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:

Sets Revisited: 2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects (baseball)

By James Good

Although I consider myself a lifelong collector, there was about a five or six year stretch through my teenage and early adult years where my trading card collection remained largely dormant.  The 2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects set is near and dear to my heart because it was the first product that pulled me back into the hobby as an adult a little over ten years ago. That makes it a perfect candidate for this installment of Sets Revisited.

As close as a 90’s kid would ever get to the real thing!

As a 90’s kid in the hobby, I bought and traded cards not only because it was AWESOME to have a superior collection than my friends, but also because I was led to believe that one day I would be sitting on a goldmine of cardboard. Shout out to all the fellow 90’s collectors with hundreds of pounds of junk wax era cards who felt the same way! While that pipe dream has yet to pan out, 2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospect was the first set that really introduced me to the prospecting aspect of the hobby.

In early 2008 I took a job at a sports card and memorabilia shop at the local mall. As I got reacquainted with the hobby, a lot had changed, particularly on the baseball card front. I was completely caught off guard that products containing primarily minor league players had leaped to the forefront of collector’s attention. I could not believe that the Ken Griffey Jr. and 90’s Mickey Mantle insert cards that I loved so much were worth so little, yet collectors were now crazy for kids who had yet to make their major league debut. The idea of a stock market like approach to collecting fascinated me, and I too quickly bought into the hype.

Before I get into the prospecting element of this blog, everyone likes a feel-good story, right? At the time in early 2008, my favorite baseball player on the planet was Tim Lincecum. ‘Lincy’ was a University of Washington pitching standout who I always felt belonged in Seattle Mariners uniform. But as fate would have it, my beloved Mariners instead took Brandon Morrow in the 2006 MLB Draft with the sixth overall pick instead, passing on names like Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. I’ll save my grievances for a later blog. Regardless, in my very first box of 2007 Bowman DP&P, I pulled a monster rookie card of my favorite player:

2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects – Red Refractor Tim Lincecum #’d 3/5
(It kills me that I don’t have a better picture!)

That was all the excitement and enjoyment that I needed to keep ripping the product for the next several months. To this day, I have not hit a card from a product that I have loved nearly as much as I did that card. One of my biggest regrets in collecting was selling it when money was tight back in 2009. I’m hopeful that someday it will return to my collection, but for now a gold refractor version that I was able to snag for about $30 earlier this year on COMC will suffice.

As far as the prospects in the set, time is the one true constant in the world of professional sports, and time will always tell all. Enough time has passed that there is no more speculation to be had with 2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects. Without further ado…

Who Were We Prospecting Back in 2008?

2007 Bowman DP&P was not a product that was popular for the autographs, but rather for the 1st Bowman non-autographed cards of several top prospects. We’ll get to them later. The set simply did not have a truly standout autograph class at the time:

BDPP111 Daniel Moskos
BDPP112 Ross Detwiler
BDPP113 Tim Alderson
BDPP114 Beau Mills
BDPP115 Devin Mesoraco
BDPP116 Kyle Lotzkar
BDPP117 Blake Beavan
BDPP118 Peter Kozma
BDPP119 Chris Withrow
BDPP120 Corey Lubke
BDPP121 Nick Schmidt
BDPP122 Michael Main
BDPP123 Aaron Poreda
BDPP124 James Simmons
BDPP125 Ben Revere
BDPP126 Joe Savery
BDPP127 Jonathan Gilmore
BDPP128 Todd Frazier
BDPP129 Matt Mangini
BDPP130 Casey Weathers

BDPP131 Nick Noonan
BDPP132 Kellen Kulbacki
BDPP133 Michael Burgess
BDPP134 Nick Hagadone
BDPP135 Clayton Mortensen
BDPP136 Justin Jackson
BDPP137 Ed Easley
BDPP138 Corey Brown
BDPP139 Danny Payne
BDPP140 Travis d’Arnaud

Looking at this list in 2018 is almost painful, and not just because none of the prospects who I invested in panned out. With the success of Tim Lincecum and the (at the time) raw potential of Madison Bumgarner, fellow Giants pitching prospect Tim Alderson seemed like a can’t miss prospect. While the latter two have multiple World Series rings and individual accomplishments, Alderson was never able to reach the bigs, logging nearly 800 minor league innings as of 2016.

I can’t recall if Todd Frazier was a hyped prospect back before his big league debut, but his name is one of two on this list that stand out as having solid big league careers. The other would be Ben Revere, who was one of if not THE top auto to hit in the product. Of the rest of these names, Beau Mills, Michael Main, Jonathan Gilmore, Michael Burgess, Kyle Lotzkar, and Nick Hagadone all had appeal and were considered the best of the rest.

As I spoke to earlier, the real appeal of 2007 Bowman DP&P came from the non-autographed 1st Bowman cards of several top prospects who would command top dollar from the day that the product was released. You can catch the full checklist for all 100 prospects in the set here. So who were the cant miss prospects of this set?

Matt Laporta and David Price were on EVERY prospectors radar. Laporta was generally seen as the safer option of the two, as even prospectors to this day would agree that prized pitching prospects are high-risk, high-reward investment opportunities. Obviously David Price has had a great career up to this point, so it’s always good to see a top prospect who does pan out. Jason Heyward, Madison Bumgarner, and Freddie Freeman were also very coveted prospects who were hot sellers. Freeman  has an opportunity this season to become the first league MVP from this group, although in my belief he’s been passed up in that race as of this writing.

With Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Johnathan Gilmore, the Atlanta Braves were one of the most coveted teams in the forum group breaking scene. I opted to put my faith and dollars into the San Francisco Giants for the handful of breaks that I took part in.  Aside from Madison Bumgarner’s first prospect chrome and Tim Lincecum’s green-bordered RC, Nick Noonan, Wendell Fairley, and Henry Sosa were all above average prospects at the time as well.

Speaking of above average prospects, here are the five players that I recall being sleeper picks among prospectors. Do you remember any of these guys?

Of these five, I was most invested in Matt Dominguez, who was a machine in Single-A in 2008, cranking out 18 homers. He was never able to hit for both power and average the Major League level though, and it pains me to see that parallels of this chrome card can be had for a fraction of what they were worth back then.

Nobody had a clue about Kluber’s talent 10 years ago!

Lastly, I wanted to mention the one guy who I felt wasn’t on any prospector’s radar back then and who has had arguably the most accomplished career to date. That man would be Corey Kluber and his TWO Cy Young awards!  He remains the only base card in the set that consistently sells for above $5. The entire San Diego Padres team could be had in group breaks for just over double that price back in 2008.

2007 was a really interesting year for this product. The set list is broken up by draft picks, all depicted in professional uniforms, and prospects, who were photographed in action during the World Baseball Classic. Some collectors were put off by the fact that these players were depicted in their WBC country uniform, which really stunted the long term value of Clayton Kershaw’s card in the set among others.

That’s going to do it for this stroll down memory lane. Do you recall any fun memories from this set? Let us know in the comments below!

Sets Revisited: Grading the 2017 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph Class

Welcome to Sets Revisited, a series where we take a look at sets of years past. This time around, we’re setting the way back machine to the Summer of 2017 to evaluate one of the hottest baseball sets in the last few years. The perfect storm of Aaron Judge in the East and Cody Bellinger in the West set the hobby ablaze. Long time collectors and new collectors returning the hobby simply could not get enough of these two sluggers. With a strong supporting rookie class, 2017 Topps Chrome was the highly anticipated pinnacle of the 2017 baseball season for Topps. Although Topps continued to release sets well into the off season, nothing quite captured the magic of 2017 Topps Chrome.

Do you have a set that is near and dear to your heart and want to write about it? We’re always looking for guest writers on the COMC Blog to share their passion for cards! Send an email to Staff@COMC.com and we’d be more than happy to chat about your blog ideas!

Please note that any price speculation, player or card evaluations in this blog are the opinions of the writer – James Good  in this case, and do not reflect the same views as COMC as a company.

The A Class – aka The Money Cards

It should really be no surprise to see this group of players leading the pack as the rookie autograph cream of the crop. While Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger went back and forth in the popularity contest while each running away with their respective league’s Rookie of the Year crowns, Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi quietly put together campaigns that would have put them in the running for those awards in most seasons. Meanwhile, Yoan Moncada and Ian Happ showed strong promise

Judge and Bellinger autos will set you back quite a few dollars, but both have the early makings of becoming iconic cards in the industry. If they’re anything like their fellow mega stars of the game (Giancarlo Stanton & Bryce Harper come to mind), their value should rise steadily for years to come.  Benintendi, Bregman and Moncada are all more economical investment options, and could yield higher returns overall than the big two, but at a slower rate. Happ remains the wild card of the group, but has all the makings of a star and plays for a big market team, hence deserving a spot in the A Class.

 

The B Class – aka The Investment Group

I’v dubbed the next ten best cards of the 2017 Topps Chrome Rookie Auto class as ‘The Investment Group’ because several of these players have a chance to break out huge over the next several years and join the ranks of standout 2017 rookies above. Trey Mancini came into the season with a buzz and did not disappoint. His stock could rise substantially in Baltimore with the speculative departure of Manny Machado. Mitch Haniger flew under the radar for the Seattle Mariners in 2017, and despite injuries produced a stat line similar to Bregman. It wasn’t until he cranked out 10 home runs in April 2018 that his hobby stock rose significantly and the price of his ’17 Topps Chrome Auto rose from $4 to $15.

Yuli Guerriel‘s age (32) played a factor in his hobby value, but like Bregman, did have a huge spotlight shined on him (both positively and negatively) as the Astros claimed World Series glory. Teoscar Hernandez only played 26 games last year, but did hit 8 homers for Toronto after being traded in a deal that saw Francisco Liriano head to Houston. The price of his rookie auto has steadily risen ever since and his base auto is currently sold out at time of writing.

Matt Olson generated his fair share of hobby buzz by smashing 24 homers in under 60 games, but his value has tapered off in 2018 with a slow start. Josh Hader has increased his stock dramatically as a dynamic reliever who is an absolute strikeout machine. It’s likely that a large amount of Hader autos can still be found in $3 and $5 boxes at your local card shows – scoop them up because the kid is young and can deal! Hype for Alex Reyes is starting to generate as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. He is the Cardinals top-rated prospect. Tyler Austin, David Dahl, and Ryon Healy round out the group with similar long term investment potential as the rest of the B Class, but they’ve yet to put it all together at the big league level for a sustained period of time yet. Of the three, Healy has shown above average defense and pop in his bat playing for the Seattle Mariners as their everyday first basemen. Any of these three players can get hot in an instant and when they do, their chrome starts shining a lot brighter!

The C Class – aka High Risk, High Reward

Rookie Chrome Autos for starting pitchers tend to be somewhat polarizing in the hobby – they’re either very hot or very tepid. Highly touted pitching prospects often dominate Bowman prospecting speculation, yet fail to produce similar hype initially once they reach Topps Chrome. For that reason, I’ve dubbed this class as high risk, high reward.

The C Class is rounded out by two starting pitchers who have each shown that they deserve a spot in their team’s starting rotation, but have yet to show collectors a reason to invest with urgency. Luke Weaver and Carson Fulmer have all the makings of top-of-the-rotation pitchers, but are still developing at the big league level. Jessie Winker, Lewis Brinson, Bradley Zimmer, Hunter Dozier and Franklin Barreto have yet to really make a splash in the majors, but they show all the tools to be solid everyday players. Unfortunately, in an industry that is constantly chasing the next big thing, they’ll each have to step it up to gain recognition in the hobby beyond the local scale.

The D Class – A Couple of These Guys Will Prove Everyone Wrong

*Record scratch* *Freeze Frame*
Dansby Swanson: “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up here in the D Class….”

I know that this is going to generate some buzz, and a lot of people are going to disagree with my assessment. I hope that I end up being wrong, because I fully expect at least two or more of these guys to put together great big league careers. I expect that a few of these guys certainly won’t stay in the $5 price range either. But for right now, this is where Dansby Swanson belongs. He has all the potential to be a B+ or even an A- player years from now, but he has a long road to redemption. To say that his career up to this point hasn’t gone the way that him and a lot of speculative prospectors would have hoped would be an understatement. With all the young talent that is flowing in Atlanta, Dansby is going to struggle to regain his footing in the hobby as players like Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies pass him by.Although he has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season, he is currently a bottom of the order hitter on a team stacked with younger, and wildly more popular talent.

Of the rest of the players in this group, I’d like to highlight Jorge Alfaro, Chad Pinder, and Hunter Renfroe as the three most likely candidates to break out of this group. Pinder has also shown to be adept with the bat – cranking out 15 home runs in 2017 but striking out around 30% of the time.

The F Class – Available in Bulk on COMC!

I’m not going to say anything bad about this group of players. Every Topps Chrome rookie auto checklist is rounded out by a crop of guys who simply aren’t buzz worthy in the hobby. Some of these guys will have decent careers or fit niche roles very well throughout their career. However, for now they will forever be the ‘hits’ that could have been. For every Aaron Judge auto pulled from a pack of chrome with excitement, there is a Joe Jimenez or Reynaldo Lopez auto hit elsewhere with little fanfare.

The good news is that if one of these players do happen to break out, a feeding frenzy of flipping (say that one three times fast!) will happen because these players are all available in bulk on the COMC Marketplace! For the sake of optimism, I’ll take Rob Gsellman and Pat Valaika as my two candidates who could shift the market with a single performance.

Overall as a whole, I’m going to give the 2017 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph class a collective grade of B+ This set has some serious potential to go down as one of the best in Topps Chrome history. Featuring two of the games most popular players with bright careers ahead, and several others with the ability to reach that level, this wasn’t a product where collectors were only chasing one big name. I highly enjoyed ripping my case of 2017 Topps Chrome in a hotel room while vacationing in North Carolina. Hitting a purple Judge auto at the height of his popularity will always be one of my favorite hobby moments, and the reason why this set is near and dear to my heart.