Sunday, June 30, 2013

1986 Topps: Part III


Vital Statistics

You know the drill: 792-card base set, 132-card Traded set.

A notable Dodger newcomer from this set is four-time batting champ Bill Madlock. Mad Dog was acquired for the stretch run in 1985 and hit a blistering .360 in 34 games for LA as they cruised to another NL West title. He stayed hot in the NLCS against the Cardinals, batting .333 with three homers and seven RBI. But he had to watch Jack Clark's backbreaking blast sail into the left field pavilion, taking a shot at riding his hot bat into the Fall Classic along with it. Madlock would have a decent year with the Dodgers in '86, but would get off to a bad start in '87, prompting his release and sending the revolving door at third base back into motion for the Blue Crew.

Special Cards

In 2013 Topps notoriously refused to use Pete Rose's name in its Chasing History blurbs on the backs of its cards. But 1986 Topps could rightfully be referred to as the "Pete Rose Set." We've already seen card #1 from this set, featuring the awesome 1B-MGR position designation. But that's just the beginning.

They're in the set again. Very good. But their cards are used as team checklists again. Not so good. Always glad to see them included though.

Record Breakers
Cards #201-207. The reason, of course, that Pete Rose is featured so prominently in this set is that he broke one of the game's most hallowed records, becoming baseball's all-time hits leader. At the other end of the spectrum, Topps recognized Keith Hernandez for breaking the record for a stat that had been in existence for just six years, and which would be abandoned by the end of the decade. But any excuse to use that great photo of him losing his batting helmet is worthwhile. Other cards in this subset include Dwight Gooden becoming the youngest 20-game winner and Phil Niekro becoming the oldest pitcher to throw a complete game shutout.

Pete Rose Special
Cards #2-7. Topps broke out a classic tribute, previously used only for Hank Aaron in the 1974 set in honor of his becoming the all-time home run king. Depicting all of his Topps cards over the years, from 1963, through the crew-cut years and the bowl-cut years, up until 1985, the Pete Rose Specials feature yearly career highlights on their flip sides. On the final card (#7), Charlie Hustle is shown honoring the memory of Ty Cobb, the man he supplanted as the hit king.

These use the black frame along the card tops, with a yellow-backed checklist where the photo would be. A nice use of the set's motif, for what it's worth.

Cards #701-722. Other than the checklists, none of the subsets here uses the black border of the player/manager cards. That serves to set these cards apart, but none of the design concepts is very inspired. The All-Star cards are particularly spartan, but pleasantly so, with most featuring classic posed shots. The player names are bold along the top, but I wish the team name font would have been incorporated into the subset designs. The card backs are again used to display league leaders, which is not one of my favorite choices from this era.

Team Leaders
After a one-year hiatus, Team Leaders return, but in a completely different form. Whereas these had been used as team checklists from 1982-1984, the backs of these cards show the team's leaders in a number of batting and pitching categories. The cards, rather than showing batting average and ERA leaders for each team, depict the dean of each team, with the date from which their continuous service with the team began indicated on the back. The design, which was to persist in one form or another for several years, is one of my least favorite. The photo is turned into an amorphous blob, fading to oddly-shaped white borders, giving the impression that you're looking at a heavenly tribute to a deceased player. One of the few good-looking cards from this subset is big Lee Smith (#636), whose imposing presence manages to break through the fuzzy haze.

Turn Back the Clock
Cards #401-405. Reviving a concept first used in 1977, Topps gives us a little history lesson. These cards "Turn Back the Clock" in five-year increments, discussing the highlights of each season on the back. Unlike the '77 edition, these use Topps cards from the year in question as the graphic feature. Getting some baseball history is always a positive, but the thing that elevates this concept to something really special is that Topps stayed with it for the next four years, creating a multi-year subset that ends up covering 25 seasons.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

1986 Topps: Part II


First Impressions

Mired in the first collecting slump of my lifetime, although a minor one, my appreciation for this set was muted at the time. I was just too busy with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to bother. That is, if you count just thinking about sex... all of the time... and substitute comic books for drugs (it was a serious addiction). Also, my Dodgers were muddling through their worst season since I became a fan. And the whole black and white border thing just didn't grab my attention, either.

27 Years Later...

Turns out that I managed to let a minor gem slip through the massive cracks in my attention span. This is one of the more beautiful sets of the decade. What I'd considered to be a set lacking in color as a teenager is actually one of the more colorful. The use of black to frame the top quarter of the card with the team name actually serves to make the color that's used really pop. The team names are featured in a fabulously bold '80s-rific neo-futuristic font, which is so great that it manages to pull off the trick of also being timeless. These are stretched to cover the tops of each card, except, for obvious reasons, in the case of the A's. Bright coordinated team colors are used for the team names, as well as a small circle in the lower left corner of the photos displaying the player's position. The Topps logo again appears in an upper corner of the photo. The player's name anchors the bottom in black.

The beauty of this set's design is that it makes the color of the photos grab the attention all the more. And, unlike with the designs of previous few years, the space left for the photo lacks odd angles or major obstructions. This allowed Topps to simply choose the photos they felt looked the best, and crop them without being restrained by awkward border considerations. As a result, the set features an excellent balance between different types of action shots and the kind of classic baseball poses that were prevalent in its '70s issues. The variety is the best of the decade, including a mix of posed and candid head shots, warm-up/batting cage shots, medium-distance action shots, and a good amount of quality full-body action shots.

I'm not sure about this, but it's my impression that the card stock is once again a little thinner, similar to that of the 1984 set. Of the sets reviewed so far, the '84 and '86 sets are the only ones that tend to have a natural curve to the stock. The other sets tend to hold nicely in a flat position. But this doesn't take away from the set's appearance. One of the big concerns with cards that are printed with black borders is the potential for chipping. It's difficult to find 1971 Topps cards, for example, with really pristine edges. However the black doesn't seem to chip as easily on the '86s, and they seem to hold up well over time.

The backs are nothing spectacular, but they look nice enough. The black framing technique is echoed at the top with the vital statistics. The player names are pleasantly bold. The card number and Topps logo, in the upper corners inside of diamond shapes, make for nice symmetry. The theme for the additional information displayed, when the stats allow room, is "firsts." The Talkin' Baseball boxes, featuring a few different versions of an anthropomorphic baseball, tell you about firsts in the player's franchise's history. Additional blurbs tell you about some of the player's own firsts, sometimes including the year and number of their first Topps card. Although kinda neat, this information gets to be monotonous. The black and red color scheme is a nice one, though the stats can be a little hard to read at times, especially for veterans with long careers. For the first time, game-winning RBI numbers are added at the bottom of the career stat line for batters. It was a dubious statistic, that didn't officially survive the '80s, but Topps would continue the practice for the remainder of the decade.

In all, it's a simple design that really allows for some spectacular results. With 1988 as perhaps its only competition, I would say that of the Topps sets from this decade, 1986 is the design that would best translate into giant-sized wall posters. It certainly makes for a fabulous collection of little hand-held works of art.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

1986 Topps: Part I


Black & White.

February 28 - Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspends 11 players who had testified to cocaine involvement in the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985: JoaquĆ­n Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeffrey Leonard, Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith, Al Holland, Lee Lacy, Lary Sorensen and Claudell Washington.

April 29 - Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens strikes out 20 Seattle Mariners to become the first pitcher in major league history to reach that mark in a nine-inning game.

May 1 - Former MLB Rookie of the Year Steve Howe, playing for the class-A San Jose Bees, tests positive for cocaine and is suspended from the California League.

June 4 - Barry Bonds of the Pittsburgh Pirates launches his first career home run at Fulton County Stadium against Braves pitcher Craig McMurtry.

August 10 - Billy Martin has his number 1 retired by the New York Yankees and a plaque dedicated in his honor in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

August 14 - Pete Rose enjoys a 3-for-4 day, the last hit being the 4,256th and final hit of his career.

August 22 - Mark McGwire makes his major league debut for the Oakland A's in New York against the Yankees.

August 27 - Darryl Strawberry hits his 100th career home run helping the New York Mets beat the San Diego Padres 6-5.

October 12 - With the California Angels one out from reaching the World Series, Dave Henderson crushes a pitch from California's Donnie Moore into the center field stands for a 6-5 lead. The Red Sox would go on to win the game and the Championship Series.

November 25 - Jose Canseco of the Oakland Athletics, who hit .240 with 33 home runs and 117 RBI, wins the American League Rookie of the Year Award with 16 of 28 first place votes.

December 16 - San Diego Padres pitcher LaMarr Hoyt is sentenced to 45 days in jail following his third arrest on drug possession charges.

(Most of this text paraphrased from Wikipedia.)

Even as a 16 year old, things were still pretty black and white to me. The names above meant nothing to me other than as people involved in a game that I loved. It didn't cross my mind that things could be anything but perfect in the lives of people blessed with the opportunity to play baseball for a living. A big part of baseball's appeal will always be that all problems go away (at least in my mind) when the players take the field. Baseball lets you turn back the clock and be a kid again, no matter how old you are, if just for nine innings.

And so do baseball cards.

What's black and white and Red all over?

Friday, June 21, 2013

1985 Topps: Part IV



Oddball(s) of the Set
Between the airbrush job that makes it look like he's wearing a porcelain jacket and the giant magnifying glasses on his face giving him bug-eyes, Fred Breining's is a card (#36) that only a mother could love. Unfortunately for Gary Pettis' mom, she would have no such luck finding something to put in a frame on the mantelpiece in the 1985 Topps set. Sure, that's her son's name on the front. Those are his stats on the back. But what is ostensibly the speedy center fielder's rookie card (#497) does not, in fact, feature his picture. Then who is that playing tricks on the Topps photographer? It's his little brother! Oh, wait, I guess it can go on the mantelpiece, after all...

Most Aesthetically Pleasing
This set is the polar opposite of the previous year's in that it was difficult to find cards that were particularly exceptional in appearance. Honorable mention goes to Yogi and Dale Berra (#132) from the Father & Son subset. There were a few really nice pairings in this subset, but I like this one the best. You have the lefty Yogi facing the righty Dale, both with powder blue sky, puffy clouds, and green grass to frame them. The red of the header matches with the border of Yogi's card, while the yellow backdrop echoes Dale's uniform. And, for one time on a colorful piece of cardboard at least, the undistinguished and troubled son is elevated to the level of his iconic Hall-of-Fame father.

As much as any player at this point in baseball history, Dwight Gooden seemed to represent a changing of the guard. It was an unprecedented era for veteran pitchers, with an abundance of all-time greats in the twilight of their careers. Ryan and Carlton were still working to establish the all-time strikeout mark, with Seaver, Sutton, Blyleven and other K-artists still plying their trade. But Dr. K looked like he was on track to perhaps blow right by all of them in time. Though he was to have a fine career, that kind of greatness was to elude his grasp. But you can still see in these cards the promise of immortality. The seriousness of purpose evoked by his base card (#620) and the kinetic energy of the Record Breaker card (#3) both exude the aura of dominance that Gooden projected when his future still seemed destined to include a plaque in Cooperstown.

Favorite Dodgers Card
This spot is likely to be occupied more than a few times by my favorite player of all time (unless and until Kershaw overtakes him), Orel Hershiser. And the Bulldog's rookie card appears in this set. The fact that I don't consider that card my favorite here tells you something about how little I tend to glorify rookie cards. He certainly didn't make any impact on me when the card came out. My favorite Dodgers card from this year instead reflects my bias toward veterans. And I've always been excited about players who make their mark with other teams, but then get a little time in Dodger Blue toward the end of their career. It doesn't really matter how well they played. It's just fun to see them added to the all-time Dodger roster. Among my favorite examples are Juan Marichal and Greg Maddux. But I'm also willing to give a hitter some love, and I've always liked Al Oliver. This card from the Traded set (#88T) is his only Topps card in Dodger Blue, and he's still the only Dodger to wear the number zero (representing O for Oliver).

Favorite Card
Remember that 1984 exhibition game between the Dodgers and the USC Trojans that I mentioned earlier? It's probably my most vivid memory of Dodger Stadium from my childhood. I didn't go to a huge number of games before moving away in 1988. I probably didn't average more than two games a season, because the logistics just weren't on my side. Nonetheless, other than a couple of unremarkable trips to Anaheim to see the Angels, those rare pilgrimages to Dodger Stadium were my introduction to live baseball, and Chavez Ravine will always be my mecca. I took the new camera that my Grandparents got me to that USC game in '84 and got a few nice shots, including Terry Whitfield and Mike Marshall warming up in front of the dugout. I also got my only MLB baseball, which was tossed to me by Fernando Valenzuela as he was returning to the dugout. And I got my first autograph, having the ball signed by Rod Dedeaux, the legendary coach of the USC Trojans. I've never much followed the sport at the amateur level, but my Grandfather was a huge USC fan and made sure that I knew how special Dedeaux was, so I was excited to get that autograph for him as much as for myself. And I got to relive that excitement the following season with the surprise of opening a pack of Topps cards and finding Dedeaux. The icing on the cake? Dedeaux actually played in two major league games, way back in 1935... for the Brooklyn Dodgers, under manager Casey Stengel.

One Final Thought
Don't let the serious young Dwight Gooden fool you. This set is chock-full of smiley faces. It seems like Topps hired a new photographer for 1985 who employed the time-honored "Say Cheese!" technique. It may not be the most exciting set that Topps produced, but it might be one of the most cheerful. Just look at Julio Franco (#237) beaming from ear to ear about being a big leaguer. Time would certainly prove his love for the game to be genuine. And, hark, gaze upon the beatific visage of the formerly-scowling Cecilio Guante! Did Topps hire Morgana the Kissing Bandit to attend their photo shoots or something...?

The Big Picture

I start each of these posts with a template that includes the headers, and then I type "blah" where the text is supposed to go when my brain gets around to forming words. I was tempted to leave this portion of the page unedited, as "blah" kinda sums things up for this set. Again, it's not terrible. But, frankly, it's a little boring compared to other sets from the decade. The design is uninspired. The card backs are washed-out mush. The subsets look okay. But the decisions to eliminate League Leaders cards, put the team checklists on the manager cards, and continue to ignore the post season are all strikes against the set. Add to that one of the least interesting Traded set checklists, and 1985 Topps fails to grab one's attention. With the first six sets of my collecting lifetime reviewed, 1985 Topps sits at the bottom of the list, behind 1980 and 1982.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

1985 Topps: Part III-T


In 1980 I stayed home from school to watch the Dodgers' miracle comeback against the Astros come to an end with a defeat in a one-game playoff for the division championship. Five years later, I had high hopes for a better outcome when I came home from lunch on a Wednesday afternoon and didn't return to school. The Dodgers were down three games to two in the best-of-seven Championship Series against the Cardinals. But they were back home at Dodger Stadium, and they had Orel Hershiser, 19-3 on the season, taking the mound. The Bulldog pitched well, but got into some trouble in the seventh and was replaced by closer Tom Niedenfuer, who couldn't hold the lead. Mike Marshall broke a 4-4 tie with a lead-off homer in the eighth. But with runners at second and third in the ninth, and one out away from forcing a seventh game, Tommy Lasorda opted to let Niedenfuer pitch to this guy...

I should have stayed in school.

Meanwhile, the annual Traded set exodus of Dodgers favorites continued with Burt "Happy" Hooton taking his rhythmic delivery and knuckle-curve to Texas.

It was another big Traded set for managers. Longtime organizational guys like Eddie Haas, John Felske and Jim Davenport were given their shots. Buck Rodgers took over in Montreal. Earl Weaver was brought back to Baltimore, and Billy Martin made yet another cameo in Yankee pinstripes. Bobby Valentine began his eventful career as a manager. And the masochistic Gene Mauch signed on for another helping of heartbreak by taking over the California Angels.

Again, the Traded set is printed on bright card stock, which works better with this set than it did with any other in the decade. That's mainly because it helped to brighten up a fairly bland set, and because it actually made the backs legible, which isn't something the base set could claim.

But even the content of '85's Traded set was fairly bland. The biggest name rookies were Vince Coleman, Teddy Higuera and Ozzie Guillen. The set featured Rickey Henderson and Cary Carter moving to New York within their respective leagues. But there just wasn't a lot of excitement to be found in this set, which was overrun by the Donnie Hills and Gene Nelsons of the world. An appropriate cap to a less-than-stellar year for Topps baseball.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

1985 Topps: Part III


Vital Statistics

A 792-card base set, plus 132-card Traded set, equals the norm for the era.

He didn't play a particularly key role for the Dodgers, but Terry Whitfield was the player who made me realize that major leaguers sometimes went to play in Japan, and sometimes came back to play at home. And I thought that was a pretty cool concept, so he's the featured Dodger newcomer of the '85 set. I also liked Whitfield because he was the subject of one of the few good-looking pictures I managed to snap with my spiffy new Cannon camera at the Dodgers-USC Trojans exhibition game at Dodger Stadium before the 1984 season. (More on that game later.) Of course, my picture didn't look nearly as good as the one on this card (#31), one of the better action shots in the set.

Special Cards

Yellow-backed, generic wastes of cardboard.

The 1983 and 1984 sets did this right, returning managers to their rightful place in the base set. Those cards featured stats from their careers as both players and skippers on the back. Unfortunately, beginning with this set, Topps began a run of making the manager cards serve as team checklists, which seems a little disrespectful. Maybe that's too harsh a word for it. But I think the managers should be the focus of their own cards as much as the players are of theirs. I'll certainly take manager cards with team checklists over no manager cards. But it's a shame they didn't keep up with the good thing they had going the previous two years.

Record Breakers
Cards #1-10. This is a case where there were enough interesting records broken by good players to make a Record Breakers subset that can hold its own with a Season Highlights subset. In fact, Topps felt compelled to make this a ten-card run, whereas they had typicality consisted of six cards, and no more than eight, since the dawn of the Reagan Era. Naturally, there's a new NL single-season saves record (Bruce Sutter, 45), since it's a record that gets broken every other year (or at least it seems like it). You get Nolan Ryan passing Steve Carlton, for good, in their race to be the all-time strikeout king. Don Sutton passes the century mark in Ks for the 19th straight season. Carlton Fisk catches a 25-inning game. Steve Garvey sets a standard for consecutive errorless games at first base. Pete Rose becomes the career singles leader. There are a couple of rookie season marks set (Juan Samuel, stolen bases; Dwight Gooden, strikeouts). And little Joe Morgan (#5) becomes the slugggin'est second baseman ever (while wearing unfamiliar green).

Cards #701-722. These are again some nice-looking cards, which diverge only subtly from the base design. In this case a large yellow star replaces the circle with the team logo, with the player name and position moving into the tilted rectangular box. We get the classic posed shots here, which I greatly prefer on All-Star cards. But, in another interesting and unpleasant shift, Topps chose to use the backs of these cards to display the last season's statistical leaders. I'm not sure exactly how long it had been since there were no true League Leaders cards in a Topps base set, but this may have broken a run of more than two decades. I didn't typically love League Leaders cards when I pulled them out of packs as a kid. But, in retrospect, they're among the best cards for creating context and a sense of history after a few years pass by. So they're definitely missed. And using All-Stars for League Leaders creates some annoying incongruities. For example, George Brett's card lists the top-ten AL batting average leaders. But he didn't make the cut, having hit just .284 in an injury plagued season. Also, since there are eight position players and just three pitchers per league, the stats you get are skewed toward a focus on offense. While you get obscure batting leaderboards, such as for the dubious (and deceased) game-winning RBI, you just get wins, (oddly) shutouts, and saves for pitchers. No strikeout or ERA leaders. Don't like this at all.

No. 1 Draft Picks
Cards #271-282. Topps decided to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the amateur draft by including a subset featuring number one draft picks throughout the years. But rather than include all nineteen seasons to date, they chose to only produce cards of then-active players. That means we miss out on Rick Monday and David Clyde, among others. No major losses, but the whole run would have been nice. Darryl Strawberry is probably the biggest name in a surprisingly lackluster collection of, supposedly, the top amateur talent throughout the years. Tim Belcher, who was drafted by the Twins in 1983, but didn't sign until the Yankees drafted him the following year, is pictured with the A's, for whom he never played before being traded to the Dodgers for Rick Honeycutt. So that's kinda interesting to me, as a Dodger fan. But my favorite card here has to be that of Harold Baines (#275), in which he's sporting his early-'80s White Sox leisure suit, accented by a silver chain and impressive sideburns.

Team USA
Cards #389-404. Growing up in Southern California, I got to see Olympic mania first-hand in 1984, though I didn't catch the fever myself. In retrospect, it would have been nice if my 14-year-old self had decided to watch players like Will Clark and Barry Larkin (neither of whom appear in this 16-card subset) play at Dodger Stadium as amateurs. These cards look nice. They take the bar and circle and raise them to the top, turning the circle into a baseball emblazoned with USA. Though, oddly, instead of red, white and blue, the cards tend to look orange, white and purple. USC's Mark McGwire (#401) would ultimately be the big fish here. I'm not over it when it comes to the distortion of the game's history perpetrated by the Bash Brothers' ilk, so you'll probably not see a lot of him around here, despite the fact that he's currently wearing a Dodger uniform.

Father & Son
Cards #131-143. With league leaders stuck on the backs of All-Stars and team checklists going to the managers instead of a Team Photo or Team Leaders card, these are the only multi-player cards in the set. Fortunately, they provide a little spark in a set lacking a strong personality. These cards mark the first of the decade in which Topps gets self-referential in its base set by depicting its own past cards on current ones. It's an idea that may have been done to death by this point, but it's always fun to see the older cards, many of which were beyond the means of young collectors to get their hands on for themselves. It's always good to get a dose of history, especially when it includes baseball card history. And the subject matter is a personal favorite of many fans, including myself. Seeing the generational timeline of the game mirrored by actual family history always seems to strike a chord with fans, and Topps does a nice job of that here.

Happy Father's Day, everyone.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

1985 Topps: Part II


First Impressions

Given that my (incredibly limited) attention span was being seriously divided for the first time, it was a bad year for Topps to issue a fairly bland design. Nothing about this set grabbed my attention at the time. In recent years, there had been more colorful sets, sets with better photo choices, sets with more interesting content. This was the Topps set for the year, though, and that still meant something to me. But for the first time since I'd begun collecting these things, I did so with slightly limited enthusiasm.

28 Years Later...

There's not a lot to make me change my initial opinions of this set. There's nothing seriously wrong with it, mind you. It just seems generally uninspired in the context of its contemporary Topps releases. The design elements consist of a clunky slanted rectangle with the team name, a circle with a team logo, and the player's name and position in the space left beneath them. The fonts used are about as generic as possible. And the Topps logo gets into the picture this time, appearing in an upper corner in black or white, depending upon the background it finds itself sitting on.

The cards are colorful but, unlike the Topps standard of the late '70s/early '80s, the colors are coordinated with those of the teams, so no pink (although there's an odd overuse of yellow). The coordinating colors and the large unobstructed space for the photo above the nondescript design elements make for cards that are, if not exciting, pleasant on the eye. And there's something to be said for that. If the 1984 set is a bases loaded rally in the bottom of the ninth, 1985 might be the pitcher bunting a runner over to second in the fourth inning. But, you know what? It's all baseball, so it's all good.

Simplicity can be a good thing. At least they're uncluttered. Interestingly, if ever there was a design that could almost benefit from facsimile autographs, it's this one. But I'm still glad they're not there. It seems like it would be a nice set for autograph hunters. Maybe the biggest problem with the design is the odd nooks and crannies left for the photo to accommodate at the bottom. It's like playing a ball in right-center at Fenway. As a result, this design works particularly well for old-school posed shots, and we get plenty of them in this set. It's actually kind of a nice change of pace after two years of portraits being relegated to miniature accompaniment for an action photo.

Unfortunately, the action photos in this set contain less action, on the whole. There's an abundance of batters waiting for a pitch, and fielders doing the same. There are very few cards showing a player's entire body. Instead, Topps opted for a lot of medium-distance cropping, probably both to accommodate the design and to make sure we get a look at the players' faces in the absence of secondary portraits. There tends to be a bit of monotony as a result, but there does seem to be a sense of unity and purpose that almost adds up to give the set some personality.

One of the biggest problems with the set is the illegibility of the card backs. The green and brown combo is a pleasant one, evocative of the grass and dirt stage the game is played on. But the brown tends to be so washed out that there's very little contrast with the card stock. A look at the back of one of these cards tends to make the eyes go blurry and sap you of the will to investigate further. If you were to do so, you would find trivia questions on cards where there's room to display one. They all pertain to (then) current teams, players and events, or generic baseball questions. No history lessons to be found. When there's room to say something about the player, it's usually an interesting personal tidbit, which I much prefer to generic "big game" information. For example, we learn that Steve Sax was a Giants fan growing up. If you ask me, that's the real Steve Sax Syndrome.

Pleasant. Unobtrusive. Inoffensive. Acceptable. This is hardly a set that evokes heaps of praise. But it's a dignified representative of the Topps flagship brand. And it could certainly have been a lot worse.