Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Covering the Bases, Pt. 16: Top 5 retro sets

Most people seem to love or hate the recent retro craze.

I'm in the former camp. Or at least I was until, like everything else, the retro market started to get too crowded and uninspiring. But that's another rant for another post.

Thankfully, recent overhyping of the whole retro fad hasn't taken away from my appreciation of the old-time sets of years past.

While I'm all for creating new and innovative designs, a big part of me craves throwback checklists. When done right, they can serve as a delightful modern take on sets that are years, decades, or even centuries old.

I'll be sharing my personal Top Five Retro Sets list with all of you tonight. In order to be considered for this countdown, a set has to honor old designs while not simply being an all-reprint release. (Which eliminates the 2001-02 editions of Topps Archives and all those Dover Reprint oddballs.)

I didn't originally intend for all five slots to be occupied Topps products, but that's exactly what ended up happening. Fleer Tradition was never that groundbreaking, and Upper Deck had a tough time with the retro idea when they weren't ripping off Topps. (Does anyone remember UD Goudey nowadays?)

Donruss Originals was a short-lived throwback set that, while largely ignored, was actually pretty innovative. Try as I might, though, I just couldn't give it a spot in my Top Five.

Here are the sets that made the cut.

#5 -- Turkey Red (2005-07, various future incarnations)

I came very close to leaving Turkey Red off this list.

The originals were never in much doubt. I absolutely loved Turkey Red when it originally hit the shelves in 2005, a time which I remember quite vividly. One of my card collecting friends and I used to drool every time we opened packs of the stuff.

Between the (mostly) posed shots, muted borders, and simplistic backgrounds, Topps definitely stayed true to the original Turkey Reds.

That said, they also seem to have some strange obsession with running the brand into the ground. Turkey Red popped up as an insert set for a couple years in 2009-10, and Topps is still using the design for one of their uber-high end releases these days.

Topps can do what they want, but I don't consider anything post-2007 as being the real Turkey Red.

#4 -- Topps 206 (2002, revived in 2009-10)/Topps 205 (2003) 

Topps 205 and 206 are technically two different brands, but I've decided to group them together for the sake of clarity here.

Topps followed up their successful 206 release in 2002 with Topps 205 the following year. I personally prefer Topps 206 between the two, but both are fantastic sets that honor the tobacco era.

Of course, original tobacco cards are much smaller than what we think of as the "modern" 2 1/2-by-3 1/2 inch dimensions. Topps blew the originals up to those modern standards and set them loose. I don't blame them for the alterations, as I'm not sure how well an all-mini set would work in today's hobby.

What I like most about the 205/206 brands is that Topps coupled (then) current stars with reprints of actual T206 issues, which means that forgotten guys like Buck Herzog and "Wahoo" Sam Crawford received cards in an era that was (and still is) dominated by rookies and stars.

Like Turkey Red, however, Topps crashed and burned with their attempt to revive the revived 206 a few years ago.

I'd like to forget those ever existed.

#3 -- Topps Allen and Ginter (2006-present)

You had to know this was coming.

I'm having trouble believing that A&G is almost a decade old. It seems like just yesterday that it was winning over the hearts of collectors everywhere with its debut in 2006.

Both myself and a slew of other bloggers have talked about A&G at length in the past. So much, in fact, that I'm not sure what else I can really say about it at this point.

A&G may not be the juggernaut it once was nowadays, but the brand is responsible for some of the most beautiful baseball cards in my collection.

Between Oscar Wilde, Picasso, and so many others, the set has a long history of terrific non-baseball subjects as well, which has added to its allure over the past decade.

A decade.

Time flies when you're having fun.

#2 -- Topps Heritage (2001-present)

Aside from standard Flagship, Topps Heritage is the longest-running set in existence these days.

Topps has honored every design from 1952 to '65 thus far, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

Even if I'm not particularly fond of one of the honored Topps sets during any given year (see: 1961), seeing them reappear in Heritage makes me at least go back and reconsider my opinion. I'll go on record by saying that 2014 Heritage is probably Topps' best effort yet.

I know it's a longshot, but a part of me hopes Heritage has inspired some collectors, perhaps even a few kids, to dive further into the vintage market. Weigh the pros and cons of 1960 Topps versus 1962 Topps. Experience the joys of a discounted vintage bin.

That, after all, should be the goal of a set like Heritage, shouldn't it?

#1 -- Topps All-Time Fan Favorites (2003-05)

This is card #1 of the first Fan Favorites checklist in 2003.

I don't think anyone knew what kind of monster Topps was unleashing onto the market at the time. Not even Topps.

Fan Favorites is very close to being the perfect baseball card set, as far as my collecting tastes go. Classic Topps designs. An all-retired checklist. Big checklists. And, most importantly, cards of guys who are hardly ever recognized in the hobby.

Sure, Fan Favorites has your Willie Mayses and Stan Musials, but the Dave Kingmans and Mickey Riverses of the baseball world got their fair share of the spotlight as well. The way it should be.

Sadly, Topps pulled the plug on Fan Favorites after just three years. With the way their licensing agreement is set up, it'll be a long time before we see a revival. If ever. (Yes, I know it exists in the SPs/autographs section of Archives, but it's not the same.)

If I were ever pressed to do so, I'd probably rank Fan Favorites as one of my five favorite sets of all-time.

It's far and away #1 on this list.


Mike said...

Fan Favorites and A&G were probably the most excited I saw you about baseball cards when you were younger!

I liked the Goudey reprints!

Matthew Scott said...

I've been really digging Heritage lately. I've almost completed the 2014 set. Just 15 SPs short.

I think that is a good list.

Mark Kaz said...

You know I'm a Heritage nut, but I couldn't agree more with your Fan Favorites selection for the top spot! Hoping to finish the 2005 set one of these days!