Mired in the first collecting slump of my lifetime, although a minor one, my appreciation for this set was muted at the time. I was just too busy with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to bother. That is, if you count just thinking about sex... all of the time... and substitute comic books for drugs (it was a serious addiction). Also, my Dodgers were muddling through their worst season since I became a fan. And the whole black and white border thing just didn't grab my attention, either.
27 Years Later...
Turns out that I managed to let a minor gem slip through the massive cracks in my attention span. This is one of the more beautiful sets of the decade. What I'd considered to be a set lacking in color as a teenager is actually one of the more colorful. The use of black to frame the top quarter of the card with the team name actually serves to make the color that's used really pop. The team names are featured in a fabulously bold '80s-rific neo-futuristic font, which is so great that it manages to pull off the trick of also being timeless. These are stretched to cover the tops of each card, except, for obvious reasons, in the case of the A's. Bright coordinated team colors are used for the team names, as well as a small circle in the lower left corner of the photos displaying the player's position. The Topps logo again appears in an upper corner of the photo. The player's name anchors the bottom in black.
The beauty of this set's design is that it makes the color of the photos grab the attention all the more. And, unlike with the designs of previous few years, the space left for the photo lacks odd angles or major obstructions. This allowed Topps to simply choose the photos they felt looked the best, and crop them without being restrained by awkward border considerations. As a result, the set features an excellent balance between different types of action shots and the kind of classic baseball poses that were prevalent in its '70s issues. The variety is the best of the decade, including a mix of posed and candid head shots, warm-up/batting cage shots, medium-distance action shots, and a good amount of quality full-body action shots.
I'm not sure about this, but it's my impression that the card stock is once again a little thinner, similar to that of the 1984 set. Of the sets reviewed so far, the '84 and '86 sets are the only ones that tend to have a natural curve to the stock. The other sets tend to hold nicely in a flat position. But this doesn't take away from the set's appearance. One of the big concerns with cards that are printed with black borders is the potential for chipping. It's difficult to find 1971 Topps cards, for example, with really pristine edges. However the black doesn't seem to chip as easily on the '86s, and they seem to hold up well over time.
The backs are nothing spectacular, but they look nice enough. The black framing technique is echoed at the top with the vital statistics. The player names are pleasantly bold. The card number and Topps logo, in the upper corners inside of diamond shapes, make for nice symmetry. The theme for the additional information displayed, when the stats allow room, is "firsts." The Talkin' Baseball boxes, featuring a few different versions of an anthropomorphic baseball, tell you about firsts in the player's franchise's history. Additional blurbs tell you about some of the player's own firsts, sometimes including the year and number of their first Topps card. Although kinda neat, this information gets to be monotonous. The black and red color scheme is a nice one, though the stats can be a little hard to read at times, especially for veterans with long careers. For the first time, game-winning RBI numbers are added at the bottom of the career stat line for batters. It was a dubious statistic, that didn't officially survive the '80s, but Topps would continue the practice for the remainder of the decade.
In all, it's a simple design that really allows for some spectacular results. With 1988 as perhaps its only competition, I would say that of the Topps sets from this decade, 1986 is the design that would best translate into giant-sized wall posters. It certainly makes for a fabulous collection of little hand-held works of art.