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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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!