So yeah, it’s that time of year. Series 1 has arrived and, as expected, disappoints. Setting aside whatever virtues this set may or may not have, there’s one thing I have to make clear. This is not what a Topps base set should be. This is Fleer Ultra. This is late period Upper Deck. This isn’t base Topps and that makes me sad. Let’s break the set down.
Base Topps has borders, and for the third year in a row, Topps has rejected them in their flagship. I’m not opposed to sets with full bleed photography. I think Stadium Club has featured the best Topps cards for the last several years. In a set like Stadium Club, the focus of the set is the photography, and the full bleed photos, along with a minimal design, make it work. The problem with most full bleed designs is that the sets simply aren’t very distinctive.
The base Topps set has been coming out since 1952. For most of that run, the sets have been distinctive. The borders and design elements worked together to create cards that have stood the test of time. Sure, most of the borders have been white, but 1961 and 1987 gave us wood grain. 1986 and 1971 gave us black. 1972 gave us psychedelia. 1975 and 1989 gave us color. A great border, even a white one, provides the perfect frame for the card. It’s like a mat for a framed painting. Base Topps screams for a border.
Of course, what I want is irrelevant. Topps has gone borderless and that’s that. The problem is that it isn’t even a successful borderless design. I’m in favor of the large team logo, but what the hell is the “wave” that it sits on? Why the hell is it orange on the cards of Braves players? Why is it blocking out the start of the player’s name? Why is it covering up part of the logo? Seriously, what the hell?
The pixelated background for the player name and team name is OK I guess, but I don’t get the point of the shined light effect in the middle and I really don’t understand why the pixels “explode” or whatever that effect is at the end of the lines. The wave might be ugly, but this exploding effect is just baffling and pointless. It doesn’t make the card more interesting. It sure as hell doesn’t make it more beautiful.
In modern base Topps, you know damn well what you are going to get. You get tight, close up shots of players. I was a fan at first of these shots, but looking through the set, there’s a sameness that sets in when every single photo is a variation of the same theme. There’s no context to the action that the player is engaged in. Almost every background is obscured with a bokeh effect. (The best of the base Braves in series 1 is the Matt Kemp for the very reason you can see the background. The card jumps out at you when it’s sitting amongst the other boring cards.)
And of course, Topps continues to fade out the fucking picture. This year, it’s the portion of the photo that sits beneath the design elements. Why? Well, God forbid they don’t have an easy way to make their precious fucking parallels.
Hey, there are three Aaron Judge cards in series 1, so Yankees fans will be happy. 350 cards is a good size for a single series in a base set. That said, the way they are handling the League Leaders cards means we have too many similar cards of the same player. (Here’s a thought for the future though Topps: how about the LL cards have their own design so they don’t just look like other cards in the set?) You can view the entire checklist at [BaseballCardPedia].
I also like the idea of playful, multi-player cards, but some of these are just obnoxious. The worst is the [“Who’s on First” card] which features a perfectly OK photo of Harper on first base next to Rizzo. The shot is well framed from behind. The problem is that the card contains the phrase “Rizzarper” which is simply embarrassing. I’m sure who ever came up with that was well intentioned. Maybe they thought they were being playful. I suppose it was possible they considered it clever. Sorry. It’s just fucking stupid.
I’m the last person in the world who would tell you not to collect a baseball card set. I purchased a base set from a well known case breaker. I think of collecting as something of a sickness. Because I can get a base set fairly cheap, I keep buying them to keep my collection going. (I’m four cards short of every Topps base set from 1970 to 2018.) That said, I’m not going to pretend I like this set. If I were to make a list of things I don’t like in the base set, no borders and long, boring insert sets would be at the top. Combine that with the usual stupid gimmicks, and this is just another Topps disappointment.
It’s easy to look at collector’s like me and write me off as an old grouch who has been left behind by the hobby. In fact, I’m OK with that. Here, however, is how I judge a Topps base set. If someone who fell out of the hobby years ago came back and saw this set, would it get them back into collecting? My gateway drugs back into he hobby in 2005 were Topps Total and Bowman Heritage. I can’t imagine 2018 Topps being that set for anyone. This set disappoints against the history of the base set. Topps needs to do better.