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Night owl's all-time Topps set countdown (52-49)

It's taken a great deal of effort to post this week. March Madness found a way to stretch itself into April.

As an example of the chaos, and I've bitched about it on Twitter a few times already, I haven't watched a single MLB game yet this year. Not even an inning. I believe that the MLB Extra Innings free preview is going on right now, which is usually a great time for me to watch the Rockies-Brewers and other teams that will be buried by the stampede of Yankees-Red Sox games taking my TV hostage for the next six months. But I haven't had time to even sit in front of a TV.

Soon -- I hope -- it will calm down a little, maybe even by this weekend. I'll get to see maybe one game with Vin broadcasting before it's snatched away, because busy people with no money can't have nice things.

Sorry, it's just the cranky talking.

As evidence that things might be coming around, I found time to pound out another all-time set countdown post. These are a little demanding of my time and if I can finish off another episode then I feel a little better about life.

We will be entering the Top 50 sets in this episode. So we're reaching the point where pretty much all of the remaining sets make me happy in some sort of way. The sets in this episode are much too flawed for me to endorse them completely, but I can understand collecting each one of them.

So let's look at the sets that at least get a small, respectful nod from the owl:

52. 1990 Topps

I'll let you in on a little secret.

I've mentioned a few times that sets that I have no intention of completing reside in boxes. My complete sets live in binders. And my incomplete sets that maybe --- juuuuuuuuuuuust maybe -- I might try to complete someday are in binders, too.

Guess, where my 1990 Topps cards are?

Yes, they are in a binder.

Does this mean that -- what is wrong with me? -- I might try to complete 1990 Topps? The set that I went across the street to buy for the first time while on my work break and when I opened the packs I almost threw them in the waste basket in disgust? THOSE cards?

Yeah, those cards. But don't start looking for a want list. I have no real, concrete interest in finishing the set.

1990 Topps is a weird deal with me. I get why people think it's terribly ugly. I totally get it. The Traded set might be the worst-looking traded set in history. And the base set -- man, it can be brutal.

Red and purple and yellow, waaaah? And purple, pale green and orange, huh? And pink, yellow and green, ow?

These are ugly cards, made even uglier when positioned next to each other.

But this set might be the best example of "it's all in how you look at it" of any Topps set. If you look at it as weird color combinations and jarring, ugly brightness, then yeah, it's awful. But ever since I settled on calling 1990 Topps the Lichtenstein Set, I've viewed it from a new perspective and I like it a lot more.

Viewing the cards with a Lichtenstein filter gives 1990 Topps a whole new comic page look. The cards are a lot more quirky and cool. And some are downright amazing.

That is a wonderful card that looks like it came right off the page of a comic book. And if that is what Topps was going for here, damn, I should be putting this set in the top 20.

Those are a few other great-looking 1990 Topps cards that have always been favorites.

Another plus for this set in my eyes is that it might be the most similar to the set that I love above all others, 1975 Topps. Like '75 Topps, 1990 Topps is colorful to the loudest degree. Like '75 Topps, 1990 Topps puts colors together that should never go together. And like '75 Topps, there is almost no connection in the design among players from the same team. So I have always felt a bit of a kinship with 1990 Topps because of that.

So after all those good things to say, why isn't this set ranked higher?

Well, I can't get past the fact that there is still lots of ugly in this set. I don't think the execution was totally there. The design was a big gamble and God bless them for trying, but I think 1990 Topps baffled its audience. Too many collectors didn't get it, and that's why it's where it is in the countdown.

I don't have much to say about the back. It may have been the start of the 1990s, but the back says 1980s borefest. At least it's a lot brighter than the Topps set that immediately preceded it.

So, I'm probably never going to attempt to complete this set, but I think if some collectors gave it another look they might like it more. And then, when I do this countdown again 20 years from now (that will never happen), I can rank this set higher.

51. 2006 Topps

I am trying very hard not to let personal experience affect the positioning of the sets in the countdown. I know I will ultimately fail, especially when it comes to the final handful of sets, but know that I had good intentions.

I will always associate 2006 Topps with my return to the hobby. The 2006 sets -- Topps base, Opening Day and Upper Deck base -- are the sets that got me back into the collecting mainstream. Extrapolate that a little more and you can credit 2006 Topps for helping to create Night Owl Cards. If I had no interest in modern cards, I probably wouldn't have started a card blog.

I fell for '06 Topps so hard that there wasn't a week that went by between April and September that I didn't drive to the local Walmart (Target wasn't even around then) to buy a few rack packs. The three "vintage" cards they were inserting in rack packs that year got me hooked, but it wasn't long before I was trying to complete the entire 2006 Topps set, the Update set and all the inserts (yes, every stupid Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds home run card -- still "working" on those).

When I look back on those times, the set wasn't what convinced me to collect it. It was the return to the hunt. The thrill. The newness. I was back. What a great feeling.

The set itself is nothing special. First, there is way too much foil. Top and bottom. It might be the most foil-centric Topps base set ever. It's also the least attractive Topps set that uses the ribbon theme. Normally, the ribbon or flag is a sure-fire winner, but I don't like the way it sits in the design, as if there is a nail on each side fitting it into place so it doesn't move.

The color scheme for each team would have been much more fun without all the foil.

As for the photos, some are good, but an incredible number are much too much the same. Out of the first 20 cards in the set, I was able to do this:

Just in case you didn't know, baseball players swing a bat for a living.

There are a few other little annoyances to this set:

There is too much of this in Series 1. Some may rather have this than photoshopping and I understand that, but this is terribly jarring to a team collector.

The subsets in '06 Topps are pretty painful, especially the ones that end Series 2. The names (I know you can't see it, but it says "Philly Phanatics") are particularly hurtful. They scream filler.

And this is just a bad, bad card. All the way around.

But before we get to the worst part of the set, let's turn the cards over:

The back is one of the better ones of the modern era. It's bright, readable and it returns the cartoon to the set for the first time since 1982! I was thrilled to see the cartoon when I grabbed my first 2006 cards, although little did I know that it was pretty much a one-shot deal (and a number of the cartoon drawings were repeated through the set).

2006 Topps created some nice memories for me, but unfortunately many collectors don't remember it that fondly.

Even if I do finish all the Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds HR sets, all the insert sets and every parallel, I'll never complete the set. 2006 Topps is viewed by a number of collectors as the set that kicked off the gimmick era. The removal of card #297, Alex Gordon, from the set ensured that I will never be able to finish it, unless I can buy out Keith Olbermann's collection some day.

It doesn't bother me all that much, actually. But I can't rank a set that actually prevents collectors from completing it any higher than this.

What a year to return to collecting, huh?

50. 1961 Topps

I'm not going to have a lot to say about '61 Topps. It almost defies you to find words.

Minimalist sets are a funny animal. I am the first to say I love the minimalist look ... until the set is too boring for me, and then I hate it.

1961 Topps might put me to sleep quicker than any other set. It's also the set (this one and 1982 Donruss) in which I look at the card and say "I could have done that!" One rectangle here, another smaller one there, color them two different colors, done.

With sets like this, it's what you can do with the photo -- since there's so much space for it -- that will determine the quality of the set. In my view, 1961 Topps didn't do enough with the photo. I know it was the early '60s and nobody thought about wrapping snakes around ballplayers and taking their picture yet, but I'm just going with what I'm seeing. And in 1961 Topps, I just see a whole lot of head shots.

There are a lot of players with their caps off in this set, which is never good. And some of the players look like they are paintings or an artist added some rosy cheeks to the photo.

I can't overlook some good points. The combo cards are terrific -- horizontal or vertical photos boasting "Reds Heavy Artillery" or "Power for Ernie" or "Lindy Shows Larry". Awesome stuff.

Also, I believe this was the first time that Topps noted top rookies on the players' actual card (instead of a separate subset, like Topps did in previous years). Topps used a bright yellow star for the rookies, a precursor to the Topps rookie trophy and the rookie cup.

And there are examples of classic cards in the '61 set:

Like this.

And this.

And this.

But there just aren't enough of them.

There's the back. Meh on that side, too.

That's all I have to say.

49. 1989 Topps

There are two Topps sets that I have bought more frequently than any other set. One is 2006, which you just saw, and the other is 1989.

When I pick a set to go overboard on, I can pick mediocre, can't I?

My 2006 project really kicked into gear because of 1989. When I realized I wanted to complete 2006, I decided I wanted to do what I did in 1989 and simply try to complete it by buying packs at stores. That is not efficient in any way and the reason why I can barely look at a 1989 card anymore, but it sure was fun trying (for those late to the blog, I fell four cards short in 1989 and I succeeded in 2006).

I had so many 1989 Topps cards that I started counting how many dupes I had for each card. There were certain cards that I had more than 20 of each, and keep in mind I wasn't breaking cases of cards.

There's just no reason to have 25 of this card. He's not even the right Chris Carpenter.

I had even more of this card.

And even more than that of this one.

Nichols and Stubing, by the way, are cards #443 and #444 -- right next to each other.

The thing is, these cards, and a lot like them, are achingly dull. The 1989 design doesn't help the photos along much either. It borrows the ribbon look from several sets and the script look from 1978 Topps, but it's just not that enjoyable.

But back to the sheer pervasiveness. Among the junk wax Topps sets, 1989 has to be the most plentiful, and that will shape your opinion of a set one Moose Stubing card after another after another after another.

I realize a lot of people grew up with this set, but every Topps set ever made has been the first one some kid collected. Just because it's the first set a lot of collectors saw doesn't mean anything -- except to the collector.

And then there's this.

The draft pick cards will make 1989 Topps memorable forever in the eyes of some collectors. All I know is I hated them then (is that a college uniform?????), disliked the trend it started, and only begrudgingly accept these cards now. At least they're mostly relegated to their own separate set now (Bowman) and I can ignore them completely if I wish.

The deluge of cards that Topps foisted on collectors in '89 I think even overwhelms anyone's ability to absorb what's in the set. I've seen these cards so many times that I am numb to them.

There are a few pretty decent shots in 1989 Topps. But like Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer", who ever wants to admit that was once a pretty good song? Now if you hear the song or see the card, nothing comes to mind. Just numbness.

Speaking of which:

Has anyone ever read a 1989 Topps card back? I like my card backs to at least try to have a personality. But the 1989 Topps card back is in an induced coma.

If 1989 Topps didn't show up in the junk wax era, if I didn't buy so much of it, if other sets didn't do the script & amp;swoosh thing better, this set would have fared better on the countdown. Have this set come out in 1980 and people would have liked it a lot more.

But not in 1989. With Donruss and Fleer and Score and ... oh, yeah, the most ground-breaking card debut since 1952 Topps in Upper Deck.

By the end of the year, every collector probably looked at their 1989 Topps and said, "what did I buy that for?"

I know I did.

Up next: Sets #48-45. No real surprises yet, I don't think. But there may be one coming in the next episode.


I don't know what Topps was trying to accomplish with the 1990 design but for some reason I don't mind the color scheme even though I did not care for it at first sight. If I need a quick wax pack fix I would go to this or the 1991 set to open a few packs. It's not the best design but I like it better than the 1989 design.
Stubby said…
Honestly, I never cared (at all) for the 1990 set......until you just mentioned the "Lichtenstein filter". Suddenly, I'm seeing the cards in a whole new light that I kinda sorta like. That's a very odd sensation. Thanks for that. I can now see them without the profound disgust I used to feel for them.
Jeff said…
So if I'm reading this right.... Everyone should send 1990 cards to N.O.
Billy Kingsley said…
I have said it elsewhere, but I may be the only card collector in the world who thinks the 1990 Topps design is the best Topps design. Ever. It's perfect in my opinion. I only have 4 or 5 of them, but if I ever start collecting baseball full time, it will be a priority to get more of them.
Fuji said…
You nailed it with the 89T's. For years, I despised this set purely on bad memories of money thrown down the drain. But in the past three, four, five years... I slowly started to appreciate the design.
I did the same thing with my 1980 Topps set that you did with your 1989 set...all the way down to having upwards of 20 copies of some cards.
I admit it..."Boys of Summer" is still a cool song. Don't much care for The Ataris version, though.