Monday, December 22, 2014

The All-Time Topps Countdown: 52-42

In case you missed it, I finally got started on a long overdue project last week.

As a tribute to the late Sy Berger, the true mastermind behind Topps, I started counting down my personal ranking of every single Topps set ever produced. All 63 of them.

Thankfully, we got most of the awful efforts out of the way last time. (That's right, I'm talking to you, 1999 Topps,)

Tonight, we'll mainly be taking a look at the mediocre and average. That's an improvement, isn't it?

Without further ado, here are the next eleven sets in my All-Time Topps Countdown.


#52 -- 1998 Topps

UPS -- Some of the best photography to come out of any late '90s/early 2000's Topps set.

DOWNS -- One of the worst foil offenders and easily one of the worst designs in Topps history. Trying to find the card number on the cluttered back is like playing a game of hide-and-seek.

My two cents...

It wasn't long ago that I ranked 1998 Topps as the absolute worst in Topps history.

Admittedly, that post was thrown together in a bit of a hurry. I've had more time to ponder my feelings towards '98 Topps since then.

True, it's not one of the better designs in the Topps catalog. The borders and unreadable foil on the fronts are just plain ugly. The backs are no prize, either.

Still, the more I look at some of my '98 Topps singles, the more I realize how solid the photography was in the set. There are actually a lot of nice shots if you look closely.

I think my original problem was that I based my original ranking on the design alone. And, while design is an important part of any baseball card, you have to look a little past it to truly absorb any given set. I'm not saying I love '98 Topps or even that I like it, for that matter. But it's definitely not the worst in Topps history.

If nothing else, it deserves credit for producing one of the best cards ever.

#51 -- 1968 Topps

UPS -- The backs are solid. A lot of the bios tell it like it is. No beating around the bush. And trivia questions are always a plus.

DOWNS -- I want to commend Topps on going with something besides a white border, but...BURLAP?!?! Really?

My two cents...

I'm sure you know all about 1968 Topps by now.

It is, of course, the infamous burlap set. Save for almost anything from the late '90s/early 2000's, it might just be the worst border choice in Topps history. Hence, its placement in the lower reaches of this countdown.

It's a bit saddening, given that I enjoy the backs quite a bit. A good number of the bios I've read are brutally honest, which is the way to go. If the guy sucked last year, tell me he sucked. Don't sugarcoat it.

The sophomore jinx struck Jay last season. His batting average dipped over 50 points...

You'll get 'em next year, Jay.

#50 -- 2012 Topps

UPS -- A lot of nice action shots. No hunting for the card number on the back, which has been a problem in other recent Topps sets.

DOWNS -- Please, don't even get me started on the foil again. The surfboards are definitely not up, dudes. No position on the front. Impossibly loud backs.

My two cents...

I keep waffling back and forth on 2012 Topps.

I didn't like it much when it first came out, but I started to warm up to it as 2012 rolled along. Now, I'm back to viewing it as a mediocre effort. At best.

Save for 2007, 2012 Topps probably features the worse usage of foil in the last fifteen years or so. My scanner would agree. (Pablo does have a last name, in case you can't tell.)

The surfboard design isn't one of my favorites. As I mentioned last week, the lack of positions on the fronts of baseball cards bothers me. But, like most recent Topps sets, there's a good handful of terrific action shots in this checklist, which saves it from being in the bottom ten in this countdown.

You can thank guys like Kung Fu Panda for that.

#49 -- 1961 Topps

UPS -- The different colored nameplates and team boxes on the front make some cards stand out. The italicized team and position listings on the back are a nice touch as well. And cartoons rule!

DOWNS -- The first unequivocally average Topps set, in my opinion. I can't name a ton of memorable cards offhand, which is rare for anything vintage.

My two cents...

Now we're starting to get into the average years of Topps.

I'm fairly indifferent towards most of the sets in the remainder of this post. Those, I think, make them the hardest to write about.

I don't think 1961 Topps has ever knocked anyone's socks off. I've never really paid much attention to it. I don't hate the design because there honestly isn't much to hate. Or like, for that matter. Like most other vintage Topps sets, the backs are solid.

Bring back the cartoons, Topps!

#48 -- 1985 Topps

UPS -- I've always liked the big, bold team names on the front. The backs have some of the best bio tidbits of any Topps set. (Al Oliver sure likes his cologne.)

DOWNS -- Fairly unspectacular photography. Some of the most unattractive and difficult-to-read backs in Topps history.

My two cents...

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for 1985 Topps because I'm pretty sure it was one of the first Topps sets I ever saw as a young collector.

While some of the color schemes might be questionable (why black for the Phillies?), I do like the big team name boxes on the front.

In the end, the backs prevented '85 Topps from being higher on this list. Topps did come up with some great bio blurbs for a lot of guys. The only problem is actually reading them.

Red and green do not mix.

#47 -- 1979 Topps

UPS -- I rather enjoy the prominence of the old-time Topps logo on the front. Colorful team banners.

DOWNS -- Colorful banners are nice, but the lack of team coordination is a bit peculiar. Not much of a goldmine for photography. Backs are a little cluttered.

My two cents...

The only thing that particularly grabs me about 1979 Topps is the giant Topps logo on the front.

Other than that, it's an almost perfectly average design. The photos are decent, but not all that captivating like a lot of other '70s Topps sets. The team banners are both good and bad. Good for the vivacious colors, bad for the lack of coordination.

Since when have the Rangers ever been associated with yellow and red?

#46 -- 1984 Topps

UPS -- I like the dueling action/portrait shots in the front. The elevator text on the team names stands out. The blue borders on the back really pop.

DOWNS -- A shameless ripoff of 1983 Topps in almost every way. Judging by what I just talked about with '85 Topps, I guess Topps didn't learn that bright red text on the back isn't a wise choice.

My two cents...

Taken on its own, 1984 Topps is actually a fine design.

The only problem is the fact that Topps basically plagiarized itself. The dueling shots on the front are straight out of '83 Topps. To me, the fact that Topps recycled their design from the year prior basically questions the intelligence of its consumer base.

What, did they think we weren't going to notice?

While there are some things to like about '84 Topps, I can't get past the pure laziness of the design.

#45 -- 1980 Topps

UPS -- Banners always make cards feel a little fancier. The home plate-shaped box for the card number is a neat little innovation. More cartoons!

DOWNS -- More lack of color-coordination on the position/team banners. Not a great use of facsimile signatures.

My two cents...

My God!

What's that crawling up Steve Yeager's arm?! Oh, it's just his autograph. This is basically why I'm for the abolition of facsimile signatures all together. They're just plain distracting nine times out of ten.

Like '79 Topps, 1980 Topps earns points for using banners on the front. At the same time, however, it loses points for not color-coordinating them.

Get your colors under control, Topps.

#44 -- 2014 Topps

UPS -- While overused, at least silver foil on white borders is readable. A fair helping of nice action shots. WAR isn't the be-all, end-all stat for me, but it's nice to see Topps dipping their toes in the sabermetric water.

DOWNS -- Too many generic, boring "game-faced" action shots. Team names are too scrunched on the front. Backs are way too busy.

My two cents...

I've warmed up a bit to 2014 Topps since it first hit the shelves back in January.

It's not one of my favorite Topps designs, but there's enough going on to make it passable. The design has definitely grown on me. Still, Topps is getting too action-heavy these days. A nice mix of action shots and poses make for the best sets, if you ask me. Topps doesn't seem to recognize that.

The inclusion of WAR on the backs will probably be the one thing we most remember about 2014 Topps in, say, ten years. Maybe they'll be exclusively sabermetric by then.

In the end, it's hard to rank a set that just came out in relation to something from the 1980s. For now, 2014 Topps sits at #44, but I bet it'll waver in the coming years.

Whether it wavers up or down is anyone's guess.

#43 -- 1988 Topps

UPS -- The colorful, bolded team names grab the attention. The backs are some of the best of the overproduction era. A buddy of mine named his entire blog in honor of them.

DOWNS -- The photography is one big, fat yawner. And, I know I'm really harping on this, but the color-coordination of the team names and nameplates is hopelessly out-of-sync.

My two cents...

Did I miss something?

Did the people at Topps have some kind of secret code for selecting color schemes in the '80s? It's either that or they just picked them out of a hat. Red and yellow for the Yankees? Sure, let's do it.

That aside, there's not a ton to say about 1988 Topps. The photography doesn't stand out in any way, but the bright orange backs sure do. All told, I've probably seen more singles from this set than any other in the brand's 63-year history. 

Every card collector has an unwanted stash of 1988 Topps somewhere in their house.

#42 -- 1966 Topps

UPS -- A fair, mostly unintrusive design. More terrific cartoons on the back. The card-number-inside-a-baseball is a nice touch. (Although someone colored it in with pink marker on this particular card.)

DOWNS -- Not a very flashy set at all. The various bio information on the back (height, weight, etc.) should be a bit more prominent.

My two cents...

I have a hard time writing about sets like 1966 Topps.

Honestly, what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? It's nice. Not too loud, I guess. It's hard to hate, but hard to like at the same time since nothing particularly stands out.

I'm sorry to close out tonight's post on such an indifferent note, but I'm almost perfectly emotionless when it comes to 1966 Topps.

Tune in next time for the next series in this countdown.

I'll have more to say then.


JediJeff said...

My two cents: 2014 is ranked too high. Easier should be fighting for a position in the 50's,

Zippy Zappy said...

It's always interesting for me to hear other people's opinions on '79 Topps. Personally it's in the top five for me :).

hiflew said...

Whoa! I'm shocked to see 1984 so low. I understand your completely valid points, but the only inclusion of logos on the card backs made it a top 30 set easily in my book. Of course the great thing about lists like this is that no two people's lists will be exactly alike and in some cases very different.

Fuji said...

Love these posts buddy! It's a great idea plus it's awesome to see what everyone else thinks as well.

Okay... I'm gonna leave my feedback for this series, 3 Bears Style:

Too High: 1988 - I think it's my least favorite set design from he 80's.

Too Low: 1984 - I'd probably put this set in my Top 25... maybe Top 20.

Just Right: 1966 - I'd definitely agree that this design is okay... hard to hate... but at the same time nothing to great either.

night owl said...

Love the '88 design -- I think I've done enough of these rankings that I don't have to explain why, but I love the minimalist look combined with the bold team names and the overlapping over those names.

Mike said...

80,84 and 88 would all be higher in the rankings for me....we're gonna talk about this next time I see you!...haha!!

sg488 said...

63?,I assume you are not including 1951 Topps?

Anonymous said...

Get out the torches and pitchforks!

I was pretty much with you on the first post, but this post is where we start to diverge...

I would've ranked 1985 and 1988 higher... and in general I don't have a problem with ranking 1979 and 1980 this low, but lower than 1981? Say it ain't so!

You've got me wanting to do my own rankings, let's see if I ever find the time to do it.