Okay, dealers are already posting 2012 Topps cards on eBay but the official street date is still tomorrow. So, my plan to wrap this up in time for the 2012 cards is still nearly on track, and I really hope to have the final installment online tomorrow. I’ll even act like I haven’t already purchased a “master” team set off of eBay that I’m already looking forward to receiving and that I haven’t spent time drooling over the idea of getting my hands on some of the 1987 Mini inserts. Without further ado, here are my picks for the best Phillies base cards of 2011. But first, a…
Dishonorable Mention: Topps #359, Roy Halladay Post-Season No-Hitter Checklist
I really wanted to like this card more than I did — a lot more. Unfortunately, Topps didn’t feel that the second post-season no-hitter in baseball history deserved anything more than serving as a checklist. Far more often than not, the backs of Season Highlight subset cards from past years past usually contained something about the game on the back of the card — even if it was just the box score. Yet, Topps just couldn’t bring themselves to do that. I know that I shouldn’t complain too much — after all, Topps did commemorate the event, and it does appear that the picture on the card is from Halladay’s gem against the Reds. However, this was really half-assed, and Halladay and Phillies collectors deserved far better.
Fifth Runner-Up: Bowman #172, Cole Hamels
I’m a sucker for cards picturing pitchers hitting, and this card is no exception. The card gets extra bonus points because Hamels is wearing the alternate home uniform and he appears to be admiring his shot — something that pitchers rarely get to do. Given he’s never hit a home run, it’s likely he needed to start hauling ass less than a second after the shutter on the camera slammed close. However, there are two things holding this card back: the black borders, while a nice design statement, are historically notorious for chipping and making wear look worse than it really is; and, under most conditions, text done in foil can be hard to read, but placing it on a back background makes it nearly illegible under most lighting.
Fourth Runner-Up: Topps Opening Day #90, Chase Utley
First, I just need to state for the record that it is a complete an utter coincidence that I chose to post this on the same day that The Phillies Room did a post highlighting the series of photos that were taken on the same day as the photo in this card. I planned out this post last night and had every intention of using this card before Jim made his post. Second, the reason for choosing the Topps Opening Day version over the regular Topps is that it has no foil. Seriously, someone needs to do an intervention with Topps. The fact that using foil is an option is not reason in of itself to do so. I think the Opening Day set wonderfully illustrates this. The card just looks cleaner without the foil. Finally, the reason I chose this card is the fact that you it’s not a type of photo you will see often. Over the past six seasons, the Phillies have played just four day games at Fenway, which gives Topps very little opportunity to get photos of Utley in front of the Green Monster. Although, as the post at The Phillies Room demonstrates, Topps did seem to want to make up for that this year by issuing six different cards using this shot or similar photos.
Third Runner-Up: Gypsy Queen #270, Brad Lidge
I picked this card for nearly the same reason I picked the Utley card before: the details in the photo make it clear that it’s not the type you would see often. In fact, thanks to the fact that Lidge is wearing road grays, the Red Sox third base coach is wearing home whites in the background and the Robin Roberts memorial patch on the right sleeve of Lidge’s jersey, we can determine that this photo was taken on the same day as the one on Utley’s card. I will admit that while Jim’s post at The Phillies Room didn’t influence my selections for this post, it did influence the order. Seeing those six Utley cards together made the card feel a little less special than Lidge’s, and as a result I did flip-flop their order in this post. I think that was more than fair.
Second Runner-Up: Phillies Team Issue II (no #, uniform no. on back), Hunter Pence
You would expect the Phillies to occasionally employ better photos than those used by Topps, and the photo on Hunter Pence’s very first Phillies card is a great example of this. Most in action shots involve players hitting, pitching/throwing or fielding. You just don’t get many photos of players running the bases, and even rarer still is the photo where the player is as dirty as Pence is in this shot. The only really flaw in the Phillies Team Issue sets is that they are so much larger than standard cards, thus making them harder to store. Otherwise, getting your hands on these sets is a requirement for any serious Phillies collector because, frequently, they are the only place where you will find cards of players like Brian Schneider, Dane Sardinha and Mike Zagurksi. Yes, the borders can be somewhat basic, but at least there’s no unnecessary foil on them.
First Runner-Up: Phillies Fan Appreciation Day Postcards (no #), Wilson Valdéz
What I said about the Phillies Team Issue sets applies to their Fan Appreciation Day Postcard sets: you would expect the Phillies to employ photos that Topps would have a hard time acquiring. This card is yet another example of that. To be fair to Topps, Valdéz’s pitching performance is not the type of thing to warrant a special highlight card, and even if it was, it was highly unlikely they would have had a photographer at Citizen’s Bank Park on the evening and at the time Valdéz took the mound. However, it should be noted that Topps did acknowledge the event on his Update Series card. However, as I said, the Phillies were in a far different situation, and commemorating the event in their Fan Appreciation Day Postcard set is exactly the type of thing I’ve come to expect from the club. They didn’t disappoint. In addition to the rarity of Valdéz’s accomplishment, we got to see someone on the mound with a dirty uniform — pitches’ uniforms rarely get that dirty.
Now, for our winner. The 2011 Phillies Card of the Year is…
Topps Opening Day #52, Placido Polanco
As I progressed through this Year in Review series, I actually had no idea what cards I’d be writing about for this category. As a result, I inadvertently used this card as an illustration for my post on the Parallel Series of the Year. If I had known or suspected that I would choose it as the Phillies Card of the Year, that never would have happened. Obviously, the card made quite an impression on me, and as I look at closely, I can see why: although the card is for Polanco, Joe Blanton is in the background stealing the show by holding his junk. Okay, he’s holding a towel in front of his junk, but at first glance it certainly looks like he’s doing more than just supporting the team with his presence in the dugout. In fact, now that I’ve made the connection, I literally cannot look at the card without thinking, “He’s holding his dick!” (An incredibly apropos reference to a segment in Lewis Black’s Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center Blues album.) It’s a shame Blanton is stealing the show, because like a couple of the other cards in this post, action shots like this one are rare.
However, there’s yet another reason for loving this card — one I didn’t appreciate until just before I started writing about it. Take a good look at the rest of the background. Based on the hats and clothes of the fans in the stands and the partial web address on the dugout, this photo was taken at Fenway as well. In fact, like the Utley and Lidge’s photos, it was also taken on June 13, 2010. When you examine the play-by-play of the game, it’s clear that the play shown happened in the bottom of the fifth, when J.D. led off the Boston half by hitting a foul pop-up to third.
With that, my 2011 Phillies Cards in Review is nearly done. Tomorrow, I will choose my Set of the Year.