We have reached that year where things got a little wacky. Through the first three years of this series, Topps always came out on top. It may not have been perfect, but it had more than enough to beat out fledgling Donruss and Fleer. And when it became obvious that Donruss and Fleer were here to stay, then Topps bumped up its game in 1983.
But now we're at 1984 and things are different, because I like each company's 84 set almost equally.
Donruss and Fleer each came out with sets that I think are among the very best they did. And although Topps' 1984 set has issues, I think it's somewhat underrated. Although that's completely Topps' fault, as we'll see.
So which set gets honored with the Best of the Year? I don't think I'm going to know until the end of this post.
1984 Topps -- the front
Plusses: Staying with what worked in 1983, the set features two photos of the subject, an action shot and a portrait shot. ... Very colorful set. Vibrant, even. I enjoy the solid, bright background behind the head shot. ... Colors used somewhat match the respective teams' colors, but not in all cases. ... The manager cards (as well as the team leaders cards) feature bright, colorful team logos.
Minuses: A total copy of the popular '83 design. Topps was bashed back in '84 for churning out the same-old, same-old. ... The vertical team name, while different, is distracting and annoying to read. ... The head shot almost infringes on the action shot, which didn't seem to be the case in '83.
1984 Topps -- the back
Plusses: Welcome to another boring 1980s back. The team logo is a nice touch and livens things up a little. ... Large card number.
Minuses: I've never liked these backs. Off-putting for some reason. The dateline thing at the bottom is just dull.
1984 Topps -- overall
Plusses: Tradition rules again, as does good old cardboard, as well as a great, big, 792-card set again. ... Greater incorporation of team logo art (although stealing somewhat from Fleer). ... Don Mattingly rookie.
Minuses: A "phoning-it-in" vibe. ... Disappearance of Super Veteran cards. They were replaced with the AL and NL active leaders for each major stat category, which felt like total set-filler. ... A third straight year of separate all-star cards (which I realize would continue to be the rule, but I liked the '70s way better).
1984 Fleer -- the front
Plusses: A nice, crisp design that emphasizes the photo more than Fleer had ever done previously. ... Continuation with the team logo, although more understated than in '83 Fleer. ... More action shots than in past sets. ... A rash of quirky, "different" photos that really seems to define this set.
Minuses: A few odd, subpar photos, but not as many as in past Fleer sets.
1984 Fleer -- the back
Plusses: Exact same design as 1983, but the color switches from awful beige to blue. I like that. And Fleer was continuing the color theme from front to back, which is cool. ... The photo on the back returns and it's different from the front photo.
Minuses: Repetition of design. ... The "did you know" thing is nice, but with some players -- where Fleer apparently couldn't find any information -- that area is just blank. No type, no stats, just a big blank space. Fleer had been doing the "big blank of nothing" for four years now.
1984 Fleer -- overall
Plusses: Fleer was really rounding into shape in 1984. Its best design, by far, thus far. ... So many memorable photos, including the epic Glenn Hubbard snake card, that this set will live forever in card collectors' hearts. ... Experimental items like puzzle piece cards (in which you needed 2 cards to put the image together) showed Fleer was trying. ... Rookie Mattingly shows up here, too.
Minuses: Almost dismissible card backs, once again. ... The photos, while interesting, still not up to Topps' action-packed standards.
1984 Donruss -- the front
Plusses: After two years of wallowing in the semi-infantile bat-and-ball-and-glove design, Donruss came up with what I consider to be a classic. Lots and lots of space for the photo, especially in comparison to the other two sets. ... Some really nice-looking photos in this set.
Minuses: The wavy team name is hard to read and hasn't held up well over the years. ... An abundance of head shots, that are particularly large since there's so much space for the photo. ... Blurry/dark photos, which was a perennial Donruss issue at this time.
1984 Donruss -- the back
Plusses: The same plusses that I mentioned in previous sets, because it's the same card back. Contract status. Full names. ... Aqua Green backs! At least it's better than yellow.
Minuses: Same, damn, thing, over and over. It's not even the same good damn thing over and over because there's only FIVE YEARS OF STATS.
1984 Donruss -- overall
Plusses: Finally breaking out of its two-year rut, Donruss comes up with a design that focuses on the subject, not on some little kid's art project. ... The Rated Rookie appears on the front of cards for the first time. ... Mattingly and Joe Carter rookie cards. ... the Only Donruss Set That Matters.
Minuses: A refusal to change the card back. ... The Diamond Kings feature a new look in which the drawing is housed within a patriotic banner display. It takes away from the drawing. I preferred the early DK designs, especially '82. ... A reputation for rarity as the set was released in much more limited fashion. Some may consider that a good thing in the '80s glut, but I'm still trying to complete this set.
So, with all that, who's the winner of the Best Set of the Year?
Oh, the suspense!
OK, OK ...
No more suspense.
The winner is ...
Topps' reign is dead.
Ranking: 1. Fleer; 2. Donruss; 3. Topps
Total ranking: Topps - 3; Fleer - 1; Donruss - 0