Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Card back countdown: The near-misses

Finding the 50 best card backs of all-time was more difficult than I thought it would be. For a little while, I thought I'd have to cut it down to the 27 best card backs of all-time.

But with diligent persistence (is that as bad as saying "completely destroyed"?), I came up with 50 candidates, and a couple more.

For those who might still be confused about what's going on here, I am doing a countdown of the 50 best card backs put out in a certain year, by a certain set-maker, during our grand baseball card history. For example, if 1988 Donruss produced one of the top 50 best card backs (and we can all agree it did not), then I would do a review of the 1988 Donruss card back during the countdown.

Most of the sets in this countdown come from the last 60 years. In fact, I believe all of them do. I like early 20th century cards as much as the next person, but let's face it, a block of text or an advertisement that says "the country's best 10-cent cigar" just isn't that riveting of a card back.

That's bad news for sets like Goudey or 1950s Bowman, which slapped a 17-line bio on the back of the card and walked away. But we have standards here.

In fact, I've even developed a point system to rank the best card backs. The point system features categories with points rewarded for each category and some of the categories even have sub-categories, and other categories feature a sliding scale.

Good god, I'm a nerd.

I'm not going to reveal the point system here, because I don't want to get into it and you'd probably be bored to pieces. But to give you an idea of what I am looking for, here is the back of the 1995 Score Mike Piazza card:

And here is the Piazza card marked up after I graded the 1995 Score card back:

Click on the image if you want to read the fascinating commentary. It's not too interesting, but it gives you an idea of what us newspaper editors do when we're critiquing newspaper layouts.

In short, what I am looking for are card backs that are interesting, readable, full of information, fun and unique. Some elements that will help a card back make the top 50 are: photos, cartoons, complete statistics, personal player information, and interesting elements.

But even after all that, I hold the power to throw a card back on the list just because I like the way it looks. This falls under the "my list, my rules" category.

I will save starting the actual countdown for the next countdown post, but here are a couple of cards that just missed making the top 50:

2010 Topps: Yup, this year's base set almost made the top 50. It has all the elements. The only problem is they're all too squashed together. That's a lot to absorb in a tiny little space. Maybe if Topps toned down the team logo, it'd have a little more room.

1960 Topps: I crossed this off the list, scribbled it back on and crossed it off again. I like the "season's highlights" element a lot. It's an element that put a couple of other card sets on the list. But the whole muddy brown scheme doesn't do it for me. The total package is too dull.

1975 Topps: I had to face facts and realize that the only reason I had this set on the list is because it's my all-time favorite. But the backs for the set are sub-par. Green-on-red type must have launched a legion of future glasses-wearing adults. And, strangely, I'm not fond of vertical backs. I like the horizontal backs much more.

OK, them's the ground rules. If you'd like me to consider any other factors, please let me know. The next card back countdown post will feature No. 50 in the countdown. When you see it, you'll think I've lost my head (again). But remember, my countdown, my rules.


  1. I love it! I can't wait until to see the top 50. Please consider these design elements: white space, name, team and position required, different photo than on front and alignment.

  2. If you have doubles in every set in the top 50, you should actually mark them up with your editorial notes. And then compile them into a book with your blog posts. And then take the book to a large publishing company. And then reap the millions of dollars in royalties that will be just a matter of time.

    Oh, and I agree with sruchris, I REALLY prefer card back that have a different photo of the player than is featured on the card front. Or a cartoon. Who doesn't like cartoons?

  3. That's pretty spot on. Well, except for the '95 Piazza. I'm pretty sure that should read "I will go into the Hall of Fame as a Met." It's an understandable mistake. haha

  4. This will be interesting. I think you are making a mistake with the 1960 card back (large Cartoon and well laid out) it is a great back (though I did not like the horizontal front design)

  5. You should have shown a 1960 back with the gray card stock instead of the white. With the white stock it's actually pretty attractive. Gray stock is nigh-unreadable.

    I agree that pre-war card sets all had sub-par backs, but the exception to the rule is T205. First set with stat lines, baby. That's some heavy revolutionary schtuff right there. Say the word and I'll get you some scans.

  6. dayf: I actually considered T205 because of the stat lines. If you've got scans, send 'em over and I'll probably add it to the list.

  7. I don't know what kind of review you are going to do but if you need more T205 scans let me know.

  8. Good idea. For me complete stats are critical, but having complete stats tends to sometimes mess up the other cool stuff that can go on the backs. It will be interesting to see how you weigh the importance of things.