The truly ugly baseball card sets are an assault on the senses. After gazing upon them for just a couple of minutes you can’t help but feel you need to step away and start flushing your eyes out with Visine. Amazingly, Fleer managed to do this twice in just a five-year period, with two sets — the first in 1991 and the second in 1995 — which demonstrated that ugliness can be achieved in wildly divergent set designs. Whereas the blindingly yellow borders from the ’91 issue only required sunglasses in order to gaze upon them for more than a few minutes, one needs to drop acid in order to appreciate the design used for National League East teams in the ’95 issue. At least, that’s what I assume as I refuse to ingest it myself in order to test my hypothesis, but it’s the only method I can surmise that would allow anyone to enjoy those cards.
But, at least those nightmarish sets were completely original designs. True, they were abject, mockable failures. Yet, the Fleer designers responsible for those monstrosities at least exercised their creative talents — for evil, mind you, but creative nonetheless.
I’ve given Topps some grief in the past in regards to its reuse of vintage designs. But in nearly every instance, my criticisms fall into the realm of being nitpicky in a manner that I wish Topps would embrace — a great example is my discussion of what was wrong with the Darin Ruf/Tyler Cloyd Rookie Stars card in the 2013 Topps Heritage set. With the extremely notable exception of their various efforts to create a 1973-style solo Mike Schmidt card — which The Phillies Room did a wonderful job of annotating — Topps generally puts forth a decent effort to properly recreate the original design when issuing its retro sets.
This was especially true back when Topps resurrected the Turkey Red design back in 2005. I loved the set and felt they did a wonderful job of resurrecting the design. In fact, my only real complaint was that they didn’t reprint more of the cards from the iconic original set. It was awesome to a have high-quality, standard-sized reprint of the Charles “Red” Dooin card alongside the 2005 Phillies team set, but it was also depressing that it lack accompaniment by similar reprints of Sherry Magee, William “Kitty” Bransfield, Mickey Doolan, & Dode Paskert.
As Topps continued issuing the brand in successive years, the design was tweaked slightly from year-to-year. However, unlike the Allen & Ginter designs, each of the Turkey Red sets were still recognizably using the same design elements from the original set (Wrigley Wax has a nice montage showing the evolution of the set over the years). Whatever your feelings may have been about the alterations, there was no denying that Topps was at least trying to maintain the spirit of the original set.
I don’t know Topps’s reason for the utterly obvious laziness demonstrated by this year’s design. Maybe it’s the result of the fact that despite its comparatively high asking price, Topps knew the limited-edition product was almost certainly going to sell out — which it did. Maybe its because they decided to “modernize” the design somewhat. Regardless of the explanation, the design feels like someone just looked at the last seven years of product and attempted to reproduce it with as little effort as possible. The nameplate is completely gone, and there’s nothing about the border that suggests it’s supposed to be a picture frame. Furthermore, the only identifier on the front is the player’s last name — no team designation or first name. In previous years, Topps used either the player’s full name or the player’s last name and team designation. Using just the last name puts the final who-gives-a-fuck appearance to a product that just looks obscenely lazy, and to me that’s worse than ugly. Lazy suggests that no one gave a crap about what the final product looked like. There’s very little creativity in lazy — especially when you are trying to create something that is incredibly reminiscent of a previous product.
It gets worse for us Phillies collectors, however. Much like all the fans of National League East teams in the 1995 Fleer set, we have a special, albeit much more sublime, horror lurking for us in this year’s edition of Turkey Red. Look closely at the spaces in the “P” on the caps and inside any of the loops in the “Phillies” script on the jerseys. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you — that interior space is grey on the uniforms and blue/dark-grey on the caps. I can only assume that this is somehow the result of the computerized treatment designed to stylize the photos in some sort of retro, “drawn” fashion.* It doesn’t really matter, however, why it happened. The point is that it did, and once you notice it, it jumps out at you every single time. Mind you, this is not hideous in the manner of the retouching job on Roy Halladay’s 2010 Topps Heritage card, but nonetheless this type of production mistake is completely unacceptable. If there’s a silver lining to this mess, it’s that there are no Phillies autograph inserts. Completists such as myself don’t need to spend much money to assemble a master team set.
My only hope is that this marks the end of Topps’s Turkey Red sets once and for all. If this is what we have to look forward to with future releases, then I don’t want to see them. It takes a special effort to produce something as lazy as this, and I don’t want to reward Topps for it any further.
Featured cards: 1995 Fleer #405, Kevin Stocker; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #45, Domonic Brown; 2005 Topps Turkey Red #14, Charles “Red” Dooin; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #41, Cliff Lee; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #59, Cole Hamels
* Which, by the way, is also an obscene failure when you compare it to the artwork shown in the Dooin reprint.