Diamonds in the Junk – 1988 Topps Baseball5 min read

For collectors of a certain age there is something oddly comforting about junk wax cards. Far too many were printed, they’re littered with quasi-errors and print issues, and “rare” chase cards are numbered in the thousands. However, they are also full of players who are now in their respective halls of fame, the cards are necessary parts of many PSA Set Registries and a $5 or $10 investment can still bring hours of enjoyment. Not a bad deal. Here is the latest installment in the PSA Blog series called Diamonds in the Junk, where we crack some junk wax, review the results, relate them to the hobby today and have fun along the way. Today I review 1988 Topps baseball cards.


In my many years in the hobby, I have come to believe that there are junk wax cards, and there are JUNK wax cards. The former defines a general era while the latter describes a handful of truly crappy sets. The 1990 Donruss, 1986 Topps and 1992 Score issues would be considered JUNK wax sets. And so would 1988 Topps.

Just what is it about these cards that are so unappealing? Well, it could be any of the following… About a billion of them were printed. The set is massive and features a ton of guys that I barely remember. The registry of the cards is often terrible. The card stock sucks. The backs are a crummy, dirty orange color. The errors are all pretty boring and very few have value above a nickel. The rookie class is less than exciting. Mark McGwire still has a Topps Rookie All-Star Trophy on this, his third Topps card. There are more, but do I need to go on?

I will say that the design on the card fronts is moderately attractive, lightly reminiscent of Topps’ 1967 release. Still, this set has more working against it than the front design can alleviate. The set contains 792 cards, which does not account for the multitude of errors. a solid number of those cards feature future Hall of Fame players, either in base, all-star, record breaker, team leader or Turn Back the Clock varieties.

Of the non-error cards in the set, the most desirable would likely be considered the  #779 Tom Glavine RC, possibly followed by some of the HOF cards such as Nolan Ryan or Cal Ripken, Jr. The majority of error cards consist of different blotches, airbrush marks or color variations in certain areas. However, cards #18 (Al Leiter – correct and incorrect photos) and #778 (Keith Comstock – blue and white letter variations) are a bit more advanced and maintain a bit of interest to this day.


I went in a different direction with this set in that I bought a box of 1988 Topps rack packs to throw some variety into the break. These are fun, of course, because of the different players that can be seen on the tops and bottoms of each cell. I didn’t find anything earth-shattering in this box (is earth-shattering even a possibility in this case?), but I did get racks with George Brett and the Alan Trammell all-star card showing on top, and others with the Ozzie Smith base and Nolan Ryan record breaker cards shown on the backs.

The ’88 Topps rack packs feature the added bonus of a 22-card glossy all-star set that arrives at a rate of one card-per-rack pack. My box produced 20 different cards from the set and a handful of duplicates. They typically feature nice action images and the player selection is pretty good, so the cards are something of a highlight in an otherwise bland box.

As I do with a lot of the junk wax boxes I rip, I pulled up an online list of the errors and variations that have been found in this set. My box had some error cards (Al Leiter), some corrected versions (Keith Comstock), and a smattering of different print variations. The highlight of the box was likely the pack that contained five Hall of Famers (base cards of Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Rich Gossage, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Robin Yount), while the low light is either the really crummy registration on a number of cards or the Jody Reed card that came with a large tear and hole near the top.


Can we all agree that these cards just generally suck? Beyond that, there really isn’t a lot to say. Sure, the Hall of Famers are necessary parts of various player and rookie sets, but the actual cards are nothing exciting. Rack and cello packs provide the additional element of interest with the facing cards, and good ones can make for cool supplemental items in a collection. As I mentioned, this particular box didn’t contain anything exciting, but the possibility was there. Given the opportunity, I would likely always choose to rip cello or rack over wax for that reason alone.

There is a bit of a premium for rack boxes, and I think that I paid $10 for this one. Using my standard for comparison, that equates to a good carnitas burrito and a bag of hot carrots from a solid SoCal drive-thru Mexican restaurant – something likely ending in “erto’s.” Given the results of this box, I would definitely choose the grub over the cards.


Selecting a Diamond in the Junk from this box was not an easy task. The player names are great, but the cards themselves are junk. Given everything here, my favorite card in this group is that of Dodgers manager, Tom Lasorda. Shown lounging in a golf cart in what appears to be the beginning of his Ultra Slim Fast days, Lasorda is shown smiling as though he already knows that his Dodgers will be hoisting the World Series trophy at the end of the season.



Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

Johnny Robinson - Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019!!!

4 thoughts on “Diamonds in the Junk – 1988 Topps Baseball5 min read

  1. One man’s junk is another man’s… PSA set registry.

    I’ll admit, a combination of inexpensive cards and nostalgia is what got me started. Now that I’m nearly half way there, I’d like to see it through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.