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1988 Oddball Baseball Cards

By Patrick Mondout

Here's our look at the the unusual (or "oddball") sets of baseball cards for 1988. Regular sets can be found here. Fleer showed tremendous restraint in 1988 and only produced eight 44 card "limited edition" boxed sets, down from '87's record of nine. The rest of us showed our appreciation by exercising restraint in buying them.

1988 Oddballs at a Glance
Topps produced a standard-sized set of 22 cards as premiums with their Bazooka brand bubble gums. These were the first Bazooka cards since 1971. The fronts have one of the most simplistic designs ever seen on a Topps card with oversized white borders.
Chef Boyardee had an uncut panel of 24 cards available to anyone who could cut out 10 proofs of purchase and send them along with $1.50 for postage and handling. Unless you are in love with the Chef, the team logo-less cards are unattractive. While the fronts clearly mention that this was the "1st annual" set, we're still waiting for the second...
Game Time, Ltd. produced a pair of updates to its 1987 Classic board trivia game. The first is known as Classic Red, because of the red borders, and was sold as a complete set of 50 cards. The second was also a 50 cards, but called Classic Blue for obvious reasons. You can read more about the Classic cards here.
Donruss produced a set of 64 standard sized All-Stars, which were distributed in packs with Donruss Pop-Ups. The Pop-Ups were also standard sized for the first time.
Learn more about Donruss' Baseball's Best 336 card set here.
Read more about the Donruss' The Rookies set here.
For the third straight season, Drake's printed Topps cards on their bakery products (two, three or four per box). This was the 8th and final Drake's Big Hitters set.
Twelve Fleer All-Stars were again randomly distributed in cello and wax packs of '88 Fleer cards. The players were Matt Nokes, Tom Henke, Ted Higuera, Roger Clemens, George Bell, Andre Dawson, Eric Davis, Wade Boggs, Alan Trammell, Juan Samuel, Jack Clark, and Paul Molitor.
One of six Fleer Headliner cards were available in rack packs. The players were Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Tim Raines.
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Award Winners for Seven-11. The set bore a strong resemblance to the '86-87 Fleer Basketball set.
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Baseball All-Stars for Ben Franklin stores. This set once again featured some guys who never found themselves on an All-Star roster (Dave LaPoint, Candy Maldonado).
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Baseball's Best Sluggers/Pitchers for McCrory's and others, including J.J. Newberry.
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Exciting Stars for Cumberland Farms. The stars may well have been exciting. The set was anything but.
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Hottest Stars for Revco. The hottest star in this set is Mark McGwire, but this set is worth a small fraction of what the '87 set is worth (with Barry Bonds).
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called League Leaders for Walgreen's.
Fleer produced the 44 card boxed set called Baseball MVPs for Toys 'R' Us. Topps also made a set for them. This made the toy giant the first company to have unnecessary boxed sets of ubiquitous stars produced by two major companies in the same year!
Fleer also produced the 44 card boxed set called Record Setters for Eckerd's. While the record that Mark Gubicza set to earn his place here is hard to find, the set itself is not.
Fleer's Star Stickers - a set they first produced in 1981 - were distributed, as usual, in wax packs. The complete set of 132 sticker cards can be found for around $10..
Fleer produced a boxed set of 44 cards called "Team Leaders" for Kay Bee toy stores.
Kay Bee toy stores third boxed set of 33 Superstars of Baseball looked a lot like the last one and was, as always, printed by Topps in Northern Ireland. Along with the Fleer "Team Leaders" set above, it marked the first time that such sets had been produced by two card manufacturers for the same company.
K-Mart finally had Topps produce them a boxed set of 33 cards that did not feature dead Hall of Famers. The set was called Memorable Moments and was anything but memorable. There was little to distinguish it from the dozen or so other small boxed sets of 1988 and so it too fell victim to the dreaded Blue Light.
Leaf produced a third and final abbreviated Donruss 264 card parallel set for the Canadian market in 1988. AL MVP George Bell and Tim Wallach were the "Canadian Greats" this year. The hype that built up around the initial set had long since subsided and this set was only slightly more popular south of the border than O-Pee-Chee. In fact, the company decided to rethink its strategy and did not release cards in 1989. They returned as a premium brand for Donruss in 1990, however.
Key minor league sets for 1988 included: Tucson Toros (Glenn Davis), Richmond Braves (David Justice, John Smoltz, and Ron Gant), Indianapolis Indians (Randy Johnson), Arkansas Travelers (Todd Zeile), San Bernadino Spirit (Ken Griffey Jr.), Charlotte Rangers (Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez), Tucson Toros (Craig Biggio), Kinston Indians (Joey (Albert) Belle), and the Vermont Mariners (Ken Griffey Jr., Omar Vizquel).

There was also a set featuring members of the Cape Cod League (Mo Vaughan, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas) and the Star Company produced a set for the Durham Bulls featuring Kevin Costner.

Now here's an interesting set. It has three things going against it. 1: It is yet another 44 card set. 2: It was printed by MSA without licensing team logos (hence the airbrushed hat). 3: There's not a single notable rookie card. Despite all of this, the '88 Nestle Dream Team set commands as much as $30 in top shape!
O-Pee-Chee coverage for 1988 is here.
Topps produced this League Leaders set of 33 cards for Revco. The set has little to offer a new collector but a low price.
Another Topps-produced box set of 33 cards was this Rite Aid Team MVPs set. The price of the set suffers from distribution problems (too many were distributed).
In addition to their regular and rookie/traded sets, Score produced a pair of Young Superstars 45 card boxed sets. This first series was distributed one per rack pack as an insert in addition to the blue boxed factory set.
The second series of Score Young Superstars featured Barry Bonds, but the 45 cards were only available in the purple boxed sets. Even with Barry this set is worth about half of the first set.
Our Topps Big coverage is here.
Topps rack packs were once again graced with one of 22 All-Star Glossies. The sure look an awful lot like last year's set though.
Topps produced a similar set of Glossy Rookies in super packs. Unfortunately, they stuck with the same tired design.
The third Mini Leaders set was made by Topps in 1988. It shared qualities with the previous two: It was small in both physical size and number of cards in the set (77) and it was not a good investment.

One of the more interesting sets Topps created was the "American Baseball" 88 card set for the United Kingdom market. The backs of the 2⅛ x 3 cards featured the usual array of stats and vitals, but also included a "Talking Baseball" section intended to clue in our friends on the other side of the pond to what was still America's Pastime. With mint sets going unsold on eBay for $5, I'm not sure anyone on either side of the Atlantic cared.

In case either of the baseball card fans in England had a few extra quid laying around at the end of the season, Topps produced a Tiffany (glossy) limited edition version of its American Baseball set!

Topps would produce one more of these British sets in 1989 before giving up for good.

Topps created the second yearly set of 33 Toys 'R' Us Rookies for the retailer in 1988. The design was almost exactly the same except for the border color. Unfortunately, it contained too few good rookies (McGwire's first Topps card was four years earlier!) and was printed in excess of demand.
And the last dreaded 33 card boxed set Topps made in 1988 was called Woolworth "Baseball Highlights."


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Image courtesy of US Forest Service

'88 Sets!
'88 Singles!
'88 Unopened Packs!
'88 Lots!
'88 Cases!

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