This article http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=31368 is an affront to baseball card aesthetics. 15 supposed “experts” ranked the design of the 10 years of Topps baseball cards from 1980-1989, somehow coming to the conclusion that 1986 was the best. They could not be more wrong. The 1986 set is one of the worst on record and is an embarrassment to the fine people at Topps. A lazier design you will not fine. Of course once I read their results (and calmed down from hysterical anger) I decided I needed to take to the ol’ blog and explain why they were so wrong. So here goes…
Seriously. *THIS* is what they chose as the best card design of the 80’s? Makes me wanna gag. First off the plain black top/white bottom border is lamer than lame, with no texture, no color, no pizzazz. Then we have that butt ugly team font up top, which is just weird looking for no stylistic reason I can find. Given the plain black background you think they could have done something to spice it up, like maybe giving the lettering an outline using the team’s secondary color. Something. ANYTHING! Just a lazy design. (I also have to add, though this means nothing to the rating, that the ’86 set was the worst cut set in history. So many of my cards from that year were uneven. Total rush job. I’m angry just thinking about it. Let’s move on.)
About the only positive thing I can say about this set is that I liked how the team name appeared on the photo itself yet was layered in behind the player portion. That took some doing and the effort did not go unappreciated. The problems with the rest of the card are multiple. Layout wise there’s nothing really fun happening, with the name appearing in a bland diagonal box. I’m also not a fan of the font style. And where the hell is the position?! As a kid who spent many hours using my cards to create fantasy line-ups or any assortment of fake teams, having the player’s position visible on the front was invaluable. Why they ever chose to leave it off for three years running from 87-89 boggles my mind.
A mildly offensive design, it has some nice ideas (the team name down the side is a cool touch and I liked the two-year run of inset phots), but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. The thick borders and the inset combine to leave us with the smallest main photo that I can recall, which isn’t a good thing. While I like the insets, I don’t care for the colored background in them, especially since they were inconsistent and didn’t represent the team’s secondary color. I would have preferred leaving the natural background of the headshot and using the secondary color for the name and/or position. Not horrible, but could have been better.
I generally like this design because I’m a fan of the cursive team font and the way it flowed into the banner for the player name. It’s fluid and yet easy to read. I also like how they used the team’s secondary color for the border and the way they rounded off the upper left-hand corner of said border just for a little contrast (and to mirror the lower right corner of the banner). Again, the lack of a position indicated on the front was of great annoyance to me and they seemed to leave a bit more white border around the card itself than was necessary.
The ’82 design was an interesting one because they really tried something new with the “hockey stick” border. I like the look, I just wish they would have stuck to primary team colors rather than shoehorning weird colors like pink, orange and brown onto a bunch of them for no discernable reason. For some weird reason they also chose to make the Topps logo extra big this year, which is distracting. It seems obtrusive right on top of the team name like it is. Bonus points for once again including autographs which they had skipped over in ’81 and then dropped altogether after this year for the remainder of the decade. (Unofficial bonus points for giving us a card for the immortal Shooty Babitt, one of the more underrated baseball names of all-time.)
I started collecting baseball cards in 1981, so this set has a bit of a soft spot in my heart. That said I also liked the baseball cap design, especially since they went through the trouble of two-toning the cap colors to match the actual uniform (see Blue Jays example above). I also like the white interior border which just gives everything a little extra kick without cutting too much into the photo space. (Bonus appreciation for being the set that delivered the rookie card for my favorite non-Red Sox player as a kid, the vastly underappreciated Lloyd Moseby.)
The ’87 set seems to be the most polarizing of the decade with people either loving or hating the woodgrain background. I happened to love it, which is why this series ranks so high with me. I like that it gives each card a plaque kind of feel, making them feel like miniature trophies in a way. It also gives the design a texture that remains neutral when it comes to team colors. I do have to dock the design a bit for beginning the trend of leaving the position off (for SHAME, boys), but they won me over that year by bringing back the little “All-Star Rookie” logo for the top first year guys as well as briefly introducing the “Future Stars” cards for guys who were on the rise. Another huge bonus here is that it is one of only two designs from the decade that brings the actual team logo into play rather than a generic font that says “RED SOX”. Logos, like uniforms, change over time and it’s fun to see that progression right out in front on the face.
I only own a small handful of cards from this series due to my actual collecting days not commencing until the year following. I’ve always loved this design though, as the double banner look (complete with subtle shadowing!) has a gentle elegance to it. As mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of the autograph overlay, so that’s a plus. Negatives include the randomness of the position banner color (pink rears its ugly head in some places) even though the team banner generally uses the franchise’s primary color. Again, the team generally gives at least two colors – USE ‘EM!
My one and only complaint about this design is that it’s a bit busy for a baseball card. I like the way they handled the inset photo here, the circle being much smoother than the square box they followed up with in ’84. Meanwhile the info is all neatly presented with some very cool borders that they nicely tied directly into the Topps logo for a nice touch. Best of all they used the proper team coloring for the borders (with the possible exception of the Brewers winding up with green as a color), which is such a huge part of the aesthetic that they generally get wrong. Love this design.
My favorite design from the decade because it delivers everything I want in a simple design that is neither boring nor too busy. We get the actual team logo in conjunction with a team name box banner (which can be helpful when you spend as much time sorting and re-sorting as I did as a kid). The player name and position are both provided and all the info is in an easy to read font. Of course all of this might just be a case of extreme bias as this was the first set I managed to collect all the cards for, but I still think it’s the best overall design. The stupid poll I referenced above had this 8th out of 10. They are horribly mistaken.
1980 ~ Woof (3rd), “the experts” (5th)
1981 ~ Woof (5th), “the experts” (9th)
1982 ~ Woof (6th), “the experts” (2nd)
1983 ~ Woof (2nd), “the experts” (4th)
1984 ~ Woof (8th), “the experts” (10th)
1985 ~ Woof (1st), “the experts” (8th)
1986 ~ Woof (10th), “the experts” (1st)
1987 ~ Woof (4th), “the experts” (3rd)
1988 ~ Woof (9th), “the experts” (7th)
1989 ~ Woof (7th), “the experts” (6th)
I’ll be back later with a look at the 70’s. Try to contain your excitement.