Phillies and the Topps Prime Numbers

Featured Cards: 1983 Topps #70, Steve Carlton; 1982 Topps #100 Mike Schmidt; 2004 Topps #1, Jim Thome; 2010 Topps #500, Brad Lidge

Over the weekend, Joe Posnanski had a fun little post focusing on the past 50 years of “Topps Prime” card numbers — numbers ending in 00 or 50, which Topps tends to reserve for superstars and major stars, respectively. He also pointed out how card #1 became quite the ultimate honor starting in the early 1990s, when Topps ended its decades-long practice of using it to honor the previous year’s World Series champs, league leaders or record breakers and instead gave it to Nolan Ryan. The post played a but with how Topps treated HOFers over the years, and there was one tidbit that stuck out like an incredibly sore left thumb when I encountered it:

“Steve Carlton also appeared on only one Topps Prime card — in 1973, right after his extraordinary 27-win season for a dreadful Philadelphia Phillies team. At least he got a 00 card — he was No. 300.”

1983 Topps Carlton FrontLet that sink in for a moment… the man who is one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time got the star treatment from Topps only once in his career. In 1983, the year after becoming first pitcher ever to win four Cy Young Awards, Topps gave him card #70. Admittedly, that is still a star number of sorts, but one typically handed out to lesser stars. However, that was par for the course for Topps — in the years following his two previous Cy Young campaigns, he received card numbers 540 and 630, respectively. Interestingly, in the 1983 set, Topps handed out #50 to Bob Horner, #250 to Bill Buckner, #450 to Ted Simmons and #650 to George Hendrick.

Here’s some other fun facts regarding Topps’s treatment of the Phillies in their star numbering system:

  • In 1967, Topps honored Dick (don’t call him “Richie”) Allen as the first Phillie to receive a Topps Prime, with card #450. He also received a card ending in 50 in 1969.
  • Mike Schmidt did not receive 1982 Topps Schmidt Fronthis first Prime number until 1982, when he was awarded card #100. That was the first of five straight years with a card ending in 00. Amazingly, in 1987, the year after winning his third MVP Award, Topps demoted him to card #430. He received 00 cards in the ’88 and ’89 sets.
  • In 1983 and 1984, Topps assigned 00 numbers to both Schmidt and Pete Rose.
  • In 1992, Topps assigned #200 to Lenny Dykstra. Yes, he had a really nice season, but giving him a superstar number seems a little out of line.
  • Dykstra would be the last Phillie to receive a Prime card until 2004 when Topps made Jim Thome the 2004 Topps Thome Frontfirst and still only Phillie to receive card #1. It’s worth noting that Thome received card #1 in the 2004 Topps Heritage set as well.
  • In the following year, Pat Burrell received his first and only Prime card, #450, an honor Jimmy Rollins has never received.
  • Despite being the NL ROY in 2005 and the NL MVP in 2006, Ryan Howard received card #330 in the 2007 Topps set. Interestingly, Chase Utley received card #350. Topps rectified this oversight in 2008 when Howard became the first Phillie since Dykstra to receive a 00 card.
  • Despite winning the World Series in 1980, no Phillie received a Prime card in the 1981 Topps set. However, following their 2008 victory, Utley and Howard received 00 cards and Cole Hamels received a 50 card. If you count the Steve Carlton veteran variation, four different Phillies received Prime cards in the 2009 set.2010 Topps Lidge Front
  • In an example proving that Posnanski’s point that Topps was maddening inconsistent with this system, Brad Lidge received card #500 in the 2010 set — the year after posting a 7.21 ERA and leading the majors with 11 blown saves.
  • Although it probably shouldn’t count, Roy Halladay’s first card as a Phillie in the 2010 Topps Update Series was card #100, which was also used for a Robin Roberts veteran variation. Halladay has received Prime numbers in each successive set, though that will likely end its run 2013.
  • Schmidt’s 2011 veteran variation was assigned card #50, which had not been assigned to a Phillie in the base set.
  • Cliff Lee held down card #100 in the 2011 Update Series, marking the second year in a row that Topps assigned the card in that set to a Phillie.

Given the year the Phillies and so many of their players had in 2012, it’s unlikely that any of them will receive the Prime number treatment in the 2013 set. Hopefully, the 2013 season will give Topps reason to assign a couple Phillies a Prime number in the 2014 set.

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