Starting in the late 1980s, I can no longer remember the year of Topps base card sets from simply eyeballing the design. For the most part, I can only give you a ballpark estimation of the year based on the player. This stems from buying the factory sets, sorting, putting them in binders, and immediately archiving them in the card closet.
Contributing to this “one and done” approach to collecting modern cards is my curmudgeonly insistence that current designs are either lame or too similar from one year to the next. To try and break from my “old school” mindset, I took a fresh look at each of the sets from the first decade of the 2000s. What follows is one old curmudgeon’s ranking of the cards based solely on design.
Bringing up the rear of the decade rankings is 2007. This one falls in my pet peeve wheelhouse by using foil lettering. The letters are very difficult to read, due to insufficient contrast, which renders the whole purpose of identifying players and teams moot. Also, what is with the corner dots? They remind me of the test pattern from the field of vision test I routinely take as part of my glaucoma treatment. The black borders are acceptable but not the “day-glow” green statistics box on the back. The entirety of design is a complete “excrement show.”
2001 falls into awful category as well. First off, this is the 50th Anniversary year for Topps. A design that paid homage to Topps past glories seems like a logical approach. Instead we get teal borders and gold foil lettering! Teal? You’ve got to be kidding me! Sy Berger would have turned over in his grave had he been dead at the time.
At number eight I present 2002 in all its “puke” gold glory. This is not an attractive color. It reminds me of the color of my first car, a 1972 four-door Plymouth Valiant with a black vinyl top. Also, are the ribbons supposed to be “gonfalons” floating in the stadium breeze? Well, the gonfalon bubble burst, and the design is weighty with nothing but trouble. “Stinky (Davis)-to-Stanky-to-Sauer”
2000 and 2006 both suffer from the foil legibility issue, but 2006 gets props for including a cartoon on the back instead of a photo. Do we really need photos on the back? This generally means fewer statistics and limited or no biographical information. How are kids supposed to who led the Sally League in triples in 1998?
Topps stepped up its game in 2005 by introducing white borders and team names, utilizing team word marks. But, why did they put only the player’s last name in bold letters at the top? The vertical placement of the players position is weird as well. Kudos for having lengthy biographical material.
2009 has some positive elements such white borders and logo placement, but the hard to read foil “foils” the overall aesthetic.
Because it harkens back to past sets, I like the 2003 set with the picture-in-picture look. If only Topps had used black and white photos with poorly airbrushed logos like 1963, it would be the winner. The back has most of the good elements, apart from a cartoon.
I must admit that 2004 is a great look. The team name in foil is very visible against the white background. I love the drawing of a player representing the position of the person on the card.
As nice as the design is in 2004, it must take runner up status to the “Curmudgeon Cup” winning 2008 design. The alternating color balls at the top-forming the team name-is simultaneously innovative and retro. The white borders help draw the eye to the team name as well. Also, the facsimile signature warms the soil of the vintage collector. The biggest downside is the lack of the player’s position on the front.
Before you fill up the comments section with vitriol and torch me on Twitter, there is a strong “tongue-in-check” element to this post. I am not inclined to defend my choices, since I have no strong attachment to this era’s cards. I will leave you with this though: “Get off my lawn, Topps, and bring back burlap and wood paneled borders!”