Friday, June 5, 2015

Night Owl's all-time Topps set countdown (36-33)


When this post is finished, this countdown will be half over. I don't know whether you are throwing a party over that news or breaking out the tissues, but I do know that these four sets are the best of the worst -- in terms of them being the last sets before we reach the halfway point of the countdown show.

I admit it's a little unnecessary to use the word "worst" with any of these sets. All of these sets are good sets. I like them -- for the most part. A couple I like a little more than can be explained by a rational person, and a couple I'm sure I do not like as much as many other collectors do.

But this is why I'm doing this countdown: so I can explain my irrational love for specific sets and so I can explain why I don't like sets that others do. I may be an enigma, but I'm also a noisy enigma who won't shut up about why I am the way I am.

One housekeeping thing before the countdown starts.

I keep promising that I'll post a full list of the countdown somewhere on the blog. After numerous false starts on that promise, I've decided I'll just do it when the countdown is over. Problem solved.

OK, what follows are sets No. 36 through 33. And, remember, your torches and pitchforks are powerless over me.


36. 2005 Topps


I think if I were operating outside of the boundaries of civilized card society, I might try to put this set in the top 10.

I love 2005 Topps. When I first saw it, I hated it. Now I love it. Is that the sign of a long-lasting love affair or what?

But there's got to be more to set-ranking that gooey love poems. My opinions must be backed up with cold, hard facts! Such as, what self-respecting card set lists player names and teams sideways? And, who devotes that much space to borders and design in the 21st century? And why is the player's last name featured TWICE? Who does that?

2005 Topps does that.

It does a lot of weird stuff, but somehow, it works for me.


2005 Topps shrinks the player image smaller than possibly any other previous set, not including mini cards, of course. Look at all that acreage around the player! Who does that?

2005 Topps does that.

It uses huge team logos (although not as huge as 2010 Topps' team logos), and intertwining color bars that look like something you'd see on a subway map.

It's 2004 Topps with a lot of different twists, and I say it's an improvement over 2004 Topps.


Sure, there is so much territory devoted to design that the horizontal cards don't leave much room for image. But there's no mistaking that design. That's definitely 2005 Topps and you're never going to forget it.

This is not a set for the meek, or those with simple tastes. You want steak and potatoes? Go with a full bleed set. But if you want whimsy, charisma, spiked with a bit of "what the hell is this?" then 2005 Topps is for you. Some may consider all of the elements overwhelming. I say it gives the set character.


The backs are as busy as the fronts, with a well-placed, interesting secondary photo, mixed with a needless position graphic, just in case you don't know what "P" means in the top right corner, and a random "featured stat," in this case, Greinke's career WHIP.

There is a lot of "why did you do that?" to 2005 Topps. But the more I see the set and grow accustomed to its unorthodox ways, the more I like it.

2005 Topps is gonna 2005 Topps.

Not really anything wrong with that.


35. 2013 Topps



Here is another whimsical set -- although not as whimsical as 2005 Topps -- that I would have placed higher in the countdown just a couple years ago.

I was a 2013 Topps fan from the moment I saw the released design in the summer of 2012. Keep in mind I was suffering through 2012 Topps at the time, but really, the dramatic home plate design that screams "baseball!" but also screams "sea turtle!" is genius. This is a design element that will stick in the brain forever.

The information on the front of the card is as brief as any other set. Name and team logo. That's it. I'm not a collector who insists on seeing positions on the front of a card, so the fact there is no position designation on 2013 Topps (or 2005 Topps for that matter) doesn't bother me. This design is sleek, almost futuristic and anything other than the briefest of essentials would ruin the intent.

Since this is a set from the last five years, you can count on decent photos in 2013 Topps. And it delivers:


There's some decent vertical shots, too:


The design restricts where the photo can go a bit, and you can notice it on some of the photos. But it's not a significant problem.

What is enough of a problem that keeps this set from making the top 30 is the issue that's plagued Topps sets the last few years: too many similar, close-up shots.

This attempt to "get you as close to the action as possible even if we have to take you inside the player's nostrils" is getting pretty monotonous. It needs to change, because even with a set like 2015 Topps, which I absolutely love, it's irritating.

All I have to do is look at the cards from one team to show you what I mean.


Honestly, who wants to collect that? Everybody is doing the exact same thing. Please, somebody get a photo of a pitcher staring in for the signal or looking up into the crowd or all those other pitcher things that pitchers do besides cocking their arm with the ball.

This is an unfortunate downside of what should be a very enjoyable set.


Look, the sea turtle is even on the back of the card. How can you not enjoy that?

Maybe if there was a little more variety in the photos, I would've completed this set.


34. 1955 Topps


Although 1955 Topps is Topps' first horizontal set, that fact doesn't go far enough to take it out of the "best of the worst."

The 1955 Topps set suffers from its surroundings. First, there is the set that it is compared to the most -- 1956 Topps. Compare a 1955 Topps card to a 1956 Topps card and it's not a fair fight. Card sets need backgrounds and 1956 Topps has them, but 1955 Topps doesn't.

Then go one set back in time -- to 1954 Topps. All 1955 Topps did was turn 1954 Topps from a vertical set to a horizontal set and color in the little action shot. That's really not much of improvement. 1954 was innovative. 1955 Topps is just some kid coloring in the little action man.

Then, take a look at 1955 Topps' competition. In 1955, Bowman put out the TV set. 1955 Topps couldn't compare with that either. Bowman's set was also horizontal, too. And it wasn't the first time that Bowman had done that either. And, Bowman prevented Topps from featuring a bunch of stars in its set. The 1955 Topps set is 206 cards -- the smallest total for any Topps base set. And that's with Topps including coaches in its set.

The '55 set simply falls short in too many areas, while not adding much on its own.

I do give it a bit of credit for being the inspiration for 1956 Topps. But inspiration and execution are two different things. Execution wins you a spot high on the countdown. Inspiration will get you somewhere around No. 34 in some lame collector's countdown.


One of my least favorite card backs is from 1955 Topps. I realize this set was issued 60 years ago, but is there any card back that looks more dated? I half expect Lil' Abner to start dancing across the text on this card.

Some may consider all of this quaint and a set that harkens back to a more pleasant time, but it's pretty much lost on me.

I'll give 1955 Topps applause for having the good sense to come out in the 1950s, and featuring players like Clemente, Robinson and Koufax. But you've still got to do something with that, and 206 cards and tipping the 1954 set on its side is not it.


33. 1987 Topps


I'm going to come right out and say that 1987 Topps is a pretty good set and I've probably underestimated it all these years.

But I can't rank it any higher. I just can't.

I know that this set is well loved. It came out during a period when rookie hysteria was at its peak. People look at cards from '87 with nostalgia for a hobby that was on the verge of blowing up. How can you not enjoy a set that you thought at one time might make you rich? Also, a great many card bloggers cut their teeth on this set. I'm not sure why that is -- maybe blogging began among people born in the 1980s and 1987 Topps was the first set they ever saw?

Whatever the reason, '87 Topps is treated with a great deal of affection. Meanwhile, it's the only base Topps set I haven't completed.

So let's explore why.


From the moment I first opened 1987 Topps -- I was in college at the time -- I thought it was a rip-off of 1962 Topps. Before '87 Topps was even a thought, 1962 Topps was considered one of the most classic designs that Topps had ever made. It was iconic and talked about a great deal among collectors. So, to riff on that design was considered -- back then anyway -- as a cheap, lazy way of making a set.

Perspectives change and the world has changed and now it is art and the height of cool to take something that exists already and make it your own. People probably look at 1987 Topps in that way. The wood borders used in '87 Topps are lighter and brighter than those on 1962 Topps. 1987 Topps employs color and is a lot more colorful than 1962 Topps. And 1987 Topps uses team logos and a light, bubble font for the team name. In several ways, it's a friendlier set than 1962 Topps.

But I still can't see any innovation.

Still, there are things from 1987 Topps that you can't forget.


It features iconic cards that we've seen a million times.



It marked the return of the rookie cup, something that had been banished to a closet since the 1970s ended.



And I still think the A's cards in 1987 Topps are some of the most pleasing team cards of the entire 1980s.

But this is the late '80s and it was an era of backward thinking for Topps. After nonstop action sets from 1983 and 1984, Topps continued to feature too many staid head shots in 1987 Topps (as it did from 1985-1989, too).

It also did things like this:


This is the kind of airbrushing you would see in the early 1970s, not 17 years after airbrushing first became a baseball card staple.


The backs continued the disappointment that began in the early 1980s. There is nothing here that any other set couldn't supply.

The 1987 baseball card season marked the last year that Topps would have just two competitors in the baseball trading card market. The next year, Score would offer more challenges. And the year after that Upper Deck would leave Topps in the dust for at least half a decade.

Topps was just cruising along in '87, riffing off of designs it had used once before. The late '80s was really a creative low point for base sets from them. Maybe not as bad as the late '90s/early '00s, but when you've got a collector who has completed 9 of the 10 base sets from the decade, and he can't get himself to complete the 10th, you know you've got a problem.

1987 was a wonderful year for me -- it paved the way for my current life in so many ways, personally, professionally, creatively -- and was a terrifically fun time.

I wish I could say the same for the baseball cards then.


Up next: The worst of the best, sets #32-29.

4 comments:

  1. Totally agree on the 87 Topps A's team! The filter they used on some of those shots make the players look like they are wearing radioactive unis. I love it!!!!

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  2. 87 also benefits from following 86 Topps. 86 was just black and white with a colored name. 87 is much more colorful with the logo and even the wood seeming colorful after the black and white.

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  3. As someone whose been collecting again for over a year, I'm a little ashamed to admit I JUST NOW am seeing the home plate / infield diamond in the 2013 Topps design. My mind is a little blown by that. I just saw it as a funky swoop before. It's like someone explaining the arrow in the FedEx logo to someone that didn't notice it.

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  4. Forgot all about that Laga card... *shiver*

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