Welcome back to Lookout Landing's one-day-old tradition of judging the designs of baseball cards. Yesterday we began the event with some of the most garish designs among the base sets, and the favorites won, although 1999 Skybox Thunder put up a valiant effort behind its team of rapping copywriters. This division lacks any of the heavy favorites, but is perhaps just as deep, which should make for an interesting competition.
Our rules were outlined yesterday, so you can refer to them if you like, but in short: we're voting on the ugliest cards based on their design, not the people on them. We've only selected mass-produced issues from the Mariners era, and your job is to vote for whichever card you find uglier. Your reasons are your own, but if you have good reasons, please share them in the comments. And as always, voting goes through 9:00 PM PST.
Today: the cards that perhaps didn't try hard enough.
#1: 1979 Topps vs. #8: 1990 Topps
I don’t know why I hate these 1979 Topps cards so much. Is it the government letterhead font? The mismatched color scheme? That awful Topps logo? The flags with broad swallowtails on both ends? That doesn’t even make any sense. Where is the flagpole, Topps. Am I supposed to believe this flag is just hovering there by itself? You’re usually so good at flags.
1990 Topps, meanwhile, is the neon safety vest of baseball cards. 1990 Topps doesn’t give a damn about you. What are you going to do? You already bought the cards, you dumb stupid idiot. You’re going to buy more, because you still don’t have the Griffey yet, with his little yellow trophy-bowl. Oh, you like these fancy Donruss cards with their flashy colors and their attitude? Topps has seen your kind before, kid, when they were still pulling folks off the roof in Saigon. Topps gave you all the color you wanted then. You want more? Fine, Topps is going to vomit some dot-matrix Technicolor right into your eyes and call it a day.
#4: 1981 Donruss vs. #5: 2014 Topps
When it comes to aesthetics, it’s audacity that usually upsets us. Much of the Modern Art is about undercutting our sensibilities, forcing us to react and then to think. But then there’s also the ugliness that comes from good old fashioned incompetency. We have an ugly drawing on our fridge, drawn by my daughter. She was barely one when she made it. Frankly, it’s a minor miracle she could hold onto the crayons. In context, it’s beautiful, a miracle of life and growth. Out of context, it’s 1981 Donruss.
It’s hard to be boring and busy at the same time, but Topps managed to pull it off in 2014. The team-oriented piping is a plus, but the curved lines feel unnecessary and almost corporate, pulling the eye down and to the right. The white border says "every Topps set from the last fifteen years" while the Star Trek font sells out any possibility of retro charm. Altogether it’s almost a sixties look, which is funny because the original 60s Topps basically jumped right from the fifties to the seventies; turns out they might have been on to something.
#3: 1989 Bowman vs. #6: 1986 Sportflics
There was always something a little sketchy about Topps releasing a set named after its original competitor, like naming a gated community after the displaced indigenous people who once roamed there. But that’s not what we’re judging in this particular case. It’s not even the nameless, "olde-timey" design that makes you remember how boring the past was. No, it’s the fact that Topps decided to make its Bowman cards a quarter of an inch taller than every other card around. That meant they didn’t fit in pages, and after a few months every one you owned was damaged at the top. I guess that was the real nostalgia Topps was going for: reminding you that everything erodes and becomes worthless.
The "Magic Motion" cards of Sportflics were among the industry’s first super-premium issues: back in 1986, a pack of three cards cost 79 cents at a time when that amount could buy you a pair of shoes or a gallon of gas. Sadly, they hadn’t gotten the magic down yet. Each card had three photographs that you could shift between by turning the card left or right, but the set often made one of the three a headshot, making their face suddenly appear in the middle of their swing. Then they combined the blurriness with a name-free design, so that you have to turn each card over to see who the hell you’re looking at. Good plan!
#2: 1991 Fleer vs. #7: 1997 Bowman's Best
The 1991 Fleer set has one of the most dignified fonts ever to grace a baseball card. Its use of parallel lines is striking. It’s unostentatious with its simple rectangular border. It’s simple, it’s humble. And if you can just get past YELLOW YELLOW YELLOW YELLOW YELLOW
What do the squares mean in the Bowman's Best cards? Are they a manifestation of the will, the intense kinetic energy of baseball whirling around us, in invisible Brownian motion? No, because they hover around the guys posing for portraits, too. Are they the midi-chlorians that give baseball players their talent, and if so, why are there just as many of them around Mickey Morandini as Barry Bonds? What sort of sound do the squares emit? Is Bowman trying to warn us of a hellish near future where translucent squares harass us just at the point where we most need to concentrate? If so, why not let us enjoy our last squareless days in blissful ignorance?
Again, thanks for taking part. Tomorrow we'll tackle the insert card bracket, which features some of the weirdest and worst cards of all.