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They may not be the most expensive sets, but 1988 Topps Baseball cards still have a great design and a selection of Hall of Famers. Along with the expansive 792-card base collection, we also include 1988 Topps Traded copies.
Here’s a rundown with everything you need about 1988 Topps Baseball cards, including 10 of the best options and an investment outlook. The vast majority of 1988 Topps Baseball cards are almost worthless today, save for the best-graded copies of the cards seen below.
Below are the ten best cards to invest in.
10. 1988 Cal Ripken Jr. Topps #650
The legendary Cal Ripken Jr. spent his entire 2-decade career with the Baltimore Orioles. The 1988 Topps card has an understated design replicated across the set, with a big action shot of Ripken Jr. in a batting stance.
His team name is in large lettering behind the bat, which matches the orange outer border. You’ll find his name on a tab in the bottom right corner. Even PSA 10 copies are affordable, narrowly exceeding $100 at the current time of writing.
9. 1988 Robin Ventura Topps Traded Tiffany RC #124T
Robin Ventura played 16 seasons in MLB for the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. 1988 Topps Traded is a subset, with 132 cards, including over 20 members of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics. However, it was also more over-produced, even compared to the vast print runs that were common at the time.
It’s where you’ll find Ventura’s RC, which features a crisp profile shot of the player in Team USA gear. There are also Topps Tiffany versions, which are rarer and were produced on better-quality card stock.
8. 1988 Jim Abbott Topps Traded Tiffany #1T
Jim Abbott is a pitcher best known for his success at the major league level despite having been born without a right hand. Abbott is the first card found in the ‘88 Topps Traded set, and there are also Tiffany versions to watch. He’s featured in his Team USA jersey in a simple profile photo.
7. 1988 Bo Jackson Topps Tiffany #750
Bo Jackson may have been one of the best two-way players ever if not for a severe hip injury in 1991 against the Cincinnati Bengals, ending his football and baseball aspirations.
His 1988 card has a great blue hue, featuring the player mid-swing in a classic action shot. Once again, we’d advise sticking with the rarer Tiffany version, even if it’s not especially valuable.
6. 1988 Jack McDowell Topps Traded Tiffany RC #68T
Next is another Topps Tiffany card, from the ‘88 Traded set. Jack McDowell was a three-time All-Star who won the AL Cy Young Award in 1993, somehow finding the time to be a professional musician. As with the other Traded cards, he’s featured in a simple posed shot, staring slightly off-camera. It also happens to be his RC.
5. 1988 Mark Grace Topps Traded Tiffany RC #42T
Mark Grace is a three-time All-Star and World Series Champion featured in another RC in the Topps Traded set. It shows the first baseman with a bright red borderline in an action shot.
He hasn’t made it into the Hall of Fame, but he still has a cult following as a critical member of the 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks that beat the New York Yankees.
4. 1988 David Wells Topps Traded Tiffany RC #128T
David Wells pitched the 15th perfect game in baseball history in 1998 and won two World Series rings in a storied career. His RC is included in the packed 1988 Topps Traded set, and the Tiffany version is rare enough to attract significant interest if you’re looking at gem mint copies.
3. 1988 Nolan Ryan Topps #250
Nolan Ryan is another massive name from the set. During his stellar 27-year MLB career, he struck out 5,714 batters, which still ranks 1st for most career strikeouts.
‘The Ryan Express’ was coming to the end of his career by ‘88, but collectors are still interested in gem mint versions of his card from the base Topps set. The action shot features Ryan, and he throws a ball while there’s a bright yellow line around the border.
2. 1988 Tom Glavine Topps Tiffany RC #779
Tom Glavine was part of the Braves’ “Big 3” pitching rotation that dominated the National League East for almost a decade along with John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, while he’s a ten-time All-Star who also won the World Series in ‘95.
He’s the only Hall of Famer in the 1988 Topps set, and his Tiffany card is one of 25,000, which is low for the time. Glavine’s ‘88 RC would have taken the top spot on the list if not for a rare Don Mattingly card with an unexplained origin.
1. 1988 Don Mattingly Topps (World of Baseball) #300
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly is the only Yankee to have his number retired without winning a World Series with the team. His World of the Baseball card is an odd addition and can’t be found in standard 1988 Topps or Topps Traded checklists. Meanwhile, there’s no logo on Mattingly’s shirt, while “NEW YORK A.L.” is written in place of his team name and placed in front of him rather than behind him like the others.
The average card from the set is almost worthless, and many options listed above will only sell for a couple of dollars if they’re in poor condition. As for why late 1980s sets were released during the junk wax era when print runs were upped to numbers that had never been seen before or since.
Supply exceeds demand, and even gem mint copies are easily located. RCs and legends make up the list of the most valuable 1988 Topps Baseball cards, with Tiffany cards helping to create some separation.
- 1988 David Wells Topps Traded Tiffany RC #128
- Nolan Ryan Topps #250
- Mark Grace Topps Traded Tiffany RC #42T
- Tom Glavine Topps RC #779
- Don Mattingly Topps (World of Baseball) #300
Regarding investments, we’d stick with the Glavine RC, as you can’t go wrong with the Hall of Famer in gem mint condition. However, it will likely set you back by at least four figures. PSA 9 copies of the World of Baseball card could also be a viable option in the long term.
Given the set’s size, multiple error cards are found with 1988 Topps Baseball. We’ve listed a few below, but we’re only scratching the surface, considering the number of cards printed.
- #3 Mark McGwire – A couple of error cards, including a white area behind his left foot
- #4 Eddie Murray – No caption on the front of the card
- #21 Bert Blyleven – Cracks in the wall behind his shoulder that were later filled
- #348 Jim Eisenreich – Large white scratch on his arm
- #405 Dwight Gooden All-Star – missing the blue ink at the top of the R in ‘STAR’
- #493 Mike Greenwell – The All-Star rookie trophy is either printed over the lettering in his name or touching his name
- #767 Jose Lind – Shadow located behind the Topps logo
Glossy Send-Ins Offer – the insert found in the middle of packs; most of these were thrown away instantly. Initially, it was printed with the words “cards not included”, which makes no sense, as it was meant to be used to send off for cards from the Glossy All-Star set. Later editions used a large black arrow over the text or no text at all. The Trading Card Database is a good resource for learning about the 1988 Topps Baseball error cards.
The base ‘88 Topps set isn’t the most memorable, with muted designs and a weaker rookie class than others from the decade. There are a few hidden gems, but the vast majority should be disregarded if you’re hoping for a profit.
Even PSA 10-graded copies of most cards haven’t seen much movement, and they’re unlikely to shoot up massively in the near future. With that being said, options like the Glavine RC or even the Nolan Ryan card do have decent scope to increase in value, especially if you’re looking at gem mint copies of the Tiffany versions.
A print run of 25,000 is massive by today’s standards, but it’s difficult to say how many survived over the last 30 years. Graded versions do help to provide some separation. You could do far worse if you’re looking for a cheaper set from the late 1980s, even if it’s another victim of the junk wax era when all is said and done.