Oddball(s) of the Set
Between the airbrush job that makes it look like he's wearing a porcelain jacket and the giant magnifying glasses on his face giving him bug-eyes, Fred Breining's is a card (#36) that only a mother could love. Unfortunately for Gary Pettis' mom, she would have no such luck finding something to put in a frame on the mantelpiece in the 1985 Topps set. Sure, that's her son's name on the front. Those are his stats on the back. But what is ostensibly the speedy center fielder's rookie card (#497) does not, in fact, feature his picture. Then who is that playing tricks on the Topps photographer? It's his little brother! Oh, wait, I guess it can go on the mantelpiece, after all...
Most Aesthetically Pleasing
This set is the polar opposite of the previous year's in that it was difficult to find cards that were particularly exceptional in appearance. Honorable mention goes to Yogi and Dale Berra (#132) from the Father & Son subset. There were a few really nice pairings in this subset, but I like this one the best. You have the lefty Yogi facing the righty Dale, both with powder blue sky, puffy clouds, and green grass to frame them. The red of the header matches with the border of Yogi's card, while the yellow backdrop echoes Dale's uniform. And, for one time on a colorful piece of cardboard at least, the undistinguished and troubled son is elevated to the level of his iconic Hall-of-Fame father.
As much as any player at this point in baseball history, Dwight Gooden seemed to represent a changing of the guard. It was an unprecedented era for veteran pitchers, with an abundance of all-time greats in the twilight of their careers. Ryan and Carlton were still working to establish the all-time strikeout mark, with Seaver, Sutton, Blyleven and other K-artists still plying their trade. But Dr. K looked like he was on track to perhaps blow right by all of them in time. Though he was to have a fine career, that kind of greatness was to elude his grasp. But you can still see in these cards the promise of immortality. The seriousness of purpose evoked by his base card (#620) and the kinetic energy of the Record Breaker card (#3) both exude the aura of dominance that Gooden projected when his future still seemed destined to include a plaque in Cooperstown.
Favorite Dodgers Card
This spot is likely to be occupied more than a few times by my favorite player of all time (unless and until Kershaw overtakes him), Orel Hershiser. And the Bulldog's rookie card appears in this set. The fact that I don't consider that card my favorite here tells you something about how little I tend to glorify rookie cards. He certainly didn't make any impact on me when the card came out. My favorite Dodgers card from this year instead reflects my bias toward veterans. And I've always been excited about players who make their mark with other teams, but then get a little time in Dodger Blue toward the end of their career. It doesn't really matter how well they played. It's just fun to see them added to the all-time Dodger roster. Among my favorite examples are Juan Marichal and Greg Maddux. But I'm also willing to give a hitter some love, and I've always liked Al Oliver. This card from the Traded set (#88T) is his only Topps card in Dodger Blue, and he's still the only Dodger to wear the number zero (representing O for Oliver).
Remember that 1984 exhibition game between the Dodgers and the USC Trojans that I mentioned earlier? It's probably my most vivid memory of Dodger Stadium from my childhood. I didn't go to a huge number of games before moving away in 1988. I probably didn't average more than two games a season, because the logistics just weren't on my side. Nonetheless, other than a couple of unremarkable trips to Anaheim to see the Angels, those rare pilgrimages to Dodger Stadium were my introduction to live baseball, and Chavez Ravine will always be my mecca. I took the new camera that my Grandparents got me to that USC game in '84 and got a few nice shots, including Terry Whitfield and Mike Marshall warming up in front of the dugout. I also got my only MLB baseball, which was tossed to me by Fernando Valenzuela as he was returning to the dugout. And I got my first autograph, having the ball signed by Rod Dedeaux, the legendary coach of the USC Trojans. I've never much followed the sport at the amateur level, but my Grandfather was a huge USC fan and made sure that I knew how special Dedeaux was, so I was excited to get that autograph for him as much as for myself. And I got to relive that excitement the following season with the surprise of opening a pack of Topps cards and finding Dedeaux. The icing on the cake? Dedeaux actually played in two major league games, way back in 1935... for the Brooklyn Dodgers, under manager Casey Stengel.
One Final Thought
Don't let the serious young Dwight Gooden fool you. This set is chock-full of smiley faces. It seems like Topps hired a new photographer for 1985 who employed the time-honored "Say Cheese!" technique. It may not be the most exciting set that Topps produced, but it might be one of the most cheerful. Just look at Julio Franco (#237) beaming from ear to ear about being a big leaguer. Time would certainly prove his love for the game to be genuine. And, hark, gaze upon the beatific visage of the formerly-scowling Cecilio Guante! Did Topps hire Morgana the Kissing Bandit to attend their photo shoots or something...?
The Big Picture
I start each of these posts with a template that includes the headers, and then I type "blah" where the text is supposed to go when my brain gets around to forming words. I was tempted to leave this portion of the page unedited, as "blah" kinda sums things up for this set. Again, it's not terrible. But, frankly, it's a little boring compared to other sets from the decade. The design is uninspired. The card backs are washed-out mush. The subsets look okay. But the decisions to eliminate League Leaders cards, put the team checklists on the manager cards, and continue to ignore the post season are all strikes against the set. Add to that one of the least interesting Traded set checklists, and 1985 Topps fails to grab one's attention. With the first six sets of my collecting lifetime reviewed, 1985 Topps sits at the bottom of the list, behind 1980 and 1982.