Friday, January 18, 2013

Covering the Bases, Pt. 1: Top 5 Most Underrated Topps Sets

Welcome, my friends, to the newest theme here on "Dime Boxes".

A few weeks ago, I mentioned what the basis behind these posts would be.

Lists, lists, and more lists! 

Ranking anything and everything in the world of baseball and baseball cards!

For whatever reason, ranking things has always been a common occurrence in my life. I think some of my past posts on this blog have shown that.

Transforming my lifelong obsession into a "theme" was really a no-brainer in my eyes.

The only reason it took so long for me to officially debut the series was the name.

It took me a while to come up with a fitting title for these posts. In the end, I decided to go with "Covering the Bases", because that's exactly what I intend to do with this theme. (For what it's worth, the name narrowly beat out "Moving up the Ranks".)

But enough about that.

Let's get to the real "meat" behind this post.

Tonight, I'll be ranking the "Top 5 Most Underrated Topps Sets" in cardboard history. For the sake of sanity, I limited these to strictly Flagship sets.

It would've been a nightmare to go through every single Topps-brand set ever released.

As far as Flagship goes, some sets have pretty much always been legendary.

My personal favorite Topps issue has always been the '65 release. The vivid colors, stellar photography, and awesome little "team pennant" has struck a chord with me for as long as I've been in this hobby.

Now, 1965 might not be everyone's surefire favorite, but I'd bet that a lot of collectors hold it in high regard. I've only heard an extreme few dissenting voices towards '65 Topps during my time as a collector.

No matter the age or tenure of the collector, sets like '56, '75, and '87 have pretty much cemented their "legendary" status in this hobby.

For every surefire favorite, though, there's a couple "under the radar" releases.

That's what I'll be counting down tonight.

We start with number five.

#5 --  1992 Topps

Personally, Topps' 1991 release is my favorite set of the overproduction era.

I'd say '93 Topps is a close second.

Because of that, I tended to overlook what Topps did in '92. A big mistake on my part.

Although the design might not have been the greatest they've ever produced, Topps really knocked it out of the park with their photography that year.

This fantastic "candlelight" shot of "The Big Hurt" is easily one of the greatest cards in the checklist.

Heck, it's one of the greatest "gems" of the overproduction era as a whole.

However, what really makes the set for me are the individual card backs.

On top of full career stats, the spectacular stadium shots introduced a card-back innovation that we haven't seen the likes of since.

Few things can match Comiskey under the lights.

Although I've seen it get some publicity in the past, I don't think this hobby has given '92 Topps near the respect it deserves.

The backs alone are conversation pieces.

#4 -- 2004 Topps

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure if 2004 Topps belongs in the "underrated" category.

Incidentally, that's because I almost never hear anyone talk about it. I just assume that it's not all that widely revered among hobbyists.

Well, '04 Topps, here's your day in the sun.

I like you. I've always liked you. I've liked you ever since you hit the market nine years ago.

I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Kidding aside, the set does include some pretty good photography if you ask me. I see inspiration from a few past Topps successes in their '04 release.

This quirky shot of Matt Lawton would've fit right into their '73 checklist.

And the little "shadow player" in the bottom-left shows shades of '76 Topps. 

I actually like the '04 "shadows" a little better because they provide an exact replica of the featured photo. The "shadow" featured on the Jason Michaels "big glove" card is a personal favorite of mine.

If you take the time to look, you'll find that there's a little something for everyone in 2004 Topps.

#3 -- 1994 Topps

With the infamous strike and all, I can see why '94 Topps didn't get more airplay at the time.

Plus, the so-called "collapse" of the hobby was in full swing by the time these hit the markets.

For baseball fans, I'm sure anything related to 1994 triggers a slew of unfortunate memories. Given that I was only two years old at the time, I can't say I remember anything from that time period.

I guess that's why I've given a more unbiased look to '94 Topps throughout my collecting life.

From what I know, the design isn't all that popular. Oddly enough, though, I'm a pretty big fan of the home plate-like border structure.

It frames each individual card quite well.

As with the previous couple sets I've mentioned, I don't believe the photography in '94 Topps gets as much credit as it should.

A couple "gems" from the set managed to crack my "Top 100". I just featured one a few days ago.

As a Cubs fan, I'm partial to this Mark Grace photo. I've always been a huge fan of both "celebration" and "high five" shots. Especially ones that feature iconic hometown stars.

Note the unfortunate placement of the left hand of Grace's high-five counterpart on this one as well.

Fittingly, a quick Google search for the set resulted in a few terrific pieces that had flown under my radar all this time. I just put one of them on my "Dime Box Dozen" list, in fact.

I guess a lot from the mid '90s has flown "under the radar" in this hobby.

Speaking of which...

#2 -- 1995 Topps

I could've used a number of cards to emphasize my point on '95 Topps.

The checklist includes an absolute slew of fantastic little "gems".

In the end, I chose to showcase this magnificent shot of Mr. Rondell White. In terms of sheer jaw-dropping ability, it's got to be near the top.

Plus, it basically says everything I could ever say about the photography found within '95 Topps. It's that good.

And if you have good photography, you don't really need a "flashy" design. I think some card companies have forgotten that in the memorabilia era.

Thankfully, Topps produced a simple, un-intrusive, and generally serene design for their '95 release, one that does a terrific job of emphasizing the terrific photos they snapped.

If it's possible for an entire set to be considered a "diamond in the rough", I think '95 Topps would have to take that honor.

I just wish they popped up in dime boxes more often.

#1 -- 1957 Topps

I know, I know.

You don't like '57 Topps.

I've heard it before.

Just hear me out on this one. Please?

Truthfully, I had no idea how many people disliked this set. Given, I think most of us can appreciate the sheer "vintage" factor when it comes to '57 Topps.

But as far as vintage goes, I don't think I've seen a more universally-bashed set than this one.

For whatever reason, no one seems to like it. I've heard "boring" thrown around quite a bit in relation to '57 Topps.

I sure don't think it's boring.

I've loved it for as long as I can remember. Behind '56 and maybe '59, it's still my favorite Topps set of the 1950's.

If this set was released in, say, the '70s, I think the hobby would have a much more favorable opinion of it. For the most part, I think Topps set a remarkably high bar with their other '50s releases. Especially '56.

Because of that, I think '57 gets judged in relation to other sets from the '50s. And, to most collectors, that's quite a tough comparison to make.

As a result, I'm not sure that 1957 Topps gets nearly enough appreciation as it should.

If the previous four entries in this list have told you anything, you should understand how much photography plays into my love for any given set.

Not surprisingly, I've always put '57 Topps near the top in that category.

And, as kind of a microcosm for this entire list, I've always felt that this Elmer Valo is one of the most underrated cards ever. 

As far as individual pieces go, Mr. Valo is arguably the best kept secret in the history of cardboard.

Still don't buy my babble about '57 Topps?

That's okay.

After all, that's the beauty of lists. And it's why I'm looking forward to continuing this theme down the road.

If humankind agreed on everything, the world wouldn't be a whole lot of fun.


hiflew said...

Well I half-agree with you on your choices.

I think 2004 and 1994 are both criminally underrated. While 1992 the backs are as well. Although I did recently look through the entire set and saw maybe 2 or 3 memorable photos so the front are aptly rated. I can't get on board with 1957 or 1995. 1995 is the set that I most identify with the strike, mainly for the Cyberstats parallel, so that's why I don't like it. 1957 does have some good photos, but the design is just not there for me.

But like you said, to each there own. Every set ever made deserves to be collected by someone.

TTG said...

I'd never thought about it before but your top 2 are exactly how I would have ranked them. Love me some '57 Topps.

Michael Chase said...

I've been thinking a lot about those sets lately. Well, not so much 2004 and 157 but 92,94 and 95 especially.Ok, just everything in early to mid 90's.

Sometimes I absolutely adore them, and other times I remember thinking that 94 and 95 especially felt more "cheap" and less classic than previous versions.

I was sort of thinking that I don't really know much about what happened to baseball cards after 1995 as that is around the time I was more basketball oriented.

I think these sets will be talked about much more in the years to come. They are special to me in so many ways and without some of these "underrated" sets, I just might not be a collector today : )

It feels good to see others talk about sets from the 90's in a positive light, even if it is few and far between.

gcrl said...

That valo is one of my favorite cards. Ever. If I ever worked on a set from the 50s it would be 57

Ana Lu said...

The 2004 and 2005 Topps cards were the first ever I ever got. So they are both special for me.

If they are underrated or not I don't care. If I like a set I don't mind if there are more people with me or not. For instance you even might think that if less people like it, more probable of me to get cards.

Kev said...

i LOVE the minimalist nature of '57. i kinda disappeared from the hobby in the mid-90's, so it was nice to see those written up, also.