The Me Decade: Results

Thanks to the 135 of you who participated in our first poll, to determine our favorite card set of the 1970s.

Click here to read about the poll and to see images of the fronts and backs of all of these cards.

This was so successful (read: heated) that we will be running more polls in the future. Hopefully you all know that there is no correct answer (except mine), just as there is no correct answer on the best LP of the 1970s (London Calling) or the best movie of the 1970s (All the Presidents Men). This poll says as much about us as it does about the Topps card sets.

One of the requests I could have made, but did not, was that people try to discount their “nostalgia” biases — the first card sets from the childhood, etc. The reason I did not request this is because it is impossible. Nostalgia colors everything, especially baseball cards. And why shouldn’t it? Bring it, nostalgia.

What follows is the composite score of all of us poll takers. As I noted on Twitter last night, all ten card sets received all ten possible scores — our “favorite” set got last place votes, and our “least favorite” got first place votes. Which is a fantastic result.

What follows are our results, with my comments. The average score is computed as a 10 for a first place vote, 9 for a second, etc.

1. 1971 (average score 6.72, first place votes 26)

This set got the most first place votes, and the least last place votes, so it would have won no matter how I framed the poll.

Personally I love the front of the cards, maybe as much as any set ever. As a ten-year-old, the backs were very bad, both for the content and because this was the year Topps switched from the white card stock (gloriously present from 1963 through 1970) to dark grey (used for the next two decades), making reading the text much more difficult. If you came to cards a few years later, you missed this sensation.

A few people commented that they disliked cards with signatures on the front (like 1971). If you like to get your cards autographed, the card will have two signatures on it, making for a mess (As someone who dislikes my cards being defaced, I never really thought of this before. But it makes sense.) I was fascinated with the signatures — especially Fred Wenz.

2. 1970 (6.52, 21)

I voted this number 1. A lot of people dislike the “boring” grey border, or the scripted name. The backs are spectacular, of course. Personally (warning: nostalgia ahead), this set was powerful as a kid because Topps had used so many old/repeated photos the previous two years (because of the player boycott).

3. 1975 (6.21, 19)

Sets with “loud” borders tend to split the group, with many people thinking it was the best, but many (14) thinking it was the worst. This was the first set I ever finished — I shudder to think how many packs of cards I opened when I only needed 20 more cards. The math was brutal, and I was old enough (14) that I didn’t have many collecting friends to trade with. The next year I bought a complete set in the mail, saving myself a lot of money.

Several people commented that they loved this set because of all the great rookie cards, or because they loved the mini set, both of which sort of violate the “rules” I advised yesterday. But, so what? This is a fine set, and here we are.

4. 1972 (6.08, 23)

Speaking of “loud” — 23 first place votes, 15 last place votes. In early voting I thought this set might actually win. The border, it is almost hard to notice, is actually white. Inside of the border is a large multi-colored (team-specific) frame. Inside of that, if you look real close, you will notice a small photo of a baseball player. I kid, 1972, I kid.

As a child this set got me to stop collecting. I was 11 years old, and it was time to move on with my life. (I started collecting again the next year). My biggest critique at the time, besides the frame, was the lack of position on the front. I “used” my cards — sorting by teams, making rosters, moving players around as they changed real teams. I really disliked this experiment, which Topps junked the next year.

5. 1976 (5.69, 10)

A personal favorite, with its nice clean border and cool position icon on the front. Let’s say you have something you want to frame — wedding photo, Escher print, child’s painting, college diploma, etc. Would you wrap that puppy in a 1972 Topps frame, or 1975? You would not, no. For elegance, how can you beat 1976?

The backs, it must be said, were brutal — the stats are literally black text on dark green. (Also used in 1974.) Seriously, Topps? I was looking at my set a few weeks ago, and tried reading them with my regular glasses, my reading glasses, or bare-eyed up-close. Nope, nope, nope. Even as a teenager it was tough.

6. 1973 (5.67, 9)

A huge about-face after the past two years, with Topps going to the height of simplicity. They put a position icon on the front (yeah!) but made team sorting harder by de-emphasizing the team name for the first time in several years (boo!). This seems to be a fairly uncontroversial set, with few huge proponents or detractors.

7. 1974 (5.51, 15)

11.2 percent of us voted this #1. This surprised me — I don’t dislike the set at all, I am just surprised that it rose to that level for people. I am glad it did, as it helps cement in my mind the idea that all of these sets are great in their own way.

On other hand, one guy on Twitter responded to my request for opinions on these ten sets: “Hate ’em all. Topps haven’t got it right since 1967… 50 years!” That is … something else.

8. 1977 (4.86, 6)

I worry about the age bias of our group, since our favorite three 1970s sets are the “oldest”, and the bottom three sets are the youngest. This set is 40 years old, sad to say, but many of us are even older.

I put a lot of sets above this one but there is a lot to like. The position pennant, the big team name — I preferred the team name to be prominent on the card. The backs were a big step up from 1976 because they made the stats background grey, making them more readable. It was not 1969 level awesomeness, but a welcome improvement.

9. 1978 (4.47, 5)

I like this set. The fronts are pretty simple, which I tend to prefer. The backs used orange as the primary color. Viva la change!

10. 1979 (3.43, 1)

Although one respondent placed this set first, its status in last place is pretty clear. 33 tenth place votes, and 28 ninth place votes — the two highest totals in the grid.

The design is a bit boring to most people, and many commented that they did not like the Topps logo, perhaps predating the coming end to their monopoly.

As I have said many times, I have all of these sets and I like all of them. I have my favorites, to be sure.

We will run more of these polls in the future. Feel free to contact me if you have any ideas of things you want the group to weigh in on.

Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, co-chair of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

18 thoughts on “The Me Decade: Results”

  1. The position icons on the 1973 set and 1976 set are two of the greatest things ever on Topps cards. Whenever I had to do an art project in elementary school (3-8 grade), I would draw one of these. The 1975 set is hideous, and was always one of the hardest sets for me to complete.

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  2. I chose 1970 as my favorite. 1971 didn’t make the top of my list because of the backs. I loved the photo on the back of the 1971 but hated the lack of detailed career stats. As a kid, I like to read the backs of cards and the 1971 set took that joy away. I had 1979 dead last. It’s a set with no soul. I also can’t say I ranked 1975 as highly as everyone else because the garish pinks, purples, browns and oranges just are plain ugly. Great poll and I hope you do more.

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  3. Thanks for the poll!! Always interesting to see how people view this decade.

    Myself, 1st went to 1971 but could have easily been 1975. Both are great in different ways and why I put together both sets in the last few years. After the ’73 set that I’m working on, I probably won’t do another but if I did it would be 1970.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with Mark. 1970 is a great set to collect. It’s very attainable once you get past the Ryan. Plus, it’s the last set of that generation with white card stock backs. That always made it feel unique.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Regarding the age bias thing. I started collecting in the 80s, have no emotional connection to any of the 70s sets, and still prefer the early 70s sets. If anything, the late 70s sets remind me too much of the mostly-unadventurous 80s designs. Having things like 1972 and 1975 which were confident in what they were was refreshing then and is still refreshing now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Many of the sets from the 1970s seem very similar. Is this just me or does anyone agree? I bet it’s because I’m a little younger so I don’t have that same history with the 70s as I do with the 80s. Some of the 80s are extremely different such as 1987’s wood borders. Those were so unique I’m not sure any set has ever copied it since. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. I can see an argument that 73-74 and 76-85 kind of run together. All have white borders and have backs that are hard to tell apart.

      But 70-72, and 75 are all pretty different, much like 86-87 are different.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to see 1975 at least in the top 3 (but behind 1970 — ack!). My favorite decade for cards is the ’70s, mostly because that’s when I discovered them, but also because there still seemed to be a sense of adventure with the designs that decade, and we all know that sense of adventure died in the ’80s when Topps started riffing off itself. The ’75 set (and ’72 set, too) embodies that. Try something new! Bright, wild colors! The kids will love it! And, you know what, they did.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for the Poll. Fun to see how the sets rank amongst the collectors. Voted 71 first. Although 70 was the first year I collected. Still need a few 70’s to complete the 70’s run

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  8. As usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short but my rankings of the Topps sets of the 70’s are as follows
    1 – 1977 (the first year I started collecting so it gets the nostalgia vote)
    2 – 1971
    3 – 1976 (would be my No. 1 if not for the bad backs)
    4 – 1974
    5 – 1973
    6 – 1970
    7 – 1978
    8 – 1975
    9 – 1972
    10 – 1979

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We’ve talked a lot about the front of the cards. What year (during the 1970s) gets the nod for the best BACK of the card? To me, I like the little cartoon, the career stats including minor league teams, and the demographic info. A little tidbit about the player, too, is good. I like contrast in color. Different shades of gray, or okay.

    Liked by 1 person

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