Monday, January 26, 2015

The All-Time Topps Countdown: 20-11

We're nearing the end of what has been a fun few weeks around here.

This is the second-to-last post in my All-Time Topps Countdown for Sy. On a personal level, I think the sets in the Top 20 were much harder to rank than those in the Bottom 20. After some deep thought, I've had to revise my list a few times in the past week or so.

I'm almost positive that my rankings will change in the coming weeks, months, and years, but here is how they stand as of this evening.

Let's get to it.

#20 -- 1977 Topps

UPS -- Pennant-based designs are almost always a good idea. Lots of great poses. Nice, colorful team names on the front.

DOWNS -- I wouldn't mind the player names being a little more prominent. Facsimile signatures are a little distracting on some cards.

My two cents...

It's hard to be rational with sets from the Golden Age of the mid '70s.

While I wouldn't be born until fifteen years later, I feel like I've lived through the era from all the stories my dad has told me. I'm sure that kind of nostalgia (if it's possible for a 22-year-old to call it that) biased my list a little bit, but I did my best to provide a fair, unaffected ranking.

It's hard to go wrong with a pennant design, and 1977 Topps is near the top in that regard. The muted, magical poses that made the '70s so great are packed into this checklist. Simply a solid design all around.

To use a bad pun, 1977 Topps was certainly a banner year for Topps.

#19 -- 1992 Topps

UPS -- I've always been a big fan of those colorful blocks for the team/player names. Some of the best photography the '90s had to offer. Backs are very basic and straight to the point, which is a compliment.

DOWNS -- Not usually huge on border-within-a-border designs. They make the photos seem a little claustrophobic at times.

My two cents...

Again, it's a little hard to be completely unbiased with 1992 Topps.

It is, after all, my "birth year" set. I'm not sure when Topps released Flagship in the '90s, but there's a chance 1992 Topps and I share a close birthday. (I was born in February of that year.)

That aside, this set isn't #19 on this list only because of our birthday ties. To me, 1992 Topps might just be the most underrated design of the '90s. If not one of the more underrated Flagship sets ever, for that matter.

There's a slew of great photography in '92 Topps. I seem to keep discovering more with each passing day. The color-coded blocks for the team and player names are a nice touch and something that I don't think Topps has tried since.

Sure, the whole "birth year" thing might have bumped 1992 Topps up a couple notches, but it's a top-tier set no matter what.

#18 -- 1952 Topps

UPS -- This, folks, is how you get the most out of a facsimile signature. Museum-quality photography all around. The first set to ever feature stat lines on the back.

DOWNS -- Not sure I like the placement of the team logos. They clutter up the photos a bit.

My two cents...

This was a tough one.

It's easy to slip 1952 Topps into the Top 10 for the sheer fact that it was the precise moment when Topps became, well...Topps. I was tempted to put it a lot higher on this list for the history alone. I mean, we're talking '52 Topps here.

But, taking all that away, is this really one of the five or ten best designs in Flagship history? I don't think so. It's a beauty, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure there's anything here that warrants it a higher spot in this countdown.

The biggest compliment I have about '52 Topps is that it's one of the only sets to use facsimile signatures in a way that I actually enjoy. They work perfectly within the design, and they're not distracting in the slightest.

Also, we have to mention that no other set in the history of baseball cards listed stat lines on the back until '52 Topps came along. From what I've read, this whole design was pretty much Sy's idea.

We can't thank you enough, Sy.

#17 -- 1983 Topps

UPS -- Got to love the double images on the front. Though it's done in a very subtle way, the colors really make the fronts stand out. Arguably the best set of the '80s in terms of photography.

DOWNS -- Not much to dislike. Maybe a more exciting font for the player/team names.

My two cents...

This is one of those sets that's hard to hate.

I am, by my account, a bit of a cynic. I can usually find a little something to dislike in almost every design, no matter how minute it may be. But I've barely found anything to nitpick about 1983 Topps. It's the very definition of a tight design.

Double images can get cluttered if used wrong, but this set structures them in a very concise way that doesn't take away from the overall look one bit. The action-vs-posed clash is an obvious tribute to 1963 Topps, though it does so without being a total knock-off.

I wouldn't say that I'm completely blown away by 1983 Topps, but I'd bet that it's one of the most universally liked sets in Topps history.

#16 -- 1960 Topps

UPS -- The last all-horizontal set in Topps history. Fronts are nicely split into three distinct sections. Love the timeline-structured bios on the backs. Very vivid colors. Some of Topps's finest cartoons.

DOWNS -- Some of the color combos don't exactly clash very well. It's easy to only see M L P P A on this particular card.

My two cents...

I don't know that we'll ever see another all-horizontal set, so 1960 Topps could well be the last of its kind in the world of baseball cards.

I personally love the concept of a horizontal-exclusive design, especially one that utilizes color as well as this. True, the whole appeal of the horizontal could wear off if every set used it, but I like the idea of having one every few years or so.

Aside from that, 1960 Topps is probably one of the more economical sets in the catalog. The fronts are succinctly divided into three sections (action pose, mugshot, team/player name) with plenty of room for each. I'm a big fan of the "Season's Highlights" timelines on the backs as well.

But, yeah, I think it might be time for another all-horizontal set.

It's only been, oh, fifty-five years.

#15 -- 1987 Topps

UPS -- Wood-grain borders, of course. Fantastic placement of the team logos. Perhaps the most memorable backs of the '80s and easily among the best ever.

DOWNS -- No positions on the front.

My two cents...

I'm sorry to say that 1987 Topps has actually dropped a bit in my rankings lately.

If I were to have made this list last year, it would've been a lock for the Top Ten. It might've even snuck into the Top Five. But here, in January 2015, the best I could do was #15.

That's not to say I don't enjoy '87 Topps. Far from it, actually. The wood-grain borders are still among the finest in Topps history and it has to be one of the most iconic sets ever released. The backs are probably some of the best you'll find as well.

Still, when I step back and take a long look, I can't justify its placement over any of the fourteen sets ahead of it. Although I can't put my finger on exactly why, I don't see '87 Topps as a Top Ten set any longer.

It's fascinating to see how quickly my personal tastes can change.

#14 -- 1958 Topps

UPS -- Cards without backgrounds can be hit and miss, but this is a definite hit for me. One of the most colorful sets in the Topps catalog. Everything you'd ever want in a baseball card back.

DOWNS -- A good portion of the player names and background colors don't match very well. Red letters on a yellow background isn't exactly ideal.

My two cents...

I don't know if it's possible for the #14 set to be underrated, but I'm thinking 1958 Topps deserved to be bumped up a few slots.

It has the misfortune of being sandwiched in between two of my all-time favorite Topps designs. (Both Top 10 nominees.)

I know that some people aren't as big on '58 Topps, but I absolutely love it. It's in an eternal competition with '59 Topps for being the most colorful set of the '50s. I'm not usually a big fan of designs that completely omit backdrops, but this one makes it work.

It seems like '58 Topps has a card for every color of the rainbow.

#13 -- 1991 Topps

UPS -- Return of the horizontal! Some of Topps's finest photography. Clean, simple design, strengthened by the red borders on the back. My pick for the best Topps set of the last twenty-five years.

DOWNS -- Again, not big on borders within a border, although this set almost manages to make it work.

My two cents...

This might be the set that has risen the most in my Topps rankings.

I remember not thinking much of 1991 Topps when I first started this blog. It didn't strike me as anything special.

Oh, how times have changed. These days, 1991 Topps is my personal favorite of the overproduction era and one of the best designs of all-time, in my opinion. It's simple, subtly colorful, and mostly lets the photos do the talking. Those are some of the finest qualities a set can have.

Perhaps the biggest plus for '91 Topps is the fact that it brought back the art of the horizontal. You'd have to go all the way back to 1974 to find the last landscape cards in a Topps set. I think most of us can agree that a world with horizontals is a better world for collectors.

We have 1991 Topps to thank for that.

#12 -- 1976 Topps

UPS -- Like most of the top-tier sets, we have another colorful design here. The shadow figures are up there as one of Topps's better innovations ever. Can't go wrong with the green backs.

DOWNS -- Are there any?

My two cents...

Now we're getting to the point where I really have a tough time nitpicking the negatives.

I don't know that 1976 Topps has any glaring flaws. No facsimile signatures. Color-coordinated player/team names. Awesome backs. Tito Fuentes's headband. All positives.

The main selling point for '76 Topps is the addition of the little shadow figures in the bottom corner of every card. I'd have to go back and check, but that might be my single favorite innovation in the Topps catalog.

Merely listing the positions of each player would've been enough, but Topps really went the extra mile in 1976.

Like so many sets of the '70s, this is some of Topps's finest work.

#11 -- 1986 Topps

UPS -- The dueling black and white might be the best border choice in Topps history. I'm not sure what to call the large team name font, but it certainly grabs the eye. Great use of the position bubble. Solid backs.

DOWNS -- Not the best photography, but the design pretty much cancels that out.

My two cents...

If nothing else, 1986 Topps is proof that I can truly enjoy a set with mediocre photography.

While there are a few gems spread throughout the checklist, you're not going to find many captivating images in '86 Topps. Most, like this Brett, are your standard candid shots. 

In the grand scheme of things, however, that's not a big concern for me. Yes, I always crave stand-out photography on my cards, but that's not all that matters. Granted, it's not easy to make me ignore a lack of good images. Only the most inspired sets can make mediocre photos negligible.

But that's exactly what 1986 Topps does. The black-and-white borders make every card feel like a masterpiece, no matter the photo. The blue-black combo we have with the Royals (and a few other teams) is probably my favorite color clash of any set, Topps or not.

Like 1991 Topps, this is another set that wasn't all that high on my list a few years ago. Thankfully, I've come to my senses. 

Still, while I tried my best to sneak it in, I just couldn't put '86 Topps in my Top Ten.

You'll have to wait until next time for the grand finale.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The dime box frankenset, Page 48: Numbers 424-432

Last week's frankenset voting was a nail-biter.

Win -- 1973 Topps #420 Tommie Agee (12 votes)

Place -- 1998 Ultra #416 Lee Stevens (10 votes)

Show -- 1994 Topps #422 Rey Sanchez (4 votes)

As I was expecting, it was a two-horse race between Agee and Stevens. Lee "The Great One" Stevens pulled out to an early lead, but he couldn't withstand a late charge from Mr. Agee. The Most Airbrushed Card in History took twelve of the 37 total votes, giving vintage the crown once again.

Agee becomes our first multiple frankenset king, as his 1971 Topps issue won its page a few months back.

It's also the sixth straight week I've agreed with the victor.

Can the streak continue?

We'll just have to wait and see. There's certainly a lot of odd strewn around this week's page.

Let's meet the nominees.

1998 Fleer Tradition #424 Jermaine Allensworth

The Amazing Adventures of Jermaine Allensworth, Volume 19, Issue 98. 

1998 Pacific #425 John Flaherty

John Flaherty tagging out former Rockie pitcher Roger Bailey at the plate. 

2007 Upper Deck #426 Clay Hensley

Throwin' it back to the days of the brown. 

1982 Fleer #427 Willie Wilson

A Channel 10 interview under the lights. 

1994 Collector's Choice #428 Reggie Jefferson

Hitting yellow baseballs off a tee outside of a building that looks an awful lot like my former high school. 

This card comes with a nice reverse-angle shot on the back as well.

1994 Upper Deck #429 Bob Welch

The late Bob Welch sporting some spiffy Oakland Oaks throwbacks. 

2013 Topps #430 Josh Harrison

A picturesque backdrop at PNC Park. 

The third base coach approves.

1997 Upper Deck #431 Mark Clark

Pitcher or not, that's some solid contact right there.

1993 Stadium Club #432 Pat Listach

We close with one of those strange water vapor shots from the early '90s.

Unlike most of the past few weeks, I already know where my vote is going to go. I'll be interested to see how my tally matches up with the rest of you.

The polls are now on the sidebar.

Happy voting!

Friday, January 23, 2015

In on the ground floor

I've noticed a few "Blog of the Year" contests start to pop up these last couple weeks.

Those are all fine and good, but I don't necessarily think it's us veterans that keep the blogosphere chugging along. It's the newcomers just starting to try their hands at the blogging craft that really maintain the balance. After all, we were all "rookies" once.

Sure, go ahead and vote in the "Blog of the Year" polls if you wish. But remember that there are a ton of new writers out there to discover, all of which have the potential to become 2015's finest blog. Get in on the ground floor with some of the blogosphere's top prospects.

If I may, I'd like to recommend one for you. A reader named Tim and I had been exchanging emails over the past couple months. Then, one day in December, Tim made that magical leap from reader to blogger with his newly-christened blog "I Love the Smell of Cardboard in the Morning." (Now that's a blog name.)

He opens repacks, he goes to card shows, he's one of us. And, better yet, Tim trades as well. He and I recently completed what you could call a swap, although I think we might already be falling into that middle ground where we just decide to drop cards on one another as we please.

Tim kicked things off with a thick stack of now-former 2014 needs, including this odd Vladimir Guerrero mini from Update. Vlad was only a Ranger for one season in 2010.

While he was an All-Star that year, it's still strange to see him remembered in a Texas uniform.

As I've said before, I wasn't crazy about any of the new inserts in Update.

Considering the amount of All-Stars Topps shoves into Update, the "Access" inserts at the top are especially redundant. I say that knowing full well that I enjoy both the "Miggy" cameo on the Puig and Scherzer's autograph shot.

There I go being a hypocrite again.

Tim knocked out my remaining Update base needs as well, a feat that allows me to sleep a little easier at night.

It makes sense that Jose Abreu would be included in Update. But Jason Bartlett? Admittedly, I'm probably the last person in the universe who still collects Mr. Bartlett, but I was shocked to see him represented at all in 2014. The guy played in exactly three games all year.

Guess those three games were enough to earn him a beautiful horizontal play at the plate shot.

As you probably know by now, I'm not the biggest Gypsy Queen fan.

But, hey, I'm not going to turn down new cards of R.A. Dickey or Jose Fernandez. I'll also grant that those white border parallels are beautiful. They're quite a bit thicker than your normal GQ base cards. What we have there is a thick, white Dickey.

That sentence took a wrong turn somewhere.

Tim also tracked down a few of my short-print and insert needs from A&G.

It does my heart good to see Senators cards popping up in 2014 checklists. And, by the way, Topps lists "broadcaster" as Joe Morgan's pastime on the back of that insert.


Good one, Topps.

A couple of smiling ballplayers from Heritage and Archives.

Which reminds me, I should see the dentist soon.

Ah, but Tim didn't make this package all about the latest and greatest.

The guy has a good amount of random in him as well, starting with Casey Stengel and Co. here. This obviously isn't a reprint of anything real, but I kind of like the idea of creating faux-World Series cards from the '50s.

Even if they are all Yankees.

There aren't many ballplayers I dislike more than Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro.

You could say that Tim did the impossible by sending along a couple cards that I actually like of those two jokers.

The cartoon Canseco is probably the only time his infamous blooper was ever commemorated on cardboard, and the Palmeiro is the rare example of a position player goofing around on the mound.

I guess even Rafael Palmeiro deserves to have a little fun.

These are both fantastic new additions to a couple of my most expansive player collections.

Looks like I'll have to track down some of Ichiro's Marlins cards in 2015.

Conlon and TCMA.

Still the two best all-legend brands ever.

Although these aren't half bad, either.

It's not mentioned much nowadays, but 2003 Flair Greats was a wonderful set of old-timers. You can't find many cards of Phil Rizzuto turning a double play.

Heck, you can't find many cards of King Kelly, period.

I'm almost ashamed to say that I enjoy this All Pete, All the Time set from Leaf.

With one autograph per blaster, it was an obvious money grab. But, while I want to believe otherwise, the cards themselves were actually decent. Maybe it's just because it's been so long since we've seen a whole lot of Pete Rose on cardboard.

The card on the left gives us a rare glimpse of an umpire checking for a doctored ball (with a Gene Tenace cameo), while the card on the right is a great addition to my new "tip of the cap" mini-collection.

Speaking of which...

...Tim threw his bags onto the mini-collection train as well.

The Alomar looks to be a botched play at the plate, but Griffey seems a split-second away from having that ball secured in his mitt.

"The Kid" was always good for highlight reel plays.

Awards and autographs galore!

I don't know if anyone else got a chance to catch MLB Network's documentary on the "Nasty Boys" earlier this week, but I'd recommend giving it a watch if it ever reruns.

If anything, you'll see just how insane Randy Myers was.

I haven't officially declared a "Can You Hear Me Now?" mini-collection yet, but I probably should.

If you look closely, you'll notice that Albert Belle is holding a broken bat in his hand. On second thought, scrap that. Don't look too closely at that card.

I don't want to be responsible for any seizures.

Tim closed out this spectacular package with a bang.

Not only is this a top-notch throwback shot (complete with duds from the Negro League's Detroit Stars), but it also doubles as a sunset card of Mr. Trammell.

I guess even the most fun-filled packages have to come to an end sometime. Then again, Tim has since dropped another magnificent batch of cards on me, which I'll be recapping in my next post. (To Be Continued...)

In the meantime, please go give Tim's terrific new blog a read. Go give all the new blogs out there a read.

I know it sounds corny, but the fact people take valuable time out of their day to wax poetic about these silly little baseball cards makes every blog the "Blog of the Year" for me.

Keep on writing, everyone.