When I say 1987 Baseball Cards, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? That answer is almost overwhelmingly ’87 Topps with the classic woodgrain border. That design is so iconic, Topps still can’t let it go. I love it too but sometimes too much of a good thing can actually be bad. One set you probably don’t think of when I say 1987 is the Fleer Baseball’s Best set that pits Sluggers vs Pitchers. To be honest, it’s one of those forgettable sets in an otherwise memorable year for baseball cards. But I haven’t forgotten about it. There are some classic players on the checklist that wouldn’t normally land in a small set like this. And you know I never pass up a chance for a trip down memory lane!We’ll start with the design of he set. The front of the card was quite different from the all blue base Fleer set. These were semi-glossy with a little grainier photo than those in the flagship product. They had white outside borders with alternating blue and red at the top and bottom. The top of the card had a classic late 80’s splash banner with “1987 Baseball’s Best” and the Fleer logo. The bottom of the card had the player’s name, their designation as a “slugger” or “pitcher” and a corresponding stat. The sluggers had their batting average and the pitchers had their ERA. I found it odd to put the batting average for the slugger because the two didn’t necessarily correlate. The backs of the cards were similar to the flagship product in that they were red, white and blue with full stats to see. A look at the back also reveals that the stat on the front is a career stat and not the previous year. For example, Kevin Bass has an average of .274 printed on the front. The back shows this as his career stat but lists his previous year (1986) as a .311 average, which would have been more appealing on the front. Kevin Bass was a good major league ball player but I did not consider him a slugger. And his career .274 average and 40 home runs through 5 major league seasons up until 1987 support that consideration. We’ll talk more on some of the strange selections in the checklist later.I found out quickly that the card stock was a bit flimsy. I had Kevin Bass out for a minute looking at his stats and it had already started bowing. It went quickly back into the box. The set itself provided 44 cards (11 more than the KayBee set) and 6 additional stickers, or at least that’s what was advertised. I actually had 9 stickers in the box. There were 3 multi sticker sheets and then 6 team logo stickers. An odd thing about the stickers was that the back of the sticker card had a completely different team on it, as outlined in this Padres front and Braves back. I will say that the backs of the sticker cards were quite attractive with a black and white drawing of a ball and glove with a color logo above. Was I the only one that actually enjoyed Fleer’s sticker gimmick?Of the 44 players, the sluggers outnumbered the pitchers 29-15. Some of the usual names were included; Boggs, Brett, Canseco, Gwynn, Mattingly, McGwire, Murphy, Gooden, Clemens and Puckett. But there were some odd names too like Incaviglia, Bass, Leonard, Phelps, Tabler and our old friend Jack Clark from the KayBee set. Please don’t think I don’t like Clark. I just don’t know why he was included in all of these additional sets. The year these were printed, he hit .237 with 9 home runs for crying out loud. His career average was .275 and he averaged 15 home runs over a 13 year career to that point. I missed the boat on Mr. Clark. And as an aside, the box had another misprint much like KayBee in that McGwire was spelled McGuire. The card was correct. And yes, Cal Ripken Jr. was in fact included in this set but still no Nolan Ryan. The Bash Brothers (Canseco/McGwire) were included as they should have been in retrospect. However, at the time this set was generated, McGwire was sitting on a .189 average with 3 bombs in 18 career games. Fleer must’ve had wonderful foresight. Canseco was a tad better with a career .249 average and 38 bombs in 2 seasons. The Canseco does have a great shot on the front of the card though. The true Bash Brothers in this set were Jesse Barfield and George Bell from the Toronto Blue Jays. Barfield hit .289 with 40 home runs in 86 while Bell hit .309 with 31 dingers. Now that is what sluggers look like! And those powder blue uniforms were beautiful even on grainy cards.As for the pitchers, Clemens and Gooden were obvious inclusions based on their stats in ’86. However, there were a few names that had escaped my memory but also deserved their place. Mike Witt was 18-10 with a 2.84 ERA in ’86. Mike Scott was also included with his 18-10 record and 2.22 ERA. They even plugged in a closer in Jeff Reardon with his 35 saves from ’86. Using more of a career lens as opposed to the previous season, they included Bret Saberhagen, who was coming off of a 7-12 season with a 4.15 ERA. And normally steady Rick Sutcliffe had an abysmal season with a 5-14 record and a 4.64 ERA. These are not the type of seasons that usually culminate in inclusion in a “Baseball’s Best” set. Career-wise, yes, very good ball players but 1986 was not so pleasant.That brings me to my biggest head scratcher inclusions. And as I said above, good ball players, just not “Best”. I could never hit .235 in the majors but I also would never be classified as a “Slugger” either.
- Pat Tabler – Career .288 with 29 home runs in 5 full seasons. He did hit .326 in ’86 so that might equal a pass but still not a “slugger”.
- Ken Phelps – Career .235 with 64 home runs in 6 partial seasons. This guy had been bouncing between the majors and minors since 1976 and he’s included in “Baseball’s Best”?
- Jeffrey Leonard – Career .273 with 81 home runs in 11 partial seasons? I don’t know….. Even though Pete Incaviglia hit for a terrible average, he did hit 30 fly balls that left the park.
- Ivan Calderon – He did hit .303 in ’86 but he had played 4 seasons at the major league level and never appeared in more than 67 games and had a career .266 average.
All in all, a neat retro set that can be had for very little cash. You can even find them sealed on Ebay, assuring their minty condition. While neat and retro, it also needed some help saving it from being below a Dub Score of 3. The inclusion of some big superstars like Ripken, Boggs, Puckett and Gooden was nice. And the inclusion of some serious sluggers like Jesse Barfield, George Bell and Dave Parker was a plus too. I liked the stickers included and also wasn’t too disappointed in the design, even by 1987 standards. When 90% of the market is pushing the woodgrain of the ’87 Topps, it was a nice change of pace for nostalgia. I’d pay $5 for the set and in fact just did so I could have one that was sealed. Just enjoy it for what it is – a fun look at baseball players from the late ‘80’s.
Dub Score – 3