry and Mattingly in 1984 and Gooden in 1985 seemed to start that trend. Overall great set.