The Bad Choice of a New Generation

As an aficionado of “odd ball” sets, I’ve accumulated many over the years. Amongst the quality commemoratives, reprints and regional sets lurk some real “clunkers” that make me question why I collected them in the first place. The “Pepsi Griffeys” is a prime example of a real “stinker.”

Mother's cookies

91 Star

90 Star Aqua

The unique aspect of a father and son playing together coupled with Ken Griffey Jr.’s emergence as a super-star resulted in at least four sets featuring dad and son. Mother’s Cookies produced a nice four card set with regional distribution in ‘91. The cards were imbedded in bags of cookies. The Star card company made two sets (aqua in ’90; red in ‘91) each with 11 cards.

Pepsi Jr.    Senior Pepsi    Pepsi Jr & Sr

The ’91 Pepsi sponsored set contains eight cards, which were included in 12 packs of Diet and regular Pepsi and distributed in the Northwest. Each set depicts the Griffeys singularly and together.

Outfitting the Griffeys in Pepsi themed uniforms creates a terrible aesthetic. The uniforms are devoid of lettering with only a number on the front. A Pepsi script or “Griffey” would have looked more natural. The sleeves and caps feature a Pepsi logo patch. The caps would be right at home on the head of a delivery truck driver.

Pepsi Back    Pepsi Jr. #3

The card design is basic with only the names appearing on the front. The backs are white with black lettering and contain various statistical information and highlights. The tight shots and blurred backgrounds make it impossible to determine the location of photo shoot with the possible exception of card #3 which could be the Kingdome center field wall. Incidentally, the 12 pack boxes had a 6”x7” picture of Jr. identical to card #3.

Many advertisers have issued sets with logos and scripts eliminated to get around paying royalties to MLB. This creates a bad look, but it is definitely better than product placement uniforms.

Are there other sets out there featuring players in product themed uniforms? Please comment or tweet.

A’s cards and Cards cards

Growing up in the Bay Area, while I wasn’t an A’s fan, my local card shops had a lot of A’s cards in the cases. I remember noting even at the time how the team name tended to break a lot of Topps’s designs: “A’s” was too short, had punctuation, and required a lower-case letter. “Athletics” meanwhile was one of the longest team names.

As I’ve gotten older and gained more familiarity with the older cards I’ve realized that the A’s are not the only team whose name Topps messed around with. Throughout the 1960s, Topps referred to the Cardinals—another team with a long name—as “Cards” on many of their cards. So I’ve decided to go through Topps’s styled-text designs from 1964 to 1986 and see how they handled the A’s and the Cardinals and any other odd cases.

I chose to stop in 1986 because 1987 is the first year that Topps had just logos, no team names, on the card fronts. There are a few text-based designs which followed—specifically 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, and 2008—but Topps has also used “Athletics” every since 1988.

Before 1964, Topps just used plain text to list the team name. Yes it’s part of the design, but it was never the distinguishing element. All that changed in 1964 when Topps began using styled text and team names as a key element of its designs.* This opened the door to having to create designs which worked for all name lengths. Sometimes this was successful, other times team names which were either too long or too short ended up revealing some problems in the design, and sometimes Topps just made some weird design decisions which I still can’t figure out.

*There are some earlier examples such as the 1960 manager cards which use pennants very similar to the 1965 design but nothing as part of the default set design.

For their first real foray into styled type 1964’s design is pretty robust. It works well with all the team names. It doesn’t feel too cramped and everything’s still legible with the nine-letter ones. If anything this design works better than the super-extended letters Topps used for the four-letter teams, although the extended font does have a certain 1960s appeal.

1965—while a design I love—starts to reveal how things can start to go bad. “Athletics” begins to get really pinched and hard to read in the point of the pennant. “White Sox” has the same issue but works a bit better. It’s easy to see why Topps decided to go with “Cards” in what would be the first year of six consecutive years where Topps used “Cards” instead of “Cardinals.”

I’m not covering 1966 except to note that Topps used “Cards.” 1966, like a number of years in the ’70s and ’80s*, doesn’t use styled text but rather puts plain text in a colored box. Since the box functions as the design element rather than the text the length of the word doesn’t bother me as long as it’s legible.

*1974, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1983, and 1985.

1967 continued with “Athletics” and “Cards.” In this case it’s clear that the design doesn’t quite work with nine-character team names. The font is too condensed, it’s too close to the edges of the photo, and the black stroke is too heavy for the letter sizes. Despite it being the consensus best design of the decade that it doesn’t work as well with long team names is a strike against it.

1968 meanwhile, while not exactly styled-text, presented a lot of challenges for how to fit the team names into that little circle. Topps opted to go with “A’s” and it’s a great fit. “Cards” works wonderfully too. Since eight-letter names like Pirates barely fit—you can see that Topps had to use a thinner font—Topps made the wise decision to put White Sox on two lines instead.

1969 is similar to 1967 except that Topps chose fonts which work better. Rather than using a super-compressed font with the long names, Topps used a completely different extended font for the shorter names. It kind of weirds me out how different these fonts are* but by using two distinct fonts the design itself works better for all name lengths.

*Look at the “C” and “S” and how in “Athletics” they’re parallel to the baseline but in “Cards” they’re at an angle.

I have no idea what Topps was doing in 1970. They stayed with “A’s” even though the design would’ve accommodated “Athletics.” It certainly looks fine with “White Sox.” This is the first—and certainly not the last—case of using “A’s” where the design just looks weird to me. The font is huge and bold and the lower-case “s”—especially with the right-aligned type—doesn’t fit.

But it’s not just the A’s thing I can’t figure out. In 1970 Topps released cards with both “Cardinals” and “Cards” AND both “Yankees” and “Yanks.” Besides the fact that I’ve not seen “Yanks” on any other Topps cards, the idea that Topps was just changing team names from series to series is bizarre to me. That Topps was doing this while not changing the Pilots cards to Brewers cards? I don’t understand. At all.

In 1971 I’m mainly surprised that Topps stayed with “Cards.” It looks fine, using such an extended font for the long names means that even the centered shorter names look good. And I’m certainly glad Topps didn’t stretch the short names to fit. But to my eye the design looks better when the team name fills the entire top of the card and if “Athletics” fits, they should’ve been able to get “Cardinals” to fit as well. In any case this was the last year Topps went with “Cards.”

In 1972, Topps swapped from 1971 and went with “A’s” and “Cardinals” instead. Since this is how things stayed for the next decade I’m mainly going to focus on the A’s cards from here on out. Topps’s designs going forward, including this one, all work with “Cardinals” so going with “A’s” is never a reaction to a design restriction and instead reflects some other corporate choice.

The 1972 A’s example is notable in that the “S” is also capitalized—heck even the apostrophe is huge. I still feel like it’s not quite enough text to really work in the space the way that all the other team designs do though.

  

1973 is non-styled text like how Topps’s designs were before 1964. 1974 and 1976 are text in colored boxes. 1975 and 1977 though are two examples where the “A’s” looks just awful—probably the two worst designs for the A’s in all Topps’s history. I appreciate white space in design but in these cases just having two letters centered on the text area doesn’t give the impression that Topps thought about the design at all.

In both of these cases, “Athletics” would’ve worked better. Although with 1977—and this is part of a more general critique of a design which I’ve come to actively dislike—if the text were aligned to the left rather than being centered I think things would’ve been ok. The off-center centered text thing is especially egregious.

1978 and 1981 though (1979 and 1980 are colored boxes with text in them) are two examples where the “A’s” works really well. 1978 in particular is fantastic in how Topps created lettering which fills the space without looking different from the rest of the cards in the set. Where 1975 and 1977 didn’t consider the design at all, 1978 is an example of how to do it 100% correct.

1981 meanwhile is an example where the A’s cards look better than every other team.* I don’t care much for those floppy hats. I was okay with them as a kid because I only really saw them on the Giants and A’s cards—two teams with two-color caps—but on every team with a single-color cap this design is already in trouble. Putting the team name on the hat? Who does that? So I enjoy that the A’s caps on the cards end up looking very much like their actual on-field caps.

*The only other contender is the Pirates with their pillbox cap and the special design exception Topps made for them.

  

Skipping around a bit now. 1983 and 1985 are color box years. We’ll get to 1984 soon. But 1982 and 1986 are two examples where things work okay. Not great, but okay enough. 1982 is very similar to 1977 in terms of how it’s handling the fonts. The difference is that the hockey sticks work way better than the position pennant. The team name is supposed to continue the color stripe across the bottom of the card. “A’s” is barely big enough to do it. That Topps used an almost-full-height “S” is a huge help here. As is the fact that the font is also somewhat extended.

1986 meanwhile is similar to 1975 in that the “A’s” is kind of small all by itself on the top of the card. The saving grace here is again how wide the font is. That A is wider than it is tall. It also has a ton of character with the triangular crossbar which, while not specially-designed like the 1978 cards, gives the team name a similar kind of presence.

Back to 1984 and the first year in over a decade which Topps used “Athletics.” It’s not hard to see why. Four-letter names are a stretch. Literally. “A’s” would’ve looked ridiculous. That nine letters is also a bit tight is part of why, while I liked this set as a kid, I’m less impressed by its design now.

Until the Diamondbacks came around, baseball team names were all between four (Cubs, Mets, Reds) and nine (Athletics, Cardinals, White Sox) characters long. Many years it feels like Topps’s designs were optimized for five to seven characters. Four and eight work okay. Anything longer or shorter is pushing things. I’m less surprised that Topps used “Cards” for “Cardinals” than I am that they stopped doing so in 1972.

About the Diamondbacks

With the Diamondbacks taking over as the longest team name, They’re now the more interesting example than the A’s. There’s not enough to really post here but it’s worth noting that Topps has used both “Diamondbacks” and “D-Backs” on the few type-based designs it’s had since 1990.

That Topps hasn’t used “D-Backs” on any of the Heritage designs shows how badly those designs work with long team names. The 1965 and 1968 team names are almost unreadable. And if I thought the 1967 Athletics cards looked bad, the Diamondbacks ones look even worse. In all these cases the cards would look way better with “D-Backs” instead.

So About Heritage

Oof. Maybe this is MLB trademark silliness* but, as with the photography, not respecting the original designs is one of the main reasons I’m down on the Heritage product. There’s no reason not to use “Cards” or “A’s” here. In all cases  the results are a downgrade—especially in 1968 where the ™ symbol throws off the centering and makes the name fit even worse.

*All the team names all have a ™ on them now. This started in 1992 but only became standard in 1999.

There are many reasons to like Heritage. It does capture a certain baseball card essence which the modern flagship sets no longer have. But for Topps to reuse designs like this and then not get the details right in ways which breaks the design itself? Infuriating.

C’mon Get Happy!

Why 1971? Yes, ABC’s Friday night lineup was ( in order, starting at 8 PM EST), The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 22, The Odd Couple and Love, American Style, but I don’t think that’s it (though, as sung in Dayenu, “It would have been enough.”)

MemorabiliaPFCardBox

My reentry into serious collecting started a year and a half ago, when I realized I needed 57 cards to finish what would end up a VG-EX (mostly) 1971 Topps set. As I thought about what other sets I had enough cards to build around, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had 19 of 75 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D cards. Then, last month, out of the blue, I started thinking about the 1971 Topps coins. You can read my sad story about them here, but as with the others, I had a lot of the set (2/3 in fact) and figured it was worth pursuing.

1971-dell-books-2

One of my most favorite things is a complete set of 1971 Dell stamp books. I’ve got them all AND the divisional folders to store them in. I found out about them when I bought the Today’s All Stars book. As with the ’71 Topps coins, 8-year-old me made a dumb decision. I had all the player stamps in their team books, so I figured I could take the All-Stars book apart, removing the perforated player stamps. For what reason? Who the hell knows? They came out of the book and went into a box, where they stayed. It would have been easier to put the intact book in a manila folder with all the rest. Lurking in the back of mind has always been the wish to buy the book and I did, last week. Now I can sell all the individual stamps as a complete set and remove that blight from my memory.

1971 Dell front #1008

But, again, why 1971? Why buy the Dell book now, on the heels of completing the Topps set and midstream on completing the Topps Coins and Kellogg’s 3-D sets? Is it as simple as the math, that I had more than enough of each set to go the distance? I don’t think so.

I’m not one for personal nostalgia, for my own golden era or innocent youth, but 1971 is a pivotal year in my life. We moved from Brooklyn in December, from a middle class Canarsie neighborhood where I could walk to P.S. 114 and stop at a candy store called Paulino’s (not sure of the spelling) on Glenwood Ave., a wondrous place of cases full of candy and boxes of 1971 Topps cards, regular and Super. From there, I was transplanted to the middle of Suffolk County, where I had less freedom and was thrust back in time. Believe me, my long curly hair and David Crosbyesque fringe jacket didn’t play well with the Wenonah Elementary School crowd in January of 1972, kids who still had buzz cuts and never had seen a Jew. Not that it was all bad, by any means. I had my own room for the first time, which was liberating, and, within short order, I fell into a nice Long Island groove.

So why 1971? Somewhere in the creases of my brain, there’s a little Jeff Katz who longs for that year, before real life hit the fan. It could be that. Or maybe 54-year-old me simply thinks this is awesome.

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After all, I am a man of simple and consistent taste.

SABR 47 Checklist

In preparation for SABR 47 which is just a few weeks a way I have been trying to put together a checklist of cards related to the panels and presentations scheduled for this years conference. The use of the term checklist is a bit of a misnomer here, as this list is nowhere near comprehensive. It is more of a selection of cards that I find interesting that are also related to the subjects at SABR47.

Jim Bouton

Once I saw Jim Bouton was on the schedule re-reading “Ball Four” jumped to the front of my to-do list. I have read the books several times, once as a teenager, again in my 30s, and currently on the edge of my 50s. The book is the most interesting to me now – a large part of that is I have learned more about the Bouton/Seattle Pilots era via card collecting. Also today a lot more information is at your fingertips, I have checked into box scores, stats, and SABR Bios on a few dozen players while reading the book. As a more mature reader I have found parts of the book a little disconcerting, Bouton’s brashness that I found attractive in my youth now seems self-centered and arrogant. There is also the objectification of women which sometimes makes me cringe. The tell-all aspect of “Ball Four” may have been shocking at the time, to a young person today the books revelations may seem trivial – but I can easily see Bouton’s teammates getting upset with the books revelations. In some ways I think he did break some locker room ethics.

1962 Topps #592 Rookie Parade

I picked out Jim Bouton’s rookie card to represent the Pitcher and Author. The card is shared with another player noted for his off the field behavior Bo Belinsky. For the first time, Topps elected to put rookies on shared cards. It is a good idea to squeeze more players into the set but one of the unfortunate results is that the RCs of many future HOFs end upon shared cards (Stargell, Schmidt, Molitor, Rice, Carew, Sutton, Joe Morgan, Gary Carter etc.)

The 1962 Rookie Parade cards run in sequence as an eight card subset that runs from #591 – #598. While none of the cards contain Hall of Famers they do reside at the end of the final series of 1962 Topps and are somewhat scarce. The Bouton card at #592 is the second card in the subset – If you think in terms of numerical precedence this means he is featured on the 2nd Multi-player Rookie card issued by Topps. The Biggest Name on the first card #591 is Sam McDowell. That card also features Ron Taylor, Dick Radatz, Art Quirk, and Ron Nischwitz. Other notables in the set include Bob Uecker (#595), and a couple of Ball Four Luminaries Joe Pepitone (#596) and Denis Menke (#597). The full list can be found at the bottom of the checklist at Cardboard Connection.

1965 Topps #137 Bouton Wins Again

My favorite Bouton Card is from the 1965 Topps World Series Subset. You can read my thoughts on that card here.

Orlando Hernandez

1998 Bowman Chrome International #221

The Latino Baseball Committee is hosting Peter Bjarkman who was featured in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Brothers in Exile” about Cuban brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez. I picked out a fun one here. One of the insert sets common to Bowman features the player photo overlaying an image of a map of the country or state from which the player hails. Topps has also done this with flags in the background rather than maps.

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1998 Bowman Chrome International #221 (b-side)

In addition to the map of Cuba, the international flavor of the card carries through to the back which is written in Spanish.

SABR 47 Checker

Those are just two of the cards I thought of when perusing the schedule for SABR 47. A check of other cards would including the following and many more. If you have other favorites post them in the comments. It will give collectors the opportunity to look at their collection from a different angle and in context of the SABR convention.

1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson Panel)

1954 Topps #104 Mike Sandlock (RP18 Charlie Dressen’s Pacific All Stars Tour of 1945)

1961 Topps #472 MVP Yogi Berra (Yogi Berra Panel)

1970 Topps #1 New York Mets (George Vescey)

1976 SSPC #37 Dennis Eckersly RC (Keith Olbermann)

1981 Topps #291 Ken Landreaux (Olbermann)

1988 Topps #267 Billy Bean (RP24 Emasculating Rituals of MLB Players)

2002 UD Vintage Day at the Park #DP2 Derek Jeter (A Day at the Ballpark Special Session)

2010 Topps #41 Dodgers Franchise History (RP26 Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang)

2014 Topps #273 Mark DeRosa (MLB Now Panel)

 

Sources and Links

Phungo

Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards – Bob Lemke

Cardboard Connection

Check Out My Cards

Ball Four

Baseball-Reference

You Can Put It On The Cardboard…..Yes!

Love him or hate him, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has been an outsized character in baseball for six decades. From his battles with Charlie Finley in Kansas City to his “mod” wardrobe featuring “Nehru” jackets, he was a distinctive individual within the staid baseball world of the ‘60s. As a player, the Hawk had one exceptional season for Boston during the “Year of the Pitcher” in ’68. Injuries and desire to be a professional golfer prematurely ended his career in ’71. Of course, he would go on to be a broadcaster, most notably with the White Sox. His zealous support for the White Sox grates on many people, creating a love/hate dichotomy.

During Harrelson’s relatively brief career, he had some beautiful cards. The green and gold A’s combo and classic Indians vest uniform created great visual appeal. In addition the Topps photographers captured Hawk in some classic poses. On the flip side, the player boycott resulted in some duds as well. So button up your “Nehru” jacket, “grab some bench” and get ready to view some great cardboard. Mercy!

64 Hawk  65 Hawk

Hawk’s ’64 and ’65 cards are routine spring training shots, but the navy and red accented, vest uniforms-worn briefly by KC in the early ’60s-provides a novelty factor.

66 Hawk

The ’66 card is a personal favorite. The classic first baseman’s “stretch” pose coupled with the green and gold trimmed uniform combines to make a classic. The Yankee fan heckling Hawk during the photo shoot is a great example of backgrounds making cards more interesting.

67 Hawk

Harrelson’s conflicts with A’s owner, Charlie Finley, resulted in Hawk’s departure to Washington during the ’66 Season. Topps’ photographers took multiple shots of Ken in a Senators uniform in 67 spring training and early in the season at Yankee Stadium. The latter resulted in another wonderful card. Hawk looks down at his bat as if assessing its weight and worthiness. Topps often used this shot for “sluggers.”

Charley Finley was notorious for having “trader’s remorse” and would reacquire players he previously jettisoned. Hawk comes back to the A’s in mid-season of ‘67 only to become embroiled in a controversy surrounding Finley’s firing of Manager Al Dark, resulting in his release. After losing Tony Conigliaro the Red Sox need a power bat, so they pick up Hawk for the stretch run and World Series.

68 Hawk

However, the players’ boycott of Topps resulted in Ken never being pictured in a Red Sox uniform.  A “nostril” shot is used in ’68, which clearly defines why Ken was nick-named Hawk. The red piping on the hat is a clear indication of his time with the Senators. His “League Leader” photos are also from his Senators stay.

69 Hawk  69 All Star Hawk

The ’69 regular card and All-Star card has him sans cap with his A’s green and gold uniform.

69 Deckle Hawk

The “deckle edge” also has him on the A’s but with a not too convincing Boston “B” drawn on the cap.

69 decal

Topps reverts back to a Senators photo for the decal insert.

70 Hawk

Much to the consternation of Red Sox fans, Hawk is dealt to the Indians early in ’69, which results in a ’70 card that is truly a wonderful creation. The colorful uniform, Yankee Stadium location and the “two bats on the shoulder” pose all add up to perfection. Note the golf gloves for batting. Hawk is often credited with popularized the use of batting gloves, although others had used them before Ken. Also, Hawk appears to have taped his wrists.

71 Hawk

Since “he gone” from baseball at the end of the season, ’71 marks Ken’s final card  This “candid” shot shows him in mid-laugh under a shock of shaggy hair.

What all these cards have in common is a uniqueness that, in my humble opinion, has been missing from Topps regular issue cards over the past 20 years. The Heritage cards are an improvement, but the staging eliminates oddities in the background.

If you can, track down “Don’t Knock the Hawk” (a novelty song from ’68). And read his BioProject article written by Alexander Edelman.

 

It’s Hard

It can’t be easy being Dick Pole. Here’s a guy who was a major league pitcher for six years, including the 1975 World Series, then became a successful pitching coach, cited by Greg Maddux as a major influence. But his claim to fame is that his name is Dick Pole. Dick Pole! And then to be Dick Pole on the Beavers?  Come on, cut the guy a break.

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There’s a super cool 1981 TCMA Sandy Koufax card from when the great Koofoo was a roving minor league pitching instructor in the Dodger chain. TCMA put him in their Albuquerque Dukes team set but when word got out that they shouldn’t have assumed they had the rights to do so, the card was pulled. It’s not very expensive, $15-20, but it is relatively hard to find.

1981 Koufax front002

I’ve got a bunch of minor league sets, most I picked up in big lots years after they had plummeted from peak value. They’re fun, very goofy, and sometimes you come across a real gem. As I rifled through my 1981 sets, all in alphabetical order by team city, I hit upon this poor schnook.

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You’d think that with a name like Johnson Wood, to my ears even more ridiculous than Dick Pole, I’d have either heard of him or remembered him from when I got the 1981 Burlington Bees set. His card came as an incredibly funny surprise. I had to know more.

That’s when it became difficult. Wood had a nondescript minor league career, going by the name of John Wood to save his dignity, popping back up to manage in the Western League, guiding the 1998 Pacific Suns to a 28-62 record. Not so good.

I wanted to find out more about him but I can’t find much more online. I’m sure if I ducked to the Hall of Fame library I could dig up old articles and pictures. I’m not that interested. I thought I could find out some critical mass of information from my desk chair. No luck.  I also Tweeted out to Tom Candiotti, who was Wood’s teammate in 1983 in El Paso. I’m curious how much of a hard time his teammates gave good ol’ Johnson Wood. I’m still waiting for an answer.

Having a double phallic name has got to be tough, at least from the first moment of adolescent when your friends realizes that both of your names are synonyms for penis. I can’t imagine. I got a reasonable amount of shit with a last name of Katz!

I’ll probably stay on the Johnson Wood story for a little, maybe see what files the Hall has. I feel like this dude had it hard enough, what with his name, his less than illustrious minor league career and one horrendous season managing in the independent Western league.  We should all have a little empathy for the Johnson Woods of the world, doing their best to stand tall and firm against the stress and pressures that affect a lot of guys who, occasionally, fall flat.

 

Thriller Decade Part 1: Results

Thanks to the 160 of you who took our poll to determine the best cards sets, annually, from 1981 through 1985. Click here to read about the poll and see the fronts and backs of the fifteen different sets.

One overall observation (spoiler!): there is probably a lot of Topps Loyalty out there, people who grew up with Topps in the 1970s (or earlier) and stuck with them through the years even until today as most of their competition has come and gone.

Anyhow, here are our favorite sets, year to year.

Note: scores are average point totals, where a 1st place vote is a 3, 2nd place vote a 2, 3rd place vote a 1.

1981 Topps (2.46), Fleer (1.91), Donruss (1.64)

1981to3

In July 1980 Fleer finally won their court case against Topps, when a judge ruled that the player’s association must grant a license to at least one other company to produce baseball cards. As it happened, they awarded two: one to Fleer, and one to Donruss. The two companies had just a few months to put together card sets, including the gathering of several hundred photographs.

Given the timeframe, the existence of the two sets is remarkable. But not remarkable enough to produce designs as well as Topps, who had been at it for 30 years.

1982 Topps (2.55), Donrus (2.03), Fleer (1.40)

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Topps won a minor reversal in their legal battle, so beginning in 1982 neither rival was allowed to put gum in their packs. (In 1981, all companies had gum.) The 1982 Topps set also turned in its second decisive victory.

In my opinion, Donruss took a big leap forward in design and photography, but Fleer was the opposite — cards so uninspired and blurry that I wondered whether they would bother continuing. (I joked on Twitter that the photos look to have been taken by your stoned friends on Florida spring break. And they do.)

1983 Topps (2.71), Fleer (1.76), Donruss (1.49)

83-topps-last-card-ripken

The most decisive victory in the poll. I could be wrong, but I think this is more a reflection of people’s love for the Topps entry rather than a reflection of the other companies. This is my favorite Topps set of the 1980s, so I sympathize.

Where I differ from the consensus is that I love the 1983 Fleer set. In fact, Fleer was a game changer for me. I was now out of college, and I had pretty much decided that I was just going to be a Topps guy, that the usurpers, while admirable, had not done well enough to convince me to buy multiple sets. So I got my Topps set early that year and called it a day.

And then I wandered into a card shop one day, saw some Fleer cards, and basically fell in love. The use of the logo instead of (not “in addition to”, like 1965 Topps) the team name was genius, the overall design was attractive (the first non-white border since 1975 Topps), and the backs were much better than Topps (and had been from the beginning, to be honest).

As I said, I really liked the 1983 Topps set, but I still like Fleer better all these years later.

1984 Fleer (2.05), Donruss (2.03), Topps (1.97)

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This was basically a 3-way tie, and if I ran this poll again using a different methodology it is anyone’s guess which would win. In fact, Fleer had the lowest total of 1st place votes (although the margin was also razor thin). But Fleer is the winner.

I assumed Donruss would win as it is one of the most famous sets ever. It was famous in 1984 for supposedly being scarce, and for having a great Don Mattingly rookie card. I have seen a number of articles or surveys about the best card sets ever, and this set is often mentioned.

Personally, the 1984 Donruss and Fleer sets are my favorites from the 1980s. As for Topps, I didn’t like their repeat of the second photo on the front. They went 20 years before using it in 1983, and should have exercised the same patience before going back to the well. (Admittedly, I am a one-photo guy.)

1985 Topps (2.21), Donruss (2.02), Fleer (1.81)

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Topps is back on top in another very strong year for all three companies. After Fleer showed the way in 1983, Topps used team logos for the first time in 20 years. This was much preferrable to the second photo, in my opinion.

Donruss also debuted the team logo, and (like Fleer) used it instead of the team name. Donruss was the winner for me, but Topps was our (mild) consensus.

So there you have it. Topps takes four out of five, and easily could have swept. But by the mid-1980s I think it is clear that all three companies were on relatively equal footing, each having pros and cons. In 1981 we wondered: could the market really handle three card companies? A few years later, we knew the answer.