Thursday, April 23, 2015

Night Owl's all-time Topps set countdown (48-45)


I want to have a place for this countdown when it's all done. In the next day or so (again, it's very, very busy so no promises), I hope to create something on the sidebar or a new tab that will give an abbreviated look at the countdown. You can always go to the long-winded posts if you like, but the sidebar feature will allow you to look at all the sets in order quickly.

OK, so far, this countdown has been fairly straightforward. The sets shown I think most expected them to be in those spots.

This begins the period where I shake things up a little -- not necessarily this post, but ones in the future. You'll see an inkling of the shake-up in this particular post, maybe a set you would have ranked higher. But I'm saving some of the "surprises" for later.

The four sets featured here range from the loud-and-annoying to the flat-out boring. But each of the sets have their own small assets -- just not enough of them to keep me awake.

And before I put everyone to sleep myself, here is the latest edition of the countdown:


48. 2010 Topps


If the MLB Network -- the part where ex-jocks yuck it up on the set, shouting without any regard for anyone attempting to learn anything about the game, bellowing like they're back in the locker room -- could be a set, it would be 2010 Topps.

2010 Topps is a LOUD set. It's definitely colorful. It's also bold, big and in your face.

Take a look at the photos used for this set. Here's a sampling of one page:


What do you see?

It's packed with nonstop action. That's what 2010 Topps is -- nonstop action. Players doing. They're throwing pitches, swinging bats, bolting out of the box, leaping against the wall, charging from the dugout.

But it's not just that. I think 2010 Topps might set the record for the most open-mouthed players in a set. There are players yelling and pointing to the sky, jumping up and down and thrusting their fists into the air, slamming teammates on the helmet and patting each other on the back. There is also a great deal of focus on the crowds in the background.

None of this is inherently bad -- who doesn't like a good action shot or players showing emotion? But it's On Every Single Card. Faces contorted, grimacing, grinning madly.

Baseball isn't like that all the time.

Watch a commercial on the MLB Network and it's like the 2010 Topps set come to life. It's all action and emotion with fans cheering loudly. They want baseball to be a football game.

But baseball is baseball, not football.

Baseball is filled with down time and quiet time. Guys on the bench chewing sunflower seeds. Outfielders waiting for a pitching change. Fans ordering cotton candy. Batters stepping out of the box (well, not so much of that anymore). Baseball is ebb and flow, serenity mixed with the height of excitement.

I like my baseball card set to reflect that. I don't need ACTION ALL THE TIME. I don't need EXCITEMENT ALL THE TIME. I don't need JOCULARITY ALL THE TIME. I can deal with quiet conversation and the thoughtful exchange of ideas. And I can deal with a pitcher looking in for the sign and a first baseman chatting it up with the runner. There's nothing wrong with showing that on a baseball card.

2010 Topps misses that. It is the Bro-tastic set of all sets. It's too full of itself to care about anything that's not going off in its face.

Topps added an extra element to that by making the team names on the front as large as possible. This was perceived as a dig at Upper Deck, who lost its MLB license prior to the sets coming out. That's a rather loud and nasty "ha! ha!" to leave on your card for all of time.


One other drawback to a set that I rather foolishly completed that year. A lot of the photos have an odd, filtered look to them. The faces are artificially lightened in some cases.


And the less said about the rookie cup that debuted and died this year the better.



The good stuff? Well, the backs look nice, with a well-positioned, different picture than the front. The franchise history cards are terrific, with a mix of past greats, stadium landmarks or famous moments.



And, my favorite base set insert of the last 10 years appeared in 2010 Topps. (Still need to land all the Tales cards from the Update set).

Like those jocks you see barking on MLB Network or in the locker room, 2010 Topps has some talent. It's lost in too much loudness, bluster and ego, but if you look at it with the goal of searching for something positive, you'll find it.

Know what I mean, bro?


47. 1966 Topps


Thank goodness for this year's Heritage, or you might have seen 1966 Topps buried in the 50s in this countdown.

Two factors conspired to pull this set up a few spaces. One is the aforementioned 2015 Topps Heritage. There is just something about seeing modern players in a spruced-up old design that keeps me from being mad at the old set.


See what I mean? I don't know what it is, but it makes me suddenly want to buy some 1966 Topps.

The other factor in seeing these cards in a different light was stumbling across a few 1966 cards at a card show last year. They were part of a deal on some vintage sets, and although I didn't know 1966 was included in the stacks of cards, there it was -- ready for me to judge.


OK, position scrawled on the bottom aside, that's not too bad. It's bright and colorful. It's a nice-looking picture.

The downside is Mike Shannon is the best-of-the-best in this set. There are a lot of cap-less people in 1966 Topps, and some of the color schemes are distracting. The yellow-on-red of the Dodgers' cards has bothered me since I was young.

But the most bothersome aspect, for me, is that team-name slash in the upper left. It's in the way. I don't like designs that are "in the way" (see 2008 Topps). Although it's not as obtrusive as other designs (we'll see another violator very soon), it still forced Topps to select certain pictures or move the photo to accommodate that slash that looks lousy anyway. I see a word slash like that and I think something's on sale. It should say "PRICE BUSTER!" or "CHECK THIS OUT!" It shouldn't say "Dodgers" or "Pirates".

The overall design -- a strip across the bottom and a slash at the top -- is as simplistic as anything Topps had done since 1961. This look was quite a comedown from the previous year, 1965 Topps. And I can't help but look at it and think, "try harder."


From the moment I saw the reverse of the Sandy Koufax card in this set, I've enjoyed the backs. The black-on-red type has always looked pretty cool. And extra points for including a cartoon.

1966 Topps doesn't give you a lot, which is why there wasn't much enthusiasm for the 2015 Heritage set. After decades of much more colorful and interesting designs, today's collector wants a little more than what '66 Topps offered.


46. 1958 Topps


Got some news for you, kids. Not every set from the '50s is a great one.

Sure, the subject matter is top-notch. But this is the '50s, we need more than subject matter. Every '50s set has subject matter. If they don't have Campanella, they have Mays.

After two years of killer sets (you can lump '55 Topps in there if you like to make it three years, although I've never been crazy about it), Topps removed the backgrounds, cut out the players -- some more successfully than others -- and crammed them into 2 1/2-by-3 1/2-inch cardboard, again some more successfully than others.

I don't like many sets that lack backgrounds. I need grass and dirt in my cardboard diet. And 1956 Topps and 1957 Topps are filled with the glory and splendor that is a baseball field. BUT THERE IS NO BASEBALL FIELD IN 1958 TOPPS!!!!

This is a tragedy.

Sure, the combo cards feature real pictures with real backgrounds, but that's just not enough.

You might think it odd that someone who loves color as much as I do would have so many problems with 1958 Topps, but the color doesn't overcome the issues I have with this set. For one, virtually all of the Dodgers have yellow backgrounds. Yellow! Do you know how much I've made fun of 1991 Fleer for being yellow? Not cool, Topps, not cool.

Then there is the weird combination of giant heads and full-body poses.


Topps could barely get Clem Labine's chin in the card. But in other cards, you can see the players' feet.

That, coupled with the scrapbook feel of this set, leads to a very uneven collection of cards. And then you have mistakes like this:


I'd like to say that this is the only example of a batter missing his bat in this set, but it's not. Someone went crazy with the scissors.

Topps was still in its childhood years in 1958, so something like this is to be expected. But the thing is, they produced some of their greatest sets in their infancy, and then followed that with something that looks like they cut out of magazines and pasted on construction paper.

Maybe that's the charm of this set, but it doesn't do it for me.

I do like some of the color choices for the backgrounds, just because they represent the '50s so well -- seafoam green and salmon pink, those are great cards.

Also, although most of the poses are lame and the set is full of head shots, '58 Topps can produce some terrific ones. Like so:


Wish there was more of that.

Also, before I forget, the All-Star cards in 1958 Topps -- the ones where bright yellow stars shower down on the player featured -- are terrific.



The back adds a couple of interesting comic aspects. One is the card number, which is featured on the face of a cartoon baseball head. The other is the comic is squeezed between the bio and the stats. It's different, although a little jumbled (it doesn't help that most of the cartoon figures in '58 Topps are the "big galoot" type.

In short, I think '58 Topps gets more credit than it deserves because it's a set from the '50s. Some of my opinion may be a matter of taste, but I say '58 ain't so great.


45. 1969 Topps


I am glad I didn't collect 1969 Topps as a kid.

I know people who did don't feel that way, and that's fine, but '69 Topps is such a handicapped set that I looked at it with pity the first time I saw it as a kid. What's with all the blacked-out caps? And don't the other guys own any caps?

It was all I saw. And I didn't even know about the behind-the-scenes players' union issues, which forced 1969 Topps to reuse pictures from 1968 or dig into its archives for photos that were often three, four or five years old. The set is filled with outdated photos! That ain't good. Every time I see the 1969 Hank Aaron card, which looks just like the 1968 Hank Aaron card, I get sad. As for the blacked-out caps, well, 1969 was forced to deal with baseball expansion, too.

Also, this is another set where design infringes on the photo. In this case, it's the player name and position ball in the upper left or right.

Because of this ball, Topps often shifted the player's image over to the left or the right. Jim Lonborg, for example, is left-justified to avoid the pink ball looming in the sky. This might not be the greatest example because the shifting allows us to see the wonderful Gilbert's Gin ad, but there are many, many other cards like this, which I've written about in the past.

Despite all of the above, some nifty cards sneaked into 1969 Topps.


I have always loved this card.

If done right -- player centered, with a current picture, and a cap on his head with the logo in full view -- '69 Topps presents some wonderful-looking cards on par with other "clean" sets like 1967 Topps.



I don't mind the pink at all. That's one of the best Topps backs of the 1960s right there. Love the large cartoon.



Also, these are phenomenal. If there was ever an excuse to collect manager cards only, this is it.

1969 Topps isn't to blame for many of its issues -- you can only do so much when you can't get current photos of the players and the major leagues is expanding by four teams -- but final appearance is all I'm judging here.

Good effort against all odds, '69 Topps. That's about all I've got.

Up next: More sets that you think are worse or better than I do.

7 comments:

  1. Nice call on the 69T managers cards, that may be a subset worth building. Also you nailed it on Heritage helping 66T. There feels like 2015H had a better photography this year or something.

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  2. I recently found one of those cards of "The Wave." Decided it was worth holding on to.

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  3. Totally agree with your sentiments on 2010 Topps.

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  4. Totally unrelated, but I actually saw a real, live owl last night. Pretty cool.

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  5. Never realized the 1969 Topps managers had such amazing card backs. I'm definitely going to need to pick up a few of these.

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  6. I think it goes without saying (at this point) that I like the sixties sets better than you. '66 and '69 are probably top ten for me (with '66 in my top 5). '66 is colorful as all get out and (to me) the color combos make sense. I love that they're counter-intuitive. Why does every border or design color have to be either generic across the whole set or the same as the team's colors all the time? Obviously, they don't, as you love the '75 design. But the '75 colors were completely random. The '66s are coded by team, which is a definite plus to me, but not the team's colors (which I also count as a plus). I thought purple for the Mets was genius. I think the red and yellow for the Dodgers and Yanks is about as good as it gets, with only the green and yellow of the Senators and....you know who...being better. I do sometimes feel sorry for the Phillies and Indians, with that grey color that sort of says "these two teams are so bad, the only fitting color is grey". Had they gone with black instead of grey, I think those teams' cards would have looked a lot better. And I always appreciated that Topps continued those color choices in '68 and '69. '69 also benefitted from following the '68 design, which was horrid. On the '58 set...in general, I don't mind the use of a solid color background--the '69 football set is one of my absolute favorites of all time (at least the series one full-bleeds). Ditto for the 69-70 hockey set and some of the early 70s basketball sets. It just doesn't work as well for baseball for some reason. You're right; baseball cards need some grass and sky to "feel" right.

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  7. I think 2010 Topps must be the set that I have more cards. Specially from the Updates series. It was nice but I prefer 2009 and 2011 sets though.

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