Thursday, November 15, 2012

Best set of the year: 1984

We have reached that year where things got a little wacky. Through the first three years of this series, Topps always came out on top. It may not have been perfect, but it had more than enough to beat out fledgling Donruss and Fleer. And when it became obvious that Donruss and Fleer were here to stay, then Topps bumped up its game in 1983.

But now we're at 1984 and things are different, because I like each company's 84 set almost equally.

Donruss and Fleer each came out with sets that I think are among the very best they did. And although Topps' 1984 set has issues, I think it's somewhat underrated. Although that's completely Topps' fault, as we'll see.

So which set gets honored with the Best of the Year? I don't think I'm going to know until the end of this post.

1984 Topps -- the front

Plusses: Staying with what worked in 1983, the set features two photos of the subject, an action shot and a portrait shot. ... Very colorful set. Vibrant, even. I enjoy the solid, bright background behind the head shot. ... Colors used somewhat match the respective teams' colors, but not in all cases. ... The manager cards (as well as the team leaders cards) feature bright, colorful team logos.

Minuses: A total copy of the popular '83 design. Topps was bashed back in '84 for churning out the same-old, same-old. ... The vertical team name, while different, is distracting and annoying to read. ... The head shot almost infringes on the action shot, which didn't seem to be the case in '83.

1984 Topps -- the back

Plusses: Welcome to another boring 1980s back. The team logo is a nice touch and livens things up a little. ... Large card number.

Minuses: I've never liked these backs. Off-putting for some reason. The dateline thing at the bottom is just dull.

1984 Topps -- overall

Plusses: Tradition rules again, as does good old cardboard, as well as a great, big, 792-card set again. ... Greater incorporation of team logo art (although stealing somewhat from Fleer). ... Don Mattingly rookie.

Minuses: A "phoning-it-in" vibe. ... Disappearance of Super Veteran cards. They were replaced with the AL and NL active leaders for each major stat category, which felt like total set-filler. ... A third straight year of separate all-star cards (which I realize would continue to be the rule, but I liked the '70s way better).

1984 Fleer -- the front

Plusses: A nice, crisp design that emphasizes the photo more than Fleer had ever done previously. ... Continuation with the team logo, although more understated than in '83 Fleer. ... More action shots than in past sets. ... A rash of quirky, "different" photos that really seems to define this set.

Minuses: A few odd, subpar photos, but not as many as in past Fleer sets.

1984 Fleer -- the back

Plusses: Exact same design as 1983, but the color switches from awful beige to blue. I like that. And Fleer was continuing the color theme from front to back, which is cool. ... The photo on the back returns and it's different from the front photo.

Minuses: Repetition of design. ... The "did you know" thing is nice, but with some players -- where Fleer apparently couldn't find any information -- that area is just blank. No type, no stats, just a big blank space. Fleer had been doing the "big blank of nothing" for four years now.

1984 Fleer -- overall

Plusses: Fleer was really rounding into shape in 1984. Its best design, by far, thus far. ... So many memorable photos, including the epic Glenn Hubbard snake card, that this set will live forever in card collectors' hearts. ... Experimental items like puzzle piece cards (in which you needed 2 cards to put the image together) showed Fleer was trying. ... Rookie Mattingly shows up here, too.

Minuses: Almost dismissible card backs, once again. ... The photos, while interesting, still not up to Topps' action-packed standards.

1984 Donruss -- the front

Plusses: After two years of wallowing in the semi-infantile bat-and-ball-and-glove design, Donruss came up with what I consider to be a classic. Lots and lots of space for the photo, especially in comparison to the other two sets. ... Some really nice-looking photos in this set.

Minuses: The wavy team name is hard to read and hasn't held up well over the years. ... An abundance of head shots, that are particularly large since there's so much space for the photo. ... Blurry/dark photos, which was a perennial Donruss issue at this time.

1984 Donruss -- the back

Plusses: The same plusses that I mentioned in previous sets, because it's the same card back. Contract status. Full names. ... Aqua Green backs! At least it's better than yellow.

Minuses: Same, damn, thing, over and over. It's not even the same good damn thing over and over because there's only FIVE YEARS OF STATS.

1984 Donruss -- overall

Plusses: Finally breaking out of its two-year rut, Donruss comes up with a design that focuses on the subject, not on some little kid's art project. ... The Rated Rookie appears on the front of cards for the first time. ... Mattingly and Joe Carter rookie cards. ... the Only Donruss Set That Matters.

Minuses: A refusal to change the card back. ... The Diamond Kings feature a new look in which the drawing is housed within a patriotic banner display. It takes away from the drawing. I preferred the early DK designs, especially '82. ... A reputation for rarity as the set was released in much more limited fashion. Some may consider that a good thing in the '80s glut, but I'm still trying to complete this set.

So, with all that, who's the winner of the Best Set of the Year?


The suspense!

Oh, the suspense!

OK, OK ...

No more suspense.

The winner is ...




Topps' reign is dead.

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

Total ranking: Topps - 3; Fleer - 1; Donruss - 0


  1. I usually agree with most of what you say on here, but I have to disagree with this one. Topps may have its faults in 1984, but I think you are one year too early in taking away their title.

    The Fleer is an okay set, not the best Fleer ever but definitely not their worst either. I have always hated 1984 Donruss, despite its high praise. I just never could get past the unreadable team names on the front.

    In my book it would go
    1. Topps 2. Fleer 3. Donruss

    Now 1985 is a different story, but I'll wait for you to tell that tale.

  2. Now that I read this, 1984 would be one of the few years where I'd also rank Topps last in this department.

    It's not that '84 Topps is all that bad. Fleer and Donruss just stepped up their game.

    Personally, Donruss is my favorite set from 1984, but Fleer is definitely a close second.

  3. I go with Topps and it's not close. Sure, it's a bit of a lazy design in that it draws immediate and obvious comparisons to '83, but so what, '83 was awesome. A less obvious comparison is to the 1976-77 Topps Baseketball set which also had vertical team names down the side.

    Donruss is just disgusting. Brown and yellow fronts with puke green backs, and the photo quality and selection is shameful. That said, it's grown on me over time for it's element of kitsch.

    Fleer, which I bought the most of in '84 due to it's being stocked in some sort of jumbo pack at the grocery store my family frequented has not held up well. It looks like something that would be given away in hospitals to sick kids.

    My Rankings (Which nobody asked for)
    Topps: B+
    Donruss: C+
    Fleer: D

  4. As someone who didn't start collecting until 1989, I actually prefer the design of 1984 Topps to 1983 Topps.

    Vibrant colors and easy to read card fronts make 1984 Topps one of my favorite designs of the decade.

    As far as 1984 Fleer goes, I just consider it another prototypical boring Fleer design, but then again I'm a Cardinals fan, so seeing card after card dominated by blue and white does nothing for me.

    I wonder if Fleer went with red instead of blue, if our respective feelings about the set would be reversed?

  5. "It looks like something that would be given away in hospitals to sick kids ..."

    No, that would be late '80s/early '90s Donruss. Easily.

    And just so I'm not accused of being the only one who likes '84 Donruss, lifted from

    "This set has since grown in stature to be recognized as one of the finest produced in the 1980's, largely due to the design, but mainly due to the limited production and rookie card selection."

  6. 1984 was a good year overall. The Donruss is overated I think, but still good. Fleer is (to me at least) kind of nondescript. Good, but nothing special. Topps is the best, despite the vertical team name which you pointed out.

  7. I like 1984 Donruss the best as well. It's also the set of the three that I have the least of. I find a lot of 84 Topps and some 84 Fleer in repacks, but never any 84 Donruss.

  8. I'm partial to the Donruss here, too.

    I'd rank them Donruss, Topps, Fleer.