My Childhood Collection of 1987 Topps Baseball

It's Still Worth A Lot. To Me. Only To Me.
  • May 26, 2015

1987 Bo Jackson

I was ten years old in 1987. And if I ever run into ten year old me, I don’t know how I would break it to him that his 1987 Topps baseball wood-paneled treasures wound up becoming worth close to nothing. Worth close to nothing to everyone but me, of course. Like every other ten year old boy, I thought that nothing was worse than running errands with my parents; the supermarket, the cleaners, the bank – it didn’t matter, it was all time I couldn’t spend playing Wiffle Ball, which meant that it was pretty terrible. Except for when there were baseball cards nearby. And in 1987, there were almost always packs of Topps baseball nearby. Looking back, I can’t remember a single destination in my hometown in New Jersey that didn’t have a store that sold Topps 1987 baseball within walking distance. Rack packs were of course special treats, but at $0.40 a pack, there was always enough change to buy at least one wax pack. Back then, nothing could make or break your day like opening a pack of 1987 Topps baseball.

1987 wasn’t the first year I collected cards. I had put together a decent sized collection of 1985 and 1986 Topps baseball, too. I enjoyed picking up a pack of Topps baseball in 1985 and 1986 and finding one of my favorite Yankees. But 1987 was different. Ten year old boys didn’t “enjoy” getting packs of baseball cards in 1987, they obsessed over it. It's only a small exaggeration to say that nothing mattered more back then than your most recent and your next pack of 1987 Topps baseball.

Prior to 1987, I didn’t care what the cards were worth. I hadn’t given it a second thought. It wasn’t that eight year old me made a decision not to care, it’s that the whole concept of these cards having some objective value had not occurred to me. Getting a Yankee was the best possible outcome. Don Mattingly was ideal, but Dave Righetti or Willie Randolph were still pretty great finds. There were a handful of star players like Kirby Puckett, Dwight Gooden, George Brett and Cal Ripken who I would have been excited to find in a pack, but back then the most important thing was completing the set – it was far more important to get the card of a journeyman player I didn’t have yet than to pull a star player I already did.


Things changed in 1987. Completing my set of wood-paneled Topps baseball just was not that important. Now I wanted star players, and I wanted as many of each one as I could get. I was a little older, now ten years old, so maybe that’s what had changed. But it was more than that. In 1987, Topps began alerting baseball card collectors, young and old alike, to the players they should want to find in a pack, by bringing back the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy (for the first time since 1978) and choosing a parallel team of “Future Stars” for the first time. I still loved the Yankees, opening a pack and finding a Ron Guidry or a Tommy John card was still something, but it wasn’t the same. The designation of Topps All-Star Rookies like Jose Canseco, Wally Joyner and Todd Worrell and Future Stars like Rafael Palmeiro and of course, Bo Jackson, told me that these cards had an objective value, that they were worth something whether I liked these players or not.

And so, like every other ten year old boy I knew, I hoarded as many All-Star Rookies and Future Stars as I could. I might consider trading two Topps All-Star Rookies like Robby Thompson and Andres Thomas for a better All-Star Rookie like Danny Tartabull, but otherwise there was no way to pry an All-Star Rookie or Future Star from my tiny little ten year old hands. These cards were worth something, worth real money, and that was a captivating concept to ten year old me. I was intent to collect and save as many of the set’s valuable cards as I could.

And so I did. I had piles of every 1987 Topps All-Star Rookie and Future Stars, some twenty or more cards high. I would check the monthly price guide, and sure enough there was always a little “+” by the Jose Canseco and the Bo Jackson and most of the other cards telling me that they had gone up in value since the previous month’s guide. And those that didn’t seem to go anywhere, like Dave Magadan and B.J. Surhoff – I was willing to give them time because Topps had assured me that these “Future Stars” would be stars in the future. My collection of 1987 Topps baseball was valuable, and it was only going to become more and more valuable and probably never stop.


I’ll never forget the moment I realized that my 1987 Topps baseball cards were worth pretty close to nothing. It was a few years later, and I was walking around the sports card show they held every three months in my local mall. I walked by the dealer who sold the unopened boxes of packs and noticed something different, something outrageous. Ordinarily the only full boxes in my price range were the novelty cards that sold for $10 a box like the ill-conceived Batman cards or late series Garbage Pail Kids. But this time, he had wax boxes of 1987 Topps baseball for $10 a box. I was thrilled at first – there could be as many as four or five Pete Incaviglia Topps All Star Rookie cards in there I quickly calculated! But before I could reach into my pocket and pull out the $10 in lawn mowing money I had brought to the show, I realized what this meant. I went home and put away all my late 1980s baseball cards that day, and shoved what seemed like hundreds of boxes and binders in the back of my parents’ closet where it would stay for the next twenty or so years.

I was angry. I felt like Topps had made me a promise. They had, hadn’t they? And then they went ahead and broke it. Topps promised ten year old me that if I spent my allowance money on packs of baseball cards instead of on G.I. Joe action figures or a Talking Alf doll, they would make it worth my while. At least that’s how I understood the deal. At the very least, I could count on their Topps All Star Rookie and Future Star selections to be worth something. Those designations had to be the result of an intensely vetted and highly analytical process, hadn’t they? Surely they didn’t pick B.J. Surhoff’s name out of a hat!

Back then, I still didn’t understand what had gone wrong, but I knew that something had gone horribly wrong. Jose Canseco was great, Rafael Palmeiro was great, even Danny Tartabull had a small handful of some pretty great years – but their cards were close to worthless. It wasn’t fair, and it ran contrary to everything I thought I understood about baseball cards.


It took me a long time to realize that I was all wrong about 1987 Topps baseball. They’re still not worth anything in market terms, but I came to realize that my 1987 Topps baseball cards do have value. To me. Only to me. But that’s fine!

I'm the owner of the largest buyer of vintage baseball cards in the country. Just Collect has bought and sold more than $15 million dollars in sports card collections since we opened nine years ago. I have been fortunate enough to see and handle baseball cards that ten year old me could not have even dreamed of back in 1987. There are emotions associated with holding a piece of history like a 1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson or a 1933 Goudy Babe Ruth that are too unique to describe in words.

But there is nothing, at least there isn’t for me, like going through my collection of 1987 Topps baseball cards. I know my Pete Incaviglia rookies are worth about a quarter each (on a good day), but it sure doesn’t feel that way when I come upon one and see that All-Star Rookie trophy shining brightly in the bottom right hand corner. And I understand that I never learned to pronounce Tim Pyznarski’s name because he only wound up playing in fifteen major league games, but that doesn’t stop me from getting excited when I come across his card with “Future Stars” scrawled by Topps across the bottom.

When I see those cards, or just about any from the 1987 Topps baseball set, it brings me back to a simpler time. Back when nothing mattered except for baseball. Back when finding a Bo Jackson in a wax pack (or even better, on top of a rack pack!) was enough to make you walk on cloud nine for an entire week. I see the Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry cards and I still see nothing but a pair of World Series Champions. I see the Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens cards, and I see nothing but a couple of players with unlimited potential to do things that ten year old me had never seen before on a baseball field.

1987 Topps Barry BondsMark McGwire 1987 Topps1987 Topps Roger Clemens

And that’s valuable. To me. And only to me. It took me many years to understand that that’s enough, that’s all that matters.


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