Friday, May 22, 2015

Night Owl's all-time Topps set countdown (40-37)

Greetings on this Memorial Day weekend. This is my long weekend gift to you. No, I'm not going anywhere. It's much too busy at work at this time of year to ever consider Memorial Day as a time to get away.

But I know many of you are. You won't be reading blogs much, or even posting to them much. I thought I'd leave this here to last the weekend. These posts are a lot to digest anyway. Maybe I'll add another post before you're grumbling about the end of a 3-to-4-day weekend, maybe this one will still be at the top when you return. We'll see.

With these four sets, I'm starting to approach some sets that are certain collectors' favorites. Maybe I've already done so with some of the earlier sets, but I haven't exactly heard many people proclaim 1997 or 1961 Topps the love of their lives.

However, a couple of the sets to follow I know for a fact hold a place in the heart of some collectors. Maybe it's the first set they ever collected, maybe ... well, that's got to be all it is. I don't know why you'd consider these the best for any other reason.

These sets have some good points though. In fact, they're pretty solid sets. But I can't say I'm fond of any of them. A big shrug of my shoulders for sets No. 40 to 37. But to see why, you've got to read on.

Let's go.

40. 1993 Topps

The year 1993 was my last active year of collecting modern cards until 2006. I didn't chase them as eagerly as I had the previous two years, but I bought quite a bit of everything just like in 1992.

The two sets that I bought the most was Topps and Upper Deck. I bought Topps because it was Topps. You dance with the one who brung ya. I bought Upper Deck because, my goodness, have you seen the 1993 Upper Deck cards????

I was so enamored with the look of 1993 Upper Deck that I quickly dropped everything else, abandoned my mantra of sampling a little bit of everything that had been engrained in my collecting head since 1981 Donruss and Fleer hit the stores, and professed my devotion to Upper Deck. I think I spent the last half of the summer buying nothing but UD.

From that moment, '93 Topps was inadequate in my eyes. The photos could never match what was on '93 Upper Deck, the design wasn't nearly as classy and direct. I was now viewing Topps as second-best for the first time in my life. And 1993 Topps was officially a disappointment.

To this day, I hardly look at my 1993 Topps cards. With the exception of the Dodgers and certain notable cards in the set, like Kirby Puckett, I barely know what I have from '93T. The '93 Upper Deck set is sitting in a binder, complete. The '93 Topps is sitting in a box, ignored.

I've never been able to grasp what is going on with the design of this set. The Define the Design name for '93 Topps is the "photo corners set". I didn't come up with that one, but I guess I agreed with it at the time. It could look like the photo slots from an old-fashioned scrapbook, or it could look like something else, I guess. I'd actually prefer that those diagonal corners were removed and the name line and team name line extended to the edges of the card. I'd like that design much more. Simple, colorful, direct.

The '93 set does feature a number of memorable cards that show that Topps was attempting to keep up with Upper Deck's photography.

There is this ...

And this ...

And this ...

But there is also this ...

Come on, Topps, step up. Upper Deck is eating your lunch.

Poor Chris Gwynn isn't the only example. But mostly, the issue with '93 Topps' photos is the sameness of the action. Pitchers pitching off the mound, many looking indistinguishable from the next. Hitters swinging at the plate, repeat, repeat, repeat.

If there was more of this, 1993 Topps wouldn't be as forgettable a set.

But right now, all that stands out for me about '93 Topps is that it was the first Topps set with Marlins and Rockies cards. Yeah, I know, exciting stuff.

Same could be said for the backs.

In the end, 1993 Topps isn't that bad of a set, but it did commit the ultimate faux pas when it comes to a company that is trying to make money.

It chased this longtime Topps collector to the competition.

39. 1985 Topps

You'd think that writing an entire blog devoted to a set would mean that it is one of my favorites or that I have grown increasingly attached to it as I've continued to blog about it.

I can't say that about 1985 Topps.

I hold much affection for 1985 as a year. That's one of the reasons why I started that blog. And since I bought the entire '85 set in one shot at the start of the year, the blog has helped me explore the set and find things I didn't know about it.

But I don't like it more than I did before. In fact, what the blog has done has underlined my issues with '85 Topps.

The set features a few things that will keep it in collectors' minds forever -- the U.S. Olympic team subset, the Mark McGwire rookie card, Clemens, Puckett and Hershiser rookies -- but you know me as a collector, I don't care about that stuff.

I care about the collection of cards in the set, and how they look. 1985 Topps is average at best.

The assemblage of geographic shapes at the bottom I've never understood. Even though the Dodgers fare very well in the color scheme chosen for them, the design looks thrown on there and messy. The position designation is jammed in next to the name, in the same color and font, and gets a bit confusing on first glance.

The photos are OK for the time period, many aren't the clearest. But for me, the photos in 1985 Topps are a regression from previous years. Let me see if I can find a way to explain this ...

Hmmm ...

Hmmm ...

Hmmm ...

Oh, yes ..

I know ...


After two straight years of sets with almost nothing but action, Topps returned to the '70s with countless photos of giant faces. I know this pleases some older collectors who remember the '60s, etc., but in the 1980s, action was considered forward-thinking and the wave of the future. The photos in the 1985 set do not move anybody forward. They remind me of 1979.

If it weren't for the rookies and subsets, this would be a stagnant set.

Normally, I ignore the backs when I'm ranking these sets, but I actually gave '85 Topps a few demerits for its backs. Red-on-green type is never cool, and only acceptable if the front of the card is as tremendous as 1975 Topps.

I think I probably did a smart thing buying this entire set at the start of the year. I don't know what I would have done if I had accumulated 25 cards of Denny Walling staring into space.

38. 1994 Topps

It's a good thing that the photos in 1994 Topps are so memorable because the design makes me squirm.

This is often called "the home plate design" by collectors because the photo border outline looks like a partial home base. (I'll probably add this name to my Define the Design list because I can't see anything else anymore). But that's not why I don't like the design.

I don't like it -- surprise, surprise -- because of the color scheme. All of Topps' player cards in this set feature a green base where the name starts. It's the most prominent color in the design. Green is a tricky color to use with cards. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it makes the most awful cards.

I'm not crazy about it here, but I could let it go if the color wasn't paired up with orange so often in this set.

Orange and green should not be grouped together unless they're two different scoops of sherbet in the same bowl. See the Miami Hurricanes, see 1992 Score. Just yuck.

I am so appalled by this combination that I can't see the photo beauty in this set:

Has Canseco just carved his own bats?

The cards without the orange in them don't look half bad.

There are lots of other quality photo examples (the often-cited final farewell George Brett card, for example). Topps was very nearly matching Upper Deck in photo quality at this point. Five years of playing catch-up was starting to pay off.

Unfortunately, all that orange-and-green and ... um, a players' strike ... cut my Topps card purchasing way down in 1994. BAD memories with this set.

So let's just turn the card over to the back and be done with it.

Ugh. More orange and green.

37. 1982 Topps

This is another set that you could file under "disappointment." I've heard this from myself as well as other collectors.

It's a little difficult to explain why that is. The '82 set isn't noticeably lousy and I consider it a step up from the 1981 Topps set. The hockey-stick design is quirky fun, although not as identifiable as caps or flags like in previous years.

And 1982 Topps brought a few new -- or "new to us" -- aspects to the table.

Team leaders checklists replaced the team photo checklists that had been a part of Topps sets for over 20 years.

And although "In Action" cards first appeared in 1972 Topps, it was new to collectors like me and interesting enough to make a lasting impression as a key element of '82 Topps.

One of my first impressions of these cards in 1982 was how redundant they were (we weren't used to having multiple cards of the same player in one set). But I got a kick out of seeing the base card and the "in-action" card side-by-side in a binder. Even if the base card of Bowa is a little more "actiony" than the "in-action" card.

I think where the disappointment lies is that while Topps boasted "action" throughout its set, a lot of the cards were as far from action as possible.

The scanner treats this card better than it deserves. It is dull and also hazy. There is a hazy quality to a lot of '82 Topps cards, and then there are the unfortunate few Cubs cards in which the players look hazy and their faces are also speckled with spots (see Mike Griffin and Joe Strain).

Photo quality is a drawback, which is interesting given the emphasis on "in-action".

Are there good base cards in this set?


We also appreciate 1982 Topps as the last base set with cartoons until 2006 (I'm not counting that "Talkin' Baseball" guy on the back of '86 Topps). And I'll always remember 1982 Topps as providing me with my first opportunity to land a full Traded set.

But I don't appreciate that 1982 Topps ignored the World Series from the previous year, especially considering who won that year.

In fact, don't tell anybody, but '82 Topps might have gone down the rankings a little bit because of that one.

Night Owl can be vindictive in his countdowns.

Up next: Sets #36-33.


  1. AAAhhh '82 Topps, my first love. One of these days I'll be less busy & I'll restart a blog about that set. Next time though, I'll do it in card # order & I'll talk about the cards a bit more than the season itself. I've always loved the hazy look of some of the photos, 'cause when I was 8, they struck me as having a certain classic olden days feel to 'em. I can see why others wouldn't like that, and I might not have either, if I'd seen other baseball cards before this set.

    The "hockey stick" design always came across to me as a very modern stylish new wave-ish look when I was a kid. My favorite photo in the set is the Carlton Fisk in action card, hands down. The headshots didn't bother me, 'cause it helped me know a lot of the players by lookin' at them.

    One thing that bugged me though, was some of the colors. Like, why did they use hot pink on the Dodgers, Phillies, & Cardinals cards?!?!? It kind of worked on the Dodgers ones, but it was still a mystery why pink showed up there. I've always thought it clashed with the red of the Cardinals & Phils.

    In hindsight, I don't like all the cards of players whose careers were over by the time '82 started, and would never return. Of course, Topps couldn't have known that at the time, but still, they could've focused a bit more on players that appeared to have more of a future than guys like Joe Strain & his .189 BA in '81. There's actually several cards of players who ended their careers in the beginning of June '81 and didn't have the kind of stats to suggest they'd be back again after the strike - ever. I got so familiar with these players that hadn't even played a game since June the previous year, that it was disappointing to never see them again.

  2. Besides the '81 World Series shun, another demerit for this set was it marked the discontinuation of the All-Star designation on the base cards. I love that about 1975 when the glorious seven year stretch began.

  3. Pretty sure Topps brought back the In Action card and ditched the team cards for team leaders in 1982 to keep up with Fleer and Donruss having multiple cards of a player in 1981.

  4. With the.exception of the '82 set, which I bought the complete set via mail order from Renata Galasso, I collected all of the sets in today's countdown in great quantities. The '82 set is in mint condition today but the printing qualty is poor (hazy and too much bleeding). C'est la vie.

    I believe the '93 set to be a much better design than the '94 set. In fact, when the product was released I was very disappointed with the quality of the gold parallels that I returned several poor examples along with a complaint. The photography in the '93 is much better than the '94 and I enjoyed collected ting this series. When it comes down to the collection or participation in a hobby, if fun was part of the experience then that is half the fun.

    Thanks for the countdown and I look forward to the next one.

  5. My pitchfork and torch remain in the tool shed for this post... No indignant response from me. All of these sets fall into the category of "I like them just fine, but I have no problem with them being in the middle of the pack". That being said, in a later post I may go back and indignantly rant about how you ranked some Topps set as #19 while 1982 Topps was relegated to #37.

    To me, the expansion teams are the crown jewels of the 1993 set, and not just because it was fun to have different teams on the cards... The way they took some of the boring spring training poses and posed the players in front of cacti, rock outcroppings, palm trees, scoreboards or whatever landmark-y looking structure is behind Jeff Conine... Those are the cards I think of when I think of 1993 Topps. OK, and the Bonilla.

  6. Love the 82T set. It's in my Top 20... possibly Top 15. It as to do with the bright colored hockey sticks, plus it was a childhood favorite. The 85T set probably falls somewhere in the 20's for me. I loved that design back in the 80's and 90's... but over the years it's sort of lost its luster. As for the other two sets, they're probably in the 30's or 40's for me. I don't really like them, but they're not terrible either.

    P.S. Totally with ya on 93UD. It'd be in my top 5 UD base sets of all-time.

  7. I'd put 82 lower, and below 81. Washed out hockey sticks? Blech.

    I remember when I first saw 85 and thought "This is it?". After 83 and 84 it just seemed a big step back.

  8. I'm trying to reserve judgement on your rankings until I see the whole list...BUT, 82 Topps were my very first baseball cards, and 85 was my first set, and both have a "top 10" ranking in my own mind as a result. I think the 1985 Eddie Murray is the greatest baseball card ever, and it's a head shot, so I don't want to throw all of them out with the bath water...

  9. For me there's a line of demarcation between Topps sets that have full color glossy backs and those that don't. 1992 is sort of on the fence, but 1993 and '94 are both on the wrong side of that line. It's hard for me to even consider sets from '93 on as the same product as those from prior to '92.