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Ten years of evaluating flagship

When you've been blogging as long as I have, collecting as long as I have, you come across milestones every year.

For example, this year is the 45th anniversary of the first time I opened a pack of cards (1974 Topps). It's also the 10th anniversary of the first time I evaluated Topps flagship on this blog. That happened with the 2009 set.

That means I have evaluated an entire decade of flagship. And therefore, I can rank the flagship sets from an entire span of 10 years -- 2010-19 -- which I will do for you now.

The best part of this exercise is I can go back into the archives and find what I said when I was looking at the set for the first time ... because I've been doing this for 10 years.

So, the rankings for Topps flagship from 2010-19:

10. 2016

This set will always be remembered as the first Topps flagship set without borders. That is not a point in its favor. However, I"m more disturbed by the way they went about the set. The "smoke" effect that makes it appear as if every game was played as fog rolled off the lake and into the ballpark is one of the single worst disasters invented for baseball cards, and all because we couldn't have a border. It's easily one of my bottom five flagship card designs in Topps history.

What I said then: "The 2016 Topps cards are a disappointment. The old cardboard has been gone for a couple decades, and now with all the filtering and photoshopping, do we even know what's real anymore? Do we know what we're collecting? It's been so tinkered with, what are these things now? This is quite a come down from 2015, a set I liked a lot."

Appropriately that post was titled "Even year bull$#!&"

9. 2017

Topps' continuing search for how to handle a design without a border while thoroughly dependent on parallels. The smoke effect was gone but because of the assembly of steel girders on the bottom, I will always think of 2017 Topps as only three-fourths of a card. And about 10 percent of it -- that part in the bottom right -- is absolutely nothing if it's not a parallel. So there is absolutely nothing on 10 percent of each and every baseball card. This set also suffers from being the first Topps flagship set since 1971 without complete stats on the back.

What I said then: "Clearly if you want to do parallels, you need borders. Hopefully Topps figures this out at some point soon."

They sort of figured it out in 2019.

8. 2012

Another all-time bummer. The design is both boring AND annoying. That's difficult to do. The surfboard really obscures the photo on horizontal cards. I find it instantly unappealing, like colors that clash or the wafting smell of a food I don't like. This year also marked the time when Topps first started zooming in far too much on its subjects.

What I said then: "You know what it really looks like? It looks a late '80s/early '90s Score set that has grown a tumor. That's the image I get in my head. Early Score. With a tumor. Score didn't go to the doctor in time. And now it's got a tumor. It's the Tumor Set."

7. 2014

After 2013's smooth and curvaceous flagship design, Topps went all angular and pointy with 2014. It's a jumble of four or five different designs pasted together onto one card and it's poking me. Quit poking me! The team tab is annoying as heck and the team logo is not anchored. But at least WAR made its debut as a stat on the card backs.

What I said then"Perhaps most important, this design reminds me of something and I am going to figure out what it is before 2015. I think when I do figure it out, I will like this set a lot more. It strikes at something familiar from the past. Just have to pull it out of my brain."

I still don't know what it reminded me of.

6. 2010

It almost seems so long ago. Actual foil names on the cards. Players shown so you are unable to see up their nostrils. The 2010 set is quaint in that loud, obnoxious way that screams "Ha! Ha!, Upper Deck, we have logos and you can't use them!" Because that's why we got what we got in 2010.

What I said then: "I wish they would have scrapped the foil. It's easier to read than last year, but this design reminds me of an old-school set, and no old-school set has foil."

Your dreams would come true, young night owl

5. 2018

The 2018 set showed me that I could enjoy full-bleed flagship. It helped that Topps zoomed out somewhat on its subjects for the first time since 2011. The logo zipping down the waterslide is tons of fun, and although people griped about the slide obscuring the first letter of the player's name, that seems a bit nit-picky to me. The 2018 set is perfectly fine. Nothing more, nothing less.

What I said then: "There are a boatload of cards with rookie card logos on them in this set. Topps is on record as being proud of this. Meanwhile, I have no time to figure out who all these people are."

I am still trying to figure out why Topps hasn't issued a 792-card set of nothing but rookies. Sure, you say, "because there aren't 792 rookies every year," but I have faith in Topps. They like rookies THAT much, so they will find a way.

4. 2019

I'm still not sure how I feel about how the photos reproduce. Some seem awfully cheap. But until I figure that out, full points for design. I still love this thing. The big fat last names, the logo anchored nicely, the color-coordinated swoosh that creates -- what's this? -- a BORDER, the 3-D effect, the clean white space at the bottom. The cards just look freakin' good.

What I said then: "That's what good design does. It doesn't get out of the way of the photo. It enhances the photo and lets the card sit in the collector's memory."

3. 2011

I probably should have this set second or first. It's a classic look that I can't see offending anyone. The baseball logo circle is totally on-point. It's like the 1965 Topps set for the 2010s. This set deserves more credit and if I wasn't such a freak about color, it would be the best set of the whole decade. Also, diamond parallels and a downright fierce Update set.

What I said then: "The design is neat and clean. The photography appears to be better than last year."

2. 2013

The sea turtle set! The only set name I came up with that really took off. It even birthed a blog. But that name shows my enthusiasm. I like the look of this set a lot. You know those people that are full of personality? They've got lots of friends and everybody likes them? That's what the 2013 set is like for me. Just a super-friendly set. I should've completed it.

What I said then: "Those of you who have decided to complete this set are lucky people. It will be a nice one in the binder. Very nice photography ... Very clear photos. And the framing of the design really enhances some of the pictures."

1. 2015

For the 40th anniversary of me buying Topps packs, Topps put out a beast of set. It was my favorite flagship look since the 1980s. Super colorful, looks all kinds of interesting in a binder. Love the gradient fade, the tiny position button, the sonar logo. It got me to complete the entire flagship set AND the update set, for the first time in six years. Also, if you are still unimpressed (and, why, oh, why), this is the set that jettisoned foil (except for the Topps logo).

What I said then "As for the border, this is possibly even bigger than the limited foil. Topps has not used a colored border that changed depending on the team ever."

My mind is still a bit blown by this set.

So, that's how the last decade of flagship went down. I'm not really into flagship as much as I once was. I don't know if I'll ever try to complete it again. But there is still nothing as exciting as buying the first cards of the season and seeing what they look like in your very own hands.

I've been doing that for 45 years. I think it's safe to say, I'll never quit.


JediJeff said…
Couldn't you just tie '14, '16 & '17 for last place? All three of those are shite.
Jamie Meyers said…
I can't quibble with any of those rankings at all. I do feel like '13 and '15 are the only ones that can compete with any of the classic designs from the vintage era. My interest in current cards and current players is waning so I haven't actually gotten any of the '19s. My impression is that it's a decent but not spectacular design. One issue I had with '17 was that it was super glossy and that made it a bit difficult for autographs. I have at least one card from every flagship set, even '51, signed. I dislike the '16 so much that I bought one card and sent it to Pat Neshek just to fill that hole in my collection. That was enough for me.
I feel like the only person in the hobby who doesn't mind 2017 Topps... It's not great, not by any stretch of the imagination, but at the risk of pissing off Steve Carell it's "OK". I think I would've bumped it up a notch to replace 2012 in 7th place. An OK design without foil beats an OK design with foil.
Mark Hoyle said…
Great post. I always like how you describe each set. I’ve never really looked at each the way you do. Very enjoyable read
BaseSetCalling said…
Thanks for the link. Once you see the "Sea Turtle" there isn't much way to call that set anything else. My blog just copies your(s).

I could never warm up to the 2010 cards with that side frame making me think "keyhole" or "fish-eye lens" on every single card. But those team names were awesome.

All of the sets grow on me some over time. 12 is noticeably dark though. 17 is noticeably bright.

I call the '14s the "File Folders". They do improve a fair bit when seen 9 together, though... thing helping sets out more and more is the increasing use of the solid color Alternate Uniforms. I don't know if the frequency of them being worn in MLB games is going up, but it does seem to be on cards, and that makes for a lot better cards, I think.
dayf said…
best card for the best set
I'd love to have the 2015 Topps set completed someday, and I'm getting awfully close. You're absolutely right, it's hands down the best set of the entire decade.
Fuji said…
Here's my Top 3:
1. 2015
2. 2019
3. 2018

There's a pretty big gap between 2015 and 2019. And another big gap between 2019 and 2018. Bottom line is I love the 2015 design and I'm really starting to enjoy the 2019 design. 2018 wasn't terrible, but isn't exactly a classic design either.
Jason said…
I'm new at this (again) but 2015, 2018, and 2019 are by far my favorites in the week or so I've been back (since '93, yikes!).
Nick said…
Your top three would be my top three as well, though I might switch 2011 and '13. No doubting 2015 is the clear #1 though, of course. Easily the best Flagship set of my collecting lifetime.
Defenders50 said…
Great stuff as usual. I'd probably have 2011 #2 personally, and 2014 up one slot over 2010. Also this is a good reminder to get myself in gear and finish putting my 2015 set in a binder already so I can see all those glorious colors together.

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