Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Night owl's all-time Topps set countdown (64-61)

Here we are.

Welcome to another blogger counting down every Topps flagship set from worst to best, according to his own biases and prejudices. As someone who strives for objectivity in his job, you won't see much of that here.

I considered being as objective as I could, taking a step back and evaluating the sets as they exist outside of my own influences. Perhaps the countdown would be more legitimate that way. But, frankly, that's boring and only the kind of thing that you would find in a publication in which the writers are getting paid.

This countdown will not produce any coin in my pocket, so it's going to be filled with my kind of fun.

There will be 16 countdown "episodes". Each episode will feature four sets. This way, I can write as much as I want about them without boring the entire card collecting public and, most importantly, me. (Well, maybe I will be the only one not bored, but I don't care). Also, each episode will have a theme, in this case, "it can't get any worse."

Finally, I've recruited all of my owl buddies to help out with the countdown. Each episode will feature a different owl. As the countdown progresses from the worst sets to the best, you'll see increasingly happier owls. Because, believe it or not, they really, really care about the quality of Topps sets.

Other than that, I'm not promising anything different from any other similar countdown, other than placing the Night Owl name on it for what it's worth.

But I believe that's enough introduction.

Now, here are the four worst sets in Topps history:

64. 1996 Topps

Is 1996 Topps even a set? This is the question I would have asked had I operated a blog that year or, heck, even collected a card that year. It's probably best that the set arrived when collecting was low on my priority list and, in fact, low on the priority list of quite a few other "former" collectors.

Card companies were still climbing back from the 1994 MLB players' strike when fans and collectors left the sport in unheard of numbers. A couple decades later, I can see why Topps made its 1996 set just 440 cards, the lowest total for a flagship set since 1957. The company was just hoping someone would buy the thing. But if I were collecting in '96, my reaction to this decision would have been "wrong answer."

Be proud of who you are! You're Topps, the greatest card maker in the land! Creators of the 792-card set! What the hell is 440 cards? I'm pretty certain the concept of the base set died in '96.

What I think Topps was doing was following the lead of Upper Deck. In 1995, Upper Deck dropped its flagship set from 550 cards to 495, while Topps' 1995 set was a robust 660 cards (after 792 in 1994). Topps then dutifully cut its set down to 440 in 1996. Meanwhile, Upper Deck went with 480 cards, 40 more than Topps.

This wasn't the only area where Topps copied Upper Deck, choosing to replicate one of the biggest head-scratchers in baseball card design ever.

The duplicate "squished head" image on the front of every player's card in the '96 set would be even more puzzling if 1994 Upper Deck hadn't preceded it.

I haven't the foggiest idea why it's necessary to reproduce the same image as the main one, right next to it, AND make it worse. But this was the theme of the '94 Upper Deck design, and, Topps decided to copy it, except two years later when everyone had finally forgotten the silliness of '94 Upper Deck. Topps: "Remember how stupid the secondary image on 1994 Upper Deck was? Well, we're bringing it back for 1996 Topps! Except we're just going to squish the head! Distortion! It's what's for dinner!"

Yes, 1996 was a great year for Kerri Strug, Michael Johnson, Jerry Maguire and the Spice Girls, but if you ask me what I want, what I really, really want, it's for Topps to redo the '96 design.

The '96 framework is basically 1994 Fleer, except completely botched. The plain white borders are there. The photo is the prominent feature. There is a floating team logo. But where '94 Fleer soars, '96 Topps flops. The team logo is just the right size in '94 Fleer, but too small in '96 Topps. The player's name is featured in foil on a difficult-to-read blue background in '96 Topps, while it artfully curves around the team logo in '94 Fleer. And the player's position is nowhere to be found on the front of '96 Topps, while the position follows the name in '94 Fleer.

The backs come down to a personal preference and, sadly, my preference is not this. Pale blue backgrounds are good for babies bedrooms and hospital walls. But it's ugly here. The huge, radioactive home plate background has no purpose and merely squashes the stats, which are difficult to read, but not as difficult as they could be considering white type on a dark background is always risky.

The 1996 Topps set took the worst aspect of the '94 Upper Deck set, copied the '94 Fleer set while ignoring all of its best points, and made the set its smallest in 46 years. It's as if Topps knew that nobody was going to like it.

The '96 Topps set had potential, but featured too many wrong decisions. That same year, Topps released its first Chrome set, which were shiny versions of its base-set cards. It was 1996's "lipstick on a pig" moment.

63. 2014 Topps

Ranking recent sets in a countdown that includes 60-plus years worth of pop culture is not an easy task. Perspective is everything when comparing eras.

If I were to assemble this countdown 10 or 20 years from now, 2014 Topps might receive a more positive ranking. But I'm fairly certain that it would not venture very far from the place where it resides now.

The 2014 Topps set commits two crimes. The first is one that has happened over and over in Topps' history -- it looks too much like the set that preceded it, 2013 Topps. This, in of itself, is not a felony. We will see in this countdown several sets that resemble an earlier set that are ranked higher than the set that went before it. Where 2014 Topps commits its true crime is in its refusal to be anything.

What the hell are we looking at here? If I stare at these cards for the next 25 years I won't know what the intent was behind this design. 2014 is a mess. It's as if 2013 Topps was a snowman and melted in the sun and someone reassembled the design based on what was left over to form 2014 Topps. There are too many elements on the card and nothing seems to go with anything else. There are swooshes and ribbons and tabs and logos and borders and discs. Straight lines and curved lines. It's a road map to nowhere.

The shiny roller coaster over the name and the position seems unnecessary and placed there only to continue "The Swoosh Era," which covers 2010-14 Topps.

The swoosh theme is so prominent I wonder if Nike is a secret sponsor for this set. But other than the addition of WAR as a stat (something that I'm sure would vault this set much higher on a lot of other people's countdowns),  these backs are a bore.

2014 Topps is a mutt of a set. It is compiled with bits and pieces taken from other places to form something new. But unlike a mutt, there are no adorable eyes or loving personality. Just a lot of ugly jagged edges and confusion. Like the 2014 viral video "Too Many Cooks," the end result is bloody ugly, and not nearly as fun.

62. 2000 Topps

I getcha. Who could concentrate on making a card set when Y2K was going to send us back to the stone age?

If this is the reason for 2000 Topps, then OK, you're excused. Because any rational-thinking person would know that Topps used the gray/silver border once before and collectors were still yawning about it while desperately trying to update their software.

The gray borders of 1970 Topps were probably very innovative when the set was first released, but not less than five years later (thank you very much 1972 and 1975 Topps), the set was hopelessly dated and as interesting as anything in grandma's bedroom. I know, because I saw a 1970 card for the first time in the mid-1970s and instantly wanted to take a nap. And you know how kids feel about naps.

But at the risk of making 2000 Topps about 1970 Topps, I'll steer this write-up 30 years forward and ... ah, hell, it's still boring. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Meanwhile, Topps was still issuing paltry flagship sets at this time -- only 478 cards with this one. I was still barely collecting at this point, but I do remember buying two or three packs from a bookstore of all places and thinking "so this is how modern cards are going to be now -- no, thank you."

Although I appreciate the unobtrusive design, the odd "porch step" effect ruins the minimalist look. The "Topps 2000" notation is welcome since copyright dates on the backs of cards were breaking tiny type records all over the country at that time, but it would have looked much better if it was placed on the same line as the position designation, and the "step" eliminated.

It's strange that someone who loves 1975 Topps so much would say this, but vertical backs are rarely pleasing (sorry, mid-1980s Fleer, it's true). Not only does this card back remind me of something ugly from the early '90s, but the stats are much too tiny. My eyes aren't what they once were and 2000 Topps shouldn't be reminding me of that. It has its own problems.

But the one thing you should know is how impressed I am that I was able to compose so many words for this set when really the only thing that needs to be said is "yaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnn."

Not the kind of set you want to kick off the 21st century (or end the 20th century, depending on your viewpoint).

61. 1998 Topps

I know that collectors who grew up with cards from the late 1990s don't feel this way, but this was an unfortunate time period for first coming across Topps sets.

As you probably know, The Cardboard Connection has been conducting a bracket vote-off to determine the best Topps set in history. Virtually across the board, the Topps sets from the late '90s were the lowest seeds and voted out of their misery in the first round.

I wish I could pinpoint what was so universally disliked about these sets, but all I can do is give my opinion and that is: "they were depressingly ugly." My mood changes when I look at sets from this time period. Part of it is because steroids was so rampant at the time and I can actually see it in the pictures of beefed up baseball players from this period. But the other part is how obsessed card companies were with gold and silver.

Topps wasn't the only one company to plaster gold and silver all over their sets. One look at Pinnacle will tell you that. But while some companies could make the sets look at least slightly desirable, Topps could only make them look drab and not collectible at all.

I don't know what it would take for me to want to complete the 1998 Topps set. Amnesia? An auto accident that robbed me of the portion of my brain that determines good taste? It's a set design for disco dudes with open collars and medallions. Even though '98 Topps features some creative and interesting photos (no doubt spurred on by Upper Deck's innovative photography of the time), they're presented in a ugly golden frame.

You'll notice that I've ranked 1998 Topps below 1999 Topps, a set that shares a lot in common with '98 Topps. That is because I'm one of the few who likes '99 Topps better ("likes" is a strong word, let's go with "prefers"). The worst part of  '98 Topps, which '99 Topps doesn't possess, is the awful, muddled nameplate at the bottom. Backdrops with pictures, in which words are printed over them, should be outlawed in an amendment to the constitution. I'll say it again: I shouldn't have to tilt a card to read a player's name.

'98 Topps commits the same sin on the back. I'm trying to read the tiny, tiny stats but all I can see are Yankees logos floating before my eyes. In fact, if I close my eyes, I can STILL SEE THEM. Damn it, make it stop!!

Finally, I suspect that this is the set that kicked off the gold parallel phenomenon that exists to this day. I grew tired of these parallels a long time ago -- in fact, I was never very impressed with them -- yet a number of collectors are still hooked and look at anyone who questions them as if they're 400 years old.

This is what you wrought, 1998 Topps.

Russell Hammond is a golden god. You are not.

Up next: Sets #60-57. It will be a slightly less cranky episode. Slightly.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The most Hall of Famers, update 4

Every March I slip into a scanning funk. I am never more aware of how time-consuming scanning is than during the busiest month of the year.

Lately I've found myself trying to avoid scanning large amounts of cards, even though that is part of what makes Night Owl Cards so damn fun -- all the glorious scans!

Don't worry, I'll snap out of it soon, but meanwhile, here is a typically low-scan post.

It's been more than a year since I've updated my quest to find which Topps set features the most Hall of Famers. Since then, the Hall has added four more members. So it's about time that I updated any sets already featured that include those four players in the set, and also total the Hall of Famers in another set.

The only period that I have avoided focusing on so far -- outside of the last 20 years or so, when obviously there won't be a lot of Hall of Famers -- is the late 1980s. So I'm going straight for a darling of the Topps card past and see how many Hall of Famers are in the 1987 set.

I will include the '87 total in with the other sets that I have done already.

1956 (33): Hank Aaron, Walter Alston, Luis Aparicio, Richie Ashburn, Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Warren Giles, Will Harridge, Monte Irvin, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Bob Lemon, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Jackie Robinson, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ted Williams, Early Wynn

1963 (35): Hank Aaron, Walter Alston, Luis Aparicio, Richie Ashburn, Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Whitey Herzog, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Juan Marichal, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Stan Musial, Robin Roberts, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ron Santo, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Willie Stargell, Joe Torre, Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Williams, Dick Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

1968 (42): Hank Aaron, Walter Alston, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Jim Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Tony LaRussa, Mickey Mantle, Juan Marichal, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Joe Torre, Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Williams, Dick Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

1969 (47): Hank Aaron, Walter Alston, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Bobby Cox, Don Drysdale, Leo Durocher, Rollie Fingers, Bob Gibson, Joe Gordon, Jim Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver, Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Williams, Dick Williams, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

1970 (43): Hank Aaron, Walter Alston, Sparky Anderson, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Leo Durocher, Rollie Fingers, Bob Gibson, Jim Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver, Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Williams, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

1975 (43): Hank Aaron, Walt Alston, Sparky Anderson, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, George Brett, Lou Brock, Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Bob Gibson, Rich Gossage, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins; Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ron Santo, Mike Schmidt, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver, Billy Williams, Dick Williams, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount

1983 (44): Sparky Anderson, Johnny Bench, Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Rich Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Herzog, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Tony LaRussa, Tom Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, Bruce Sutter, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount

1987 (35):
Sparky Anderson, Yogi Berra, Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Rich Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Herzog, Reggie Jackson, Barry Larkin, Tony LaRussa, Tom Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount

1996 (21): Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Wade Boggs, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Tom Glavine, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Mickey Mantle, Pedro Martinez, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith, John Smoltz, Frank Thomas

1987 Topps has just 35 Hall of Famers as there was quite a bit of turnover around 1983-85 when a number of established players retired. Also, '87 is one of the first years to be affected by PED use as players like Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire were just starting out. No coincidence, Jose Canseco's first flagship appearance is in '87 Topps.

There are two Hall of Fame players in the '87 set that weren't current players at the time. Roberto Clemente and Carl Yastrzemski are featured in the Turn Back The Clock subset. I didn't include those, although now that I realize I included Topps' Mickey Mantle tribute in the '96 set, I wonder if I should have.

The only set to be affected by the addition of the 2015 Hall class is 1996 and all four members of the class were in that set, so '96 jumps from 17 Hall representatives to 21.

I hope to pick up the pace on this series as I don't want to be adding one set a year -- I'll never end up with an answer if I'm going that slow.

But at least I scanned just two cards. Believe me, that's about all I can handle in March.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Each year, when I make the determination that I am not going to attempt to complete that year's Topps base set -- which has been every year lately -- I go about organizing the cards in order by team.

This way, it's easier for me to find cards if I am trading. Also, there is just something pleasing about categorizing cards by team that goes back to my childhood. You can assemble them by their respective divisions, in alphabetical order or by which ones you wish would die in a bear trap. The possibilities are endless.

And if the set is particularly colorful, as it is this year, you get the neat effect above. That picture is just as pretty as all get-out.

This is how I had assembled my cards for 2015 Topps, but all the while I had this nagging feeling that it wasn't quite the way they should be arranged.

Today, I decided to do something about it.

See if you can guess, by the pictures, what I am doing now.

That's right.

Yeah, I have no idea why I'm doing it.

I'll probably get bored of this by June, and then there's the whole matter of where the binder is going to go. There's no room in this house.

But Topps found a way to suck me in.

Stupid pretty colors.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why I don't bother with Heritage minor league sets

Until a couple of weeks ago, this green-tinted parallel of Dodgers prospect Zach Lee was the only card I had from the debut set of Topps Heritage Minors in 2011.

Although I enjoy minor league sets, it's more for their kitsch value. The old cards, the wacky poses, the ball girls and trainers, spotting some well-known major leaguer just starting out in the bowels of professional baseball.

But Heritage Minors I'll probably never understand and definitely never purchase. The cards come at a bit of a premium because they're on Heritage card stock, yet they're still a bunch of nobodies. They don't deserve that fancy stock. That's for major league players.

Along with that, I'm being asked to spend my hard-earned money on a bunch of guys who will probably never amount to anything on an MLB level. Yeah, I know, prospecting is about finding that needle in a haystack, but I'm much too poor for that nonsense. So, all I've got then are guys who played ball pretty well but not well enough for the league I watch on TV and follow semi-religiously.

To help me demonstrate why Heritage Minors is not on my radar, Scott Crawford On Cards sent me several Dodgers prospects from that initial set from 2011 (he's probably going to wonder why he sent them to me after this).

Let's see how these guys are fairing these days:

Chris Withrow, Chattanooga Lookouts

Withrow is the most notable Dodger from this group, although he's in medical limbo now. Elbow and back surgery means it'll be midseason before anyone will see if he can recapture the overpowering stuff he showed in 2013 with L.A.

Nathan Eovaldi, Chattanooga Lookouts

Eovaldi is an established major leaguer but with the wrong team. He was traded by the Marlins to the Yankees in the Martin Prado-David Phelps deal a couple of months ago. The Marlins got him from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez trade.

Allen Webster, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

Webster has spent the last couple of years with the Red Sox, moving back and forth between the big-league team and the minors. He hasn't fared that well in the majors. I have a number of nice Webster cards from the heady days before he was sent to Boston in the big Adrian Gonzalez mega-trade. They don't mean a heck of a lot now.

Jake Lemmerman, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

Lemmerman was dealt to St. Louis for Skip Schumaker back in 2012. Lemmerman last played in the Padres' organization last season, but he wasn't able to hit above .200.

Garrett Gould, Great Lakes Loons

Gould is still making the slow, slow climb in the Dodgers organization but was sidelined by Tommy John surgery in November and probably won't pitch this season.

There are still two Dodgers prospects from this set that I don't have. Brian Cavazos-Galvez is a career minor league in the Dodgers organization, finishing his sixth season in the minors last year. Kyle Russell last played independent ball in 2013.

And Zach Lee -- still need the regular old base card version -- remains the Dodgers' pride and joy, a potential spot starter for L.A. this year after his first season in Triple A a year ago.

If Withrow never returns, Lee could be the only guy from this set who settles in with the Dodgers, everyone else having moved on or even given up on pro baseball. Heck, even the Chattanooga Lookouts are now a Twins affiliate (the Dodgers' Double A affiliate is now Tulsa).

Fortunately, Scott also sent me some established Dodgers:

Of course, there's not guarantee with those guys either.

In four years I might be talking about Ryu's career as a Mariner and Kershaw chucking it all to become a missionary in Africa.

There are no guarantees.

But at least if they're in a Dodgers uniform, I feel better about the whole thing.

Friday, February 27, 2015

30 teams, 2015 edition

Welcome again to the Night Owl Cards ranking studios.

This is the seventh annual edition of "30 teams," my rating of each Major League Baseball team from my most favorite to the most unholy spawn of beezlebub.

Once again, I'm always happy when this tradition comes around again because it means that we're not far from baseball, spring, and a world in which I can see grass, sidewalks, roadside curbing, the fence in our yard, the bottom half of sign posts, and the vehicles driving down the street as I crawl inch-by-inch in reverse down the driveway to see out from behind the snowbanks, hoping that this won't be the day when I place a call to the insurance company.

But you just go right on visiting your spring training sites. I'll get you back when it's August.

Anyway, for this list I decided to focus on rookie mojo. For each team, I found a card that features a past rookie sensation from that team. It was pretty easy to find cards for most of the teams. Some, like the Dodgers and the A's in particular, have enjoyed abundant rookie stars. Others, like the Diamondbacks, well, it's just another reason why I'm wondering why they exist.

But I found a card for every team and now it's time to rank them. Once again, I remind you: this is the authoritative list. Make your own list if you wish. But this the original copy.

1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS (highest ranking on this blog: 1st, lowest ranking on this blog: 1st): The benefits of rooting for the Dodgers are never-ending. Last year I mentioned the abundance of gloriously old cards available for the Dodgers. This time it's how many fantastic rookies they've featured. I went with the very latest. Also, this is the only card that will be shown that is not a Topps card. The Dodgers are special.

2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 5th). I could have selected George Brett or Bo Jackson, but The Hammer is more interesting to me. The Royals firmly entrenched themselves in the No. 2 spot by fighting mightily against the evil Giants on the largest stage in baseball. Valiant battle, fellas, but there's only so much you can do against even-year bullshit.

3. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (highest ranking: 3rd, lowest ranking: 4th): This card is sure to get some Pirates supporters stirred up, but I don't care how many stats anyone cites, Steve Sax is still the 1982 Rookie of the Year. I mean, Johnny Ray to some people is the guy in the first line of the Dexys Midnight Runners song. And I'm pretty sure Eileen was a Steve Sax fan.

4. BOSTON RED SOX (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 4th): I've been noting as I look through my 2015 Topps cards, how nameless the Red Sox seem to me. I know so few players on the team. This is vastly different from the mid-to-late '70s when the Red Sox were only slightly less familiar than the Dodgers.

5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 17th): I was tempted to push the Orioles past the Red Sox this year. But the O's and Red Sox are the two teams that my brothers root for and back in those days it was known -- at least by two of us -- that the Red Sox were clearly more legitimate than the Orioles. So shall it be. Eddie or no Eddie.

6. TEXAS RANGERS (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 16th): I sense this team heading down in the rankings next year unless Adrian Beltre can do something to resurrect the entire team. At this rate, they'll be dragging another David Clyde out from the minors to attract some fans.

7. OAKLAND A'S (highest ranking: 5th, lowest ranking: 8th): Throwing a bone to the 30-something crowd. Canseco pissed me off in the late '80s.

8. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (highest ranking: 2nd, lowest ranking: 9th): Starting to feel sorry for the Phillies. That usually means a plunge down the list. But they did help the Dodgers get Jimmy Rollins.

9. HOUSTON ASTROS (highest ranking: 9th, lowest ranking: 16th): This is the first change in ranking from last year's list. The Astros soar up five spots for no other reason than I want them to win the American League title and then the World Series (provided the Dodgers aren't the other team) so people can talk about how the Astros appeared for both the AL and the NL in the World Series 10 years apart and everyone will see how clearly wrong that is and move Houston back to the National League.

It could happen.

10. CHICAGO WHITE SOX (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 11th): The White Sox drop one place because a certain owl's boss is a White Sox fan. I'm very, very sorry that he is in your camp White Sox fans. My condolences.

11. DETROIT TIGERS (highest ranking: 7th, lowest ranking: 11th): I've been doing a lot of thinking about other fans and the teams they choose as their favorites, trying to put myself in their place and understand why they root for them. I've always had a difficult time with why someone would root for the Tigers outside of growing up in Michigan. They seem almost generic. Mark Fidrych aside, of course. I don't mean to be mean, they just don't do anything for me.

12. MINNESOTA TWINS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 13th): The mid-1960s Twins must have been fun. A team that could win without a dome.

13. CINCINNATI REDS (highest ranking: 9th, lowest ranking: 13th): I will never say I miss the Big Red Machine, but I do miss the old National League West of the Dodgers, Reds, Astros, Giants, Braves and Padres. Good times.

14. TORONTO BLUE JAYS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): Eric Hinske was the rookie of the year. Really. The Blue Jays don't seem to be known for their rookie star power. There's Dave Stieb and then what? Tony Fernandez? Alfredo Griffin? Jose Cruz Jr.? I've got to be missing someone. Jesse Barfield?

15. CLEVELAND INDIANS (highest ranking: 11th, lowest ranking: 17th): The best thing about Joe Charboneau was it got me to pay attention to the Indians, who were absolutely awful when I first started following baseball.

16. NEW YORK METS (highest ranking: 16th, lowest ranking: 21st): The player on the card has nothing to do with the team ranking, or else the sight of a 1986 Met would send this team plummeting into San Diego Padre territory.

17. MIAMI MARLINS (highest ranking: 13th, lowest ranking: 18th): The Marlins are interesting. I want to see what Dee Gordon does on that team. We'll see if I'm saying the same thing when I'm watching the Mets play the Marlins in that horrible ballpark for the 48th time this summer.

18. TAMPA BAY RAYS (highest ranking: 17th, lowest ranking: 23rd): No Joe Maddon. This team does not compute.

19. SEATTLE MARINERS (highest ranking: 18th, lowest ranking: 20th): Any team that has an immediate shot of doing harm to the Angels is OK with me.

20. ATLANTA BRAVES (highest ranking: 20th, lowest ranking: 24th): With the Phillies and Mets in the division you never know, but it looks like the Braves are gunning for the cellar this year. I'm hopeful, because it'll be like the old days. It'll be as if I saved videotapes of Skip Caray and Joe Simpson lamenting the bumbling late '80s Braves.

21. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (highest ranking: 21st, lowest ranking: 24th): I'll never forgive them for taking away the Expos, or for the back-to-back hobby hysteria of Strasburg and Harper, or for being unable to beat the Giants. But something tells me I'll be leaning on them to defeat some horrific team again next fall.

22. MILWAUKEE BREWERS (highest ranking: 10th, lowest ranking: 23rd): Thank goodness for the Pirates, because the NL Central is a cesspool. We're a long way from Harvey's Wallbangers, Robin.

23. COLORADO ROCKIES (highest ranking: 23rd, lowest ranking: 26th): Can you believe it? The Rockies have pulled away from the rest of the non-Dodger NL West teams! This is a testament to both their nonthreatening nature and the fact that some NL teams have lost what remains of their soul.

24. VINCE COLEMAN (highest ranking: 6th, lowest ranking: 24th): To wit. Mike Matheny has officially replaced Angel Pagan in the "Does he ever smile?" category. I don't understand why the Cardinals have such a difficult time hiring likeable managers. Herzog, LaRussa and now Smiley. And I'm only writing about this because I don't want to go on a rant about Adam Wainwright. Also, good heavens, Cardinals, you're only one step ahead of the ...

25. CHICAGO CUBS (highest ranking: 20th; lowest ranking: 25th): I am officially bracing for the Joe Maddon-Cubs lovefest. It's probably already started, but there's going to be a fever-pitch point this season and the Cubs are already filled with so much saccharin that adding media darling Maddon onto the sugar pile will throw me into a coma by July.

26. LOS ANGELES ANGELS (highest ranking: 25th, lowest ranking: 26th): What is it with the fact that two of the Angels' greatest rookie stars of all-time have fish surnames?

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES (highest ranking: 27th, lowest ranking: 27th): I know, you want Benito Santiago here. But I'm not going to do it. Because I don't like the Padres. Do some research on Butch Metzger. The Padres have landed a bunch of star players that ... hmmmmm, several other teams seemed much too eager to let go. But let's get all excited about the revamped Padres. As usual, I hope they are wildly unsuccessful.

28. NEW YORK YANKEES (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): I know, I know. I could have put Derek Jeter or Thurman Munson here. But I just like reminding Yankees fans that they once really, really, really liked Joba Chamberlain. I should have sold this card for thousands (OK, 20 bucks) while I could.

29. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (highest ranking: 28th, lowest ranking: 29th): It is really difficult finding a rookie star with the Diamondbacks. I almost had to go with Conor Jackson. Arizona seemed to have calmed down a little from all of its nonsense of the last couple of years and then Dave Stewart started spouting about "true baseball teams", solidifying their No. 29 ranking.

30. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (highest ranking: 30th, lowest ranking: 30th): Montefusco is the perfect guy for this spot and this team. He played for nothing but teams I've despised all my life (Giants, Braves, Padres, Yankees) and he couldn't shut up about how much he disliked the Dodgers ("I hate the Dodgers. I'm from New Jersey and I've always been a Yankees fan." Well, that's at least two black marks right on your forehead, sir). But those were the good old days when it was just troll talk because the Giants sucked. Now they keep winning World Series and I'm still baffled as to how they keep doing it. These are dark, dark times for baseball.

Geez, I hated ending on that unhappy point. Maybe next year I'll start with the worst first.

Anyway, there you are, the rankings for 2015. As usual, keep this list next to your TV/viewing device so you know who to root for.