Rich Reminisces: 1968 Detroit Tigers

Why do teams become legendary in our sports collecting hobby? Sometimes the reason is the cast of characters are a unique bunch mixed around. Think of the great New York Yankees teams of the late 1970’s. They had enough oversized personalities on and off the field that the moniker “The Bronx Zoo” worked for that team. For others, it was because they were a right place, right time team. Example of this was the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets who went on a run the last 2 months of the 1969 season and post-season and won their first World Series. For others. the amount of time a team was dominant mattered. A good example is the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls within a six season period.

And sometimes, there is a little bit of all of the above including fortuitous timing and how they brought a community together. A great example of this scenario is the 1968 Detroit Tigers ,who truly were the last of their era. Five decades later we can say that because they did not have to go through a post-season gauntlet to win a World Series, nor did have to play any night games in the post-season. 

And how did they get to the 1968 World Series? First, their ace pitcher was a youngster named Denny McLain. McLain won an astounding 31 games that season. No one has won more than 27 games in a season since. In fact, very few starters even get to 31 starts anymore, so you’d basically have to win most every start to even be in a position to win 30 games. While we knew 30 games was quite the accomplishment for a pitcher, we all thought in 1968 there might be another one to reach the milestone. Many teams still used four man rotations, and that gave pitchers 40 starts in a season, which meant 30 wins was not the impossible target that it is today.

What made McLain even more interesting was his career as playing the organ and flying an airplane. Did all those outside interests shorten his career? One could argue between the known gambling issues and the just as well known outside interests, the odds were he would have had a longer career if he had focused more on his pitching career. We do know a few things today.

1) His career was over before he reached 30.
2) He is a great guest at a card show.

Their second best pitcher was Mickey Lolich, who would go on to win 3 games in the World Series that year. In 1968, the concept of a pitcher winning 3 World Series games was not considered unusual, as three pitchers had reached that total over the previous 22 seasons. After Lolich, no pitcher has won 3 games in a World Series since. On the other hand, George Frazier actually managed to lose 3 games in the 1981 World Series. Maybe some reliever will win 3 games in a future World Series.  Lolich owned a donut store and rode a motorcycle, but he was always serious about his pitching. To show what a fluke 1968 was, Lolich also blasted his first career homer during that World Series.

It was not just the pitchers who were interesting . Bill Freehan, who was the best American League Catcher from about 1964 through 1971, could have won an MVP award if things had broken a bit differently. Freehan did everything well for the Tigers, and as such garnered much MVP support in 1967 and 1968. He was a force both offensively and defensively. Today, he is battling a long-term illness, but we all remember him fondly for his time on the diamond.

The starting first baseman was Stormin’ Norman Cash. Cash, is a player who helped define the term career year. Look at his 1961 season (.361 batting average and 40+ homers) and compare that year to the rest of his career.  Cash also had a great sense of humor, and in Nolan Ryan‘s first no-hitter brought up a piano leg as his bat as he figured he could not hit Ryan with a standard bat. 

At second base was Dick McAuliffe, who set a record which can be tied, but never broken. After a 1967 season in which he only grounded into 2 double plays, he improved that in 1968 by never grounding into a double play. This record can surely be tied, but never broken indeed.  Also, he had a nasty on-field brawl with Tommy John that injured John’s shoulder and prematurely ended his season. Could that fight have been part of the reason John later needed the surgery now named for him?

The shortstop with the most playing time for the Tigers was Ray Oyler, who batted all of .135 that season. Yes you read correctly, .135 was his batting average.  To me, Ray Oyler is best known for a classic line within the book Ball 4, which I blogged about last month. That line was not family friendly, but if you want to look it up for yourself, search out “bridges completed in 1929”.  Meanwhile, here is Ray posed with a bat in the bunting position. And when he came to the plate,  posing to bunt might have been his best way to get on base.

When you hit just .135, which was absurd for any player, including most pitchers, you probably are not going to play much in the post-season. And that’s what occurred to Oyler, as Mickey Stanley transitioned from the outfield to play shortstop during the World Series. Purportedly, the move was to get Al Kaline‘s bat into the lineup, and who can argue with subbing a future Hall of Famer for a guy hitting all of .135? Yep, all of .135. I don’t know how many times I can repeat that number, but it only gets more awesome each time it’s mentioned. Stanley played error-less ball in the World Series, and having Kaline in the lineup gave extra length as well.  Jim Northrup and Willie Horton were also the other starting outfielders and for 1968, boy that was quite an explosive team at the plate.

Note the position on the 1969 Mickey Stanley card. :

Of course there was plenty of controversy during the series, but one of the oddest ones had to do with the National Anthem. Jose Feliciano was just beginning his career, and did not perform a traditional Star Spangled Banner. I did not understand back then why it was so criticized, and I don’t today but let’s listen and see what you think.

And this is a version done in 2010 to honor the original version by Jose.

We leave you with one final image of the 1968 Tigers, which is of their 3rd base coach Joe Schultz. It was known during the series that Joe would take over managerial duties for the 1969 Seattle Pilots, but who knew just how legendary Joe would become within two years of the series?


Guest Blog: My Top 7 Favorite Trading Cards

(Editors Note: Please welcome Austin Ward to the COMC Blog! Austin’s blog comes to us courtesy of our encouragement of guest blogs a few months ago. Austin has been collecting cards since his youth, and still finds as much joy in the hobby now as he did back then. He recently started Crown Card Connection as a way to engage with the trading card collecting community. He encourages anyone interested in discussing the hobby to join in on the action that Crown Card Connection has to offer!)

Collecting cards brings all sorts of thoughts and feelings to people’s minds. Joy, excitement, risk, and nostalgia are just several of the many for me. Today, I want to share seven favorites from my collection. While a number of them do hold strong value, the memories attached to them are greater still. Here we go:

7. 2018 Leaf Metal Draft Sam Darnold Autographed Printing Plate

One of ones are big in the hobby today, but haven’t been something I’ve really chased after. While browsing some cards online, I came across this Sam Darnold and sent an inquiry to the seller. We ended up getting a deal done, which allowed me to add the first NFL printing plate of my collection.

6. 2018 Select Josh Rosen Tie-Dye Autograph RC

Despite being a San Francisco 49ers fan, Josh Rosen is someone who I’ve decided to personally collect. Due to comparably low value as a rookie, I’ve been able to compile a pretty strong collection of Rosens (around 20 cards and growing). Convinced that Rosen is going to have a strong career in the league, I’m taking my own advice and stockpiling.

5. 1998 Donruss Elite Neifi Perez

Although the card itself is pretty unimpressive (and could be purchased for next to nothing), this was the first autograph I ever got. I vividly remember standing on the third base side with a stack of Colorado Rockies baseball cards during a family trip to Colorado. I was convinced that I was going to get Larry Walker or Vinny Castilla to sign my cards (which clearly didn’t happen), but was thrilled when Perez took the time to make my day.

4. 2018 Leaf Army All-American Football Trevor Lawrence Patch/Autograph

During his freshman campaign, Trevor Lawrence impressed me as a quarterback and as a person. I didn’t anticipate finding much available with him being a freshman in college, but I’m glad I looked when I did. Shortly after I got my Lawrence card, his value spiked during the NCAA Championship run.

3. 1999 MVP Football Set

This one is clearly for the sentimental value, but I can’t count how many times I’ve looked back at the binder that contains the first set I was able to put together. Each time I do, I’m reminded of the hours that went into sorting through my childhood collection and the countless trades that I made with my brother to finish out my set.

2. 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout RC

After a few years of not making many purchases, I bought a random box of cards at an auction and was shocked to find a Mike Trout rookie card inside. I was even more amazed to find out what the card was selling for, but have preferred to hold as a keepsake instead.

1. 2000 Pacific Aurora Tom Brady RC

This is the card that transformed me from a kid that enjoyed collecting to a lifelong hobbyist. The couple hard-earned dollars that I risked back in 2001 created a priceless memory for years to come.

The COMC Summer Sale is Coming July 31st – August 4th!

Beat the Heat and Join Us July 31st – August 4th for the COMC Summer Sale!

Can’t make it to the The National Sports Collector’s Convention in Chicago this year? We’re bringing the deals online with the COMC Summer Sale!

Starting on July 31st, you’ll find incredible deals all across the COMC Marketplace on your favorite teams, players, and sets.

Buy Now & Ship Later!

One of the biggest advantages of having a COMC account and shopping with COMC Credit is that you can instantly purchase items when you find them and ship everything all together at any time in the future!

When you buy items with COMC credit with your COMC account, they stay safe and secure in our warehouses until you’re ready to request shipment for them. You can buy items throughout our Summer Sale and request shipment for your items next week, next month, or even next year! You pay shipping just once, regardless of how many items you buy.

Don’t Ship it – Flip it!

Perhaps you found an amazing deal on a sale item, but don’t collect that particular player. You know the card is worth way more, so why not buy it now and flip it later?

With a COMC account, you can purchase an item on sale and instantly give it a new price. When the item sells, you receive COMC credit, without ever having to take possession of the card!

Thousands of cards are being flipped daily on the COMC Marketplace, but this benefit is exclusive only to COMC Members! If you’re not already a member, register your free account today

“It Sold for WHAT?!?” – Six Christian Yelich Trading Cards That Sold for Far Too Little!

Over the course of our 12 plus year existence, we’ve seen A LOT of cards. In many cases, we first saw a superstar’s cards long before they became a household name. As a result, this lends itself to some pretty hilarious completed sales in our historical sales history. Whether these buyers are cardboard Nostradamus’s, or simply happened to pick up a card before it’s value skyrocketed into oblivion, one thing is for sure: they got a crazy good deal!

In our previous installments we’ve shown you Mike Trout Trading Cards that now the grace the nose-bleed section of the high-end of our hobby, and Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie cards that sold for just a fraction of their present day value. We’ve scoured our sales data and are ready to unleash our next wave of cards that make for some pretty good laughs.

The Miami Marlins have two World Series Championships in their brief but memorable franchise history. While the current state of the Marlins may leave plenty to be desired, there is no doubting that the organization has a proven track record for manufacturing homegrown talent. Unfortunately, some of those players full potential never comes to fruition in a Marlins uniform. Such is the case with Christian Yelich, who’s star grew brighter following a trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The 2018 National League MVP winner and Silver Slugger posted career highs in home runs, RBI’s, stolen bases, batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS last year, leading the Brew Crew to a playoff run. He picked up right where he left off to start the 2019 campaign, and appears to be on pace to shatter most of those career highs once again. The 27 year old outfielder quickly became one of the faces of the MLB once he arrived in Milwaukee, and his trading cards have never been more sought after. Christian Yelich rookie autographs and rookie trading cards continue to see new top sale prices on a monthly basis.

Without further ado, the six Christian Yelich Trading Cards you can no longer find at these prices:

2010 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects – Chrome Draft Picks – Gold Refractor #BDPP78 – Christian Yelich /50

The buyer of this card managed to sneak in their purchase on August 28th, 2018, just before the Christian Yelich trading card market really started to skyrocket. This card has since sold for $300+. Not a bad return on investment.

2010 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects – Chrome Prospects Autographs #BDPP78 – Christian Yelich [BGS 9.5 GEM MINT] 

Whenever pricing data is this skewed, you have to assume that a player’s career trajectory took a massive turn upward. In this case, we saw a BGS 9.5 Christian Yelich 1st Bowman Chrome auto sell for $52.69 in March 2015. Raw copies of this card routinely sell for a price tag of several times that.

2012 Bowman Platinum – Prospects – Red Refractor #BPP49 – Christian Yelich /25 [BGS 9.5 GEM MINT] 

The 2012 Bowman Platinum set and it’s parallels are truly beautiful cards in person with their orange-peel like textured backgrounds. This BGS 9.5 Christian Yelich red refractor sold for just $18 back in July 2013.

Flash forward almost six years later and this exact same card (which is a pop-2) sold elsewhere for over 4-times the original purchase price:

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects – [Base] – Purple Ice #40 – Christian Yelich /10 

It goes without saying that Bowman purists have a wide arrange of opinions on non-original color parallels (Ref, X-Fractor, Blue, Gold, Orange, Red, Superfractor) and also about the ice parallel. Regardless, you would be hard-pressed to find any collector who wouldn’t want to add this /10 Purple Ice Christian Yelich card to their collection for about $40. Recently completed sales put this card in the $275-300 range now.

2013 Topps Chrome – Rookie Autographs – Red Refractor #CY – Christian Yelich /25

Alright, now we start to get into the comical historical sales data. This Christian Yelich Red Refractor true rookie autograph numbered to just 25 copies sold for just $87 on April 3rd of last year, just months before he was traded to the Brewers and his rise to greatness began. Could this buyer predict the future? Was it just a case of right place at the right time? Are they a Marlins fan who was crushed when he was traded?

We’ll never know, but we’d like to believe that they weren’t at all upset just a year later when a gold /50 version of this card sold for $1250. It’s hard to imagine what the even more elusive red refractor autograph may fetch….

2013 Topps Update Series – [Base] – Black #US290 – Christian Yelich /62 

Which brings us to this LOL-worthy historical sales data. Were you one of the 11 lucky individuals who managed to scoop up this card from COMC for $25 or less? Probably not. Numbered to just 62 copies, COMC has seen 1/6th of the entire print run of these now coveted Christian Yelich black parallels of his True RC out of 2013 Topps Update. Recent sales have seen this card fetch $695 via Buy it Now.

Now we want to hear from you! What Christian Yelich trading cards slipped through your hands over the years? Do you still have a coveted Yelich card that you won’t sell for all the money in the world? Share your best investment and #collectfail stories with us!

Rich Reminisces: Willie Mays

Willie Mays was the definition of a five-tool baseball player. Whatever he did on a baseball diamond he did well, and he did well until he was 40 years old. He outlasted all his contemporaries and made what might be the most famous catch in all baseball history. While those won’t be one of the cards we discuss today, that catch was honored on this 1959 Topps baseball card:

We’ll begin with his 1951 Bowman card. Just as with Mickey Mantle, who also was a 1951 rookie player and rookie card, this card is in the last and more difficult Bowman series. What most people do not realize in today’s world was when Dr. James Beckett published his first price guide book in 1979 there was only a $5 difference between the Mays and the Mantle card.

Yes, you would have done terrific with either card if you had put them away in 1979 and not have them seen the light of day for the following 40 years, but in those days Mantle was considered just a hair better than Mays in terms of pricing.

The next year we had his first Topps basball card. His first Topps card is in the second toughest series of the legendary 1952 Topps set and has never been an easy card for collectors to find. While not as difficult as the renowned last series, these are all pretty tough cards and the Mays is never readily available at shows or through the big auction houses

As you can see this also happens to be a very attractive card design and the attractiveness of the card works well with the expensive price tag. Another of my favorite Mays cards from his playing day is this 1962 Topps Superstars card with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.If you look carefully you will see Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks with their back to the camera. Pretty impressive with either group of players I would say. And if you had those two players on your team during the 1954-1965 time period you probably would have been able to, well in the words of famed sportswriter Red Smith, “serving strawberries in the wintertime just about every season.” You would not have needed a lot more help to make a great team.

If you were collecting cards in the 1960’s, you learned Topps used certain numbers to honor the superstars. Usually if a player had a card number ending with 00 or 50 they were not only beloved, but also considered the key cards in the set. That tradition continued for a long time, even famously in the 1985 Topps set when Oddibe McDowell was set up to be card #400, when Topps featured the 1984 Olympic gold-medal team and then Mark McGwire was #401. More than three decades later you wonder if Topps would like that numbering sequence back. 

Another one they would like back came in 1969 Topps when Mays was shockingly given card #190 after a long streak of being a key number.  There were a lot of things going on with Topps in 1969 in terms of their relationship with the MLB Players Union, and I wonder if they even thought they would be able to get all seven series they released out the door. The first two series were heavily front-loaded with stars and superstars, and we can look at that with modern conjecture. If you are really interested I would recommend reading Mark Armour‘s work on that card era, for he has done a yeoman job on the research and appreciates the time from both the kid he was at the time and the excellent researcher he is today.

But without further adieu here is card #190 in 1969:

Finally we end our tour with the last regular season card issued of Mays. Willie returned to New York during the 1972 season when the Giants were looking for a soft landing for his career’s end, and his presence helped the New York Mets get to the World Series the following year. Now he was pretty much through as a player in 1973, but in 1972 he still had one last dramatic flair to his career.

This clip of Mays’ first homer as a Met came against the Giants no less and turned out to be the game-winning hit.

That was on Mother’s day in 1972, and it seemed like Mother’s day was big in New York for baseball highlights. We had this one five years earlier; In fact, it was five years earlier to the day

But we digress, and here is Mays 1973 Topps card as a Met.

Now, I always wished Topps did more career retrospective cards but we were lucky in 1974 to have this “accidental” Mays card as part of the 1973 World Series highlights:

What do you want us to write about in future columns on the COMC Blog? We want to hear from members of the COM Nation! We want this to be as much YOUR column as it is mine.

‘Living 200’: Ranking Our Favorite Baseball Cards from Topps Living Set #101-200

Shop Topps Living Set Trading Cards on COMC

Last year Topps surprised the trading card industry with a unique one-of-a-kind set like no other produced before. The baseball card set was called ‘The Living Set‘, and each week three new trading cards would be released and sold only online for a seven day span. Once that window was over, the cards would never again be printed. Players could only be featured in the set one time per team they’ve played for, and the set would feature rookies, veterans, and legends. Produced entirely using the artwork of legendary sports card artist Mayumi Seto, the set is stylized after the iconic 1953 Topps baseball design.

The set started off extremely strong with Aaron Judge (Print Run 13,256) earning the coveted first card in the set. The set was overall met with optimism and speculation, as many of the key rookie cards in the set produced huge print runs, such as Ronald Acuna Jr. (PR: 46,809) and Gleyber Torres (PR: 28,550). While superstars, rookies, and hall of fame players still generate large numbers (such as #200 Mike Trout with a print run of 22,017), the set has come back to earth in weeks, with most print runs hovering in the 3000 range.

COMC Communications Manager James Good and Senior Business Analyst Grant Wescott each own a copy of the full set from #1 to #200 and counting. Some 30 plus weeks ago, we asked them to talk about the set and give their 10 favorite cards from the first 100 in the set. You can read that blog here. With the set now surpassing 200 cards, we’ve asked them to chime in with their 10 favorite cards from #101 – 200. 

Grant Wescott (In no particular order)

Topps Living Set Card #200 – Mike Trout – Print Run: 22017

Topps has historically saved round numbers on many of their checklists for the very best in the game. Remember Babe Ruth at #100? I don’t think there was much doubt leading into the card #200 release day who would be featured on it.

Topps Living Set Card #193 – Ken Griffey Jr. – Print Run: 8369

Beautiful card of my all-time favorite player. That swing never gets old.

Topps Living Set Card #180 – Nelson Cruz – Print Run: 3581

The Nellie you see on this card is the Nellie you see in every game he plays, defying multiple laws of nature while wearing a grin.

Topps Living Set Card #173 – Fernando Tatis Jr – Print Run: 10099

One milestone for any young professional baseball player is when they get to see their first Topps card. There has to be a little extra appreciation from this 20 year old star when that card happens to be such an amazing hand-drawn portrait.

Topps Living Set Card #154 – Stan Musial – Print Run: 4575

One of baseball’s good guys, Stan the Man was famous for making people happy both on and off the field.

Topps Living Set Card #132 – Daniel Mengden – Print Run: 3250

Topps Living Set has seen a few errors along the way, but none so blatant as the Rollie Fingers wrong name error (I kid).

Topps Living Set Card #127 – Kris Bryant – Print Run: 5361

A striking image of Kris Bryant, who appears is now back to his 2016 MVP form.

Topps Living Set Card #192 – Wade Davis – Print Run: 2605

Nick Markakis famously held the long-standing record for low print run since week 2 of TLS with 2,678 copies. That is, until Howie Kendrick came along at card #183 with 2,633 copies. That is, until just a few weeks later when Wade Davis set the new low with this card. As someone who plans to buy the set forever, it’s kind of fun to watch my complete set become even rarer.

Topps Living Set Card #109 – Nolan Arenado – Print Run: 4065

Artist Mayumi Seto captured some big emotion on this one. Arenado is one of the elite players in the game today, yet for some reason still a bit overlooked in the hobby. I love this card.

Checklist Card 1-100 & 101-200 – Print Run: 4393

I’m going a little off script here because 1) these are two cards, not one, and 2) they aren’t technically part of the set. Doesn’t matter. I was more excited than I had reason to be when these were released. I’ve never checked a single box on a checklist. I’m not about to start now. Why does this make me happy?

James Good (Ranked in order of favorites)

Topps Living Set Card #193 – Ken Griffey Jr. – Print Run: 8369

There was no other pick for me. Griffey was an unexpected surprise at #193, and tops my list as my favorite TLS card in the entire set, surpassing Babe Ruth (#100) and Mitch Haniger (#54) in my top 3. That iconic Jr. smile is infectious.

Topps Living Set Card #179 – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Print Run: 27749

This was clearly a landmark card for Topps and Seto, so I’m guessing that she had plenty of time to work on this portrait. It clearly shows in the photo-realism of Vladdy Jr.’s first true Topps RC. The level of detail of this card, especially when it’s in-hand, is unreal. The hat logo, the hair, the Nike swoosh logo. I’ll take this card all day long over his first flagship Topps RC in series 2.

Topps Living Set Card #200 – Mike Trout – Print Run: 22017

We all knew that Mike Trout was going to be #200, and the card delivered exactly what we wanted, and what the set needed. The huge print run was a shot in the arm to TLS at the right time.

Topps Living Set Card #127 – Kris Bryant – Print Run: 5361

I love the sideways glance of Bryant in this card. The Cubbies deep blue jersey is among my favorite jerseys of all-time, so I might be a bit partial here.

Topps Living Set Card #156 – Ryon Healy – Print Run: 2765

Healy has a lot of critics here in Seattle, but I’ve been a big support since the day we traded for him. This card that broke a 102 card drought for the Mariners in Topps Living Set and also captured Healy’s positive personality and his professed enjoyment for the game the baseball so very well. It’s a shame he’s dealing with spinal stenosis, the same ailment that shortened the career of fellow 3B David Wright.

Topps Living Set Card #136 – Mariano Rivera – Print Run: 8945

The timing of this card was impeccable – right after Mariano became the first player to unanimously be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the first year eligible.

Topps Living Set Card #118 – Nolan Ryan – Print Run: 6745

Ryan’s career spanned the course of 4 different decades. Ask 10 different fans about Ryan, and you might get 10 different memories. My earliest memories as a fan of the game were of ‘The Ryan Express’ as a non-nonsense 40-something fireballin’ Texan. This card brings me back to all those early 90’s junk wax cards of him that helped kick start my passion for the hobby.

Topps Living Set Card #178 – Xander Bogaerts – Print Run: 3776

I’m not much of a Red Sox fan. Correction, I slightly despise most Boston-area teams (Ya’ll aren’t the underdogs, ever, just stop). But I love this card of Bogaerts. Again, the artwork on this card when it’s in-hand truly makes me appreciate the card so much more.

Topps Living Set Card #106 – Cal Ripken Jr. – Print Run: 6423

Similar to my memories of Nolan Ryan, I best remember Cal Ripken Jr. during his iron man stretch, with the gray hairs on the sides of his head becoming more prominent each year. That said, I love the throwback artwork on this card, and the white Orioles cap really seals the deal.

Topps Living Set Card #121 – Buster Posey – Print Run: 3990

Catchers get the short end of the baseball bat when it comes to trading cards, often depicted wearing their full gear. This card steps away from that, giving us an excellent portrait of Buster that shows a side of him that few cards have. Now let me get on my soapbox…

Buster Posey is one of the most underappreciated players of this era. Even Giants fans will credit the team’s three World Series in six years to their stellar pitching, pointing to Madison Bumgarner, and I don’t disagree. But who do you think called all those games behind the plate? Three Rings, Four Silver Sluggers, 2010 ROY, a Gold Glove, and a Batting Title later, I can’t wait until Cooperstown calls for Buster Posey.

We’re 200+ cards into the set, and yet there are so many players who haven’t earned a spot into the coveted Living Set yet. Who do you want to see in the next 100 cards? Let us know in the comments below! 

The Good Word – The Best Topps Baseball Trading Card Designs by Decade

One of the most exciting moments for me each year in the sports card hobby is the unveiling of the flagship Topps Baseball Card design for the following year. I suspect that we’ll get our first glimpse at the 2020 Topps Baseball design within the next couple of months, and here is to hoping that Topps won’t jump the shark and do something crazy like they did 30 years ago with the monstrosity that was the 1990 Topps set design:

Let’s backtrack just a minute. This blog post is inspired by a late-night text conversation with COMC colleague and fellow Topps Living Set enthusiast Grant Wescott about card design and Topps Heritage. While he is a big fan of the 1990 Topps design, I adamantly believed that if I were to rank every single flagship Topps design, the 1990 set would find itself in the bottom tier of my list. I don’t understand the design concept behind the double border, the slight slant in the player name box feels too comic book-esque to me, and everything clashes. The whole things reminds me of the Saved by the Bell TV show logo.

That conversation got my wheels turning, and while tackling the task of ranking every single flagship Topps design from 1951-2019 is one that is way too daunting for me, breaking down my favorite design by decade seemed like a happy medium. Without further ado:

1953 Topps

This choice required zero decision making process on my end. 1953 Topps is my favorite flagship Topps design of all-time. Topps mastered card design in their 3rd baseball card set that not only has stood the test of time, but also lends its brilliance for Topps first and only ‘Living Set’.  The lifelike paintings of the players featured in this set are the real highlight, but the card design with player info found in black or red boxes with an adjacent team logo is just the icing on top.

1969 Topps

For me the 1960’s is a toss-up between 1964 and 1969, but I have to give the nod to 1969 Topps because you can clearly the see the progression in Topps trying to nail down a design throughout the decade. 1964 Topps is marred by the team name at the top of the card simply being too big. 1969 corrects this by placing a more proportionate team name at the bottom of the card. They also improve upon the color circle design from 1968  by moving it to the top of the card and featuring the player name and position instead of the team represented. All-in-all a great way to close out the 60’s.

1977 Topps

There are three or four solid designs in the 1970’s that I like (but not love) that I could have went with. However, the 1977 Topps set edges the others out just a tad. I enjoy the very clean design, the bold type-font at the top, and I’m personally a big fan of facsimile autographs, which I think are a nice touch here.  The honorable mentions I refer to earlier would go to to 1973, 1975, and 1979.

Some may prefer the 1970 and 1971 Topps sets with their respective gray and black borders, but as we all know, the set design was hindered by low quality card stock and poor production process that simply made these sets less attractive with their various flaws. I think that modern sets that use these designs, such a 2019 Topps Heritage do a tremendous job breathing new life into these classic designs.

1984 & 1985 Topps

When it comes to the 80’s, I refuse to choose one set. 1984 Topps and 1985 Topps stick out to me as perhaps the best two-year block of Topps designs up to that period in time since 1952 and 1953. With 1984 Topps we see a perfection of the dual photo design that was used the previous year, while the colorful vertical team name was a fresh concept that simply worked well. The following year Topps radically changed the design with a great looking trading card that delivers hints of that iconic 1953 Topps design. My only gripe about 1985 Topps is that the slanted team name box could have been smaller to stay outside of the white border.

1991 Topps

I absolutely adore the 1991 Topps set design. Maybe it’s because it was the first complete baseball card set that I ever owned, but this set has a very fond place in my heart. Almost 30 years later I appreciate the cards in a different way – for a classy design that prioritized photography front and center by drastically reducing the size of player name, position and team logo. I do think that the Topps 40 years of Baseball logo feels out of place. Had the double border simply wrapped around the red Topps logo, with the baseball and 40 years removed, this set would rival 1953 Topps as my favorite design of all-time.

2008 Topps

This will probably be a controversial pick, but I truly love the zany, reinvent the wheel one-off design of the 2008 Topps Set. The team name featured prominently in colorful circles and the Topps logo also featured dead smack in the middle of the card just sells the design for me. I would have preferred the card sans foil, but as we all know, Topps fell In love with foil in 1995 on their flagship design and never looked back. Honorable mention goes to the 2004 Topps design.

2016 Topps

The past decade is easily the toughest one for me to choose just one particular design for a couple of reasons. I firmly believe this decade of Topps Baseball Cards is the strongest decade of flagship designs since the 1950’s. The designs from 2010 to now also mean a little more to me now since card design is something that I’ve only recently grown a passion for in the last five years or so.

If you have an eye for detail, you’ll have noticed that all my favorite sets outlined so far have consistent design themes and white borders. I could have easily chosen 2011 Topps or 2013 Topps to continue the trend, since both are really high up there on my all-time favorite flagship designs. But the border-free full-bleed 2016 Topps design really sings to my heart. What a nearly-perfect modern design to represent the new era of trading cards.

In my almost seven years at COMC I’ve seen and been around Topps products from the last decade far more than other decade of cards. The 2010 decade is the only decade that I do feel entirely comfortable ranking these sets in order from favorite to least favorite. With 2016 being my #1, here are 2 through 10: