Before I forget, I want to let readers know that I have picked a random winner for my 400 followers contest. Of course, you won't know who that person is until either you receive notification in the mail along with some cards or it is advertised on this or the winner's blog.
But I just want folks to know the wheels are in motion. I am starting to select the winner's cards. But it will take some time.
OK, now on to something that I haven't done in more than a year. It's time to subjectively rank the baseball sets from another year.
I started with 1981 and I'm up to 1986 now. This particular year probably explains why I have been hesitating on this series for so long. 1986 was a strange one for cards, at least from my viewpoint. In 1986, I made the physical break from the hobby. While in 1984 and 1985 I stopped trying to collect sets by buying packs, I kept my connection to the hobby by purchasing Topps factory sets each year.
But in 1986, there was none of that. I lived away from home, I was saying no to the old ways, I didn't care.
The few packs that I did buy seemed strange. And while new collectors seemed to regard the cards of '86 as sleek and trendy then, I just looked at '86 as a step back ... for every card company. And that's the way I still view them.
So here's my evaluation of the mainstream sets of the year when cards went backward:
1986 Topps -- the front
Plusses: A mysterious and wild new design. The '86 design evokes 1971 Topps, but with the brightest, boldest team name in cardboard history. But despite that brightness, to this day, the design has a dark, mystical quality for me, brought on by the first real use of black in 15 years. ... Color-coding of the team name with the team colors for the second year in a row. ... The position name in the color-coded ball is simplistic, but useful and almost whimsical. .... A few decent and different photos, if you look closely at the set.
Minuses: To illustrate the strangeness of photo choices, here is the Tom Waddell card, which follows the Tony Perez card in the set (card nos. 85 and 86). Can you imagine two more divergent back-to-back card photos in terms of interest and quality? ... The photo choices, from weirdly cropped pictures to blurry photos makes it look like Topps was attempting to come down to Fleer's level, or simply had fired all of its photographers and went with anyone on the street who had a camera. ... The black borders can chip if you're not careful. ... The look, while colorful, seems too simplistic to me. But I think that was just the style of the time.
1986 Topps -- the back
Plusses: The use of red as the primary color on the back looked bold as Topps had not used red as the primary background since the 1982 traded set and not in a base set since 1969 (although that's actually pink). ... A pleasant and familiar blocky design. ... There is a theme to the backs: firsts, lasts, oldests, etc. It's semi-interesting to see the date of a player's first home run. ... The quirky cartoon baseball draws your interest for 5 seconds. I know I appreciated it after seeing no cartoons on the back of Topps cards since 1982.
Also, I never realized this until today, but the cartoon baseball had many poses:
I feel like I've underrated the backs not knowing that.
Minuses: Even with the cartoon baseball, it's still a boring '80s back. I like the '70s backs so much more. ... Black on red is not as difficult to read as red on green, but still not the easiest.
1986 Topps -- overall
Plusses: Still have to credit Topps for that familiar, sturdy cardboard. ... A striking new design. ... Pete Rose tribute to begin the set. ... Turn Back The Clock subset returns for first time since 1977 but with pictures of past cards, which is the first time Topps did that in a base set since 1975. ... Another hefty 792-card set.
Minuses: If you're into rookies, it's not a great set for them. Cecil Fielder is probably your best bet. ... Topps added team leader cards after a year absence, but the faded-out, dream-like quality of those cards make them look half-finished (this is a personal preference, I'm sure others like them). ... The photo quality makes the set appear more amateurish than any other Topps set of the '80s.
1986 Fleer -- the front
Plusses: Out with the gray, in with the blue. You'll never catch me complaining about blue borders. ... While Topps ditched the logo on the front after a one-year experiment in '85, Fleer stayed with what first drew everyone's attention in 1983. Logos all around! ... Photo quality seemed to gradually improve over time for Fleer. ... Colors used in design reflect team colors, for the most part.
Minuses: I'm not crazy about the design. I don't know what that elongated name/position balloon is supposed to be. ... Lot of players just standing around in photos. Fleer did that way too much. I wish I had more '86 Fleer cards to find out whether the odd cropping was still a problem.
1986 Fleer -- the back
Plusses: Fleer is still numbering the set by team, got to like that. ... The "Did you know" fact at the bottom produced some interesting tidbits such as this one. ... The layout is a little different from what Fleer repeatedly produced between 1983-85. That's appreciated and it's a better use of space.
Minuses: I hate yellow on cards, including card backs. ... What happened to the mug shot in the top corner? That was a Fleer staple! ... Although the layout is a little different, it's still pretty boring.
1986 Fleer -- overall
This pretty much says all you need to know about 1986 Fleer for me: I always forget about this set. Sometimes I confuse it with 1985 Fleer, but other times I just skip right over it when I'm going through sets of the '80s in chronological order. It's as if it doesn't exist.
1986 Donruss -- the front
Plusses: Not many. Got to like the team logo. ... It has a cool Define the Design name in "The Max Headroom Set."
Minuses: My least favorite design of the 1980s for a mainstream set. The tightly packed horizontal lines are jarring and if they could be put into motion (and sometimes they look like they actually are in motion), it would make people queasy. ... The design really takes away from the photo for me. I couldn't even tell you whether the quality of the photos this year improved over the darkness issues of sets from '84 and '85.
1986 Donruss -- the back
Plusses: I will always compliment Donruss for the full names at the top and the contract status down below. ... Blue looks a lot better than the yellow from the previous year. ... I believe this is the card back that Panini mimicked for its 2014 Donruss set, for what that's worth.
Minuses: Same, same, same, same. Donruss enclosed the stat box beginning in 1985, but everything else is unchanged. ... I don't know who decided in the 1980s that card backs would be virtually pointless.
1986 Donruss -- overall
Plusses: For awhile, this set was much coveted and highly priced, all because of the Jose Canseco rookie. You can't argue with popularity, so that's a point in this set's favor. ... Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies are beloved by '80s collectors. ... I'd say this is in the top 10 of iconic 1980s sets, although I'd never put it there.
Minuses: I can't imagine what this set looks like in a binder. Taking a full set out in public must be a menace to society. Horizontal-line-prompting convulsions everywhere. ... Too much sameness overall, particularly on the back.
And now, let's reveal the overall winner.
The best set of 1986 is ...
Ranking: 1. Topps; 2. Fleer; 3. Donruss
Yeah, I'm not crazy about it either. It wasn't a great year. Unless you were gaga over rookies.
Total ranking: Topps - 4; Donruss - 1; Fleer - 1