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.