Monday, January 5, 2009

Cardboard appreciation: 1991 Topps Carlton Fisk

(The list of appreciation days continues: hairstyle appreciation day - April 30, boss appreciation day - Oct. 16, national meatloaf appreciation day - Oct. 18. I still think we can squeeze a baseball collectors appreciation day in there somewhere. It's time for cardboard appreciation and another one of my all-time favorites. This is the 12th in a series):

A lot of people like this card. But find me a person who doesn't like it. You can't. Because it's amazing.

It's a play at the plate, with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk waiting for the throw as Cecil Fielder barrels down on him, and some other Tiger (Travis Fryman, maybe?) tells Big Daddy to GET DOWN! Throw in the fact that it all takes place in old Comiskey Park, with its yellow police tape seat railings, and you have a card worthy of appreciation.

But the reason I'm pulling this card out again is because I'm noticing how much 1991 Topps has grown on collectors over time. If you went back in time 18 years ago, you couldn't find anyone that liked 1991 Topps. Card critics accused Topps of being old and stodgy with its 1991 design and production. They hated it. They compared it endlessly to the new card darling, Upper Deck.

Critics had a point. It was Topps' 40th anniversary edition, but they continued to trot out the same gray cardboard. The card backs weren't exciting at all. But in a lot of cases I think the criticism was too harsh, and a matter of people eager to dump on an institution. Institutions are always susceptible to criticism, and Topps is certainly a hobby institution.

What people didn't focus on, and what collectors now seem to notice, is how many great photos are in 1991 Topps. There are a bunch of them. What I liked especially was that Topps made some cards horizontal, which was the first time they had done that since 1974.

I have always loved horizontal cards (a future post on the way). I think every set should have several of them. And by taking the horizontal approach, Topps was able to produce cards like this:

I realize that Topps was merely trying to keep pace with UD, which already had gone the horizontal route with some of its cards, but at least Topps didn't mail it in with these photos.

There were plenty of great vertical photos, as well. Lots of plays at second base, or plain interesting action shots, like the Alomar photo. And look at the muscles in action on the Andre Dawson card! There are a lot of good mid-swing photos in '91 Topps.

Personally, I think the card critics should have reserved their wrath for Fleer and Donruss in 1991. You needed one of those eclipse pinhole devices to look at '91 Fleer, and the '91 Donruss cards were too cartoonish for me (plus Donruss kept repeating the same back over and over again. I hated that).

I enjoy 1991 Topps so much that I'm trying to complete the set 18 years later. I've just added it to my want list. So, that's how much I like the Carlton Fisk card. It's the best card of a great, underappreciated set. But not by me. 1991 Carlton Fisk and 1991 Topps in general, I appreciate you.


  1. I always thought that was Dave Bergman telling Fielder to slide but I could be wrong. I couldn't agree more on '91 Topps. It's a set that goes down as the last great classic Topps set. You would think with Topps making 17 sets a year they could make a classic 792-card gray cardboard base set again. It would be a smash hit if they did.

  2. I remember being a bit bored with the '91 Topps set when it came out...but like others, I like it quite a bit now. I ought to dig through my binders and figure out which cards I'm missing from that set as well, it can't be too many.

  3. Ack! Everybody's going to try to complete their '91 sets all at the same time! I need to get my wantlist up pronto!

  4. you're right - it's not glossy, but topps won me back with this set after the very bad 88, 89 and 90 sets. luckily, my set was compelted 18 years ago!
    get those lists up and i will see what i can do!

  5. I love any set that doesn't feature the same old pictures or posed portraits. The 1991 set looks like a winner to me!

  6. I always liked the '91 set. I thought the 40th anniversary logo was cool. I without trying I have 5 Chippers from the set.

  7. I'll take a look at your want list (and dayf's). I have a ton of doubles from this set. I think its the first set I bought entire wax boxes to build my set. I don't remember how many it took, but I have half a monster box full of dupes!

  8. I'm a Twins collector and that Shane Mack is one of my favorite Twins cards of all time. Not necessarily for the subject, but because of the uniqueness of the photography--especially for its time.

  9. Yeah, I've always thought is was Bergman on the Fisk card as well. My two favorite cards from this set are the Clemens and Wade Boggs. There are some other great-looking ones, but those two always do it for me, probably because I'm a red sox fan. 1991 Topps was very underappreciated, probably because there are like 5 million copies of each card in existance.

  10. Hey...I'm reading the posts about horizontal cards and through a little surfing I came across this. I totally agree. 1991 Topps was extremely well done, considering how much they tanked in the late 80s. I returned to collecting for one year in 1991. Hated Donruss, couldn't afford UD, actually tolerated Fleer, which left me with Score and Topps. Score wasn't bad, I thought. But Topps was GREAT that year. Good photography, yes. But THOUGHTFUL photography. Like Clemens, Boggs and some others. Interesting angles.
    Overproduced? Yes. It'll probably never be worth much on the secondary market. But that's not why we collect, now is it?