Two decades: one conclusion. One question.

The 1980s. Many of the card people we most respect checked in on this matter, and helped us think through the cards we don't consider much: the (mostly) junk wax of that decade. The cards that mainly aspired to be repack fillers. Those early vestiges of overproduction. The cause of needless death of trees by baseball card.

We're still headachey, but one conclusion vividly emerged from that post:

1983 Topps is widely viewed by one and almost all as

the best baseball card design of the 1980s. On the other hand, 1984,

which vaguely recalls 1983 but changes the circular picture to square, moves it to the left, messes with the bottom band, brightens the cardstock, and garishificates the team name, loses all card feng shui because it didn't get a single mention as a favorite.

Now, Bo, the sensible proprietor of Baseball Cards Come to Life!, in a comment noted that even though there are clunkers in the 1980s, Topps cards of the early 1990s make the 80's cards look like Da Vincis by comparison.

Thus, we are left to wonder: did the 1990s in fact, with even more overproduction, variations, crowded company and design decisions, produce far worse cardboard? The worst in history? Were 1990s baseball cards the equivalent of 99 varieties of cola in the supermarket aisle?

And in fact, in the sheer prevalence of "eh" in the 1990s designs coupled with rising prices, do we find in that decade the root cause of kids departing the hobby of baseball card collecting FOREVER?

Actually, it was probably the advent of video games that really did that. But still. The nineties helped.


FanOfReds said...

The 1991 Topps set is still one of my favorite set designs of all time. Great photography, easy to read team/player names, good card backs, etc. However, the follow up set ('92) went with white stock cardboard and it was downhill from there on...

MattR said...

I started my break from collecting after the 1993 season. I probably can't even identify the sets from the late 90s.

Topps got the 90s off to a bad start with the 1990 design.

Dean Family said...

I stopped in 1992. I think that what got kids (and some adults) away from card collecting in this era was the skyrocketing cost for packs (thanks Upper Deck) and also the rise in memorbilia/autograph collecting.

I can recall in 1993 Catfish Hunter and Brooks Robinson being at a card show and they were $5.00 for their signature. The allure was the card show not the signer. Then it flipped sometime in the mid-1990s.

dayf said...

1991 Topps is an awesome incredible set. '92 Topps is pretty dang good too, but it falls short of '91 in my opinion. Probably due to the white card stock. I'm also partial to the 1998 set even though it ushered in the tedious era of non-white borders. Outside that, it gets kinda sketchy.

Bo said...

Just to clarify, while 1990 Topps doesn't look too great, I enjoy 1991-1994 design, and the 1998-1999 designs as well. 1995 is pretty boring, and 1996-1997 aren't too great.

Bad as 1990 Topps is, it's still light years ahead of 1995 Fleer (worst set design of all time?)

Carl Crawford Cards said...

My experience was kinda like Dean Family's. Upper Deck started to break the bank, then there was Leaf, then the overproduced cards multiplied like rabbits and no one could keep track of them all, then finally Fleer came out with the "Rookie Sensations" chase set in jumbo packs. They were impossible to get for a few months, then they produced a million of them.

Topps was done for me when they switched card stock trying to imitate UD or something. It just wasn't the same!

bailorg said...

I think Bowman ruined the hobby by putting a bunch of minor league players into a "major" league set in the hopes that 1-3 percent would actually make it.

Once collectors could no longer pull rookie cards out of base sets, I'd say the game was up. Of course other manufacturers weren't helping matters when they printed "rookie" or "prospect" card on cards for players that had Bowman cards in some previous year. Nothing was more annoying in the early-mid 1990s than finding out that the "rookie/prospect" card you just pulled wasn't a "real" rookie card.

CK said...

Favorite '80s Topps designs:
1. '83 (by far)
2. '84
3. '85
4. '82
After that, it depends on the player/team, etc. '88 can be nice, but as a Phillies fan, I never truly got into the design because they used a lot of green for the Phillies. Of the 3 color aspects of the design (team name, border, name plate) Topps used green, green and purple for the Phillies. Um, why? Maybe they could have tried red, blue or RED. They've done that before, with the '81 and '90 sets; I don't know why they use green so much for the Phils.

As for the '90s, I like the '91 and '92 (really grown on me a lot) and I think '96 is nice; simple and clean. '99 is horrendous, I think; no imagination.

Todd Uncommon said...

After the explosion of multiple brands (and their variants) from each card maker in this decade, I have a hard time even remembering what specific card designs looked like. I can't even think of what 1995 Topps looks like right now.

However, the one that does come to mind right away is 1991 Topps, but of the Desert Shield variety. The design was spartan, but worked, and Topps tried to put the best possible photography on dark card stock, and pretty much succeeded.

If you at the greater historical context of the Gulf War, and the pretty gold embossed logo on each card (even checklists), that's the winner of the decade.