Featured Cards: 2014 Topps #4, Cody Asche; 2014 Topps Camouflage #180, Ben Revere; 2014 Topps #296, Domonic Brown; 2014 Topps 1989 Mini Die-Cut #TM-16, Mike Schmidt; 2014 Topps Super Veteran SV-8, Jimmy Rollins; 2014 Topps Before They Were Great #BG-20, Mike Schmidt; 2012 Topps Wal-Mart Blue Border #90, Ethan Martin
Now that I have a complete team set, all of the base Phillies inserts (not including memorabilia and autograph versions), and a few representative samples of the parallels in hand, I’m finally ready to write about this set. Unfortunately, I’m tackling this review about as eagerly as I actually awaited the arrival of the yearly Topps flagship product in recent years. This lack of enthusiasm results predominantly from my feeling like Topps just doesn’t put anything beyond a perfunctory effort into its primary brand anymore.
A lot of other collectors have already mentioned that the design of the set is rather bland and a little too reminiscent of last year’s set, and I am inclined to agree. However, I think this has become the primary feature of the flagship set — the fact is that Topps is now clearly heavily invested the idea that this set should be able to accommodate as many different colors/types of parallels as possible. Thus, blandness is essential. Once again, as with last year, counting the printing plates, you have 17 parallels of the base set. However, it needs to be noted that previously Topps has included parallels not initially produced in Series One into Series Two and the Update Series and then issued the necessary Series One parallels retroactively (the 2011 Topps Hope Diamond Anniversary parallel immediately comes to mind). When you consider that Topps has also sold 1/1 blank-backed parallels exclusively through it’s Topps Vault eBay account and the hobby factory-issued set usually contains its own orange-bordered parallel as well, it becomes a certainty that the final number of parallels will certainly go up and will easily be a new record for parallels in a Topps set. Blech.
This year’s two new entries, yellow and a clear acetate, only serve to increase my irritation with parallel cards. Although I don’t have any of the yellow cards yet in my Phillies collection, I own a couple in my other collection thanks to my buying packs in order assemble a complete Series 1 set. Thus, I can confidently state that Topps has proven to everyone that the 1991 Fleer set was no fluke — yellow has no business being used as the border to a baseball card. As for the clear parallels, I thought that the overwhelming shrug of indifferene the hobby gave to Fleer’s attempt at acetate-based card sets in the late ’90s was also sufficient to kill that particular idea. Shortening the print run to only 10 doesn’t make it any more attractive whatsoever. I don’t know why Topps is feeling the need to resurrect Fleer’s bad ideas from the ’90s, but it needs to stop before someone decides that Fleer was onto something with its 1995 design.
While the parallels just irritated me, I harbor pure disdain towards the two Phillies sparkle variations in Series 1. I didn’t like them the first time when Topps first tried them three years ago — especially since Topps royally screwed the pooch by using a photo on Domonic Brown’s card that had many collectors incorrectly thinking there was a sparkle variation. Well, this time around Brown actually has one, as does Cole Hamels. Although I don’t plan on acquiring either of them, I have been carefully checking the cards I get in packs to see if one does turn up. What I hate most about the sparkle variation is how carefully you have to look in order to determine whether you have the regular or variation. I’d much rather have different photo variations any day — I actually love them, even when they are extremely short printed (well, I love all of them except for that damn Kendrick card).
As for the inserts, the team’s continued downward spiral means that the number of Phillies inserts is down again for another consecutive year. I’m not a huge fan of Topps’s mini insert sets, but I enjoy seeing current Phillies in older Topps designs, so I’ve found them otherwise enjoyable. This year’s twist on the mini inserts — a die-cut, colored-border take on the 1989 Topps set — strikes me as overdone and removes what joy I got out of the minis. The fact that the only Phillie in this set, so far, is Mike Schmidt, only serves to compound the disappointment. However, I will give credit to Topps for the color choice on the border — it works nicely with this particular Schmidt photo.
The updated take on the Super Veteran subset from 1983 Topps helped to offset my disappointment in the 1989 Mini Die-Cuts. When I first saw the Rollins card, I initially felt that it was too modern an update — I really loved the original version of Super Veteran cards and thought that Topps made a small mistake in not being more faithful to them in last year’s Archives set. However, upon further examination and comparison to the ’83 cards, the new version grew on me quite a bit. In fact, it proves that nostalgia for older sets doesn’t necessarily require that we have to replicate them perfectly to create a proper homage. All the primary elements are still there — on the front, a much younger monochromatic photo alongside a current color photo, and on the back, an identical listing of career achievements. I’m hoping we see a couple more Phillies Super Veterans insert cards when Series Two comes out in a few months.
The other two non-memorabilia original inserts, Ryan Howard’s Upper Class and Mike Schmidt’s Before They Were Great, were rather run-of-the-mill and nothing special. Actually, the Before They Were Great set looks and feels rather similar to last year’s Topps The Elite and Topps The Greats insert sets — thus demonstrating once again that Topps really is putting minimal effort into this set and its inserts. However, there is one final insert set of note, however, and that’s the 75th Anniversary Buybacks, celebrating Topps’ 75th year as a company — not to be confused with their 60 anniversary of producing baseball cards, which they celebrated a few years ago. The 75th Anniversary Buybacks are much like previous buyback sets, only this time with an ’60-’70s era Topps logo foil-stamped onto the fronts. I have nothing against such inserts, per se, but I do wish that Topps would, at a minimum, actually provide a checklist of all the cards included. At this time, there’s no such list available, but I have taken the time to incorporate into the database all the Phillies buybacks I’ve seen on eBay. In fact, they should do this for all their variation cards as well — far too often collectors need to rely on postings on sites such as The Cardboard Connection to get all the necessary information. There really is no good reason for Topps to not be more forthcoming with this information.
In the end, there are really only two things that this set truly has going for it. One, it’s the flagship set; the largest set issued by Topps and the one with 60+ years of history behind it. The other is that for all practical purposes it’s probably the best value for your money as a collector, and that’s even when factoring in the amount of money set builders inevitably waste on packs because of the inordinate number of parallel cards they’ll receive. (All due apologies to Topps Opening Day, which is cheaper, but it’s really nothing more than a derivative of this set.) If it wasn’t for these two facts I’d be hard-pressed to work out any real excitement for this set. I feel that’s only fair though — based on the final results, Topps can’t seem to work up much enthusiasm for this set either.
Click here for complete list of all Phillies cards, including parallels and inserts, from 2014 Topps Series One. A newly updated version of the Phillies Baseball Card Database is going online this weekend.