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Overrated


My posts the last couple of weeks haven't generated the usual traction for whatever reason. No matter, but for someone who has built an audience over the years, there are certain expectations.

Sometimes you have to bring out the click bait to remind people why they came here in the first place.

Yup, I'm listing the 10 most overrated baseball card sets of all-time.

"Overrated" is about the biggest insult in the sports world. It's been hurled at teams and athletes for so long now, often by obnoxious and unaccomplished college students, that I don't know why anyone is fazed by the word anymore. But it's still guaranteed to bring a strong reaction. Everyone likes to think of themselves as "underrated," and by extension, the sets that they love as underrated, too. Nobody would think a set that they adore is "overrated."

Two years ago, I listed the most underrated sets and it received positive reaction, because, again, who doesn't love an underdog? This post, however, will probably unleash angry letters to the publisher. But that's not on me, that's on you for babbling about your overrated set for so long.

A quick word about the 1953 Campy up top. I know some people are suddenly panicked that '53 Topps will make the overrated list. It won't. For many years I thought of 1953 Topps as one of the most overrated sets ever. I scrapped that opinion several years ago, but there's a tiny part of me that still thinks it's a bit overplayed. Probably Topps' Living Set has something to do with that.

I'd call 1953 Topps maybe -- maybe -- No. 11 on this list. But don't you fret. Only the top 10 will get "O-VER-RA-TED" chanted at them forever and ever.

Here we go.


10. 1965 Topps Embossed

There is a restaurant in town that has been around for a long time. It harks back to a simpler time of simpler prices and simpler food. People adore it because of that, the nostalgia factor in full-effect. I, however, have never been impressed. The seating is uncomfortable, the food is uninteresting, the portions are too small. People here look at me as if I have seven heads when I say this about their precious landmark. And the only thing they can say in the restaurant's defense is "it's cheap!" To me, that is definitely not the first thing you should say when it comes to food.

Anyway, that's what I think of when I see '65 Topps Embossed. I've read a few articles that mention how it's a good way to get cards of star players from the '60s cheaply. Yeah, well, LOOK AT IT! DO ANY OF THE PLAYERS LOOK LIKE WHAT THEY ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE? There's a reason why it's cheap! And that's why this set is on the list.



9. 1994 Collector's Choice

All right, this is where people start picking up the phone to contact their congressman. But you gotta pace yourself. There's a lot more outrage to come.

I acknowledge that Collector's Choice provided people who collected at that time -- all 25 of them -- with interesting photos. And again, they could get those photos cheaply. But just as above, there's a reason why the cards were cheaper than the Upper Deck base sets of the same time. The cards just don't look that great. I'm a more-than-the-photo kind of card guy. I like the whole package. And Collector's Choice designs, starting with '94, never did it for me. If you want Upper Deck cards with interesting photos, then get the better-designed base set! (OK, 1994 UD base is a bad example).

Collector's Choice to me is just UD acknowledging their main set is too expensive and throwing some crumbs at bargain shoppers.

(P.S.: I really do like some of the Collector's Choice photos).



8. 1963 Topps

"Whoa," you're saying. "Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa!"

I hear ya. Without 1963 Topps would there be 1983 Topps? Maybe not.

But maybe yes. Maybe someone would have figured out by themselves how to display a photo with an inset photo and both in color without the appearance of this combination of color and black-and-white practically making my brain split in two.

There is a reason why I will never attempt to try to complete the 1963 Topps set, and it doesn't have anything to do with the Pete Rose rookie. It's because '63 Topps tries to pass itself off as a wildly colorful set and then sticks a black-and-white figure in every card.

I know that 1960 Topps also did this (and also that this was a design "thing" at the time), but it doesn't get the pioneering credit that '63 does.



7. 2001 Topps Archives

Say what you want about Topps' current Archives set, and I and everyone else has: The designs don't match, the fonts are all wrong, the card stock isn't right, etc., etc. But, for goodness sake, at least modern Archives isn't making us collect the exact same cards!

I do not understand the appeal of the '90s Archives sets and in particular 2001 Archives, which with the exception of select cards is just the same cards from an earlier set except with a stamp on them. Is this the beginning of suckering people into buying buybacks?

Trying to place myself into the mind of a collector from 2001 (I wasn't collecting during that period), I can see the excitement of pulling replicas of some of the 1950s cards in the set. Many collectors knew they would never get their hands on the originals. But seeing stuff from 1988 -- anything from the '80s, really -- and more modern cards in '01 Archives, just seems like a money grab.

Yes, I have these cards in my collection. I'm happy to say, though, I never purchased a single one of them.



6. 1992 Fleer Ultra

Ultra started in 1991 and although I've never been a fan of gray/silver on cards, it was distinctive enough to be distinguishable (unless you compared it to Leaf from the same year).

In 1992, Ultra ditched the borders for full bleed action, which basically turned it into Stadium Club with a Fleer logo. This really kicked the Full Bleed Era into gear and for the next decade or so confused the hell out of me when I tried to nail down the year of each set.

'92 Ultra is often praised for its action photos but for me all I see is every batter swinging at the plate and every pitcher throwing on the mound. It gets repetitive. And I can't possibly recall it on memory like my favorite sets. It just gets mixed up with '93 Ultra.

Later Ultra sets -- mid-to-late '90s -- deserve the praise they get because the photos are a lot more interesting, some even unique. However, it still takes a lot of research for me to figure out the correct year of the set.



5. 1987 Donruss

We've reached the portion of the countdown where I'm certain that most of the praise for these sets comes simply because it features a popular rookie card or two.

That should not be the way to judge an entire set but it happens all the time. Often, online overviews of certain '80s sets immediately begin with a list of the hot rookies: HERE ARE THE IMPORTANT CARDS. And then later, you peons, here's the set checklist.

The 1987 Donruss set contains two notable rookies, Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux. That means nothing to me. Zero. My favorite set of all time is 1975 Topps. There are two significant rookies in that set. Take those two out of the set and its level of meaning is exactly the same for me (well, the Yount absence might make me a little sad because I recall pulling that card out of a pack).

So, throw out Bonds and Maddux and I see your average Donruss '80s set. The black border makes it nice but Donruss did black borders already in 1985 and did them better. The set looks generic, like many '80s Donruss sets do, and shouldn't be elevated to anything more than average.



4. 1986 Donruss

Donruss lovers taking a beating here.

Do many of Donruss' 1986 photos look exceedingly dark to anyone else? I know this was an issue with several Donruss sets (and cards in general in the 1980s), but it seems particularly noticeable in 1986.

Couple that with that nauseating horizontal line pattern that has bothered me from the first moment I saw these cards and I couldn't care less that Jose Canseco's rookie card arrived in this set. And you know this is the reason why anyone is still talking about this set.

The fact that it's known as "The Max Headroom Set" does help boost '86 Donruss in my mind, but not enough to escape this list. In fact, I'm getting a headache from it again.



3. 1989 Upper Deck

This shouldn't surprise anyone who has read this blog over the years. Some people are regular readers because I've called out Upper Deck and '89 UD in particular in the past. Some people stopped reading a long time ago because I did that.

But I will always say that 1989 Upper Deck is a one-card pony, a parlor trick, almost nothing more than a gimmick with its altered Ken Griffey Jr. card.

Upper Deck spawned an entire generation of collectors with its 1989 set and justifiably should receive plenty of credit for being "a game-changer." But to collectors who see UD as changing the industry for the worse, for scrapping the status-quo card stock, for hiking the prices on packs, for creating an obsession with "hits," then '89 Upper Deck is definitely overrated.

Speaking as objectively as I can (I admit I'm biased when it comes to this set), the actual 1989 UD set is no better than what Score was putting out at this time. The photos are often too dark and when you compare it with Upper Deck's second-year set in 1990, there is just no comparison. But 1990 doesn't have Griffey Jr. in a fudged Mariners cap.



2. 1952 Topps

Once upon a time, Topps issued a set of baseball cards in 1952. It was a baseball card set, nothing more.

Over the years, the players in the set went on to enjoy phenomenal careers. Then, about a decade after it was issued, the guy who ran the show dumped a bunch of 1952 cards in the ocean. And the hype began.

The '52 set is known as the set that established the standard of the "first modern baseball cards," and isn't that something to say to get people to scream "OVERRATED" at you? What about poor Bowman who was making cards at the same time? What about 1951 Topps, which gets marginalized as "just a game," but it sure looks like a card set to me?

Topps has not helped by constantly patting itself on the back for 1952 Topps. The odes to this set in card form are endless. I couldn't list them if I tried. Many collectors are now numb to the set, even if they don't even have any of the original cards. How can you become numb to a 1952 Mickey Mantle or a 1952 Jackie Robinson? You make so many tributes to it that the set becomes overrated, that's how.



1. 1987 Topps

I know you love 1987 Topps. I'm glad you've found a set you love.

It's still overrated.

Before I started a blog, I never knew 1987 Topps was so beloved. It was just another card set from the '80s to me. In fact, I didn't like it much. In Topps' constant '80s rip-offs of itself, it looked like the biggest rip-off of all, copying from 1962 Topps with only a few modern tweaks. But in the "remix culture" that developed at some point in the '80s and has blossomed ever since, putting ones own take on an established classic makes it even more loved by certain people.

I don't get.

Unlike some of the other sets on this list, 1987 Topps has no milestone to cite for its cred. It wasn't the "modern first" like 1952 Topps. It didn't "change the game" like 1989 Upper Deck. It didn't establish a new design concept like 1963 Topps.

All it did was happen to be around when everyone who decided to blog about cards 25 years later were kids buying their first cards.

I don't know how that happened, that so many kids opened 1987 Topps first. Why not 1986 Topps? Why not 1988 Topps? Maybe the wood just plays with everyone's memories and that's the one that stands out?

I don't know. All it looks like to me is 1987 Topps became the luckiest card set ever made, a set that stumbled into popularity like rich kids living on their daddy's money. Because of its popularity, Topps has made tribute after tribute to 1987 Topps and I'm pretty sure I can laminate both of my bathroom floors with those tributes.

So ...

Now you're in full froth and, well, it looks like somebody's reading again!

Like I said, this is totally subjective, based on when I grew up, when I collected and what I like. You will notice that there are no sets from the 1970s on this list. I just can't consider one of those sets overrated because I was a kid then. Some would likely consider 1975 Topps overrated and I can see that. There's probably no way you could be my friend if you think that, but I know people come from different perspectives.

As always, when it comes to how others view you, it's nicer to be considered the underdog than the top dog.

Maybe if Topps will let some of the above sets alone for about 30 years and people stop obsessing over rookies and collect sets again, some of these sets will become underrated again.

Yeah, right.

Comments

Jeff said…
I collected tons and tons of 1986 Topps. So when 1987 Topps came out, it was just better by comparison. Miles better. And its better than 1988 too. I can't disagree that its over-rated though.
Jeremya1um said…
I loved the '01 Archives set at the time because my oldest card was probably a 1978 Topps, so with the Archives set, I could see what the backs of the older Topps designs were, and own copies of some great rookie cards for way less than what I would have to pay for the real version. The 18-year old me in 2001 couldn't get enough of the Archives set.
I think the '87 Topps set gets a lot of hype because of the wood borders, and the '52 Topps set does because it was the first real baseball card set, but even though they get talked about alot, I think they have nice eye-catching designs, and aren't over-rated, just sets that people can't stop talking about. Kind of like certain sportscasters and announcers talk about Aaron Judge and most Yankees. Except for Jeter. Jeter was over-rated. Especially on defense.
CrazieJoe said…
I agree with this sentiment completely Jeff - much better by comparison, but overrated.
Can't disagree about most of these decisions, particularly '87 and '52 Topps. I have so much 1994 Collector's Choice sitting around in boxes that the set has no appeal left to me whatsoever.

I get what you're saying about 1953 Topps, and while it's a tad overrated, I'd argue that the Topps Living Set has given me a new appreciation for the product. Plus, I never really hear it mentioned as one of the greatest Topps sets of all time.
Commishbob said…
I liked the '89 UD design but as I've noted many times the company ran me out of collecting. I also like the '85 Donruss design. The other 80s sets...meh. Can't really argue with the choice of the '63 Topps either. Of all the sets of the late 50s/late 60s era, my collecting wheelhouse...that one is the least appealing.
Sean said…
This is the sort of post that screams "Look for stuff to nitpick" at the reader but I can't find much.

One thing though. Just one. I dislike the 1992 Fleer Ultra because I think it was one of the first sets to popularize the use of faux marble backgrounds on cards and I think this point deserves emphasis. I hate that look. Especially on the back where, combined with the tiled effects, it looks very much like a kitchen countertop.
Nick Vossbrink said…
The top three are exactly right and I say that as someone who likes those sets.
Old Cards said…
WRONG on the 63 set. This set has some of the best closeup clear pictures of players that exist, even compared to recent cards. The photos are so good and so sharp that I don't even notice the inset. Also,the cards are straight forward without an over emphasis on team names or positions. The focus is on the player with a nice photo and the player's name clearly displayed. Of course, as with any set,there are exceptions,but overall the cards are outstanding.
John Bateman said…
1989 Upper Deck to No 1.
Nick said…
The only ones I highly disagree with on this list are Collector's Choice & 2001 Topps Archives -- they're a couple of the premier sets of my youth. The rookie reprints in Archives in particular are cool, but the fact that they reprinted final cards is even better, and that singlehandedly spawned my current love for sunset cards.

A lot of these are otherwise nice sets that simply get crammed down our throats too often. Objectively, I like '87 Topps, '89 UD, '52 Topps, etc., but if I never saw another reprint and/or tribute of them I wouldn't lose one bit of sleep.
Nachos Grande said…
I love Collector's Choice as a line but I think it was at its best around 1997 or 1998. I like 1987 Topps alright but it's definitely overrated. My only qualm with your list is that I didn't know that mid-80s Donruss was even rated, let alone overrated!
Sean said…
"My only qualm with your list is that I didn't know that mid-80s Donruss was even rated, let alone overrated! "

Just the rookies were rated.

Sorry, Donruss joke.
The only argument you might get from me is '94 Collector's Choice, and it would be a lukewarm argument at best. (I really do like the '94 UD base set though."

I wonder if Topps never dumped all those extra '52's, how it would have affected the appeal of that set today. On one hand the set wouldn't be as rare as it is now, so it might not have the same luster as it does now. On the other hand, if a huge stash of "suddenly discovered" mint sets hit the market in the early or mid 1980s, what kind of frenzy would it have caused among collectors?
Brett Alan said…
I’m usually not one who cares much about the aesthetics of sets, but that Embossed set is the ugliest thing the hobby has ever produced. The ‘52 and ‘63 sets are still pretty nice in my eyes, though.

I do, however, reject the suggestion that Gary Carter and Jim Rice are not significant rookies!
Fuji said…
It's funny that you list the 1992 Ultra set as overrated... because there are times I feel like I'm the only one who really loves this set. I'd have to sit down and do some research to create my list of overrated sets, but Panini Chronicles comes to mind. Seems like a lot of bloggers enjoy this product... but I just can't get into it.
Don said…
I agree with you on 52 Topps and 89 Upper Deck. Upper Deck got a lot of press because of the white borders, hologram, and foil packing. Add a .99 price point and you get something that looks good on the outside. I don't even think the product is as scarce as some think. I was stationed in Fort Hood in 1989 and remember seeing packs on the counter at 7-11. Boxes were selling at card shows for 28, and factory sets were the same price when they came out. This set is only scarce in comparison to the other sets that year.

I also think the 86 Donruss design looks a lot better on the large size All Star cards that year.
night owl said…
Solo cards > four-player rookie "stars" cards
night owl said…
Well, you may disagree with me, but I'm not wrong. Subjective opinions by definition can't be right or wrong.
GCA said…
The fact that Fleer put out a dark blue bordered set in '86 as well really kills any appeal that Donruss had - which isn't much. 87 is one of the best designs of the overproduction era, though.

I fully agree that the contents of a set is an irrelevant point when talking about the visual appeal of a set.
Matt said…
I think you really nailed it here, Jeff. Compared to what Topps, Donruss, and Fleer were producing in the mid-80's, the wood-grain design really stands out! I always find it funny when people mention how it rips off the 1962 set, because 12 year old me wasn't familiar with cards from 1962. My small limited worldview at the time worked in that brief era of cards, and the 1987 Topps set was head and shoulders above anything else in the stores.
night owl said…
See that's the difference between a veteran collector at the stage and a kid at that stage. Veteran collectors knew what was up when Topps trotted out that tired spin-off on a design they already did. Also, you all are making me feel very defensive for 1986 here.
This ought to stir the coals: I think damn near every set is over-rated. Now, the under-rated sets those are the great ones. And they don't even produce them anymore for the most part. Dang you Topps! You're obviously afraid of the competition.
gregory said…
Can we take your reply and post it on TV, the internet, newspapers, billboards, public transportation, in the sky, and elsewhere? Seems like a lot of people out there need a reminder.
AdamE said…
I'd flip flop #1 and #2.

I would also say that Embossed is just the opposite, it is not overrated it is underrated. If it was overrated it would be expensive (or at least more expensive) but instead they are cheap and easy to come by. Why? Because even though it has a great checklist the look of them makes nobody buy them.
Old Cards said…
Two WRONGS don't make a right!

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