Monday, July 30, 2012

Ow, my eyes

OK, I've delayed what I was going to write about so Fuji can hijack my blog again. But this is an idea that I should have come up with myself, so I deserve to have my schedule shaken up a little.

Fuji, channeling dayf, asks "what is the ugliest set you've ever seen?"

Excellent. If there's one thing I know about, it is ugly. I am forever coming across wardrobe choices, pet preferences, automobile selections and, dare I say it, people that others think look perfectly fine. In fact, sometimes they say, "that is beautiful."

And I stand and stare in disbelief.

"No it ain't, child," I say to myself. "That ugly."

And so it is with baseball card sets (yep, strictly baseball here). Some folks have some strange ideas of what looks good on a rectangular piece of cardboard. And I was able to come up with 15 ugly-ass sets. (that's right, 15. You think I was going to give you only one? This is a full-service blog here).

A couple qualifiers first though.

People confuse "ugly" with "colorful." Colorful is never ugly. So no matter what Negative Nellie may tell you about 1972 Topps or 1975 Topps or even Circa from the late '90s, don't listen to them. Color is always good. Well ... there are exceptions, as we'll see.

Secondly, "ugly" is not the worst crime. The worst crime is "boring." At least with "ugly," it usually means someone is trying. They're trying poorly, but at least they're trying. Boring is just big, fat apathy. Apathy on cardboard is everywhere. I'd have to make it a Top 50 list if we were dealing with the most boring sets I ever saw. Two-thirds of them would be Bowman.

Finally, a final word about sets that just missed the cut. Um, 2004 Donruss, 2002 Topps, 1999 Upper Deck and a whole host of Pacific sets, don't think I don't know you're ugly. Check the mirror and be thankful.

OK, I think that's it before the countdown.

Oh, right ... "eye of the beholder" and all that nonsense.

On with the show:

15. 2005 Upper Deck ESPN

This is the only set in the list that actually makes me angry. Vintage ESPN. The ESPN space-ripple robot graphics, or whatever the heck they are, are annoying. The entire set leaves me cold, as if this was a phoned-in effort by ESPN in an attempt to attract more viewers.

I must note though that some of the inserts are very nice -- although they celebrate a lot of stupid things, like the Espys.

14. 1999 Pacific Omega

Pac-Om came out with some of the worst-looking horizontal sets ever. Green and orange should never exist together. (Not even The U can pull it off). Especially not these particular shades of the two colors. Plus, the card is like three cards in one with elements everywhere. And what the dickens is that silver ghost thing on the right?

13. 2004 Upper Deck Play Ball

I realize this is some sort of tribute to the original Play Ball cards, but, goodness, it's ugly and semi-haunting at the same time. I don't think the pictures of the players are supposed to look like their faces are 10 seconds from melting.

12. 1989 Fleer

The card is wearing pinstripes and Kruk is wearing pinstripes. So how come everyone still looks fat?

One rule of cardboarding: if you pick gray as design element, you're playing with ugly. At best, it's going to look boring. But the pinstripes take it over the edge into "your mom is so ugly your dad met her at the zoo" territory.

11. 1992 Score

This is my least favorite Score set. I do a happy dance anytime I find out someone is collecting this set, which unfortunately isn't very often. It's also one of the few colorful sets that I find ugly.

The colors just don't go together. The teal-turquoise color and the off-purple color that appear on most of the cards are awful. And then Score goes and combines them with burnt orange. (*sound you make when you touch something wet that should never be wet*).

10. 1991 Donruss

You probably knew this was coming. I consider '91 Donruss more immature than ugly. It's a childish set. But it's also a cheap, unpretty design. And mixing blue-bordered cards and green-bordered cards in the same set doesn't help things. Even Charlie Hayes is unhappy with it.

9. 2012 Topps Gypsy Queen

I made a comment on Fuji's post that no 2012 set could be the ugliest ever, that ugly needs to stand the test of time. And so it is with Gypsy Queen. It can't be the ugliest ever. But if there's ever a set that I know has what it takes to eventually get there, that will strive for the prize, it's 2012 GQ. Every time I look at it, it gets uglier. I've got to stop looking at it.

8. 1970 Topps

I almost put this in the "boring" category, meaning it would be ineligible for this list. However, I figured that one of the first sets (maybe the first? I don't know) to actively choose gray as a design element should be sufficiently punished. After all the white-bordered sets of the '60s, this was an interesting departure, but it does not hold up well.

7. 1991 Fleer

I continue to rack my brain over what Fleer was thinking when they decided neon yellow would be the best representative for their set that year. Not as a complementary color. Not as small logo in the corner. But as THE, great, big, HELLO I'M YELLOW representative of the set. Wow.

6. 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado

The first time I saw this set and threw it on the blog, I used the word "grotesque." And I think a couple people agreed. I still think it's the best word for this set. The raised, looming sketch is both monstrous and self-important. (A sickness with many '90s sets). Raul Mondesi can't wait to get away from himself.

5. 1990 Topps

Confession time: in less lucid moments, I consider completing the 1990 Topps set. But then about 426 people offer to send me cards from the set and I start to get wary.

The truth is there are some very nice looking cards in this set. No, really. I'm serious. Look at the George Brett, Tom Pagnozzi and Bruce Hurst cards. That is where color can work for you.

But for the majority of the cards in the set? A complete 25-car pile-up. Suuurrre, magenta, orange, gold and lime green are in perfect harmony. Anyone can see that! If any restaurant chose those colors to represent their franchise, they'd have customers vomiting up their orders in the aisles.

4. 1997 Pinnacle

I don't think anyone can explain Pinnacle's fascination with gold. But each set grew progressively worse, until they foisted this horror on the public. As you can see, the photo is completely incidental because the gold monster on the left is EATING it.

A thousand question marks pop up over my head whenever I see this set.

3. 1986 Donruss

Almost made this number one. But then after viewing it, I went into convulsions, and when I came to, I didn't remember what I was doing.

This set has come up repeatedly on the blog and I always say that it's the only set where when I first viewed it, I jumped back with a startled "oh!" as if I was trying to get away from it.

Also, all those tightly packed lines of equal pressure on the card means that's some storm brewing in the 1986 Donruss set.

2. 1968 Topps

The late '60s and early '70s was a terrible time for fashion. Everything and anything looked brutal. I know. I lived through the second half of it as a kid. I have incriminating pictures of what I wore. And what my friends wore. And the wallpaper! Good god, the wallpaper.

So I can see why this design would look normal in 1968. But actually, it's not normal at all. And neither is that couch you sat on back then. It should have been burned. And if the 1968 Topps set wasn't, you know, cardboard that we collect, I'd say the same thing about the set. Burn it!

1. 1995 Fleer

There is so much crazy involved with this set that I can't possibly address it all. The craziest thing might be that there were six different set designs representing the six divisions, all increasingly ugly until you got to the absolute hideous, the National League West cards, a version of which you see here.

It's unreadable. Offensive. Bizarre. Disturbing. And it makes you concerned for the health of everyone involved in making the set.

Oh, and it is the ugliest set I've ever seen with my two eyes in all my born days.



  1. I love me the Bumble Bee set!! 1991 Fleer. Ugliest is 1991 Post, Canadian Version. All French & English jumbled, 99% head shots, thankfully not floating, and airbrushed out logos.


  2. I don't like sets such as Kraft where they erase all team logos on the shirts and hats. That can ruin a decent design in my opinion.

    I agree with your choices as being ugly sets.

  3. I agree with you on all of those, but the 68 set is starting to grow on me. I think the design is a little boring, but for some reason I like the simple rounded borders. I never collected in the 90's and 00's much so these were all new to me. What were the card companies thinking?

  4. How can you hate 1990 Topps and love '75 Topps? They're like sister sets, akin to '62 and '87.

    I know it's all subjective, but I really like the '91 Fleer set, the yellow is bright, but the photography is well above average and it has some great sub-sets. And I think '89 Fleer is one of the better designs Fleer ever put out.

  5. Good list, although I'd probably put a couple on the boring list (1970 Topps for sure.) I've always hated 1968 Topps. 1990 Topps gets double dinged for having an ugly backside as well. I've always thought it looked like an ugly winter sweater. 1991 Donruss isn't much better, but I've always been curious about the bumblebee set.

    I agree that most of Bowman is ugly. Unfortunately some is so boring it's ugly. And somehow they seem to be proud of themselves because they keep cranking it out year after year and I keep ignoring it (it doesn't help that they're stuck in 1991 "prospector" mode.)

  6. Solid list, Greg, but I've got to disagree on Pinnacle Afficionado. The sketch is in the Wall Street Journal "headcut" style, but it's made of the raised dots. RAISED! That makes it cool, like using braille to look at cards. Since it is actually 3D instead of 2D, it can't be ugly. You wouldn't say a mountain was ugly because it looked funny on a topographic map, would you? :-)

  7. Classon Ave ~ '75 Topps and '90 Topps are not the same at all. But I wouldn't expect someone who really likes '91 Fleer to know that :)

    Josh D ~ I see ugly 3D every day, in fact it dwarfs the amount of 2D ugly out there.

    (As an aside, I've always disliked the WSJ sketches -- put a photo in there! -- I think you've touched on a big reason why I think the set is ugly).

  8. Oh smarty smart, do a post talking about which sets fit the zeitgeist of the times. I think you will see a lot of the ugliest sets will best match the music and clothing and general spirit of the times.

    Do it!

  9. I'm glad you joined the fun... and this is one of the greatest posts I've ever read.

    It'll be a resource for ugly baseball cards for collectors around the world.

    You know the routine... extra credit for you. And to think that you almost missed the party ;-)

  10. 1968 topps is an ugly set, but also one of favorites...odd.