Oddball(s) of the Set
A couple of all-time greats among the managerial ranks are featured in the Traded set. Hall-of-Famer Dick Williams gets his last shot with the Seattle Mariners, and longtime minor league manager Jim Leyland gets his first with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, neither is represented with much dignity here. I expect to see a giant pineapple in the kelp over Williams' shoulder, as the airbrush job makes it look like he was just hired to manage in Bikini Bottom. Meanwhile, Leyland is forced to run his team with a giant aviary perched on his head. You would expect to see a small bird take flight if he were to lift his cap, Casey Stengel style.
Most Aesthetically Pleasing
There are are ton of great shots in this set of pitchers in motion. But what really stands out is the number of excellent cards featuring catchers at work behind the plate. Among others, Tony Pena, Charlie Moore and Glenn Brummer are all featured with top-notch action shots. It's hard to choose the best, but you can't go wrong with Randy Hunt and his amazing flying cap (#218) or Bo Diaz tagging out Tommy Herr (#639).
As great as those are, and as much as I hate to admit it, this Jeff Leonard card (#490) is simply baaaaaad-ass! He's a Giant, and a loudmouth hot dog. But can you beat that black bat, helmet, eye black and 'stache matching up with the card's black border, then the orange of the Giants logo, the doughnut, the stripes on the bat, and the orange tint to the fans in the stands matching up with the card's accent color? Add in that "I'm about to step into the batter's box with bad intentions" glare and, grudgingly, I've gotta admit it's one Giant of a card.
Favorite Non-Dodgers Card(s)
This set is all about the aesthetics, and no team's cards look nicer than those of the Yankees. It's a colorful set, but it's the stark black and white, of the card design and of the classic pinstripes, that make the Yanks' cards really stand out. Ken Griffey has a nice portrait shot. The Niekro brothers, Phil and Joe, look good as teammates for the first time in over a decade. Eddie Whitson may have had a tortured tenure in pinstripes, but he has a fabulous '86 Topps card. Frankly, they all look great. But my favorites are the real Bronx Bombers of the set: Dave Winfield (#70) and Don Mattingly (#180), both shown doing what they did best (among a great many other things on the diamond).
Favorite Dodgers Card(s)
Fernando Valenzuela may have had his finest season in 1985, and his '86 Topps cards do that justice. In an echo of the historic start to his rookie season in 1981, Fernando set a big-league mark for consecutive scoreless innings to begin a season. In the most interesting card of the bunch, they Turn Back the Clock to highlight that rookie year. The thing about this card, which makes it my favorite of the set, is that the card depicted on the front is not the card that came out in the Traded set in 1981. (You can view 1981 Topps: Part IV to see that card.) It's remarkably similar, the only difference being that Fernando faces the camera squarely on this card, while he stands sideways on the original. Why Topps did this is a mystery to me, but for what it's worth I think it's kinda neat.
One Final Thought
1986 Topps may have unofficially been the "Pete Rose Set," but Charlie Hustle wasn't the only ancient first baseman playing for the Cincinnati Reds to get some Topps love in '86. Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez, who hit .328 at the age of 43 in a loose platoon with Rose, gets two great pieces of cardboard of his own. His base card (#85) is one of the nicest in the set, featuring a changing-of-the-guard moment with young Eric Davis. And any Record Breaker card that begins "Oldest Player to..." is automatically among my favorites.
The Big Picture
This boils down to a race with 1984 for second place. In the 1986 set's favor: A beautiful card design, the nifty Pete Rose Special tribute, the introduction of the five-year Turn Back the Clock plan, and an incredible crop of rookies in the Traded set. Working against '86: Managers as checklists, All-Stars as League Leaders, the introduction of the ghostly and ghastly Team Leaders card design, bland subset designs, in general, and a tendency toward blotchy printing issues. The devil's in the details, and as great as the base cards look, those details push 1986 Topps into the #3 spot with seven sets reviewed, after 1984 and ahead of 1981.