Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: The set countdown

Tonight, we'll continue with yet another end-of-year countdown here on the blog.

Yesterday, it was my Top Ten cards of the Year. Today, we'll be looking at my own personal ranking of the sets we saw hit the shelves in 2014.

In order for a product to qualify for this list, I have to have either bought at least one pack of the stuff at some point during the year OR have picked up an ample amount of the singles from other sources. (Namely, dime boxes, of course.)

While I have surprisingly found a few cards from a set like Museum Collection, for example, the three I own aren't nearly enough to be able to talk about it for more than a sentence or two. So you won't be seeing it here tonight. (Am I the last Trevor Bauer fan out there?)

In the end, thirteen different 2014 sets qualified for inclusion in this countdown.

We'll start at the bottom of the barrel and work our way to the top.

#13 -- Donruss

I was reading through an old post of mine last night when I came across this nugget of a quote.

"They [Panini] even have a Donruss revival on tap for 2014. I'm already getting excited for that....I think it'll be a real treat."

If only I knew how wrong I'd be.

Panini's 2014 Donruss revival was a good idea, in theory. But the final product was a flat-out nightmare. The '78 Topps/'87 Donruss mesh didn't turn out very well, and the lack of logos stuck out like a sore thumb.

I probably picked up close to a hundred Donruss singles in dime boxes throughout the course of the year for my various player collections. People seemed eager to unload these things as soon as they hit the shelves. You can count the number of memorable cards from this set on one hand.

Actually, you can count them on no hands, because there weren't any.

#12 -- Prizm

Only Donruss saved Prizm from coming in dead last for the second straight year.

I've said all there is to say about this set over the course of this blog's history. I don't see a real point in this set being on the market at all. It doesn't hit any kind of niche in the card industry.

Amazingly, 2014 marked Prizm's three-year anniversary.

How it's managed to hang around for three years, I'll never know.

#11 -- Gypsy Queen

I've made no effort to hide my apathy towards Gypsy Queen.

I didn't like it when it first hit the shelves in 2011, and it's only gotten worse since then. The boring designs are all starting to blend together to me. I probably won't be able to tell 2014 from any of the others at this point next year.

The sad part is that I want GQ to impress me. I don't go in to every card season saying Okay, let's see how much I can hate Gypsy Queen this year. Every season is a clean slate. But GQ has been a disappointment time and time again.

I don't see that changing anytime soon.

#10 -- Topps Chrome

It's hard for me to talk about Topps Chrome since Topps has basically been using the same formula with this brand since the mid '90s.

Chromify the Flagship base set, throw in some colorful refractors, add a few die-cut inserts, and repeat.

It's not that I dislike Topps Chrome or anything. I'll still gladly pick these things up in dime boxes whenever I get the chance, far from the begrudging Do I really have to buy this? feeling I get from Donruss or Prizm.

It's just that the OOH, CHROME!!!! thing stopped impressing me about ten years ago.

#9 -- Bowman

I still can't believe what I'm about to say, but here goes.

I actually didn't hate this year's Bowman design. The foil is still crap, but I kind of enjoyed the semi-colorful layout this year. And the big "B" inside the baseball in the corner was a fine touch as well.

Bowman will never be the best set around, but at least there's still a slight glimmer of hope.

#8 -- Archives

It seems like I say this every year, but there is no set with more missed potential than Archives.

Everything about it is so underwhelming. Topps needs to learn that there's a difference between simply recycling and old design and truly honoring it with Archives.

I love the look of '73 Topps, but the design alone isn't what makes it one of my favorite checklists in Topps history. The quirky photography is a big reason why '73 Topps so special, and anything truly honoring the iconic set would seek to replicate the sheer oddness of it.

We don't get any of that in Archives. Like all the other designs in this year's release, Topps simply used close-up, generic acton shots in the '73 Topps portion of the checklist. And not to mention they lopped off a couple years from Carlos Beltran's career stats on the back, for some reason.

At this point, I've pretty much given up on Archives.

Expect a similar monologue at this time next year, folks.

#7 -- Bowman Chrome

It took Bowman Chrome three years to qualify for one of these set countdown lists.

That's because 2014 was the first time in, well...ever that I voluntarily sought out Bowman Chrome singles. I've picked up a decent chunk of them over the last couple months without buying a single pack.

The fronts are the same as always. I'm not usually big on most Bowman designs to begin with, and chromifying them doesn't change that. That was certainly the case with this year's offering.

No, it was the backs that really intrigued me. Your standard batting average, home run, and ERA numbers went out the window in favor of full sabermetric picture charts. Perhaps this'll usher in a revolution in the world of baseball card backs.

Bowman Chrome could become a pioneer.

I sure never thought I'd say that in my lifetime.

#6 -- Opening Day

Like so many of these other sets, I've already talked at length about Opening Day in the past.

The inserts are among the best in the business, but almost all of the base cards are merely stunt doubles for Flagship. It feels like I'm buying the same card twice a lot of the time.

If Topps included some new photos in this set, then they'd really have something. Opening Day already has the no-foil thing going for it, which is a big plus. There's a lot of potential here, if Topps ever wants to try and capitalize on it.

Opening Day is always good for a cheap retail break every now and then, but not much more.

#5 -- Allen & Ginter

To me, 2014 A&G had the biggest improvement for any brand this year.

A&G had been on a long string of underwhelming efforts in the past. I hadn't truly enjoyed anything from the brand since 2010. That changed this year.

The design was clean and refreshing without getting in the way, capturing the elegance that A&G brought to the table back during its original release in 2006. I'm hoping it's a sign of things to come down the road.

Just when I was about to leave A&G for dead, Topps came along and gave it a heartbeat again this year.

#4 -- Flagship

For the first time in my three years of making these lists, Flagship failed to occupy the #1 slot.

It earned top honors in 2013 without much of a fight. It was even #1 in 2012, but that says more about the quality of cards that were on the shelves that year than anything else.

This year's design didn't grab me from the start, but I've slowly started to come around it as the months have gone by. There was certainly a lot of room for improvement, but 2014 Flagship had enough memorable moments to at least make it respectable in my eyes. And, hey, there's even WAR on the backs.

It's right around average in the long and hallowed history of Topps.

#3 -- Panini Golden Age

I know I'm one of the extreme few Golden Age fanboys out there.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I absolutely love this brand. Always have, and, as long as Panini keeps putting it out, I always will.

My non-sports collection owes a great deal of gratitude to Golden Age. And, while they don't feature logos, the cards of under-the-radar names such as Curt Flood and Harvey Haddix are a great challenge to the Tom Seavers and Nolan Ryans we've seen over and over again in recent Topps sets.

The design is colorful and in-your-face. It may be distracting to some, but I see it as the epitome for everything Golden Age tries to represent. Whether we're talking baseball or whatever else, the Golden Age of something stands out from the pack. That's exactly what this design does.

You won't get it confused with anything Topps is putting on the shelves these days.

#2 -- Heritage

I've been waiting for 2014 Topps Heritage ever since I got back into baseball cards in 2005.

While I've said it time and time again, 1965 Topps is my all-time favorite design. And that's including all cards, not just Topps.

Heritage has been a little off the past couple years, so I was scared that Topps might screw up their one chance to honor the beauty that is '65 Topps. My worries went for naught, because Topps absolutely nailed it with this year's Heritage.

In the end, 2014 Heritage did a perfect job of actually honoring '65 Topps, back and front. They didn't merely recycle the design, as Archives is so prone to doing.

It's hard to put into words, but there's something very '65 Topps-ish about poses like this Mike Trout. I can look at this card and instantly be reminded of the real '65s I'm lucky enough to own.

That's all I can ask out of Heritage.

You'd think that a set honoring my all-time favorite design would be #1 by a long shot on this list. In any other year, it would have been.

But not 2014.

#1 -- Stadium Club

No set impressed me more than Stadium Club this year.

I remember when I first heard that Stadium Club was going to make a comeback in 2014. I thought it was a good idea, but I didn't think it'd be anything that different from what Topps was already giving us.

Yeah. Think again, Nick.

It's been over a month since I scored over 100 Stadium Club singles from a card show dime box, and I'm still reeling from all the sheer beauty in this set.

The minimalist design is perfect for something like Stadium Club, in that it gets the hell out of the way and lets the pictures do the talking. Most sets are made up of mostly average cards supplemented by a few great ones.

Stadium Club is the exact inverse of that. The staggering number of gems scattered across the checklist are easily able to suppress the extreme few duds around them.

Plans for 2015 Stadium Club are already underway, and I couldn't be more excited about it.

There's little doubting that the hobby is better when Stadium Club is around.

I think 2014 did a great job of showcasing that very fact.


Big Tone said...

I feel like such a newb when I read these posts because I haven't collected recently enough to know product.I did however pick up a few of the Panini Donruss packs and really enjoyed them.Maybe I am In the minority ,lol!One brand that really got me into the hobby back In '05 '06 was Topps Turkey Red.Then they started to get the "CHROME" treatment and I was like "whatever".

JediJeff said...

I sort of liked GQ this year. Better looking than the '13 release, and the ton of throwback images in it were a treat. Not too many recycled images in GQ when compared to other Topps releases this year.

Kevin Papoy said...

Besides Golden Age, I'd probably rank those sets the same way you did !

BobWalkthePlank said...

Hard not to pick Stadium Club number one.

The Junior Junkie said...

You got #1 right, sir. Awesome set.