I basically looked the other way. I mean, I was a teenager and this was the '80s. My bedroom was painted blue with red and yellow accents. The world was full of day-glow and neon and cool geometrical shapes and amazing new home computers. And here comes Topps with a set of baseball cards framed with simulated wood-grain paneling? What were they thinking? I still bought them, but it was more out of habit than excitement.
26 Years Later...
Whatever the rest of the world thought of these in 1987, today there seems to be a general consensus that this is one of the classic Topps sets. Although my opinion of the these cards has certainly moved in a positive direction over the years, I'm still not prepared to go that far. The design certainly benefits from the march of time, which has taken it out of the context of the 1980s. It never really belonged there. The '80s were not a time for the timeless. It was all about the here and now, then.
One way to tell that this design is timeless is to look at cards of the White Sox. The Pale Hose tended to look great on the more '80s-centric designs of the era, in their crazy horizontal-striped, number-on-the-pants, softball uniforms. The even-yeared sets from '82 through '88 look like they might have been designed specifically with South-Siders in mind, they look so good. But when you put one of those unis inside of '87s wood-grain border, it becomes painfully obvious how time-locked that look really is.
The classic uniforms tended to look best with this design. The Orioles, Pirates, Giants and Tigers look especially nice in their wooden frames. But one team with, shall we say, more modern sensibilities may have actually looked the best. That's because uniforms of the Oakland A's work really nicely in this context, the garish green transformed into something more reminiscent of a pine forest.
In all, this is a fairly unobtrusive, utilitarian set of cards. There are few spectacular photos, but a lot of good ones and not many bad ones. The set is a real gamer. You get the usual mix of action and posed shots. With a few exceptions, there's a real sameness to the actions shots. Lots of conservative choices, befitting the conservative design. There is also a large population of close-up portraits among the posed shots, which look particularly good within the wood frame.
Speaking of Chili, there are nine other players in this set who share his name: Alvin, Eric, Glenn, Jody, Joel, Mark, Mike, Ron and Storm. Wonder if that's a record of some kind? Probably not, since nearly all of these guys hung around for several years. I never realized how Davis-filled the '80s were...
It's hard to find much fault with the basic design (as long as you're cool with the whole wood thing). The circle with the team logo is a good size and in a good location. The name plate provides some team color coordination, and the font used is reasonable. The location of the Topps logo is excellent. The angles of the borders are interesting without drastically intruding on the space left for the photo. But there is one huge problem, in my opinion. For the first time since the psychedelic tombstones of 1972, the player's position is not displayed on the front of the card. This was to become way too common in the coming years, and I hold it against this set that it began that trend.
On a positive note, the backs of the cards were among the most legible of the decade (although I'm not sure the blue and yellow really does much to create a unified theme with the wood grain on the front). The additional information Topps provided was some of the most interesting, as they chose to share personal information about the players. When there's room, they also give you some historical "On This Date" highlight featuring an unrelated player, punctuated by the Topps card number for that player in the year of the event discussed.
In retrospect, the 1987 Topps design is a conservatively classic 25th-anniversary nod to their last wood-themed set from 1962. It may not have been a trendy choice for its time, but it holds up as a fine representative of the timeless Topps tradition.