PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1984 Topps Baseball Card Set
From "Donnie Baseball" to Countless Cooperstowners
by Kevin Glew
The 1984 Topps Baseball set has eight cards that feature Steve Carlton, five that highlight Tom Seaver and four that picture Nolan Ryan.
It also houses multiple cards of Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, George Brett and Cal Ripken, Jr.
Yes, thanks to a strong selection of subsets, this 792-card issue is loaded with Hall of Famers.
So why then is it still so inexpensive to assemble in PSA GEM-MT 10 grade?
One reason is that unopened boxes are still available - although not as readily as they used to be - and this means that high-grade cards are still being discovered. Moreover, the white-bordered design of the cards makes them easier to uncover in flawless form.
This set has also been overshadowed by the 1984 Donruss set, which is arguably the Texas-based company's best and most revered set. But perhaps the biggest factor is that despite being chock-full of legends, the 1984 Topps set does not boast a Hall of Famer rookie, though some feel that Don Mattingly, who debuts in this offering, is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.
So for all of these reasons, the 1984 Topps Baseball set remains one of the most unheralded and inexpensive issues of its era.
The most distinctive feature of the regular 1984 player cards is the team name running vertically down the left side in big, bold capital letters. Like the 1983 Topps Baseball cards before them, the regular 1984 player cards showcase two photos: generally a large action picture and a smaller headshot.
"I like the fact that most of the cards have action photos," said Bob Robinson, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest, 1984 Topps Baseball set on the PSA Set Registry. The image selection, according to Robinson, was well executed by Topps, especially because they used photos that help capture the players as you may have remembered them on the field.
Robinson cites the Rickey Henderson card (#230), which fashions an image of the speedy outfielder poised to run, as a good example of this.
Sonny Hall, who owns the registry's No. 1, 1984 Topps set, says the photographs on the Montreal Expos and Oakland A's cards are particularly strong.
"The cards from those two teams tend to be a lot more colorful," he said. "It must have been a really nice day when they shot those photos."
The Topps logo, as well as the player's name and position, are also on the card front.
The horizontal card backs boast purple borders, and the card number is indicated at the top to the left of the player's vitals (e.g., Height, Weight, Bats, Throws, etc.). Yearly statistics ensue, followed by biographical information and a "Dateline" section, which highlights a standout performance(s) by the player during the 1983 season.
There are several desirable subsets in this issue. Six "1983 Highlight" cards lead off the set, and four of these feature at least one Hall of Famer. The Rickey Henderson Highlight card (#2) celebrates his third, 100-stolen base season; however, registration issues make it difficult to uncover in pristine condition. Out of 92 total graded, there are only 15 PSA 10s.
The fourth highlight card heralds pitchers Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry for surpassing Walter Johnson's career strikeout record in 1983. All three of these hurlers have since been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And two cards later, Topps paid tribute to Perry, Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski who retired after the 1983 season. These three have also since been immortalized in Cooperstown.
Team Leader and manager cards are sprinkled throughout the set, while League Leaders were highlighted on cards #131 to #138. Andy Sharp, who owns the registry's No. 2 Current Finest set, says the "Leading Firemen" card featuring Dan Quisenberry and Al Holland (#138) is tough to track down in top form. Hall agrees. About three years ago, he sold the only PSA 10 and he hasn't been able to replace it.
All-Star cards (#386 to #407) return for this issue, and Topps also introduced an "Active Career Leaders" subset (#701 to #718). These cards shined the spotlight on the active career statistical leaders in the National and American Leagues at that time, and many of them showcase multiple Hall of Famers. For example, the National League Active Career Victory Leaders single (#706) features Carlton, Seaver and Fergie Jenkins, while the following card (#707), the National League Strikeouts Leaders, pictures Carlton, Ryan and Seaver.
The 1984 Topps cards were distributed in 15-card/30-cent wax packs with gum. They were also available in 28-card/49-cent cellos and 54-card rack packs. These were the largest racks that Topps had produced. And within each rack pack was one of 22 bonus "Glossy All-Stars" cards that highlighted the nine starters from each league in the 1983 All-Star game, the managers and team captains (Bench and Yastrzemski).
Robinson and Hall have noticed that the quantity of unopened 1984 boxes is starting to diminish.
"It definitely has dried up," said Hall. "A lot of people are looking at it as an investment."
Hall says the price of a 1984 Topps wax box has gone up about 50 percent in the past two years.
"You used to be able to get a box for $40, and now they're going for $60, $70 or $80," he said.
When collectors open a box today, the card they most covet is the Don Mattingly rookie (#8).
"The Mattingly is still the big card," said Sharp. "Around 20 percent of the cards graded [by PSA] for this set are Mattingly rookies."
Of the 8,979 "Donnie Baseball" cards submitted, there have been 524 PSA 10s. These PSA 10s have been selling for about $100 each.
Although Darryl Strawberry has a card in the 1983 Topps Traded set, some consider his 1984 Topps single (#182) his true rookie. Percentage-wise, his card has been easier to track down in PSA 10 than Mattingly's. Of the 1,627 evaluated, 370 - or 23 percent - have been deemed PSA 10s.
Rookie cards of several other notable players are also part of this offering, including Julio Franco (#48), Bill Doran (#198), Andy Van Slyke (#206), Jose Oquendo (#208), Tom Candiotti (#262), Kevin Gross (#332), Gary Redus (#475), Ron Kittle (#480) and Andy Hawkins (#778).
This set also offers the second-year singles of Hall of Famers Wade Boggs (#30), Tony Gwynn (#251) and Ryne Sandberg (#596), as well as the third-year pasteboard of Cal Ripken, Jr. (#490).
As noted earlier, Nolan Ryan is pictured on four cards: 1983 Highlight (#4), Astros Team Leaders (#66), his regular issue (#470) and National League Active Career Strikeout Leaders (#707). His regular single (#470), which features him about to release a pitch, is one of the set's most coveted cards.
Sharp points out that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog's card (#561) is one of the most elusive Hall of Famer singles to find in mint condition. There's just one PSA MINT 9 and one PSA 10.
"I think that is crazy because there are hundreds of [high-grade] cards of the other Hall of Famers in this set," said Sharp, who owns one of the two existing PSA NM-MT 8 Herzog cards.
But it's some of the common cards from this issue that have proven to be the most evasive in pristine condition. According to the PSA Population Report, there are 13 cards that don't have a PSA 10 example (see chart below), and one of those cards - Bob Watson (#739) - has yet to have a card grade above PSA 8.
"I sent in the first Bob Watson card and I only got a PSA [NM] 7 on it," said Sharp. To date, there have only been three cards graded of the Watson card: two PSA 7s and one PSA 8.
Hall, who has opened over 20 boxes of this issue, has also had problems finding a high-grade Watson.
"I've never submitted a Watson card because I've never had one that looked halfway decent," he said.
Among the condition issues that plague the Watson card are poor left-to-right centering and print defects. Some of the cards flaunt what appears to be a print line that runs vertically down the photo from the top border (just left of the Topps logo) to Watson's left shoulder. Not surprisingly, this card is located on the top-right corner of a print sheet, an edge-sheet position that generally makes cards more vulnerable to flaws during the production process.
Robinson says poor coloring is one of the most common condition issues on the 1984 Topps cards.
"It just doesn't look like the color is as sharp at times," he said.
Hall, who also owns the No. 1, 1983 Topps Baseball set, says the stock used for the 1984 cards isn't that firm.
"In my opinion, I don't think the paper quality of the 1984 cards is as good as the 1983 cards," he said. "I find there are more printing issues. There are not as many off-center [cards], but the quality of the images is just not as good."
And though the number of collectors pursuing the 1984 Topps Baseball set on the PSA Set Registry is relatively small, this number should grow. While it's true that there are no Hall of Famer rookies in this set, it compensates for this by having multiple non-rookie cards of several Hall of Famers and by the fact that it can still be assembled in high-grade for a very reasonable price.
"I think as the years go on people are going to look back at their childhood and remember the players in the 1984 set," said Robinson. "For me, I grew up with these players, and I'm just kind of circling back around and filling in some of my 1970s and 1980s sets. There are a lot of people my age - and I basically didn't collect from age 19 to about age 45, so I had a bit of a collecting lull in my life - but now that our kids are older, I think people my age have more money and more time to collect the cards they love."
For more information on the 1984 Topps baseball set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1984-topps/314.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Andy Sharp for providing assistance on this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of April 2016.
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