Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Called out again

To me, half the fun of blogging is having opinions. I like having opinions. I think opinions show that you care about life, and actually enjoy life. And I'm interested in other people who have opinions. It shows that they have intellect. For the most part.

But part of the drawback of opinions is people aren't always going to agree with what you have to say. As convinced that I am that I am ALWAYS RIGHT, people still insist on being contrary and not thinking like I do. And, gee golly, I'm just too tired to argue.

Sometimes someone will say that they don't agree with me in the comments. That's cool. But sometimes I won't know that someone doesn't agree with me until a reference to my line of thinking pops up in the comments on another blog. I won't be named in the comment, but I'll read it and think "hey, that's me they're talking about."

Now, all of this sounds a lot more serious than it is. Just a reminder here, we're talking about baseball cards. But I just can't resist a response when I get called out.

I don't even remember what the post on the other blog was about, but the comment referred to back-to-back sets that look alike. 1983 Topps and 1984 Topps, for example. But this comment referred to 1982 and 1983 Donruss and said something like, "I don't know why 1982-83 Donruss always gets criticized as there are a lot of other sets that repeat themselves and never get any criticism."

It's true, there are a number of sets that are repetitious, a rip-off of their previous set. But, at the risk of sounding paranoid, I believe I'm the only person that has announced an issue with 82-83 Donruss. I've complained about it several times, how Donruss tweaked only a few things and -- voila! -- it thought it had a brand new set. But this kid collecting that year saw through Donruss' laziness and bought virtually no 1983 Donruss out of protest.

Since this time, I've found out that certain collectors like 1983 Donruss a lot. They think '83 Donruss' tweaks were an "improvement" on the 1982 design. I think this might be a generational thing. Kind of like how I don't understand sampling in rap music because I think it's stealing, while others believe it's taking something and tweaking it and "making it their own." I tend to value the original over the "spin-off."

That's a philosophical thing and an "art" thing. People have been arguing about this in music and with paintings, with fashion and with writing, for ages. It's an artsy fartsy argument.

But to pull it back to cards and try to keep it as simple as possible, I don't even think that 82-83 Donruss is the worst "offender" in the "set sameness" argument anyway. Far from it, in fact. I just happen to bring up 82-83 Donruss a lot because it was the first time I had seen a card company almost duplicate itself so blatantly. It made that much of an impression.

So to show that I don't have it out for 1983 Donruss as much as people seem to think I do -- and to avoid challenging anyone to a duel -- I quickly came up with my top 10 "set sameness" violators. Which back-to-back sets look too much alike?

And while my interest in "original design" is an important component of this exercise, the No. 1 criteria for ranking these sets -- and the No. 1 reason why I think original design is most important -- is how often do I confuse one year for another? How often am I putting a card from one year in with a set from another year because I can't tell the two blasted things apart?

THAT is my biggest complaint.

So this is the top 10.

I know there are lots of sets I didn't cover here. I tried to stick with sets that came out when I was collecting. So all those Metal sets that look similar, those Circa sets that look similar, 1998 and 1999 Topps, you're off the hook, basically because I confuse EVERYTHING about every set from that period.

Top 10:

10. 1968-69 Topps

Truthfully, 1968 and 1969 Topps don't look that much alike. The thing that connects the two sets together is the circular position marker on both sets.

Although Topps swapped the player name and the team name for the 1969 design, that circle was still pretty similar And if your team had a yellow circle in 1968, your team had a yellow circle in 1969. Red circle in 1968? Red circle in 1969. And on and on.

9. 1983-84 Topps

I think of 1983 and 1984 Topps as two distinct sets. I don't confuse them at all. But I know that when 1984 Topps came out, it was roundly ridiculed in hobby periodicals for its sameness.

The "sameness" is the inset mug shot in the bottom left and the action photo. But everything else is different. I sometimes think 1984 Topps gets a bum rap.

8. 1955-56 Topps

Yes. I will admit freely that 1955 and 1956 Topps have a lot of similarities, from the large mug shot and smaller action shot to the horizontal orientation of the cards, to the fact that many of the head shots are the same in each set.

But this is where the similarities end. The improvements made in the '56 set (*ahem, unlike 1982-83 Donruss*) are true, amazing improvements, from putting scene-setting backgrounds on the cards, to the far more pleasing information box.

The differences are so striking that 1956 Topps is one of my most favorite sets of all-time, and I have a lot of company in this opinion. But the 1955 Topps is one of my least favorite sets from the '50s (I really dislike the monochromatic color in the background).

So, no, not the same at all. Even though it's on this list.

7. 1982-83 Donruss

1982 Donruss is vastly different from 1981 Donruss. Even though I ridicule the '82 Donruss design as being devised by an 8-year-old, there is something about the look that convinced me that Donruss was here to stay.

What 1983 Donruss told me was "they're certainly full of themselves." A tribute to their own design just three years into existence? Who do they think they are? Whether you think the '83 set is an improvement over the '82 set or not, you have to admit, it resembles its predecessor a lot more than most sets that have been produced.

6. 1994-95 Collector's Choice

OK, we're getting to the point in the countdown where I start to confuse the sets. Truthfully, all of the Collector's Choice sets could be on this list. They're practically interchangeable. But the two I confuse the most often are 1994 and 1995.

Some of this is related to the fact that my collecting was dwindling down to nothing at this point. But thank goodness for the stripes on 1994 Collector's Choice. It's the only thing that helps me know "this is 1994."

5. 2003-04 Bowman

I could actually put almost all of the Bowman sets from the last 12 years in this countdown. I believe the only reason I chose 2003 and 2004 Bowman is because even as I'm writing this now, it took extra brainpower for me to correctly download the right card. I could almost smell the smoke above me.

You done good, brain. This is 2004. ... I think.

4. 1990-91 Bowman

I am forever finding 1990 Bowman mixed up with my 1991 Bowman and vice versa. At the time I place the stray Bowman card in the '90 or '91 spot, I am convinced that I have the right category. But more often than not, I don't.

At this very moment, I know that 1990 Bowman has the rainbow border and 1991 Bowman has the purple slide rule. But a half hour after this post published I'll think that 1990 Bowman is the purple slide rule set.

3. 1990-91 Upper Deck

I almost lumped 1989 UD in here, but '89 is just too iconic for too many people. Even I can pick it out if placed with a whole bunch of early Upper Deck sets.

The two that I confuse all the time are 1990 and 1991 Upper Deck. I know that right now there are '90 and '91 Upper Deck mixed up in my Upper Deck box. Green stripe on the top or green stripe down the side? Damned if I know. Make them a little less the same please! And don't point to that home plate thing. It's not helping.

2. 2006-07 Fleer Ultra

2006 Ultra did not look a lot different than 2005 Ultra. But at least '05 Ultra featured players' first names in script writing so I can differentiate.

About the only thing I have to tell '06 Ultra apart from '07 Ultra is a silver stripey strip. And for those of you who had 2006 Ultra on your want list and I sent you 2007 Ultra, I'm sorry.

1. 1992-93 Fleer Ultra

Yup, Ultra has a fine tradition of confusing the hell out of collectors, going way back to the very first Ultra sets. Here we have 1992 Ultra. Looks cool. I can dig it.

And here is 1993 Ultra. I think.

"What?" you're saying. "Don't you see they added a fire tail to the baseball? And the name and team blocks are staggered now?"

Excuse me. I grew up in the 1970s. Card sets evolved from black borders one year to crazy psychedelic borders the next, to plain white borders the next. You think I'm going to notice an added orange streak?

I am fully confident that my Ultra cards from these two years are making a complete mockery of my belief that all my sets are in order.

Ultra defies order.

And that's probably a good thing for some of you.

That's fine.

Everybody's got opinions.

Some are more right than others, of course.

(Thanks for the idea, Johnny).


  1. 1991 and 1992 Upper Deck are more confusing to me than 1990 and 1991 for some reason.

    The first sets I thought of, though, are 2004 and 2005 Topps. I know the designs are different, but I still get confused. Too many recent boring white bordered designs by Topps!

  2. I think the comment you referred to at the beginning was on my Jim Kaat post from a few days ago, but I could be wrong.

    Your top two are pretty much the same as mine. I seem to get the '06/'07 Ultra sets confused most of all, though.

  3. I always think of the 55 and 56 Topps sets first when the subject of look alike sets comes up. But you threw some worse offenders up there. The Fleer Ultras in particular. But then again so much of that 80s and 90s junk runs together in my mind that it doesn't matter.

  4. You are very welcome and you did a great job on this post.

    I still say 55 and 56 were too similar. Even the cards you used, have the exact same photo. However, I will admit that 56 is a big improvement over 55 though.

    I am a much bigger fan of vast differences from year to year, even with good sets. I think that is why I like both 1990 and 2008 more than most, because they were vastly different than everything else at that time.

    You are dead on about Ultra as well. My two favorite Ultra sets are 1997 and 2004 and they are practically identical.

  5. Great post oh knight of the blog table! It's good to see these next to each other. And I agree with 98-99 Topps; I'm working on my posts for those and totally see it. Here's my thoughts:

    -Great call on Ultra. Funny how 92 Ultra is the exact opposite - it couldn't be more different from 91.

    -To me you're over-rating Collector's Choice similarity. Yes, they do all look similar, but I actually think 94 CC is pretty noticeably different from 94. Especially I'd have left those off the list, but that's just my opinion :)

    -One I'd add - and maybe put 2nd or 3rd behind the two Ultras. 1991 and 1992 Leaf. They don't seem different at all!

    -94 and 95 Donruss could be somewhere on the list.

    -I'd put 82 and 83 Donruss higher. Especially after seeing them right next to each other.

    -Bowman all looks the same to me after around 1996. I don't even know what each set looks like.

  6. I take each set as a stand alone. Like 1981 Fleer? Ugly as sin.

  7. I'll agree with you that anyone who doesn't mind 1983 Donruss wasn't collecting in 1983. I still remember opening the first pack of 1983 Donruss, excited to see what they'd done after the big improvement from 1981 to 1982... and yes, boys and girls, we didn't know what the cards would look like until they actually came out, and we'd buy a pack as we walked the five miles home from school, uphill, through the snow, with newspapers wrapped around our feet because our parents couldn't afford shoes...

    ...where was I?

    Oh, yes, the excitement of opening 83D for the first time, followed immediately by the extreme disappointment of "Oh, this is the same set as last year". I still bought a fair amount of it, but it was a big disappointment.

  8. I don't consider '83 and '84 the same at all, really. They use the headshot device, but otherwise, the '83 design is much more refined or something.
    I associate '82, with the hockey sticks and the big blocky letters to '84 with the similar fonts.
    I agree with the '04 and '05 too. I got the '05 set all at once and haven't done the '04s yet. So I have to think a second to distinguish the two.

  9. I think Bowman is one of the worst. I have the hardest time sorting those.

  10. 90 and 91 Bowman are the ones I confuse the most. I sometimes have to look at the color of the back of the card to know what year it is. I don't count the late 90's sets because I will never get a grasp on those. Every time I buy a repack I find at least one card from a late 90's set that I didn't know existed.