45 Years of Padres on Topps Cards

Topps has been the one constant in baseball cards over the years, since even before the Padres existed. They were the sole licensed manufacturer up until Donruss and Fleer showed up in 1981, and have been again since 2009, when MLB declined to renew Upper Deck's license. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the Topps base card has evolved since San Diego joined the major leagues in 1969. I went through my collection and picked one Padres card from each year without repeating any players. It probably would have been a lot easier to use a Tony Gwynn card every year from 1983-2002 but I think the variety makes it a little more interesting.

1969_medium
1969: Inaugural Padres in the first series, such as Dick Selma, got the black hat treatment since the team didn't have a uniform to airbrush on yet. Players in Series 2 were pictured in the first brown unis.

1970_medium
1970: Stylistically different than its immediate predecessor, the '70 set is one of my favorites. The gray borders and the player name font are just right.

1971_medium
1971: This was Topps' first attempt at a black bordered card. As you will see, it would not be their last.

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1972: Here's the Padres' first star modeling a classic lid on the famed "psychedelic tombstone" card front.

1973_medium
1973: A return to a more subdued design. The position silhouette device made its first appearance.

1974_medium
1974: A well-designed card, the '74s are best remembered for the "Washington, Nat'l League" short print "error" cards. What happened was that the Padres were expected to move to D.C. and Topps even went as far as to print the first batch of Padres cards in Series 1 with a changed team name. These parallels, especially the McCovey, are fairly rare and sought after.

1975_medium
1975: Another vibrant design, this one was better received and is remembered more fondly than the polarizing '72s.

1976_medium
1976: An underrated and fairly forgotten design but I absolutely love the brown and yellow. Note the return of the position cartoon.

1977_medium
1977: The facsimile signature makes a return after a year off.

1978_medium
1978: Another year, another great use of the team colors. I really love the simplicity of this design.

1979_medium
1979: Brown and yellow get the year off while orange does the heavy lifting. Oddly, orange was not one of the team's colors yet.

1980_medium
1980: Oh, hey, there's the printed signature again. This was one of those years when they used a completely unrelated color as part of the design.

1981_medium
1981: An all-time classic. The hat just absolutely makes it.

1982_medium
1982: Brown and, for some reason, green make their may back to the front of the Padres' cards, as does the facsimile signature. Another stylistic device dusted off by Topps from its bag of old tricks is the curved crop on the lower left corner of the photograph.

1983_medium
1983: Again with the green and brown! The inset face shot is a great touch, reminiscent of the 1963 set.

1984_medium
1984: Topps decided to carry over the inset photo and again assigned the Padres an odd color to complement a familiar one. I really enjoy the descending team name; it seems almost like a sign for an old-timey theater.

1985_medium
1985: Ah, now that's just about perfect. No out of place colors and yet again the team name takes center stage.

1986_medium
1986: Speaking of putting the team name out there on front street, this is the easiest set in history to sort by team.

1987_medium
1987: One of the most beloved designs in Topps' history, the wood grain borders harken back to 1962. On a side note, that's not barbecue sauce on his face; there was something on my scanner.

1988_medium
1988: The team name returned to the forefront after a year off and Topps brought back the use of a ribbon, something they last used in '79 and '80, for this uncluttered and mostly forgotten set.

1989_medium
1989: I LOVE this design. It's pretty much perfect.

1990_medium
1990: I hate this design as much as I love the previous year's. I feel that it too speaks for itself.

1991_medium
1991: The ribbon is back and so is a semblance of restraint. The color scheme is also once again sensible.

1992_medium
1992: Yet again, Topps decided to pair the Padres with powder blue. It's a fine color, don't get me wrong; I'm just led to wonder why they kept going back to the well with it despite there being no actual connection to the team. It definitely beats the pink the Angels got in '89.

1993_medium
1993: Nice and simple, distinctive without taking away from the photo.

1994_medium
1994: I assume the photo border was meant to evoke a home plate. The team-to-team distinctions in this set are slight, with only the bottom line and photo border rendered in team-specific colors. The font used for the player's name is very similar to 1971's.

1995_medium
1995: For the first time, foil stamping made its way onto Topps' base cards. The team-specific aspect is even more subtle than the year before's- it's the orange drop shadow.

1996_medium

1996: For the first time since the Padres came to be, Topps didn't use different colors for the cards of each team; they all got that same blue weird photo panel thing.

1997_medium
1997: Boring and indistinct, this set also did nothing to immediately distinguish one team from another. All National League teams got the green haze, while the Arena League got red.

1998_medium
1998: Sanity is restored and the Padres are given a nice strip of logo-spotted navy blue behind the player's name. Can't say I care much for the gold/ copper border; it makes it look more like a parallel.

1999_medium
1999: The copper borders were a carryover and, aside from a lone corner crop, nothing about this card calls back to Topps' long history. The team name takes a backseat once again.

2000_medium
2000: The metallic borders are back for a third year in a row, albeit this time looking more like pewter. The team logo looks slapped on as an afterthought but, on a bright note, team specific color elements finally make a return- the blue translucence at the bottom would be orange on a Cal Ripken, Jr. card or red on a Barry Larkin card, for instance.

2001_medium
2001: Out with the metallic, in with the... green? Seafoam? It's a pretty forgettable design, whatever you call that color. Seems like they would have given more of a nod to their vast history for their 50th anniversary issue.

2002_medium
2002: Okay, this is more like it. While I wasn't crazy about previous attempts at colored borders, something about the ocher here just works. The return of team colors and ribbons- now even more ribbon-y!- make it even better. That's how it's done.

2003_medium
2003: Combined with the D****r blue borders all the cards got saddled with, the team-specific orange gives the card a decidedly Metsish feel. The face shot is reminiscent of twenty years earlier, which was in turn reminiscent of twenty years before it.

2004_medium
2004: This one combined several classic Topps elements, albeit cobbling them together amidst a melange of funky angles and random lines. The team name is up front and center and the small silhouette is back for the first time since 1976. It was a little different this time; instead of a different picture for each position, this one was an outline of the player's image on the front of that card.

2005_medium
2005: Less an overhaul and more just an update of the previous year, this cluttered card just shifted things around. The player's last name took precedence for the first time and there's a lot of redundancy.

2006_medium
2006: A return to classic Topps elements such as the large team name, team-specific colors, and player name in a banner. Oddly, they chose brown and orange despite the fact that the team hadn't worn either color for quite some time.

2007_medium
2007: Black borders made their first showing since 1971 and the facsimile signature was back for the first time in 25 years.

2008_medium
2008: Instant classic. Familiar Topps elements are in play without any of the clutter that had plagued most of the decade.

2009_medium
2009: Another restrained base set. The sand-colored outline is specific to the team.

2010_medium
2010: I like the design of this even though nothing about it builds on the Topps identity.

2011_medium
2011: Nice, clean design with all the vital information in one tidy area.

2012_medium
2012: Another perfectly simple design, keeping in line with recent years. It has come to be known amongst us card nerd types as "the surfboard set".

2013_medium
2013: And that brings us to this year. The curved baseline is a nice effect. Topps continues to assign the Padres powder blue even though the shampoo bottle logo's days are done.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at the history of Topps and our team. It turned out to be a more intensive undertaking than I anticipated but was well worth the effort. I learned a couple things and everybody knows it's great to learn... 'cause knowledge is power!

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