Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Biggest bust?

Yes, that post title will get some hits.

And if you're here for, you know, the "biggest bust," then let me take this opportunity to say ...

You lonely, lonely people.

The post title was actually inspired by all the electronic crabbing I've read about 2010 card product. You know: This is the worst year ever. Topps needs to get its head out of its ass. I want to kill myself when I reach the card aisle, blah, blah, blah.

Sure, it might not have been the best year for cards. But I found stuff I liked this year. I found stuff to get excited over. I did get a little sick of 2010 Topps and I wasn't as thrilled with it as I was at the start of the year, but overall it was OK. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed some of the other stuff, too. Really. I'm not preparing the "Dear, Topps, you suck" letter. It's just NOT. THAT. BAD. Not for me anyway.

However, all the drama got me thinking about card history again. I looked at this year's Topps set, and I looked at last year's Topps set. Without a doubt, the 2009 set is better. Better photography. Better design. Better.

So, I wondered was this the biggest disappointment for Topps from year to year? Was 2010 Topps the biggest drop-off when you compared each year that Topps issued cards to the year before it? And on the positive side of things, what was the biggest improvement for Topps from year to year? I'd have to say 2009 was a vast improvement over 2008. But was it the biggest?

So I went through all of Topps' base sets and figured out which sets were the biggest busts compared with the year before it, and which were the biggest improvements from the previous year.

This is entirely subjective, I realize. But this is what I came up with:


1. 2009 from 2008: I give '08 credit for brightening up the hobby after the epic darkness of 2007 Topps. But the photos were atrocious in the 2008 set, and the design forced Topps to shrink the images. The 2009 set brought the focus back to the photo again. And what great photos they were.

2. 1991 from 1990: Another instance where photography won out over bizarre design. The 1990 set was thoroughly wack, as the kids would say back then. The 1991 set was tremendous, even if many thought it drab when it first came out.

3. 1959 from 1958: To me, the 1958 set looks like a child's scrapbook. Cut out a head and paste it on colored cardboard. It's very amateurish. The 1959 set, meanwhile, is a classic of its era.

4. 1967 from 1966: I find the '66 set boring and annoying at the same time. That diagonal bar for the team name is very distracting. Meanwhile, I think the '67 set is another understated classic -- every element where it should be. It looks great.

5. 1983 from 1982: The 1982 set isn't awful, but anything that came immediately before the '83 set would pale in comparison.

Honorable mention: 2003 from 2002, 1962 from 1961, 1995 from 1994, 1971 from 1970.


1. 1966 from 1965: My favorite set of the '60s is 1965 Topps. I have come across a number of people who are collecting it. I have come across no one who is collecting the '66 set (I know that will prompt a comment from someone who is collecting the '66 set. Good for you, sir. Wish I had some of those cards so you could take them off my hands).

2. 1961 from 1960: An all-horizontal set rules. A set with two square boxes on the bottom for a design does not.

3. 1968 from 1967: See my love for the '67 set above. Meanwhile my feelings for the '68 set border on hate -- as much as anyone can hate cardboard.

4. 1957 from 1956: The 1957 set brought us the card dimension that we know and love today. But compare it with the '56 set and it fails miserably. The '56 set is pure art.

5. 1990 from 1989: The '89 set is nothing great. That's how big a disaster the 1990 set is.

Honorable mention: 1996 from 1995, 1958 from 1957, 2007 from 2006, 2010 from 2009.

Having said all that, I'm sure you disagree.

So I've come prepared.

Here is a sampling of each year of Topps' cards:



























































What do YOU think were the biggest improvements from year to year for Topps? And what were the biggest busts?

I'd do a poll for this, but it would be the biggest poll in history. So just leave your reviews in the comments. I hope to put together a review post based on people's comments.

Also, I plan to do this for Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, etc. Hell, I might even examine the eight or so years Pinnacle was around.

By the way, Topps, I'm looking forward to you landing on the "biggest improvement" list in 2011. How's your photography this year?


  1. 95 to 96 for biggest bust for me. I love 95. And 96 sucks. So...that one sticks out.

    Also the 2004 Fred McGriff Topps card is, I swear, the most featured McGriff card on the blogs. Love it though, it's a nice card.

  2. For me, 1993 to 1994 was a big bust. I didn't like the '94 set much at all. I think I actually like the 2010 Topps set better than the '09, but that might be more a result of me buying wayyyy too much '09 product since I chased the black version and throwback versions (at least for series 1 before Topps screwed the proverbial pooch).

  3. Biggest Bust would be 1984 compared to 1983. I've always felt that Topps went back to the well and tried to re-use it's popular design of 1983. The result is an ugly boxy design.
    Honorable mention: I'm a big fan of the pure card set Topps put out in 1957 from a design standpoint. 1958 not so much.

    Biggest improvement would be 1975 when compared to 1974. 1974 has a drab looking design while 1975 is arguably Topps' greatest looking set not produced in the early 1950's.
    Honorable mention: 1991 compared to 1990.

  4. For improvements, I have to agree with '59 over '58. I also have to go with '69 over '68. I've never been a big fan of the burlap look.

    For busts, since I've fallen for the '56 set, I'll agree with the '57s as a bust. I also thing the '66 set was a poor follow-up to the '65 set. I like the pennant for the team name. Likewise, I've really grown to love the '73 set so the '74s were a big drop off.

  5. I'm going to bookmark this post just as a fantastic reference to those sets.


  6. 2010 may not have been bad, but Lord it wasn't good. It's also probably the most un-MSPaintable Topps design ever.

    I'm going to do my list by decades.

    Improvement: '53 from '52. I never liked the '52 design and with all the overexposure now I hate it.
    Bust: '56 to '57. From one of the greatest sets of all time to a photo with hard to read text at the bottom. None of the sets from the '50s are truly terrible but this one was the most boring.

    Improvement: '62 from '61. 1961 Topps is a gawdawful snoozefest of a set. Even the wood paneling in your grandma's basement is an improvement.
    Bust: '65 to '66. 1966 is just butt ugly. It doesn't help that hardly anyone is wearing a cap so we get to see 300 different variations on the flattop hair style.

    Improvement: '71 from '70. The 1970 set has grown on me, but it's still very dull next to the jazzy black set.
    Bust: '72 to '73. I think I just like the 1972 set way too much and it's swaying my judgement.

    Improvement: '83 from '82. Everything about the 1983 set is light years better than the year before. Photography, design, card back, everything.
    Bust: '88 to '89. 1989 might be the worst design Topps ever did. Upper deck puts out a set 15 years ahead of its time and Topps based their design off of some varsity clip art. Awful, Awful, Awful.

    Improvement: '98 from '97. 1998 Topps is the first really good looking set of the foil stamping era.
    Bust: '91 to '92. Topps cards were supposed to have grey backs. White is for inferior products like Donruss or Fleer. Plus the design was just a rehash of '91. Oh, and parallels. And inserts. Who needs that crap?

    Improvement: '09 from '08. This was the hardest one to choose. I'm not a huge fan of the '09 set, but I have to admit that in a decade full of ridiculous excess in card design, this one seemed to infringe upon the photo the least.
    Bust: '07 to '08. I liked the 2008 design when I first saw it. Now I can't stand even the thought of it. WHY THE LOGO BUMP TOPPS? WHY???

    Maybe you should do the poll using nominations from the comments...

  7. Everyone has an opinion, of course. I'm not much for the 62 curled up wood thing. Same with the burlap 68. I didn't like the 80-82 sets, though I did like the 82 font. 1990 was horrific, and the 95 font was bad, bad bad.

    I think that Topps turned it around in 03, and while 08 was weird photo-wise I did like the dots and I really thought the red opening day was sharp.

  8. Wow, I just wrote an 8289 character comment. That's more than twice the max. Ow.

    Let's see if I can do this in 3 manageable parts without angering the commenting gods, your readers or, most importantly, you:

    Really short version:

    '67 to '68 is probably the biggest bust.

    As for biggest improvements, a lot of the real classics ('59, '64, '67, '71) and a few of the really good later sets ('83, '07) followed weak set designs. I'd go with a 4 way tie on the classics I named.

    Parts II and III (year by year) coming up in a minute:

  9. Part II (1952-1977, Year By Year):

    1952: I probably shouldn't be, but I'm a little 1952-ed out, even without owning a single card from the set. You picked a nice example to show the set off, though.

    1953: Fun fact: I had the late Gerry Dvorak, who painted this set, as a cartooning teacher in the mid-80's. Nice guy. Taught me how to draw Woody Woodpecker. As for the set, with all due respect to Gerry, while there are some great cards in the set (Eddie Mathews is one of the best ever, and, of course, was left off the Topps poll), I'm not really in love with the graphic design, which I think detracts from the paintings. I'd love to see a "pure card" set of Gerry's original art, but I doubt I ever will.

    1954: Maybe it's because I've looked at a lot of '54-'56 lately and they reused elements until they got it right in '56, but this one feels embryonic to me.

    1955: Getting closer...this is the oldest Topps set I've got a card of (though many years ago, I had a pack of '51 Red Backs that I eventually sold like an idiot).

    1956: YES. One of the best sets ever, and probably the oldest set I'll ever be dumb enough to try and set-build on.

    1957: Good, clean design, hit-and-miss execution. It lives and dies by the photography and the color, which is great in some cards and not so much in others.

    1958: I can pass on this. I think I've only got one of these, a very beaten-up Sal Maglie card.

    1959: I love this set. It's like The Beat Generation in baseball card form. It's jazz. It's space-age. Great stuff.

    1960: This one, sideways cards or no, does nothing for me aside from the awesome rookie cards like the Yaz card.

    1961: Maybe it's because I love Maris, but defying most conventional wisdom about aesthetics, this is another one of my favorites. This is the first Heritage base set I've managed to build, and I waited years to do it.

    1962: The sell sheets for this Heritage set look nice, but the original cards really don't do much for me.

    1963: No thanks.

    1964: I think this set is really underrated, and people tend to like it so that's saying something.

    1965: I'm really not much for this one. Something about it looks, I dunno, corny to me.

    1966: Next...

    1967: Awesome set. Awesome awesome awesome.

    1968: One for the "What were they thinking?" files.

    1969: Despite a lot of reused pictures, airbrushing and impossible-to-find-centered cards, I kinda like this one.

    1970: I have a bunch of these because of the Pilots, but I'm not in love with the grey border. Some good pics in the set, though (the Bill Lee's pretty snazzy).

    1971: Every time I see another card from this set, I fall in love with it a little more.

    1972: No one in their right mind should love this set. Thankfully, a lot of us aren't in our right minds. I only need about 700 more of these cards to complete the set!

    1973: Not the world's most awe-inspiring design, but this one's kinda like the little set that could. Maybe it's because it's one of the first "old" sets I got cards from as a kid.

    1974: I was down on this one for a while, but there's some great cards mixed in with all the so-so ones.

    1975: I really wish I could like 1975 Topps as much as everyone else does. I get what you like about it, but I just can't commit to it myself. A few very cool cards in a sea of not-so-good and OH MY GOD MY RETINAS.

    1976: I hate to say it, but this one's grown on me a little, too. I just got the Yount, awesome card with great color. I'd put this on the same level as '74, I suppose.

    1977: With the exception of a few cards, I've lost my taste for this one. I feel like I should like it, but I usually hate things I "should" like.

  10. Part III (1978-2007):

    1978: This is one that, not unlike 1961, I love, defying conventional wisdom about what I think cards should look like. Maybe it's because the Murray and the Munson are two of the most badass cards ever, maybe it's because it's the first set I saw cards from that were made before I started collecting (not "old", but they weren't coming in the packs I could get), but I'm a big fan of this.'

    1979: Pass. It looks sorta also-ran-ish to me.

    1980: You never forget your first.

    1981: I've been falling in love with this set all over again lately. Great dugout shots, the only multi-card rookie design I really dig (even if the pics were all kinda dark and blurry), and the set has a weight to it, for me anyway, that's hard to explain.

    1982: Washy. Having just sorted through a bunch of these, I understand why I stopped buying cards for the most part before '83...

    1983: ...which was a big mistake! These are some good cards! Nice subsets, a design that really works, and an awesome rookie/young superstar crop.

    1984: Is it me, or is this set kinda like '83's cousin from the Bizarro World? Everything's square where it was rounded on the last set. I still like it (again, 2 great rookies), but I don't love it.

    1985: The set that would have been king. Good, but not great design, good, but not great photos, but my word, the rookie crop. This set was supposed to make a lot of kids their first million. It kinda feels like a record you listened to constantly as a teenager when you drank a lot and did a lot of drugs, that, when revisited as an adult, sorta sucks.

    1986: Graphically speaking, despite the condition sensitivity, this is the best set of the decade. LOVE the look of '86. It was my first set when I came back to the hobby at 12, ready to be "serious" about it. *snicker*

    1987: Hey, anyone wanna sort out around 2700 common doubles from the '87 set for me? This one's awesome, but like everyone else on the planet, I've just got so damned much of it.

    1988: The beginning of teh suck.

    1989: Teh suck continues, and I leave cards, again...

    1990: I, like most people, wonder exactly how much blow the people at Topps were on when they greenlighted this, but I also think there's a few solid cards that transcend the mess. Blanking on them right now because it's late, but they're there!

    1991: Almost a return to form. Some good pictures. Really needed better production quality, though.

    1992: I have almost none of these, but they look pretty good.

    1993: Ditto! They really were trying to make up lost ground in '92 and '93.

    1994: Loved these when they came out. Not so much anymore.

    1995: Another set that I (and most people) have very little of, but I think they really got their asses in gear after the strike....

    1996: ...then they got bored again.

    1997: This one's almost good, but not quite.

    1998: Ditto.

    1999: I can't put my finger on why, but I like the '99 set. It's sort of like '82's mature older cousin.

    2000: This one kind of feels me-too, when compared to the other cards from the era.

    2001: Love this set! A rare use of gold foil that works (See also: 1995) and they defy the odds even further by making a weird color green work as well! While I didn't buy a lot of them, this was the set that got me back into cards, probably for good this time. I'd love a complete set/Traded set of '01, but I'd need to sell a kidney or leak the Positive Steroid Test list to be able to afford it.

    2002: Don't ask me why, but I want to like this one. It's almost good.

    2003: The blue does nothing for me at all.

    2004: This one feels like an understudy for '05.

    2005: AWESOME. Love the last name only at the top, love the photography, I should probably look into building or acquiring this set.

    2006: This one, not so much. Kinda goofy looking.

    2007: Mmmmm, black borders! I dig.

  11. Part IV (2008-2010, Sorry!)

    2008: Didn't end up hating this set like I thought I would. Wanted to claw my eyes out when I saw the sell sheet. In person, looked a lot better. Still not a favorite, but it's alright.

    2009: If the borders were just a little better, this one'd be a classic.

    2010: OH MY GOD WE'VE GOT THE EXCLUSIVE LICENSE AND WE'RE GOING TO BEAT YOU TO DEATH WITH OUR LOGOS!!!!!11111 Actually, call me crazy if you like, but I like this design on the football cards. Less so on baseball, but the photography got better in series 2 and 3, I think.

    Thank you for bearing with "War And Peace", if you have. I get a little wordy sometimes.

  12. From 1958 to 1959 Topps made a huge improvement. You hit it right on the head when you said 1958 Topps looks like a children's scrapbook. I've always felt 1959 Topps was art on cardboard.

    What can you say about 1986 Topps? It's nothing special, in fact it's a down right disappointment after 1985's set, but then Topps put out that garbage in 1987. I don't have a problem with the wood framing we saw in '62, but it just feels so out of place in 1987. That't the biggest bust in my opinion, 1987.

    BTW, I don't have that big of a problem with 2010.

  13. Biggest bust would be going from the right amount of artistic flair of the 1995 set to the horrific squished tilted repeating picture mess that is the 1996 set. An honorable mention would go to the 1998 and 1999 sets. I pride myself in knowing what year a card is by glancing at the design. The 1998 and 1999 sets are so similar that I always have to double check.

    My vote for biggest single improvement would be going from the 2002 set to the 2003 set. From 1998 until 2002, either the color choice was repetitive or completely insane. A few halfway decent designs were marred by odd border color choices. The bold blue of the 2003 set was an odd choice, but it worked with the design very well.

    The problem with most of the modern day Topps cards is not the design or even the color... it's the insistence on using gloss and foil. If Topps would have used the designs and even some of the odd colors on plain cardboard, many of those cards would be considered modern classics. The gloss and foil work best on white bordered cards. I think Topps finally figured this out, but I wish they would stop using foil and gloss as the focal points of their designs.

    Verification word: hifyings

    Proving once again that vintage is better. :-)

  14. 1971 from 1970 definitely one of the most improved. Agree about 1968 being a bottom feeder.

    I am likely in the minority here but I like 2010 Topps.

    The biggest loss w/ UD gone is the lack of discussion about the products issued by the rival companies. I think that hurts Topps a bit this yr.

  15. 1954: This one disappoints me, given the amazing art in 1953. Not sure why Topps felt they HAD to use large and inset photos for '54--maybe the art department lost some crucial talent with the brush.

    1957, 1958: Both drop off from the previous year, though they had pretty far to fall after 1956.

    (Amazing post and comments, BTW!)

  16. For most improved I will agree 83 from 82 is one that I remember from my childhood. 62s were an improvement from 61, and 91 from 90 stick out also. I just really hated the 90 set, probably due to all of the packs I opened that year.

    Biggest bust: I will go with the 58 from 57. I like the full color photos on 57, but the scrapbook style in 58 is just horrible when compared with what came before and after. 90 stands on its own as horrible. 96 gets nominated for the squished head shot and unreadable name. In fact any card set where the name is in foil and I have to strain my eyes to read it gets a "fail" in my book.

  17. I'm selfishly hoping that the Dodgers' signing of Matty Guerrier ends up being a bust. Our bullpen! It's over!!

  18. Great post. Great comments.

    Topps tended to have runs of good cards for a few years and then a run of bad ones, so often there's not a pronounced difference between years. For example, I don't like 1968 at all, but it's surrounded by a bunch of bad years, so it doesn't noticably stand out on the bad end of either 'biggest improvement' or 'biggest bust.'

    For me...
    Biggest improvement: 1990 to 1991.
    Honorable mentions: 70-71, 06-07. also, I thought I'd get flack for this but reading the comments has emboldened me to come out of the collecting closet ... I can't stand 1952, iconic as it was. 1953 was a HUGE improvement.

    Biggest bust: 2004 to 2005.
    Honorable mentions: 57-58, 65-66, 07-08.

  19. "Biggest Bust" post and no Morganna card?

    Any 50's set with portraits on it is unlike anything Topps has done since. The 1967 set has everything, best of all the well-drawn comics on the back. 1976 is my favorite, not just because it was my first year collecting.

  20. Yay! I'm not the only person alive who really likes 1986 and 2005 Topps!

  21. I vote 83 as the biggest improvement from 82 Topps. 90 has to be the worst Topps set ever. Were they trying to look like Score but without the improved cardboard quality?

  22. Awesome post, even awesomer comment thread. And people say card blogging is dead.

    Also: Yay! A Byung-Hyung Kim sighting.

  23. I'm really late to the party. I love this post!!! I respectfully disagree with your thoughts on 1957. I think 1957 is a classic while 1956 is a disappointment. They pretty much rehashed the photos from 1955 and changed the backgrounds. 1957 was the first use of actual color photography and the inception of today's card configuration. 1957 is a great set. I agree on 1966 though. 1962-1965 were all great and 1966 is just ho-hum...