Monday, January 12, 2015

The All-Time Topps Countdown: 41-31

And we're back.

After a series of delays and other unfortunate events, I'm proud to announce the return of my All-Time Topps Countdown posts I started last month, a tribute to the late Sy Berger.

If you missed the first two installments, I'm ranking each of the sixty-three sets Topps has issued over the past six decades. (1951 Topps not included.)

This will be the last post to feature eleven sets. All the rest from here on out will have ten.

Let's rank some Topps, shall we?

#41 -- 1962 Topps

UPS -- Has a very vintage-y feel, even if it might not be one of the more popular old-time designs. The beginnings of wood-grain borders. Great cartoons on the back.

DOWNS -- Not all that flashy. Some of the nameplates/team names are difficult to read at times.

My two cents...

Had I made this list last year or the year before, 1962 Topps might've been near the bottom of the barrel.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I started to develop a healthy appreciation for it. I'm not sure what exactly I found so off-putting. The design probably won't blow anyone away, but it's not bad enough warrant the hate I'd been heaping on it prior to last year.

Whether you like '62 Topps or not, you have to admit that it's one of the more recognizable sets of the vintage era.

#40 -- 2006 Topps

UPS -- For the most part, the ribbon-themed design is nice and stays out of the way. Colorful backs. And are those cartoons I see?!

DOWNS -- Foil. Foil. FOIL! Fairly boring photography on the whole.

My two cents...

I tried not to let personal nostalgia play a role in my rankings, but I think some of it came through with 2006 Topps.

I really shouldn't like this set very much. The foil really isn't as bad as my scanner would have you believe, but, as I've said over and over again, silver foil on a black backdrop is NEVER a good idea. Overall, this set is just plain bland.

Still, I have a lot of fond memories of going down to the local Target and busting packs of 2006 Topps with a friend of mine back when I was in eighth grade. I had just started to get back into baseball cards and managed to rope my buddy along for the ride.

There are some design-centric qualities I enjoy about '06 Topps. The return of cartoons on the back is a big one. But, as much as I tried to fight it, I think that darn nostalgia boosted this set up a few notches.


#39 -- 2010 Topps

UPS -- Solid photography. Love the prominence of the team logos on the front. The color-coordinated "waves" on the left sides of each card are a big plus as well.

DOWNS -- Names/positions should be a little more prominent on the front. Cluttered backs.

My two cents...

While it was present the year before, 2010 was when I really started to notice that Topps had upped their game in the photography department.

There are terrific shots scattered all around this checklist. Plus, I'm almost always a fan of color-coordination, and this design certainly has that. That said, the positions and nameplates are a bit scrunched as a result, which I never like to see.

Looking back, I think 2010 Topps suffers a bit from being sandwiched in between two sets I enjoy quite a bit. Maybe it should be a tad higher.

Always second guessing myself is the most aggravating part of these countdowns.

#38 -- 1969 Topps

UPS -- Boring to some, back-to-basics for me. There's a certain understated quality to this set that I can't help but enjoy, for some reason. The back design is easily one of my all-time favorites.

DOWNS -- Tons of airbrushed and/or recycled photos. The name/position bubble has a tendency to be intrusive.

My two cents...

I have a feeling I'm going to catch a bit of flack for this one.

By no means am I saying that I love 1969 Topps. It's a flawed set, as anyone will tell you. Due to a spat with the player's association at the time, Topps couldn't use current photos of its subjects. I've found shots that date back to at least 1964 (if not earlier) within the '69 Topps gallery.

What I think gets lost in these types of discussions at times is that there's a difference between a boring set and an understated set. To me, 1969 Topps is the latter. If you throw the outdated photography out the window, you have a back-to-basics design that I enjoy quite a bit.

And that's not even mentioning that the backs are among my favorites in the Topps catalog. Nothing gets in the way of anything. Great bios, readable stat lines, info boxes, cartoons, these have it all.

Plus, while I may not be a big fan of pink in my day-to-day life, I love the way it looks on baseball cards.

#37 -- 1993 Topps

UPS -- Ribbons on the front give off a fancy feel. Terrific photography. This set has some of my favorite horizontal cards ever produced.

DOWNS -- No position on the front. Backs are way, way too loud and unreadable.

My two cents...

One of the biggest downsides of the overproduction era was that companies didn't seem to have any confidence in their own abilities.

In a time where quantity was king, the design definitely suffered. Sure, some sets managed to stand out, but those were more the exception than the rule.

I might point to 1993 Topps as the specific moment when cards began to feel fancy again. The ribbons are a splendid touch to what might've otherwise been a pretty bland set. Are there flaws here? Sure. The backs are awful, and I would've loved to see positions on the front. But, all in all, this is a solid design.

It's just a shame that Topps had to beat the whole "fancy" thing into the ground for the rest of the '90s.

#36 -- 1994 Topps

UPS -- More solid photography. I'm not sure what to call it exactly, but I rather enjoy the "half-pentagon" design. Love the prominence of the bonus photos on the back as well.

DOWNS -- NO CURSIVE, TOPPS! Generally not a fan of black text on red backgrounds, as we have on the back.

My two cents...

In an odd twist of fate, 1993 and '94 Topps managed to occupy consecutive spots in this countdown.

The one big roadblock for 1994 Topps is the prominence of cursive on the front. It's very 1970 Topps-ish, which is not a compliment.

Apart from that, I've always thought that '94 is one of the more underrated sets in the Topps catalog. I almost never hear anything about it, which is a little disappointing. The "half-pentagon" is a great touch (anyone have a better name for it?), and, like '93 Topps, there's a ton of nice photography hiding under the surface here.

Heck, George Brett alone probably boosted it up a few slots in this countdown.

#35 -- 1978 Topps

UPS -- A solid, understated design. Terrific mix of poses and action shots. Working baseballs into the design is always a plus. Anyone wanna have a game of PLAY BALL?

DOWNS -- Again, cursive on the team names, although I'm a little more flexible here because of how groovy the wavy text is.

My two cents...

This is one of those sets that I find hard to discuss at length.

That's probably because either a) 1978 Topps has already been talked about so much in the past, or b) there isn't much to talk about in the first place. Maybe a little of both. Other than the wavy team names, what's there to discuss?

I guess what I like most about '78 Topps is its healthy balance of posed and action shots. There's enough of both in here to satisfy either end of the spectrum.

That's the way it should be.

#34 -- 1989 Topps

UPS -- Ribbons, yay! Brief sparks of photographical greatness. Again, working baseballs into the back design is genius. PINK!

DOWNS -- No positions on the front. Even with the small glimmers of greatness, not much to love about the photo selection overall.

My two cents...

Second guessing can go both ways.

While I admitted to possibly rating sets like 2010 Topps too low, I'm starting to think that I rated 1989 Topps too high. I do enjoy this design quite a bit, but I'm not sure if I like it enough to warrant the #34 slot.

The backs are terrific, but the photography isn't anything to write home about. Perhaps I did rank '89 Topps a couple slots too high.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for ribbons.

#33 -- 1967 Topps

UPS -- Another pleasing, understated design. (Notice a trend?) Team/player names are prominent without being intrusive.

DOWNS -- Nix the facsimile signatures. Generally not a fan of vertical backs, although these almost manage to make them work.

My two cents...

I know there are a lot of big '67 Topps fans out there, but I've never been one of them.

Granted, I do enjoy this set, but I don't have an overwhelming attachment to it. As I've said a few times in this post, I'm not sure that there's anything to get that excited about in the first place. (Can you tell I'm starting to run out of things to say about these middle-of-the-pack sets?)

Keith Olbermann presented his own Tribute to Sy a few weeks ago, one that mentioned a fascinating little tidbit about '67 Topps.

I'm convinced it helped give this set a little extra shove in my countdown.

#32 -- 2005 Topps

UPS -- Big, fat nameplates at the top definitely distinguish these from any other Topps set in recent memory. Dual-colored photo borders are a nice touch.

DOWNS -- Vertical team/nameplates are unnecessarily distracting. Photo size is too small. Backs are too cluttered.

My two cents...

Congrats, 2005 Topps.

Numerically speaking, you are officially the most average set in Topps history. At #32, you're right smack dab in the middle of this countdown.

Again, nostalgia might've played a bit of a role in my ranking here, as I opened quite a bit of '05 Topps when I was starting to get back into baseball cards as an awkward young adolescent.

True, it's far from perfect. Like a lot of recent Topps sets, the backs are uninspired. And there should be a law banning vertical team and/or nameplates.

Still, those dominating last names at the top of every card are unique. Not to get into a big tangent here, but unique is a word that has lost almost all of its meaning in recent days. People (ahem, media) throw it around rather arbitrarily and without reason.

But, as far as I'm concerned, those big, bold nameplates earn every letter of the word unique.

#31 -- 2009 Topps

UPS -- The real turning point in terms of photography. Solid design, especially the base-themed team logos. Six Degrees of Mantle!

DOWNS -- This set might've been in the Top 20 had it not been for that annoying foil. Card numbers are a strain to read.

My two cents...

I know you don't want to hear my foil spiel again, so I'll stick it in my back pocket for now.

I'll just say that had it not been for that stupid foil, 2009 Topps would be a lot higher on my list. I like almost everything else about this set. The design, the backs, all of it. Topps even managed to turn their Mickey Mantle love fest into a stroke of genius with the Six Degrees of Mantle innovation.

As the time goes on, though, the one thing I'll remember about 2009 Topps is the photography. From about 2005 to 2008, Topps woefully slacked on putting any type of effort into the image department. For a photography nut like myself, it was basically the Dark Ages for baseball cards.

But then along came 2009 Topps, and that all went out the window. We've definitely seen a spike in attractive photography in recent years. There's little doubting that 2009 Topps is to thank for that.

Had we seen another five years of sets like 2007 Topps, I might've abandoned Flagship all together.

That alone warrants 2009 Topps a special place in my collection.


Marcus said...

I know that the '93 set isn't popular w/many collectors, but it's one of my all time favorite sets, warts and all - it and the '92 set were the ones I cut my teeth on. Conversely, I really don't like any of the other Topps sets from the '90s, because I didn't think any of them were as good as those two.

I think the '69 set is pretty boring, but I like it because it was the first set that the Padres appeared in - albeit with a lot of blacked out hats.

hiflew said...

Wow, I am shocked to see 1962 that low. I had it #2 overall. I have always thought that the poster on a fence look encompassed that time period perfectly. Every time I look at a card from that set, I picture myself walking down a sidewalk and peeking through a knothole beside of that poster. But as I have said before, that's the great thing about countdowns like these.

Reds Card Collector said...

The 1967 set is a thing of beauty because of it's simplicity. My favorite of that decade is the 65 set, but the 67 set is simple and elegant. I love the green backs of the cards and the fact that most of the card is taken up by the photo.

GCA said...

Silver foil is much better on contrasting black than on white, like 2004, 05, 06, 08, and 11 thru 14.

shoeboxlegends said...

Great post Nick! Looking forward to the rest of the countdown, and we're not far off from each other apparently in our cardboard tastes, as many of my favorites are still left!

Adam Kaningher said...

1994 Topps I'd just call the Home Plate set.

Anonymous said...

I will freely admit that I'm far from objective when it comes to "my babies", the sets from 1974 to 1978... the first five sets I collected.

I can appreciate that 1978 is not everybody's favorite set, and I don't even begrudge you ranking it in the middle of the pack.

...But behind 1989?


My name is Inigo Shlabotnik.
You dishonored one of my favorite sets.
Prepare to die.

The Junior Junkie said...

I like 1989. There I said it.