On my last post, I wondered why Topps has ignored the 30th anniversary of its 1988 design one year after throwing the biggest card nostalgia party in the history of time for the 30th anniversary of its 1987 design.
Last year, it issued an insert set devoted entirely to its 1987 design, along with special shiny hobby pack cards also based on the '87 design.
But this year, in a rather suspicious move, it decided to skip 1988 and instead honor the 35th anniversary of the 1983 design, with the exact same treatment it gave '87 last year, an insert set with a 1983 theme and those shiny hobby things that still look weird.
Meanwhile, the 1988 design has also been left out of the annual Archives brand over the past six years, while the 1980 design and the 1982 design have been used twice each.
Why no love for 1988?
I seem to be one of the few collectors who likes the 1988 design quite a bit. It's clean, quirky, bright and classy. I didn't pay much attention to baseball cards in the late 1980s, but I remember being dismissive of the previous year's design as a blatant 1962 knock-off. I didn't buy any packs.
In 1988, I did buy a pack, just one as I recall.
I still remember the first card I pulled from the wrapper.
Phil Lombardi. I had never heard of him (the ensuing years wouldn't make things any clearer).
I chuckled to myself. "So this is who they're putting in baseball card packs these days," I said in what was probably a beery haze.
But I liked the cards. They were bright, brighter than the previous year, with more space for the photo. I liked the design and the 3-D effect. No, it wasn't enough for me to buy any more cards. I had a new girlfriend, college classes, a job and graduation was on the horizon. But I think that '88 pack sent into motion what would be a baseball card-buying frenzy the following year.
One of my favorite aspects of '88 Topps is how the player image overlaps the team name to create that 3-D effect. Sure, it's goofy by modern standards, but do you think I care about modern standards anymore? It was cool. It will always be cool.
This was such a key aspect of 1988 Topps that it appeared on virtually every card in the set.
There you go. Every page is like that. A bat or an arm or a head obscuring some portion of the team name.
The only cards that are immune from this are the team checklist cards, set checklists, the Turn Back the Clock subset, and the all-star cards.
When I mentioned how Topps was ignoring the 30th anniversary of its '88 set, Jordan from Mint Condition commented that perhaps Topps is unable to produce its '88 design using modern computer techniques.
He mentioned the 1988 font in particular, citing this card:
What a disaster.
This is from the Vintage Legends insert set in 2010 Topps. It is as accurate a tribute to 1988 Topps as my singing the Cher songbook would be a tribute to Cher.
But Topps was able to replicate the font in another card from the Vintage Legends set.
OK, the font still isn't quite right, but it's better than the McCovey.
My wondering on why we haven't seen a tribute to '88 Topps on the scale of the '87 tribute is more related to the 3-D effect.
Perhaps that's too tedious a process in photoshop or whatever computer design program Topps is using?
I don't have any knowledge of computer design or even of old-style prepress printing. I should have at least some knowledge of the old days of printing because at the newspaper, even as recently as the late 1990s, I'd observe the "composing" staff cut and paste images and type to create the newspaper. They were an old, ornery group, with their own union, and woe is you if you tried to do any of their work. So my knowledge of that time period in printing is vague.
However, recently there was a Twitter discussion between two veterans of that period. One, Robby T of the Detroit Tigers Cards and Stuff blog, mentioned the 1988 Topps set specifically and mentioned how much work it would be creating the images for those cards back in the day because there were four different layers to each card (background, team name, player image, player name).
I didn't quite follow his description on how you would go about producing a card like that back then, but here is his explanation from Twitter:
That does sound like a lot of work, and the last part is key: it's still not easy to do on computers.
I'd appreciate any insight into this from people who know how to create effects like this on computers, but I'm wondering if the '88 design is just too work intensive for a company on a modern work schedule with modern deadlines (and producing way more sets than it did in 1988). Or maybe it's modern laziness? I don't know.
There are hints that the 3-D effect in the '88 set has been difficult to create for awhile.
If you go back to the 2003-05 All-Time Fan Favorites sets from Topps, you see some stuff in its 1988 tributes that you never saw in 1988.
This didn't happen in 1988. The player image always cut into the team name. Grace's hat should be obscuring part of the "U" and the "B".
This never happened either. The bat never went behind the team name, it always went over the team name.
Several of the 1988-themed Fan Favorite cards do retain the 3-D look:
So that makes me think that it's not that it can't be done, but maybe it's just too difficult to do.
Granted, the Fan Favorites set was created 13-to-15 years ago and I know even at the place where I work with our modest computer set-up, we've gone through I don't know how many different computer systems in that time span.
So my guess is the apparent avoidance of the '88 design might be two-pronged:
Maybe the 3-D image is too tough to replicate and maybe the font is too tough to replicate. The dreaded double whammy.
And knowing the blogging jackals out there (I admit I am one), ready to pounce, Topps went straight to 1983, which was easier to deliver.
It's too bad because I want 1988 to get its due. The number of bloggers and other collectors that I have heard who have said the first cards they ever opened were 1987 Topps has to be in the triple digits by now. Yet, I haven't read about one person who started his or her collecting career by opening 1988 Topps.
That doesn't seem possible. (Or maybe this is a reason why Topps skipped 1988?)
But I know 1988 Topps is also well-loved because one of the first card blogs I ever came across was the 1988 Topps blog, which was a daily homage to that set.
I actually don't really need any new insert cards with that design. I have that blog. I have my complete 1988 Topps set. That's plenty.
I just better not see another tribute to 1987 Topps until Heritage comes around in 2036. (Watch, Topps will end the Heritage brand before the 2037 set comes out).