Oddball(s) of the Set
Topps seemed to use some kind of green filter on many of the backgrounds of the photos in this set, sometimes with the result that the player looks like they're on some Star Trek world where dancing green women kill the guys in the red shirts. Here are a couple of the more egregious examples. From the base set we have future Cubs manager (poor guy) Jim Essian (#269), who not only gets the martian treatment for his background, but also appears to have been clumsily cut out in silhouette, probably from an even more exiting photo with multiple players standing around doing nothing. Then, from the Traded set, we have Mick Kelleher (#53T), who gets a lousy haircut from the silhouette man at Topps, and appears to be on a planet that patterned its architecture after that of France (the way Star Trek taught us that all alien races emulated specific Earth features). Fittingly, neither player looks too happy with what Topps has done to them.
Most Aesthetically Pleasing/Favorite Non-Dodgers Card(s)
This may be a bit of a cop out, but if I were to try to name a non-Dodger favorite, it would be an arbitrary choice. I don't have an emotional attachment to any specific card. My favorites in this set are all based on how they look, so I'm just gonna show a few of the best. I'll start with a Giant (so definitely more appreciation of aesthetics than favoritism). One of the things that I've learned so far from this project is that I love the use of green in the design elements of a card. It's actually somewhat rare, probably because it's no team's color and because card makers figure you already get enough green from the grass in the pictures. But it's exactly that synchronicity with the grass of the field that strikes a chord for me. I'd never thought of it before, and it isn't obvious given all of the other colors associated with uniforms and logos, but green really is the universal color of baseball, the one color that ties every team together. Now, pair that with the orange of the Giants uniforms, put criminally underrated third baseman Darrell Evans in a classic take-a-knee baseball pose, and you have one hell of great looking card (#17).
Next up we have one of those newfangled Team Leader cards, which didn't particularly grab my attention at the time. But after taking a new look at this Phillies leaders card (#636) I couldn't help but fall in love. First of all, you've got two Hall-of-Famers... well... you know what I mean. You have perfectly cropped photos, with both players gazing in the same general direction, looking downright heroic. (Remember, this is about looks, not substance.) And you've got that classic Phillies logo, with its curves mirroring the curved stripes up the right-hand corner of the card. It's a piece of cardboard that looks so good you almost want to eat it!
Finally, we have a veteran pitcher who spent his entire career with one team (surprise!). I love these two cards because, unlike most of these pairings in the set, they best echo the spirit of the 1972 set's In Action innovation. For the base card, we get the underwear model showing why his face, unlike that of many ballplayers, was well-suited for advertising. I mean, you want to buy something from this guy, right? He's sure selling something, anyway. Plus Topps gives the Orioles the classy matching color treatment for the stripes. Even Palmer's sunburn matches the color scheme. And I'm actually okay with the fake autograph on this one. Just a classic baseball portrait card (#80). Then you couple it with an In Action card (#81) that displays Palmer's beautiful windup. The guy could have been a terrible pitcher and still been a joy to watch. In this shot you get a great angle of his delivery at the point where he's extended in every direction, with the ball framed in the crook of his leading glove hand. Perfect.
Favorite Dodgers Card(s)
I've mentioned that the Fernando Season Highlights card is probably my favorite. But as a sendoff to one of the original Dodger heroes (of my fandom, that is), the three cards that Davey Lopes got in the base set are hard to top (and almost make up for that green-uniformed monstrosity in the Traded set). You get the heroic portrait pose on the base card (#740), which features his final career statistics as a Dodger on the back, and mentions his place as the second leading base stealer in LA Dodgers history, behind only Maury Wills. A great posed batting shot graces his All-Star card (#338). As I've mentioned, I love the design of these cards, and this is a fabulous one. Finally, we get to see him in his stance at the plate on his In Action card (#741).
One Final Thought
There would have been little question about my favorite card in the set had Topps not dropped the ball. Why, Topps? Why did you choose to forego including post-season cards in a set recapping a championship year for my Dodgers? Why did you force me to have to make one of my own, with no back, and no actual corporeal presence other than this trick of light on my computer screen? Not cool, Topps. Not cool.
The Big Picture
Okay, I'm starting to see that this ranking thing is nowhere as easy as I'd expected it to be. Fortunately, the fun comes from the process of taking a closer look at the cards, not from the final ranking. Still, the ranking is the nominal purpose of this exercise so I've got to take it seriously (at least as seriously as you can take "playing" with baseball cards, as my Grandma would always say, to my great consternation).
Like first two sets reviewed, this one has a lot going for it. It was a step forward in a few respects. There was the expansion of the set to 792 cards. There was the replacement of fairly disposable team photos with Team Leader cards. There was the clean, sleek, "modern" design. But they went back to fake autographs. There were some odd color issues, particularly in the Traded set. They also emphasized awkward candid shots, which showed neither action nor professionally posed goodness. And, worst of all, there's no card celebrating the World Champions. On the whole, I like this set a good deal. Just not as much as I like the previous two.
With three sets reviewed, '82 ranks as the #3 Topps set of my collecting lifetime, behind '81 and '80.