Cheap Treats (Not Tricks)

During the height of the baseball card frenzy, there were a lot of sets. Many many sets. Too many sets. There were incredibly crappy and pointless sets (I’m talking about you, 1990 Topps Doubleheaders).


There were sets of historical worthiness, nicely put together, worthy, but monetarily worthless (1987 Donruss Rookies comes to mind).


Plenty of other sets came and went with a Why? These are ugly! Haven’t I seen something like this a million times over? (Presenting the KayBee Team Leaders box.)


Then there are sets that are really nice, worth the time, and, though forgotten, lots of fun.

Sitting on a shelf with a bunch of Topps Updates, Donruss Rookies and assorted others, sits my 1986 Fleer Classic Miniature set, 120 small cards in a tiny box. The ’86 Fleer set is simple and solid, and, though the minis are in the same design – THEY ARE DIFFERENT PHOTOS! Good ones too.


Here’s Dwight Gooden (mini on left, regular issue on right).

Here’s Tom Seaver (same order):

And Eddie Murray:

I was so taken by this set, that I hadn’t looked at in decades, that I went searching for the others – 1987 and 1988. I found a guy on eBay who was selling both (perfect!).  He wanted $10 plus shipping. A little quick research showed that there are listings for bulk lots that end up with the sets at about a buck each, and sold listings topped out at $3. I offered $5 for both sets and got them.


Picking up these stray complete sets that I don’t have and are appealing is a great little sideline for me as I stall in completing some older, slightly more difficult sets to wrap up. The price is right, the cards are beautiful, and, though unfortunately lumped into the “junk wax”/baseball card bubble period, are worth having.

I’m sure there are tons of low priced sets that people love and I don’t know about. (I recently picked up a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts that I had never heard of and now adore).


The floor is yours. I want to hear about your faves (which I will then buy for pocket change.)

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

22 thoughts on “Cheap Treats (Not Tricks)”

  1. My favorite of these sets are the Toys R Us Rookies of the late 80s/early 90s. Great colorful designs and really the perfect example of what a retail box set should look like.

    I also always liked the Donruss series of sets: Rookies, Highlights, Baseball’s Best, etc and how they were the way to complete a “rainbow” of different colored borders of the same design back when I wad a kid. My favorite set here though is 1987 Opening Day which has such a perfect checklist idea—literally just a set of every opening day starter.

    Also in the mix here of things I liked, the Topps Mini Leaders and Fleer Star Stickers.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I realized I should’ve mentioned that many/most of these sets are 33 or 44 cards because sheets were 132 cards and being able to run 3 or 4 sets per sheet was easiest.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved these Topps Bazooka wrappers from 1979. I know I have the Simmons because he’s my favorite player, but I can’t remember if I collected the entire set. I’ll need to check when I get home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think one of the best looking sets of the junk era was 1985 Donruss Highlights. I bought the box set last year at my LCS for $5, added the three Gooden cards to my binder, and used most of the rest as “bumper cards” in trades and giveaways. Tons of great players and one of the best designs of the 1980s. I also have a little bit of love for the 1989 Classic cards, though I feel like one edition would have been enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like weird stuff, so one of the first sets of the 1980s that really appealed to the then 9-year-old me was the 1981 Topps Scratchoff set, which came in its panels of three with weird variations based on the advertisement contained on the backs of some — but not all — of the cards.

    I actually had the Topps foldouts and the Fleer minis in the 1980s. Those were oddly available in Wisconsin at my local 5-and-10 store.

    Finally, as a Brewers fan, I’m very partial to the 1983-1985 (but not the 1989) Gardners Bakery Milwaukee Brewers set. Topps produced those three sets for Gardners with completely different designs and photos on the fronts of the card — one even echoes the 1954 Bowman TV set design — but with the same backs as the Topps main sets in different colors. Those can be found relatively inexpensively as well (in fact, I could send you a 1984 set quite readily!).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I picked up two of the Foldout sets. One l kept intact. The other I cut up and hindered th3 Redsox. Sent the rest off to other collectors.. I like the Tatto sets. 1971 is my fav but I know Topps also did one in the 80’s as well. Forgot the yr

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 81-83 Perma Graphics Credit Cards. IF you had a wallet it was something a 10 year old kid could actually put in it and show your allegiance. They were hard to find before the internet, but not are very reasonably priced.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have four random junk wax era sets that I thought were great.
    1) 1982 Kmart
    2) 1987 Kmart
    3) 1988 Topps UK Minis
    4) 1985 7-Eleven Minnesota Twins

    Everyone knows the Kmart sets. In 1982 Kmart made great flash cards as we all learned the AL and NL MVPs from 1962 to 1981. In 1987 they came back strong with bright clean photographs that covered the best players of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

    Topps UK were the first mini set that I had ever seen. They had a nice design and were supposedly from across the pond, which made them feel rare and special even if they were not.

    7-Eleven Minnesota Twins was a regional release so they held a little more value around the county, but being from Minnesota I saw them quite frequently. I didn’t start collecting until 1987 so by the time I found this set 7-Eleven had already completely vanished from the Twin Cities.

    Liked by 2 people

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