Thursday, September 5, 2019
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.
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.