Monday, April 25, 2011

Card back countdown: #7 - 1980 Topps

To the rookie mojo crowd, the 1980 Topps set is nothing more than Rickey Henderson's debut (or, for you Canadian collectors, Dave Stieb's debut).

But the set means a lot more to me than that. It is the first set that I ever attempted to complete, walking the mile and a half to the drug store every weekend to buy packs on a 14-year-old's allowance.

It also features an iconic design. Although not my favorite, when I see a collection of 1980 cards scattered across a table the scene just screams "these are what baseball cards are supposed to look like!!" Maybe it has something to do with all the flags on the front.

But probably the aspect of the 1980 set that makes it stand out the most, for me, is the card back:

The basic framework for the card back is similar to what Topps used throughout the 1970s. The 1977 set, in particular, looked almost exactly like this on the back. But the 1974, 1976, 1978 and 1979 sets all had similar characteristics.

I welcomed the 1980 card back because Topps had gone without a cartoon for consecutive sets (1978 and 1979), and I wasn't happy about that. But the aspect that blew me away was the use of blue on the back.

When it comes to blue on card backs, older collectors remember the 1965 set. Younger collectors remember something hideous like late '80s Donruss. But collectors my age remember the 1980 set.

It was mind-blowing because we never saw blue on back of a card. Here is the color Topps used for the sets between 1966-1980:

1966: red; 1967: green; 1968: yellow: 1969: pink; 1970: yellow and blue; 1971: green; 1972: orange; 1973: black and gold: 1974: green; 1975: red and green: 1976: green; 1977: green; 1978: orange; 1979: green.

Only the 1970 set dared to use blue and only a little bit. But I didn't start collecting until 1974, so the '80 set was a real eye-opener. Blue was/is my favorite color, and I was most pleased.

The rest of the card back is pretty standard: vital stats, bio, cartoon, write-up. The vital stats are at the bottom of the card, which was something new at the time.

But as far as interesting factoids, the 1980 set is somewhat lacking. The write-ups simply mention game highlights for the featured player.

The cartoons focus on the featured player, too. I prefer cartoons that mention baseball history, because there's more of an opportunity for the cartoonist to create something interesting. Whoever the cartoonist(s) was for the 1980 set was pretty limited.

Most of the cartoons feature a player admiring the scoreboard or his name in the newspaper after an exceptional feat. There are lots of cartoons of pitchers on the mound, or batters swinging the bat. Nothing very imaginative.

The cartoonist could have done a lot more with this factoid. Anytime there's an opportunity to draw a cartoon peach, you SEIZE it!

One thing I have noticed with the cartoons during the Mark Fidrych era is that he was the only player in which the cartoonist actually attempted to make the drawing look somewhat like the player.

But other players with distinctive facial grooming -- like Rollie Fingers and his handlebar mustache -- didn't get the same kind of treatment. All Fingers got was an overweight-looking father.

In fact, that is one of the common elements of these cartoons. If a player's father was mentioned, the cartoonist instantly assumed their dad was overweight:

But not the player's brothers. They just had receding hairlines:

All in all, there are better card backs out there, but the 1980 set is probably my favorite. It just looks like a card back to me.

Best of the set:

There isn't much to distinguish one card from the other besides the cartoon, so I'll go with George "Doc" Medich:

You don't see a skull with a mortarboard on the back of a card very often.

(previous card back countdown selections):

50. 1978 SSPC Yankee Yearbook
49. 1993 Score
48. 1999 Skybox Thunder
47. 2000 Upper Deck
46. 1999 Skybox Premium
45. 1953 Johnston Cookies Braves
44. 1995 Topps
43. 1997 Fleer
42. 1992 Pinnacle
41. 1989 Bowman
40. 1977 Kellogg's
39. 2004 Topps
38. 2004 Topps Total
37. 1992 Topps
36. 1992 Donruss
35. 2008 Upper Deck Documentary
34. 1963 Fleer
33. 1955 Bowman
32. 2006 Topps
31. 1961 Topps
30. 1955 Topps
29. 1967 Topps
28. 1970 Topps
27. 1969 Topps
26. 1966 Topps
25. 1963 Topps
24. 1911 T205
23. 1962 Topps
22. 1981 Topps

21. 1981 Donruss
20. 1958 Topps
19. 1977 Topps
18. 1974 Topps
17. 1957 Topps
16. 1988 Score
15. 1993 Upper Deck
14. 2004 Upper Deck Timeless Teams
13. 1971 Topps
12. 1965 Topps
11. 1991 Studio
10. 1954 Topps
9. 1953 Topps
8. 1978 Topps


  1. This set was the reason I got into collecting and trying to finish the set was the reason I started my blog. I loved the cartoons also. Great write up. Just finished the last few cards I had remaining on my set. Now I have to figure out which older set is next.

  2. The strange thing at the 1980 set was the stat lines for 1978 and 1979 were not lined up correctly, different font or bolded. Check out some of your cards from the post.

  3. Yes! Glad to see the 80 set make an appearance.

  4. I missed out on 1980. I bought a lot of '79 and '81 but there was a strike at OPC in 1980 and not much was produced. I didn't complete that set until last year.

    It's a nice one, though. They used the same card stock and blue background for '81-82 hockey, which is also among my favourites.

  5. And for the record, Stieb rocked.