Diamonds in the Junk – 1989 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 1989 Topps baseball cards.


It’s been a while since I have written anything for the Diamonds in the Junk series, so I made a trip to my LCS the other day and stocked up on some 1988-1993 boxes. Random stuff, baseball and football, which will undoubtedly become the inspiration for several more posts.

Today I ripped open a box of 1989 Topps baseball and rode the wave of nostalgia that came with it. Even at the time of its release, ’89 Topps fell behind rival card sets. Fleer had the Billy Ripken craze that year, and Donruss, Score and Upper Deck were more attractive and printed on superior card stock. Bowman made a hobby reappearance after a 34-year hiatus, and that left Topps lagging pretty far behind the pack. On top of that, Topps failed to include Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card in their base set that year, and it wasn’t until the Traded set was issued late in the season that we were treated to a Topps card of The Kid.

Still, Topps had a few things going for it, including a Future Stars subset, Turn Back the Clock cards, All-Stars, Record Breakers, Number One Draft Picks and the famous Topps Trophy Rookies. Beyond Ken Griffey, Jr., the noted young phenoms of the day were Gary Sheffield, Gregg Jefferies and Mark Grace. Oddly, I don’t recall a lot of hype at the time for pitcher Randy Johnson, who has an ’89 Topps rookie card, though The Big Unit went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

Topps issued their standard 792-card set in 1989, not counting the various errors and print variations. Generally speaking, the cards are rather bland with team names in a bubble-type script and a Nike-like swoosh containing the player names on the front. Card backs feature two-toned pink blocks with black type and borders. It is a rather yawn-worthy design by my eye, but everything was hotly-desired in the card-crazed late ’80s, so Topps printed incalculable amounts that are sitting in card store backrooms still today.


Yikes… I popped open my 1989 Topps box in an effort to take a leisurely stroll down memory lane. The problem is that I completely forgot that memory lane is also the route you take when recalling that time you visited the dentist for a double root canal. Opening this box wasn’t that much different.

A box of 1989 Topps contains 36 packs of 15 cards each, with a stick of pink bubble gum and sweepstakes card with items that could be ordered from the company store. While I love the idea of bubble gum cards, you can automatically toss the top and bottom cards in each pack due to wax and gum stains, which reduces your 540-card box by 72 cards. Not a major deal with today’s $5-$10 junk wax, but a bit more frustrating back in the day when people were hand-collating these sets.

There are a fair amount of error cards and print variations in this set, something that I tracked while I opened packs. None of it is particularly exciting and, certainly, nothing is valuable, but the little quirks can be fun to track down and I found a handful of them in this box. For me, they are just mild amusement, but some of the more dedicated variation hunters can tell you the exact reason for each variation, what sheet each card was printed on and whether there happened to be a scratch in a printing plate. It is dogged research and I’ve got to admire their attention to detail.

The collation in this box seemed to be pretty good. I got 24 different base cards of HOF players, and duplicates of only two. I didn’t bother sorting the cards because you come nowhere close to a complete set with a single box, and I’m not in the market for a set anyway. But good collation is something to appreciate regardless of the set, so i have to applaud Topps for that.

All in all, this was not an exciting break. With literally no single cards to look forward to finding, opening each pack became an exercise in persistence rather than a joy. I just couldn’t get excited about this one regardless of what cards I unearthed.


Truthfully, these are some rough cards. It was pretty apparent that in 1989 Topps thought they were still living in the days of no marketplace competition, although card companies were popping up all over the place, and their design and quality control was seriously lacking. Photos were blurry, cards are poorly-centered, the card stock is sub-par and in all honesty, “print variation” is just a fancy term for a screw up.

I paid $10 for this box and the truth is that the experience wasn’t worth the money. The enjoyment derived from a machaca burrito and hot carrots would likely have lasted longer, and, if not for accompanying indigestion, most certainly would have. I have already reviewed 1988 Topps for this series, and after this latest effort, I do not look forward to 1990. I’m a Topps guy at heart and love what they mean to the hobby, but this era of cards is really tough to appreciate.

Mexican Food > 1989 Topps.


Selecting a Diamond in the Junk from this box did not come without its challenges. There are plenty of Hall of Fame names, but the cards that they appear on are less than exciting. Still, Tim Raines is cool. He kind of lived in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, and usually played for crummy teams, but this guy was an incredible player. He hit for average, had a little bit of power and could steal bases all day long. Plus he opted for his nickname “Rock” on this card, which amplifies his coolness by a factor of 10 at least.


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.

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2 thoughts on “Diamonds in the Junk – 1989 Topps Baseball5 min read

  1. I am looking forward to reading your 1990 Topps Baseball series article (I didn’t see it out there after this tease). Maybe add in a section on the prodigious reprints and re-uses of the style in newer than 1990 cards. If it is so terrible, why is it back so often? Maybe because its just too infamous.

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