Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Awesome night card, pt. 137

I just don't understand the overall consensus on this year's crop of Topps inserts. As far as I can tell, the Classic Walk-Offs set isn't very well-liked.

Meanwhile, I've read praise for some of the "Golden" inserts, which I detest as the most "mail-it-in" group of inserts I've seen since the days when Topps was counting Mickey Mantle home runs. I'm also not all that fascinated by the '87-style minis.

To me, the only redeeming insert in 2012 Topps is the Classic Walk-Offs set.

I agree that the design of the insert stinks and a card should never be designed for the sake of an autograph or relic unless it is actually going to include an autograph or relic. But aside from that, there is so much more that could have been done with an insert set like this ... besides repeating the same image, I mean.

Because the concept is awesome. Famous walk-off home runs throughout history? Baseball? History? Dramatic home runs? You're speaking my language.

OK, Bobby Thomson isn't included in this set. (You think I'm going to complain about that?) Joe Carter's not here either. Or Kirk Gibson. Yet there are four different cards of Yankees. That's not so great. I suppose the set is based more on whether Topps could get an autograph/relic from the player than the most memorable walk-offs.

So, yes, the set isn't perfect. But I'm a concept guy and the basic concept -- before it got mucked up -- is perfect. It's simple, yet strikes at the core of why people love baseball. There needs to be an insert set like this every year. Memorable No-Hitters. Longest Home Runs. Crazy Inside-the-Park Homers. Greatest Pitcher-Batter Confrontations. Greatest Umpire-Manager Confrontations. Memorable Plays at the Plate. Fantastic Catches. I mean, The MLB Network is all over stuff like this with its relentless countdown shows.

There is no end to the categories that you could create. All of these sets would be sets I would think about completing. They would be compelling and could include great photos.

I'm not going to try to complete this particular set. There are too many flaws. But it'd be cool if this was Topps' first try on the theme of great baseball achievements of the past.

Now that would be an insert series that is golden.

Thank you for your support

Today, I'm feeling pretty good about the way things are going. That's not to say everything's cool. Let's just say that I like today and leave it that.

I hate being cryptic. But there are just some things not meant for the blog. That's hard for me to accept as I've never been one of those "all-business" card blogs. The emotions of the day seep into everything that I do, and that includes collecting. This blog isn't any more immune to what's going on in life than anything else that's important to me.

If things turn out fine, then I'm sure I'll babble about it on here. But in the meantime, I just want to say thanks for all the well-wishes. It means a lot.

I wish I could do more for you than this trade post, but that's about all I have time to do. Besides, what kind of post is more thankful than a trade post? Thanksgiving should be a day of trade posts. People giving thanks for cards instead of Aunt Evelyn's green bean casserole.

So today (or tonight), I'll just say:

Thanks, JABO's Baseball Card Blog

Many thanks ...

For finding a Dodgers sticker from last year's sticker set that I didn't have. Just by chance.

For being the first to send me one of these Koufax Golden Greats cards. Need only 4 more ... because Topps is weird.

And the first to send me this Hong-Chih Kuo card, which arrived just before a flurry of the same Kuo cards arrived. I now have more versions of this card than any 2012 card.

Thanks, 30-Year-Old Cardboard

Much gratitude to Brian:

Who sent this inspirational card that says that Matt Kemp is already 40 percent of the way toward tying Mays' career mark of getting at least 25 homers and 25 stolen bases in a season.

And for sending me my first gold sparkly Dodger, Rookie Cup Gordon. It looks like some of the gold has worn off on Gordon's uniform.

Thanks, $30-a-Week Habit

A merci beaucoup to Robert:

Who also sent a Kuo card, but of the numbered variety.

And a Carter card, of the Rated Rookie variety.

Thanks, Troll Might Rule

Cheers to the good Troll, who sent a number of 1979 Topps Dodger upgrades, plus:

My first red-bordered 2012 Dodger of the year.

And my second gold sparkly Dodger of the year. That's the guy on the right. The guy on the left is a Marlin, the guy in the middle is -- basically what's wrong with the modern athlete.

And a fine '71 Topps Manny Mota. The card that I saw in the gutter. Not this card, of course.

Thanks, Nachos Grande

Gracias to Chris:

For my third version of the Duke Snider cloth Legacy card. Anybody want to trade another cloth Dodger for one of these?

A shiny, shiny Campanella. Almost finished with the shiny Dodger parallels with Lineage.

And the GRAY swatch version of the Kershaw Lineage mini. To go with the white version. Who knew I could get so excited over gray swatches?

You learn to appreciate little things like that when times are tough.

Thanks as always, guys.

I raise my glass to you.

Don't worry, it's not filled with wine cooler.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Here and gone

My updating on this blog could be intermittent, and my updating on my other blogs non-existent, while I deal with some life issues this week.

I don't know how long I'll be dealing with them, but here's hoping it's quick. Meanwhile I could use something lighthearted as a diversion.

There's not many sets more lighthearted than 1992 Donruss Triple Play.

I paid this set no mind in '92. Not to say I didn't buy any of it. I bought any card that dared show its wrapper in '92. My philosophy about cards then was "purchase it all, complete none of it." Well, the second part wasn't supposed to be part of the motto, but when you try to buy as many sets as they put out in '92 with the money that I made, you're not completing anything.

When I bought the cards, I don't think I really looked at them. Nothing from '92 stands out as memorable to me. Maybe Pinnacle. That's it.

If I was really looking at cards, I'd notice the photos in Triple Play, after I got past the borders that look like they came directly from Burger King. The photos are different, quirky and thoughtful.

Triple Play was aimed at kids, I believe. Maybe that's why an addicted 26-year-old didn't give it the respect that it deserved. But look at this photo. It's great. How come only kids get pictures like that?

Many of the photos are your usual batting and pitching and fielding shots, but this photo shows that there is a lot you can feature that happens on the field between the play. Simple photo. But interesting.

I know that Gwynn didn't catch that ball. I also know that is the old-style Phillies logo at the top left, but if you look at it differently it looks like a strange martian head staring out onto the field.

Another shot you don't see every day, but a play that you see maybe every other day. I'm going to say the runner was too fast for Kelly to recover in time.

It appears that Vaughn has caught the ball, but never mind that ... Zubaz!!!!

If I was a kid when this set came out, I'm sure I'd think they were drawing on him with magic marker.

Would this make you want to be a catcher or avoid the catcher position at all costs?

I always thought feature photos of players after they struck out was mean of card companies. Especially after the player has tossed his helmet in disgust.

And this is too mean to believe. I'll just assume the umpire spotted a $20 on the ground and lunged for it before Olerud saw it.

Now that's more impressive. I like the concentration on where the bag is.

Ha, ha. Clark looks dopey.

The Wrigley Field card in this set is an awesome night card, but this stadium shot is pretty cool, too. It reminds me of my visit there. Good times.

So there's some levity to start off your week.

See ya when I see ya.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Joy of an upgraded card #6

I like to have a story to go with my kid-handled cards. But as the brain cells disappear, I'm finding that not every mutilated card I owned as a child can yield a story. Either I'm too old to remember, or there was just too much going on in that 11-year-old, mile-a-minute life to pin down exactly when Randy Jones grew a crease directly through his clavicle.

My best guess is I sat on it. Accidentally, of course. I was probably horrified as I turned and removed it from my posterior. Randy was a back-to-back 20-game winner in 1977, you know. What a terrible fate.

This card has haunted me for a long time. Thoroughly creased all-star. No story to go with it. Except that worst-case-Randy-meet-my-ass speculation.

Because of The Crease, I haven't even been able to admire his free-flowing Afro or the Padres' mustard-and-chocolate uniform. It's really an iconic card.

And then there are those who have asked "WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT CARD?"

"I have no idea," I reply.

Today, the card moves to a binder of cards long since upgraded. Many with stories. Some without.

This new addition from Potch Wheeler and the Cardboard Heroes moves into the Randy Jones slot in my 1977 Topps binder.

Look at that uniform! Look at that FRO!

Honestly, when Potch listed which 1977 cards he was going to send me, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Randy Jones' name. I actually had never seen another '77 Randy Jones without an end-to-end crease. I couldn't wait to see what one that hadn't been folded looked like.

It's a beauty.

And so are these:

Many of these will be upgrades, too. Including Doyle Alexander painted into a Rangers uniform, the new Red Sox manager, and Yaz.

1977 Topps marked the last year in which I treated my cards as if they were every other toy that I had. Toys were meant to be stacked, knocked down, thrown, driven around the basement floor with accompanying sound effects, and picked up and put down approximately 247 times a day.

My '77 cards look loved. Which is great if you've just got a stack of cards you enjoy. Or if you're trying to complete a super vintage set (1972 or earlier, I'd say) in which condition really doesn't matter. But this is a late '70s set from my childhood. I want to complete it and upgrade it because I can.

You see, in 1978 I officially stopped becoming a kid. If you look at my Topps cards from 1978, 1979 and even 1980, they are semi-worn. There are some rough characters in 1978, but most of them are only mildly abused. When you reach teenage years you learn to protect what belongs to you. By the early '80s, my cards were immaculate.

I do love those childhood days when we did everything to cards except feed them to the hamster. But if I want a set that reminds me of those days, I look at all the old 1975s I've kept in a binder from my first year of collecting.

Nothing can touch THAT memory, so everything else gets upgraded or is a candidate to be upgraded.

By the way, here are some more cards from Potch:

Two nice cards of Dee Gordon in 2012 Topps. I like both of these, but unfortunately, Dee's not going to be Card of the Year two years in a row.

A six-pack of black border O-Pee-Chee from 2009. When I finished off the base set, I said I wouldn't be collecting the black borders. I'm still not trying to complete the black-border set, but Potch found me in a weak moment and I couldn't resist some of these cards. I even took the Giants stadium card. Wow.

Like I said. A weak moment. I accepted the brothers Grimm here.

I don't want my cards to look over their shoulder thinking that there is a newer, sharper version of themselves ready to take their place. I'm really OK with just about all of them and will never upgrade 95 percent of them.

But there are a few that still need to watch their back.

1977 Topps Pirates team card, I'm looking at you.

Friday, February 24, 2012


OK, I guess I'll talk about it a little. ... No, not Ryan Braun.

Phungo brought up the topic of hero numbers -- you know, 100, 200, 300, etc. Back when I collected as a child, it was common knowledge that Topps would give the stars of the day a card number with a double zero at the end.

It was kind of an unwritten rule. We didn't know if every set every year featured a star player at every hero number. We didn't even pay attention to whether that was the case in whatever year's set we were chasing. We just knew that Reggie Jackson and George Brett sure popped up on a lot of cards that said "200" or "600" or "700" on the back.

Later, when I was older, I noticed that this wasn't always the case. Sometimes Topps put League Leaders cards at the hero numbers. Sometimes, way back in the '50s, they put league presidents at the hero numbers. And during the '90s, they put players you've never heard of at the hero numbers. Yorkis Perez? Dustin Carr?

It seemed like the hero number was no more.

But actually it's still going strong -- sort of.

When Topps feels like honoring a player with a hero number it does. When it doesn't, it doesn't. The hero numbers are treated to that same randomness that Topps hands out in a lot of its card decisions.

Lately, it's stuck as closely to the hero number concept as it did in the '60s and '70s. With only an exception or two, the players with the double zero are worthy candidates.

I saw a lot written about hero numbers on the blogs when I first started reading card blogs in 2008. So I stayed away from writing about it much. But I haven't seen anyone put together a list of every player who has received a hero number in a Topps base set.

So, get ready for the list:

1952 : 100- Del Rice; 200 - Ralph Houk; 300 - Barney McCosky; 400 - Bill Dickey (coach)

1953: 100 - Bill Miller; 200 - Gordon Goldsberry

1954: 100 - Bob Keegan; 200 - Larry Jansen

1955: 100 - Monte Irvin; 200 - Jackie Jensen

1956: 100 - Baltimore Orioles team card; 200 - Bob Feller; 300 - Vic Wertz

1957: 100 - Warren Giles/William Harridge (N.L./A.L. presidents); 200 - Gil McDougald; 300 - Mike Garcia;  400 - Dodgers Sluggers (Furrillo, Hodges, Campanella, Snider)

1958: 100 - Early Wynn; 200 - Bob Keegan; 300 - William Harridge/Warren Giles; 400 - Nellie Fox

1959: 100 - Bob Cerv; 200 - Warren Giles; 300 - Richie Ashburn; 400 - Jackie Jensen; 500 - Vic Wertz

1960: 100 - Nellie Fox; 200 - Willie Mays; 300 - Hank Aaron; 400 - Rocky Colavito; 500 - Johnny Temple

1961: 100 - Harvey Haddix; 200 - Warren Spahn; 300 - Mickey Mantle; 400 - Vern Law; 500 - Harvey Kuenn

1962: 100 - Warren Spahn; 200 - Mickey Mantle; 300 - Willie Mays; 400 - Elston Howard; 500 - Duke Snider

1963: 100 - Checklist; 200 - Mickey Mantle; 300 - Willie Mays; 400 - Frank Robinson; 500 - Harmon Killebrew

1964: 100 - Elston Howard; 200 - Sandy Koufax; 300 - Hank Aaron; 400 - Warren Spahn; 500 - Camilo Pascual

1965: 100 - Ken Boyer; 200 - Joe Torre; 300 - Sandy Koufax; 400 - Harmon Killebrew; 500 - Eddie Mathews

1966: 100 - Sandy Koufax; 200 - Eddie Mathews; 300 - Roberto Clemente; 400 - Zoilo Versalles; 500 - Hank Aaron

1967: 100 - Frank Robinson; 200 - Willie Mays; 300 - Jim Kaat; 400 - Roberto Clemente; 500 - Juan Marichal; 600 - Brooks Robinson

1968: 100 - Bob Gibson; 200 - Orlando Cepeda; 300 - Rusty Staub; 400 - Mike McCormick; 500 - Frank Robinson

1969: 100 - Hank Aaron; 200 - Bob Gibson; 300 - Felipe Alou; 400 - Don Drysdale; 500 - Mickey Mantle; 600 - Tony Oliva

1970: 100 - Mel Stottlemyre; 200 - ALCS, Game 2 (Boog Powell); 300 - Tom Seaver; 400 - Denny McLain; 500 - Hank Aaron; 600 - Willie Mays; 700 - Frank Robinson

1971: 100 - Pete Rose; 200 - NLCS, Game 2 (Bobby Tolan); 300 - Brooks Robinson; 400 - Hank Aaron; 500 - Jim Perry; 600 - Willie Mays; 700 - Boog Powell

1972: 100 - Frank Robinson; 200 - Lou Brock; 300 - Hank Aaron, In Action; 400 - Tony Oliva; 500 - Joe Torre; 600 - Al Kaline; 700 - Bobby Murcer, In Action

1973: 100 - Hank Aaron; 200 - Billy Williams; 300 - Steve Carlton; 400 - Gaylord Perry; 500 - Oakland A's team card; 600 - Dave McNally

1974: 100 - Willie Stargell; 200 - Cesar Cedeno; 300 - Pete Rose; 400 - Harmon Killbrew; 500 - Lee May; 600 - Rookie Infielders

1975: 100 - Willie Stargell; 200 - 1962 MVPs (Mantle/Wills); 300 - Reggie Jackson; 400 - Dick Allen; 500 - Nolan Ryan; 600 - Rod Carew

100 - Jim Hunter; 200 - A.L. Victory Leaders; 300 - Johnny Bench; 400 - Rod Carew; 500 - Reggie Jackson; 600 - Tom Seaver

1977: 100 - Joe Morgan; 200 - Frank Tanana; 300 - Jerry Koosman; 400 - Steve Garvey; 500 - Dave Kingman; 600 - Jim Palmer

1978: 100 - George Brett; 200 - Reggie Jackson; 300 - Joe Morgan; 400 - Nolan Ryan; 500 - George Foster; 600 - Frank Tanana; 700 - Johnny Bench

1979: 100 - Tom Seaver; 200 - Johnny Bench; 300 - Rod Carew; 400 - Jim Rice; 500 - Ron Guidry; 600 - George Foster; 700 - Reggie Jackson

1980: 100 - Johnny Bench; 200 - Batting Average Leaders (K. Hernandez/Lynn); 300 - Ron Guidry; 400 - George Foster; 500 - Tom Seaver; 600 - Reggie Jackson; 700 - Rod Carew

1981: 100 - Rod Carew; 200 - George Foster; 300 - Paul Molitor; 400 - Reggie Jackson; 500 - Jim Rice; 600 - Johnny Bench; 700 - George Brett

1982: 100 - Mike Schmidt; 200 - George Brett; 300 - Reggie Jackson; 400 - Johnny Bench; 500 - Rod Carew; 600 - Dave Winfield; 700 - George Foster

1983: 100 - Pete Rose; 200 - Rod Carew; 300 - Mike Schmidt; 400 - Dave Concepcion all-star; 500 - Reggie Jackson; 600 - George Brett; 700 - Keith Hernandez

1984: 100 - Reggie Jackson; 200 - Andre Dawson; 300 - Pete Rose; 400 - Cal Ripken all-star; 500 - George Brett; 600- Rod Carew; 700 - Mike Schmidt

1985: 100 - George Brett; 200 - Reggie Jackson; 300 - Rod Carew; 400 - Oddibe McDowell, U.S. Olympic team; 500 - Mike Schmidt; 600 - Pete Rose; 700 - Eddie Murray

1986: 100 - Nolan Ryan; 200 - Mike Schmidt; 300 - George Brett; 400 - Rod Carew; 500 - Rickey Henderson; 600 - Dale Murphy; 700 - Reggie Jackson

1987: 100 - Steve Garvey; 200 - Pete Rose; 300 - Reggie Jackson; 400 - George Brett; 500 - Don Mattingly; 600 - Dave Parker all-star; 700 - Dave Bergman

1988: 100 - Jack Clark; 200 - Wade Boggs; 300 - Don Mattingly; 400 - Ozzie Smith, all-star; 500 - Andre Dawson; 600 - Mike Schmidt

1989: 100 - Mike Schmidt; 200 - George Brett; 300 - Darryl Strawberry; 400 - Alan Trammell, all-star; 500 - Jose Canseco; 600 - Wade Boggs; 700 - Don Mattingly

1990: 100 - Will Clark; 200 - Don Mattingly; 300 - Bo Jackson; 400 - Ozzie Smith, all-star; 500 - Kevin Mitchell; 600 - Darryl Strawberry; 700 - Kirby Puckett

1991: 100 - Don Mattingly; 200 - Darryl Strawberry; 300 - Kirby Puckett; 400 - Barry Larkin, all-star; 500 - Will Clark; 600 - Bo Jackson; 700 - Jose Canseco

1992: 100 - Jose Canseco; 200 - Len Dykstra; 300 - Don Mattingly; 400 - Cal Ripken, all-star; 500 - Vince Coleman; 600 - Paul Molitor; 700 - Ruben Sierra

1993: 100 - Mark McGwire; 200 - Kirby Puckett; 300 - Cal Ripken; 400 - Bo Jackson; 500 - Jose Canseco; 600 - Bret Saberhagen; 700 - Nolan Ryan; 800 - Shawn Jeter

1994: 100 - Kirby Puckett; 200 - Cal Ripken; 300 - Ryne Sandberg; 400 - Ken Griffey Jr.; 500 - Bo Jackson; 600 - Don Mattingly; 700 - Barry Bonds

1995: 100 - Barry Bonds; 200 - Tim Salmon; 300 - Jose Canseco; 400 - Henry Rodriguez; 500 - John Hudek; 600 - Yorkis Perez

1996: 100 - Frank Thomas; 200 - Cal Ripken; 300 - Barry Bonds; 400 - Manny Ramirez

1997: 100 - Dwight Gooden, highlight; 200 - Damian Moss; 300 - Ken Griffey Jr.; 400 - Cal Ripken

1998: 100 - Mike Piazza; 200 - Dennis Eckersley; 300 - Roger Clemens; 400 - Delino DeShields; 500 - Dustin Carr-Luis Cruz

1999: 100 - Ken Griffey Jr.; 200 - David Wells, highlight; 300 - Alex Rodriguez; 400 - Moises Alou

2000: 100 - Alex Rodriguez; 200 - Jose Canseco; 300 - Mike Piazza; 400 - Ken Griffey Jr.

2001: 100 - Derek Jeter; 200 - Alex Rodriguez; 300 - Vladimir Guerrero; 400 - Will Clark, highlight; 500 - Kent Mercker; 600 - Russ Johnson; 700 - Frank Catalanotto

2002: 100 - Vladimir Guerrero; 200 - Randy Johnson; 300 - Lou Piniella (manager); 400 - Curt Schilling; 500 - Barry Bonds; 600 - Mark McGwire; 700 - Eric Chavez (gold glove)

2003: 100 - Ichiro Suzuki; 200 - Albert Pujols; 300 - Andy Marte (first year card); 400 - Derek Jeter; 500 - Mike Piazza; 600 - Garret Anderson; 700 - Andruw Jones (award winner)

2004: 100 - Alex Rodriguez; 200 - Nomar Garciaparra; 300 - Brayan Pena (first year card); 400 - Dontrelle Willis; 500 - Ivan Rodriguez; 600 - Alfonso Soriano; 700 - Eric Chavez (gold glove)

2005: 100 - Albert Pujols; 200 - Jason Giambi; 300 - Chris Seddon (first year card); 400 - Ichiro Suzuki; 500 - Barry Bonds; 600 - Derek Jeter; 700 - Derek Jeter (gold glove)

2006: 100 - Barry Bonds; 200 - Albert Pujols; 300 - Ryan Garko; 400 - Vladimir Guerrero; 500 - Derek Jeter; 600 - Ned Yost (manager)

2007: 100 - Dontrelle Willis; 200 - Carlos Beltran; 300 - Vladimir Guerrero; 400 - Ichiro Suzuki; 500 - Pedro Martinez; 600 - Ryan Zimmerman

2008: 100 - Ryan Howard; 200 - Manny Ramirez; 300 - Chien-Ming Wang; 400 - Matt Holliday; 500 - Chipper Jones; 600 - Tom Glavine

2009: 100 - David Wright; 200 - Chase Utley; 300 - Ichiro Suzuki; 400 - Alfonso Soriano; 500 - Ryan Howard; 600 - Jake Peavy

2010: 100 - Albert Pujols; 200 - Roy Halladay; 300 - Chase Utley; 400 - Alex Rodriguez; 500 - Brad Lidge; 600 - Hanley Ramirez

2011: 100 - Albert Pujols; 200 - Ichiro Suzuki; 300 - Roy Halladay; 400 - Troy Tulowitzki; 500 - Kevin Youkilis; 600 - Neftali Feliz (rookie cup)

2012: 100 - Jose Bautista; 200 - Miguel Cabrera; 300 - Josh Hamilton

OK, I ran out of time to find/scan cards. I'll add some more later. (EDIT: More added)

I may also total up who's had the most hero numbers. So look for updates ... someday.

A couple of observations.

  • 1962 seems to be the year in which Topps really devoted itself to the concept of putting a star at almost every century number. Before that, it was very sporadic. Sometimes there was a star, sometimes there was a semi-star who was there just because he had a century number in a preceding year.

  • Not a lot of Dodgers in this list: Dodgers Sluggers (1957); Duke Snider (1962); Sandy Koufax (1964, 1965, 1966); Don Drysdale (1969); 1962 MVPs (Maury Wills) (1975); Steve Garvey (1977); Henry Rodriguez (1995); Mike Piazza (1998)

         Yes, Henry Rodriguez. That's when Topps started to veer away from the hero number concept a little.

  • Tony Gwynn never had a hero number. What?!!!!

It's cool that Topps seems to have come back to the hero numbers the last few sets. It's also nice to know that Topps didn't commit whole-heartedly to the hero number concept every year, even going back to the early days. I don't like the feeling that every tradition is dying.

In this case, it's a tradition, but not a carved-in-stone tradition.

Thanks, Phungo for the incentive.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Best set of the year: 1981

I was going to do one of those Team MVPs posts tonight, but the next set on the docket is 1993 Upper Deck, and it's going to take at least a weekend to figure out the best card for every team in that set.

So, pressed for time -- as usual -- I decided on a spin-off series. Yes, another series that I may or may not complete.

This is one that I've had in mind for some time, and something other collectors have done in one form or another over the years.

What is the best set of the year?

Usually, this is reserved for end-of-the-year posts. But I'm going back in time here. I'm going to figure out which set was the best going back 30 years and then tracking forward. I'm going to do one year at a time -- whenever I feel like it -- so these posts will pop up randomly like every other series that I do. Or if I get bored with it, you'll eventually never see it again.

I'm starting with 1981 because that's the first year when there were more than two major card set releases (if there were more than two back in the '50s or early '60s, don't bother me. I don't have a lot of cards from that time).

Major releases is all I care about -- so no Kellogg's or Drake's or Hostess here. Just the big kids.

So let's see what was the best in 1981, the year our minds were blown because there were two other sets on the store shelves besides Topps.

1981 Topps -- the front

Plusses: The final year of All-Star designations on each previous year All-Star's card.  ... The final year (for a long time) of team photo cards. ... The ballcap graphic on each card -- the set's most distinguishing feature. The caps reflected each team's colors, too. ... The colorful borders. ... Lots of dugout shots, which is cool.

Minuses: The color borders didn't match the teams. Pink for Dodgers? Blue for Astros? Yellow for Twins? I also didn't like the shades of color used on some of the cards. The Reds received an awful puke green color.  The rust-orange color used with the Royals bothered me, too.

1981 Topps -- the back

Plusses: Dig the old-school Topps logo, although I probably didn't notice it back then. ... Continued presentation of full career stats. ... Large card number. ... First appearance of walks, strikeouts, stolen bases and slugging pct. for batters and games started, complete games, shutouts and saves for pitchers. ... Cartoons on SOME of the cards.

Minuses: Lack of cartoons on ALL of the cards. Backs are pretty dull without the cartoons. ... Black-on-red type not the easiest to read.

1981 Topps -- overall

Plusses: Tradition. ... Large 726-card set. ... Good ol' cardboard. ... Quirky overall card design. ... Focus on color. ... Emphasis on team's full complement of players. ... The first real traded set (although I think it was partly in response to its competition).

Minuses: This is actually one of my least favorite looks among Topps '80s card sets. Something about the color scheme always bothered me. ... Topps didn't feature some of the key up-and-coming players as prominently as its new competition did. ... The 1981 and 1982 sets are a prelude to the period of "serious" card backs. All stats and limited or no cartoon fun.

1981 Fleer -- the front

Plusses: Some of the photos were different from what Topps produced (both good and bad).  ... The design gives emphasis to the photo. ... The color border reflects the team colors. ... A baseball in the design is cliche, but always comforting.

Minuses: I hate yellow as a prominent color in card designs. Yellow belongs with fast food restaurants, sundresses, flowers and mustard bottles. Not cards. This one factor dominates my whole opinion on the front of the '81 Fleer card. But other than that, a lot of the photos were bizarre, off-center and not all that professional-looking.

1981 Fleer -- the back

Plusses: Not a lot. I thought the highlighting of the career average/career earned-run average was cool at first glance, although it's totally unnecessary. ... Full career stats is always good.

Minuses: Flat-out boring. ... More yellow. ... A large blank space where information could/should go.

1981 Fleer -- overall

Plusses: Something different to look at and buy after years of Topps. ... A nice, large set with emphasis on the team's full complement of players. ... Featured players on their own card that didn't get their own card in the Topps base set (i.e. Fernando Valenzuela). ... Some different photos that were kind of neat. ... A different kind of cardboard that is so sturdy that cards practically look mint even 31 years later.

Minuses: Plain, dull look to the front and back of the cards. ... Lots of errors (intentional or not). ... Set had a feeling of "let's just get this thing out."

1981 Donruss -- the front

Plusses: An interesting "family photo" look to the card fronts. (My nice way of saying there are lots of "stand there and smile" photos in the set). ... Much of the cards have a "this is baseball feel," probably because so many of the photos were taken in Wrigley Field. ... A clean design with a fun font for the team name.

Minuses: So many of the photos look the same. If I counted up all the "player with a bat on their shoulder" photos, I'm sure there would be at least 100. ... The photo quality isn't great -- lots of players' faces in the shadows. ... And, of course, the team names are yellow, which I don't like.

1981 Donruss -- the back

Plusses: I love timelines. These backs were fascinating to read in '81. And very different. ... Nice logo and drawing at the top, although it takes up a lot of territory.

Minuses: One-line of stats. Boooooo! Not crazy about the pink either.

1981 Donruss -- overall

Plusses: Again, it was nice to see how someone else would present a baseball card set. Three viewpoints! Crazy! ... Donruss, like Fleer, also had multiple versions of the same player. Two Seavers. Two Garveys, etc. This eventually became a minus in my eyes, but at the time it was kind of cool -- if confusing (hey! I thought I already pulled the Garvey card! What is THIS?). ... Cards of players who didn't get their own card in the Topps set (i.e. Tim Raines).

Minuses: Super thin cardboard stock that made the cards seem cheap. ... White cardboard stock that picked up any speck of dirt. ... A "here's our first set, be gentle" kind of look to the set. Seemed like a 1960s set issued in 1981.

And the winner as the best set of 1981 is ...


Yeah, I know. I'm not crazy about it either. It really wasn't a great year for cards, even though it was a great year for cards.

Ranking: 1. Topps; 2. Donruss; 3. Fleer