(This is the 22nd in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

The history books may tell you that Jose Canseco won the 1986 American League Rookie of the Year award and that Mark McGwire set the rookie home run record in 1987, but that’s not the way it went down.

Anyone who lived through those two summers will tell you the same thing … Wally Joyner is the man who made rookie-watching and power-hitting fun again.

<Insert A Demographic Here> may love the longball, but everyone loved Wally World, and his escapades added fuel to an already smoldering baseball cards market.

1987 Topps Wally Joyner Rookie Card

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Part of that smoke came from Canseco himself, who had the world talking about his power potential, and who hit five home runs in just 29 games with A’s late in 1985.

And part of the burn came from guys like Ruben Sierra, Cory Snyder, Will Clark, Barry Bonds, and other young rookies who had been hyped on their way up through the minor leagues in preceding years.

This rookie class was coming to rescue us from the drudgery of 1985, when we had to act like we were happy to celebrate the small-ball skills of Ozzie Guillen and Vince Coleman. I mean, it was fun to watch Coleman run, but neither of these guys could measure up to the big rookies who came before them — Cal Ripken (Jr.), Fernando Valenzuela, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden.

Could these new guys pull us back from the brink? We were so confident they could that we happily chased their rookie cards on the basis of some minor league stats and a whole bunch of hype.

One guy who wasn’t hyped anywhere except maybe his mom’s house and in the California Angels‘ clubhouse was Wally Joyner.

Three years after the Angels took Joyner in the third round of the 1983 draft out of Brigham Young University, the 23-year-old first baseman had shown enough on-base ability in three minor league stops for California manager Gene Mauch to keep him on the Big League roster when camp broke in 1986.

On April 8, Joyner got his first start, against the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome, and collected one hit in five at-bats.

The next day, he managed three more safeties, including his first Major League home run, and Joyner was off to the races.

By the end of April, he was hitting .333 with six homers and 16 RBI, and the baseball world started to take notice. It didn’t hurt that his heroics had helped the Angels to a 13-8 record, which amounted to a two game lead in the old American League West division.

Joyner hit another ten home runs in May, and he started to take on the gleam of legend. He was a baby-faced slugger who came out of nowhere to capture the imagination of an entire nation, even though many of us had never even seen a picture of him. We heard the descriptions and read the stats, and that was enough, for the moment.

The hobby, meanwhile, lost its mind — how could we not have known about this guy? And, more importantly, how could we not have any cards of him??

When Donruss announced that it would be producing a new set at the end of 1986 called “The Rookies,” we all knew who the driving force was. Our suspicions were confirmed when the checklist was released with Wally Joyner sitting at #1.

By the time that boxed set came out, though, Joyner had cooled down — way down.

His final numbers for 1986 included 22 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .290 average.

1987 Topps Wally Joyner Rookie Card (back)

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Canseco, meanwhile, had pretty much kept pace with Joyner early on, finishing May with 15 home runs and 46 RBI while batting a solid .272. Canseco never really let up on the power numbers, though his average slid. His final tallies: 33 home runs, 117 RBI, and a .240 BA.

That performance secured the AL Rookie of the Year award for Canseco, with Joyner second. Both men made the All-Star team, though, and Joyner’s Angels came within an out of reaching the World Series.

“The Rookies” sold like hotcakes that fall, driven by Canseco, Joyner, Sierra, and others and then, finally, in early 1987, we got true rookie cards of the man who ignited the early weeks of the 1986 season.

Fleer gave us a smiling Joyner, posed for the camera.

Donruss also gave us a smiling Joyner, from about belly and up, apparently standing on base.

But Topps — well, Topps gave us a masterpiece worthy of the phenomenon of Wally Joyner.

In the shot on the front of the card, Joyner has just connected on something and is finishing his fine left-handed follow-through. He has just released the bat, and it levitates in the air behind him as he breaks from the box, exertion puffing his cheeks. His eyes are lasered in on the unseen ball as it traces its flight path, maybe down the first base line, maybe into the outfield, maybe over the wall.

The Angels logo in the upper left-hand corner is like a halo reinforcing how good the card is, and the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy in the lower right-hand corner reminds you how good Joyner is.

Like you could ever forget.

It’s all wrapped in the warm wood-grained borders that make 1987 Topps a legend in the hobby.

The overall effect — the legend of Wally World, the visuals, the 1986 ROY race, the 1986 Angels’ rise and ultimate demise — all converge on Wally Joyner’s rookie card, the best card from the 1987 Topps set.

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(This is the 22nd in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

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