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Night Owl's all-time Topps set countdown (28-25)

I hope you are not making plans already to be away from your computer/phone this weekend.

I've constructed the latest edition of the All-Time Topps Countdown as part of my patriotic duty as an American card blogger. You may announce your patriotic pride by stuffing yourself full of hot dogs and blasting off ungodly noisy devices way too close to people's delicate ear drums, I do this.

This is my Independence Day gift to you. If you're getting tired of the relentless outdoor activity this weekend, this post will be here for you. And if that sun is just way too hot and feels like it's burning into your brain, well I purposely selected a snow-covered owl here to help you cool down.

And now, let's see sets No. 28 through 25 on the countdown:

28. 1979 Topps

All throughout this countdown, I've felt like I have been giving 1970s sets an unfair advantage. It's true, the '70s feature the sets that are nearest and dearest to my heart, but are they really that good?

I'm way too invested in that decade to provide an objective answer. Even if I think I'm being objective, I'm still going to say the '70s had the greatest cards, and I don't know if that is necessarily true.

I probably feel the most guilty about 1979 Topps, because I have never felt it was that great of a set.

Keep in mind, this is me saying this from way back in 1979. The 1979 Topps set is the first set I ever pulled out of a pack and was disappointed with what I saw. That seems strange now, because when I see the set more than 35 years later, all I see is greatness:

Ozzie's first card.

The best rookie card ever.

The first Molitor card where he didn't have to share it with three other guys.

The Pirates' banana uniforms.

And the classic Padres brown-and-gold.

These were good times, and I'm not just saying that because a song by the same name went to No. 1 for half the summer in 1979. It is a very memorable year for me.

But that's just nostalgia talking. On its face, 1979 Topps is a ho-hum set in a bright and wonderful decade.

Maybe I grew cynical because of all of the Wayne Cage cards I pulled that year (this was the second straight year of Topps double-printing some cards). But it was more than that. The design didn't hold up compared with previous designs from my first five years of collecting. The ribbon just didn't cut it.

The cards leave a lot of space for the photo, which is a point in '79's favor. But it didn't do much with it.

The cards in the set have a lazy, glazy, hazy look to them. I don't know if you can see this on a scan, but I picked out a couple of examples.

Trust me, they're hazy. Staring at the photos in this set makes me feel as I'm looking at the players through mosquito netting. And even at the young age of 13, I noticed that the quality of the pictures just didn't match those of the previous year.

Photo cropping seems to be a significant issue for 1979 Topps.

So, why am I ranking '79 Topps this high with amount of disappointment involved?

Well, there are some decent cards:

And I spent a lot of time on the card backs that year:

Although the third green-backed set in the past six years was a little boring, I loved the baseball dates trivia questions and poured over them. This was good rainy day stuff.

But mostly, we're talking about nostalgia for the reason 1979 Topps is at No. 28 in the countdown.

Those emotionless, just-the-facts people will tell you 1979 Topps is known for a few rookie cards and the fact that the Topps logo appeared on the front of virtually every card in the set for the first time in its history.

But as kids, we didn't even notice that. We were too busy appreciating the first card of Rich Gossage in an actual Yankees uniform (instead of the full-body airbrushed job in '78 Topps).

Sometimes, nostalgia is enough.

27. 2009 Topps

The biggest enemy of the 2009 Topps set is the internet, more specifically, card blogs.

If no one scanned cards and uploaded them onto a blog, underlining 2009 Topps' greatest flaw, there would be fewer complaints about this set.

Sitting at the computer now, and leafing through some 2009 cards, I have no trouble reading them. The foil glints in the light and the names practically pop off the black background. But online? Silver foil letters on a black background is a no-no. It's barely readable and the cards show up on your backlit screen as if someone left off the player's name and team name. It doesn't look good.

However, in person? 2009 Topps looks very good.

Keep in mind, this set followed the 2008 disaster. During that year, Topps treated the photo as a second-class citizen and confined the space for pictures so much that a number of baseball plays just couldn't be featured on 2008 cards.

The 2009 design opened up a whole new world:

Try to picture those on 2008 Topps. You can't. Only the Esteban German card on the top left (trust me, it's Esteban German) would work in '08 Topps, and you'd still lose much of the scoreboard and grass splendor.

Believe me, this was much appreciated, and 2009 Topps arrived to much fanfare. I considered it one of the best Topps flagship sets in years at the time, set out to complete it, and I still like it quite a bit.

The beauty of 2009 Topps is that the photos tell a story. Although there are plenty of pictures of batters swinging and pitchers throwing, there is much more than that.

The photos show thought and originality.

They really give you a insight into the game.

I also love the tilted home plate team logo, and although I can never describe the rest of the design (are those supposed to stadium lights in the top and bottom corners?), I know I like it.

2009 Topps falls a few notches because some of the photos in Series 2 are too dark. This is pretty disappointing on such a nice-looking set.

The backs are basic except for the interesting statistical factoid that travels over the dome on each player's card. OK, the card numbers are unreadable, too.

Detractors of this set will mention the Walmart black parallels and Target throwback parallels and the messy way those were issued and discovered. But I like this set because it gave me hope for flagship after the previous couple of years (2007 and 2008 in particular).

This set shows a lot of thought and some originality.

It's just too bad it had to show up on the internet.

26. 1963 Topps

I think some collectors would consider this set almost iconic. The James Bond logo style design featuring a black-and-white image of the player is reflective of the time (the first Bond movie, "Dr. No," appeared in 1962 and features the gun barrel sequence that would appear in all Bond movies to come).

It also paves the way for some future Topps sets, most notably 1983 Topps.

But while it has all of that going for it, I'm still not crazy about it.

I think 1983 Topps pulls off this design better -- much, much better. The head shot belongs in the inset and the action or full-body shot in the main photo. It just makes sense. More to show? Put it in the large photo. The full-body shot in 1963 Topps just gets lost, particularly because it's black-and-white.

In a previous post, I mentioned how I don't like color and black-and-white images mixing on cards and it really affects me in 1963 Topps (I also forgot to mention in the 1979 Topps segment that the black-and-white rookie cards in that set have always bothered me).

Although this set appears original, it's not entirely. The 1954, 1955 and 1960 Topps sets all used the two-image card fronts. This is probably the best of the four.

After two sets with relatively little color -- 1961 and 1962 Topps -- kids were probably excited to see multiple colors in a set again, along the lines the 1958-60 sets. Unfortunately, I find the pairing of the two colors on the bottom jarring. And I'm still scarred by trying in vain to keep my 1963 Don Drysdale card  from scuffing on the bottom.

I don't have much use for early 1960s card backs. The cartoons are large, I'll give it that, but a little too old-fashioned for me.

1963 Topps has its place in baseball card history. It always will be difficult to forget while other Topps sets will be erased by time.

But it will never be my favorite. And that's why it's where it is in the countdown. Sometimes you got to live and let die.

25. 2011 Topps

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

As card collectors, we hate the present.

Nothing issued today is good enough. Even when it is good enough, someone out there will still criticize it. The card stock's too thin, there's not enough of my favorite team, the foil's too shiny, they don't look like the cards I collected as a kid, I hate my life, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I'm sure it was all said about 2011 Topps.

But step back for a minute, if you can.

Actually, 2011 Topps looks great.


This set came along at a time when I was starting to move away from modern cards. So I never completed the set. But even though I was making a conscious effort not to buy as many modern cards as I had in previous years, I still found myself picking up 2011 Topps. I couldn't help myself, they looked soo good.

Like 2009 Topps, the photo is the star of the show, and there are so many great shots in 2011 Topps that I had a difficult time selecting just a few. These are also well-framed cards.

The design is terrific, one of my recent favorites. The comet-style streak ends in a baseball with a team logo, with a colored border that gives a 3-D quality to the baseball. I love it.

Sometimes the design takes up a little too much space, particularly on the vertical cards. This is a fantastic photo, one of my favorites in the set. But the picture is so good, I wish the streak wasn't even there.

Of course, you know what that means: this is Stadium Club territory. With that kind of photo, you don't need a blasted design.

Because 2011 Topps exists in the modern world, it contains some pain-in-the-butt aspects, such as this:

There is really no need to have two different cards of the same player just because he has a rookie cup featured on one of them.

But overall, I don't think this set gets enough credit.

Got to love full career stats. And the blurb running down the right-hand side in which it compares the card number with a card number of a past Topps set, is a quiet gem of a factoid.

Sure, if you're hardline old school then you're going to be mad at it for featuring foil or too many action shots or whatever.

All I know is I like 2011 Topps, and I'm trying to figure out now why I didn't complete it.

Up next: sets #24-21


Zippy Zappy said…
Nice to see my favorite set 1979 Topps up so high on your countdown. I feel as though my opinion has been validated (in a way).
JediJeff said…
That comparing of the card number with an earlier set was one really cool part of 2011.
Matt Runyon said…
My 12 year old eyes didn't like the 1979 photography either. The black and white rookie cards are an abomination.
Nick said…
2009 marked a turning point for Topps, and I don't think the set gets enough credit for it. Even if the designs since '09 have been hit-and-miss, that year marked a turnaround in Topps actually giving a you-know-what about their photography. About 98 percent of the photos used between about 1999-2008 were unremarkable, but 2009 is packed with great ones.
Man said…
A hate to say it but the '79 set is one I despise-funny really since I was 11 1/2 when it came out-though I remember the '77 and '78 sets-and I still have some of the ones I had this whole time-the '79 issue was the first I bought ton of as a kid. I remember rack packs, and this jumbo packs-not sure what they are or were called but I remember my local Target like store had a big bin of these and the '79 Topps Football as well. Almost completed the set-but they aren't in the best shape-why really does it for me is the crappy photography-I think this was the set the Topps said F you to collectors-who will buy whatever we are selling and like it.
Commishbob said…
I'm far too lazy to go back and do this myself so I'm wondering if you have these sets listed in order someplace. The ones you'be posted so far that is.

night owl said…
I don't have a separate list of the sets in order yet, although I will when I'm all done. But if you click the label "Night Owl's all-time Topps set countdown" at the end of this post, you can see them all in order.
Commishbob said…
See, I was even too lazy to think of using the labels. Reason I asked is that when you get down to ten I'm going to try and guess your choices based on all the NO posts I've read over the years.
Adam Kaningher said…
Wow. I never noticed that factoid on 2011 Topps. I guess I always thought it was a copyright line or something.