October 15, 2006

Appreciation: Topps Kids

This is one of my all-time favorite Topps sets. Ever. This is right up there with 1954, 1965, 1971 and 1986, and it’s certainly within the top 5 on my Best Set of the Early 1990s list. Plain and simple it’s the cartoons, and the idea that the cartoon artwork isn’t affiliated with Warner Brothers. I always found the Upper Deck Comic Ball cards unnerving, like an extension of Cool World starring Jim Abbott and Reggie Jackson. Yikes.

No, it’s the simple shapes, like the candy-colored hypnotist’s wheel behind Kirby Puckett, or the ice collecting atop Chili Davis’ bat (get it? Chili? Cause his name is Chili!), or the little batsmen on Kal Daniels’ shoulders, like modern-day Kellar devils. Or Ellis Burks’ comically-enlarged biceps (ah, gotta love those days before the world knew what BALCO meant). Or even just the simple Pop Art explosion announcing Alan Trammell to the world—the design was just DIY enough to make you forget that the company releasing it was also responsible for Stadium Club.

But the front of the card was just the half of it. The back was one of the first Topps sets to go full four-color. Unlike the spectacularly sleek Stadium Club that debuted the year before Topps Kids (1991), the four color gave TK the right amount of Sunday-comics flavor without overwhelming the seriousness of the statistics, the players, and the values the cards are trying to teach (for example, on one card the ‘Fun Box’ describes the various incarnations of an ‘insert’. By the very admission of its existence, Topps is training kids to be on the lookout for these special cards, to seek them out, oh and not to worry too much when the price of packs goes through the roof because the inserts become worth much too much for anyone’s enjoyment, but I digress).

Topps Kids had no inserts, the base set was a manageable 132 cards and packs cost 35¢. And you got a stick of gum. I don’t remember if the gum came in its own wrapper (like new Heritage) or was just recycled from old 1983 Michigan test wax. It doesn’t matter. This was a helluva set that apparently nobody cared enough about to keep it going after one issue.

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