It's not that I'm afraid of branding a baseball card ugly. I've done that many times on this blog. I even dedicated an entire post to what I thought were the ugliest baseball card sets at the time (Peter will happy to know that 1995 Fleer wound up first).
It's just that "ugly" comes in many forms. How do I decide which ugly?
I figured I'd let the dictionary help me arrive at a conclusion. As you know, a dictionary is incapable of settling on one definition of a word. It has to give you several options. By this means, I can address several different kinds of ugly before making a decision and delivering the final, devastating Ugliest blow.
For my dictionary of choice, I chose my red-covered, hard-bound Webster's ninth collegiate edition dictionary, published in 1983. This is your average, hefty, all-you-could-ever-need dictionary that was prevalent on every desk shelf before the internet thought it could explain words better but instead you're left with several confusing options and definitions, half of which you suspect have been arrived at by 30-somethings nostalgic for the days of Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" violating everyone's ear space.
No, this is better:
I'll go with each definition and try to find an appropriately ugly card.
1. Frightful, Dire
In 2009, Upper Deck's Goudey set, which had been a perfectly fine representation of the popular '30s cards, underwent a soul-extraction. That's the only way I can explain the cards. There is no better example of that phenomenon than the soul-less and downright creepy (and, yes, frightful) Dave Concepcion card. I don't even want to look at his eyes for too long. There is nothing in them. The card has freaked me out for years and it is ugly.
2. a) Offensive to the sight: hideous; b) offensive or unpleasing to any sense
There is just one set that causes me to react in a way that is remotely similar to encountering maggots at the bottom of a garbage can and that is 1992 Donruss. I really can't explain why I feel that way. I tried to in a post a few years ago, but I have a feeling it's deeply personal and even may not be able to be explained with a trip to the psychiatrist. Just know that I definitely find it hideous and unpleasant to all my senses.
3. Morally offensive or objectionable: repulsive
It's difficult for me to find baseball cards morally offensive or objectionable. I suppose there are some cards where the person on them causes me concern that I own their cards. O.J. Simpson for one. Here is another. Ugueth Urbina served seven years in prison for attempted murder. That's ugly. I have just one or two of his cards. Not thrilled about it.
4. a) Likely to cause inconvenience or discomfort (the "ugly" truth)
I loathe this card for its discomforting ugliness. Not only is it the Giants celebrating a third World Series title, closing off one of the darkest eras of baseball history, but they are doing so in front of a mass of hopeful Royals fans. The K.C. fan base is one, for me, that can do virtually no harm. They are cuddly poochie dogs. (Those who might not think so are probably fans of the Cardinals or Yankees, and they don't count for obvious reasons). This is inordinately sad and almost cruel. It's one of the ugliest moments I can find on a baseball card.
4. b) Surly, quarrelsome (an "ugly" drunk)
Madison Bumgarner's behavior on the field is ugly. Surly is a particularly apt description for the way he mopes around the mound making sure everyone on the field is acting to his particular standards.
So, this is where my dictionary's ugly definitions run out. But I still have some more ugly cards as I travel toward the ugliest.
1990 Topps is a popular choice among the Ugliest Sets. I can't argue with a card like this, in which lime green clashes with burnt orange clashes with magenta clashes with Roger McDowell's goofiness. But I've come around on 1990 Topps a lot, especially since its connection to artist Roy Lichtenstein and comic books in general was made.
In terms of an ugly card creation, it doesn't get much worse than 1977 Topps' Rick Jones. This re-creation of what was surely a black-and-white picture in a publication is one of the weirdest, strangest happenings in all of 1970s card lore. I happen to think it's so ugly and bizarre that it's wonderful, so I would never seriously enter it under an Ugly category.
Another entry under ugly's first definition: "frightful." This card doesn't seem so alarming looking at it under the light of day. But if I woke up out of a deep sleep, so deep that I didn't know what day it was or even where I was. and this card blown up poster-size and hanging on the wall was the first thing I saw? Well, that would be so dire I would probably have a heart attack on the spot.
This card is probably the most appropriate lead-in to my official entry in the Ugly Sweater Card Contest, what I find the ugliest card in all of my collection:
This very definition of the word "grotesque" is card No. 14 from the 1995 Comic Images Phil Rizzuto's Baseball: National Pastimes set (that's a mouthful). It features a number of baseball-related pictures from long ago, including this bean-bag game from the 1880s that probably scared the crap out of any kid who was handed a bag and asked to throw it at the beast. Just horrifying.
The card is also chromed-up which makes it look even more scary. I sure do feel sorry for children in the 1880s.
So, that's a look at some frightful, hideous, offensive, discomforting cards.
And, for what it's worth, that Limp Bizkit song is ugly, too.