Category Archives: Cole Hamels

Countdown to 20,000 Coming Soon

Featured Cards: 2013 Bowman Breakouts #BSB-AAL, Aaron Altherr; 2014 Topps Philadelphia Phillies 60th Anniversary, Cole Hamels (no #)

Yes, I’m still alive and kicking; I’ve just been on another one of my hiatuses from this particular blog. As is usually the case, I started focusing intently on some of my other long-standing projects. In particular, I’ve been working feverishly on The Database and will have a much improved version online soon. In addition, I’m planning to start posting with some regularity again soon as I am now inching close to a landmark number in my collection: 20,000.

2013 Bowman AltherrI started this blog back in May 2011 in anticipation of adding card number 14,000 to the collection. It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that in a little over three years I’ve added approximately 6,000 more to the collection. I should state that “card” is a rather amorphous term — it includes various postcards, stickers, photos, coins, mini-posters and other small collectibles. However, I actually have a large collection of signed baseballs and slabbed certified autograph cards that I don’t include in that count, for some reason I’ve never given any conscious consideration to. I’m sure I’d already be beyond the 2o,000 milestone if I counted those as well.

My current plan is to post card numbers 19,991-20,000 as they arrive. Although, I feel that I should probably take the time to highlight some other cards along the way. I don’t know when exactly I’ll hit that mark, but based on planned release dates for upcoming Panini and Topps products — combined with the fact that I will only be purchasing new releases for the foreseeable future* — I’m guessing that it will be no later than the middle of July.

In the meantime, I feel it necessary to make a public service announcement for the incredibly awesome and limited new Phillies team set issued by Topps: the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies 60th Anniversary Team Set. I don’t 2014 Topps Phillies 60th Hamelsknow why it’s being called a 60th anniversary set, seeing as the 5″ x 7″ blank-backed cards use the 1955 Topps design, but they are only printing 99 serial-numbered sets. I ordered mine two weeks ago, but the moment I’m writing this post it appears that Topps still has some available for order. I received my set in the mail a few days ago and they are gorgeous. They even come in special wax wrapper that I will be keeping along with the cards. But the best part, for me, is this: I got extremely lucky and my set is number 01/99. Yes, I own the first one. I don’t think I own the first number of anything quite like this set. The only drawback is that it is a little pricey. Including shipping, the five-card set containing Hamels, Howard, Lee, Rollins, & Utley will cost you slightly over $31.00.

More to come soon.

*As I get really close to 20,000, I might try to acquire a special vintage item to celebrate the milestone, but I haven’t come to a firm decision yet.

2014 Topps Turkey Red: Bringing New Meaning to “Turkey”

1995 Fleer StockerThe truly ugly baseball card sets are an assault on the senses. After gazing upon them for just a couple of minutes you can’t help but feel you need to step away and start flushing your eyes out with Visine. Amazingly, Fleer managed to do this twice in just a five-year period, with two sets — the first in 1991 and the second in 1995 — which demonstrated that ugliness can be achieved in wildly divergent set designs. Whereas the blindingly yellow borders from the ’91 issue only required sunglasses in order to gaze upon them for more than a few minutes, one needs to drop acid in order to appreciate the design used for National League East teams in the ’95 issue. At least, that’s what I assume as I refuse to ingest it myself in order to test my hypothesis, but it’s the only method I can surmise that would allow anyone to enjoy those cards.

But, at least those nightmarish sets were completely original designs. True, they were abject, mockable failures. Yet, the Fleer designers responsible for those monstrosities at least exercised their creative talents — for evil, mind you, but creative nonetheless.

You cannot say 2014 Turkey Red Brownthe same thing about 2014 Topps Turkey Red.

I’ve given Topps some grief in the past in regards to its reuse of vintage designs. But in nearly every instance, my criticisms fall into the realm of being nitpicky in a manner that I wish Topps would embrace — a great example is my discussion of what was wrong with the Darin Ruf/Tyler Cloyd Rookie Stars card in the 2013 Topps Heritage set. With the extremely notable exception of their various efforts to create a 1973-style solo Mike Schmidt card — which The Phillies Room did a wonderful job of annotating — Topps generally puts forth a decent effort to properly recreate the original design when issuing its retro sets.

This was especially true back when Topps resurrected the Turkey Red design back in 2005. I loved the set and felt they did a wonderful job of resurrecting the design. In fact, my only real complaint was that they didn’t reprint more of the cards from the2005 Topps Turkey Red Dooin iconic original set. It was awesome to a have high-quality, standard-sized reprint of the Charles “Red” Dooin card alongside the 2005 Phillies team set, but it was also depressing that it lack accompaniment by similar reprints of Sherry Magee, William “Kitty” Bransfield, Mickey Doolan, & Dode Paskert.

As Topps continued issuing the brand in successive years, the design was tweaked slightly from year-to-year. However, unlike the Allen & Ginter designs, each of the Turkey Red sets were still recognizably using the same design elements from the original set (Wrigley Wax has a nice montage showing the evolution of the set over the years). Whatever your feelings may have been about the alterations, there was no denying that Topps was at least trying to maintain the spirit of the original set.

Then there’s 2014 Turkey Red.2014 Turkey Red Lee

I don’t know Topps’s reason for the utterly obvious laziness demonstrated by this year’s design. Maybe it’s the result of the fact that despite its comparatively high asking price, Topps knew the limited-edition product was almost certainly going to sell out — which it did. Maybe its because they decided to “modernize” the design somewhat. Regardless of the explanation, the design feels like someone just looked at the last seven years of product and attempted to reproduce it with as little effort as possible. The nameplate is completely gone, and there’s nothing about the border that suggests it’s supposed to be a picture frame. Furthermore, the only identifier on the front is the player’s last name — no team designation or first name. In previous years, Topps used either the player’s full name or the player’s last name and team designation. Using just the last name puts the final who-gives-a-fuck appearance to a product that just looks obscenely lazy, and to me that’s worse than ugly. Lazy suggests that no one gave a crap about what the final product looked like. There’s very little creativity in lazy — especially when you are trying to create something that is incredibly reminiscent of a previous product.

2014 Turkey Red HamelsIt gets worse for us Phillies collectors, however. Much like all the fans of National League East teams in the 1995 Fleer set, we have a special, albeit much more sublime, horror lurking for us in this year’s edition of Turkey Red. Look closely at the spaces in the “P” on the caps and inside any of the loops in the “Phillies” script on the jerseys. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you — that interior space is grey on the uniforms and blue/dark-grey on the caps. I can only assume that this is somehow the result of the computerized treatment designed to stylize the photos in some sort of retro, “drawn” fashion.* It doesn’t really matter, however, why it happened. The point is that it did, and once you notice it, it jumps out at you every single time. Mind you, this is not hideous in the manner of the retouching job on Roy Halladay’s 2010 Topps Heritage card, but nonetheless this type of production mistake is completely unacceptable. If there’s a silver lining to this mess, it’s that there are no Phillies autograph inserts. Completists such as myself don’t need to spend much money to assemble a master team set.

My only hope is that this marks the end of Topps’s Turkey Red sets once and for all. If this is what we have to look forward to with future releases, then I don’t want to see them. It takes a special effort to produce something as lazy as this, and I don’t want to reward Topps for it any further.

Featured cards: 1995 Fleer #405, Kevin Stocker; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #45, Domonic Brown; 2005 Topps Turkey Red #14, Charles “Red” Dooin; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #41, Cliff Lee; 2014 Topps Turkey Red #59, Cole Hamels

* Which, by the way, is also an obscene failure when you compare it to the artwork shown in the Dooin reprint.

2013 Pinnacle: A Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured cards listed at end of post.

2013 Pinnacle HamelsAs I’ve stated before, I want to see Topps’s monopoly on MLB-sanctioned card broken (even if it won’t happen until 2020, at the absolute earliest), but I can’t bring myself to stop collecting their cards because of what it will do to my collection. Thus, the only way to make my displeasure known is start spreading some of my collecting budget around to the sets that only bear MLBPA approval. Yes, I’m going to have to live without MLB logos and team names, but such cards have been around for over 40 years now. In fact, some of my personal favorite oddball Phillies releases were produced by Michael Schecter Associates, the longtime, indisputable king of such sets from the ’70s through the mid ’90s.

However, the playing field has changed 2013 Pinnacle Rufsomehow since sets bearing the MSA copyright freely roamed the land. MLB is paying much closer attention than they used to. Back in the ’70s and early ’80s it wasn’t uncommon to still see the use of team monikers on such issues, even if it wasn’t completely legal. Furthermore, MLB’s legal team is making harder for the MLBPA-approved sets to bear photography that links the photograph to a facility in which MLB games are played. True, today’s digital photo manipulation technology makes it easier to perform all the tasks necessary to keep the MLB lawyers at bay, but it’s hard to escape the end result: regardless of quality, the photos in the cards just seem to lack a vibrancy found in even the blandest Topps issue. As a result, one needs to judge the MLBPA-sanctioned issues with a different set of criteria.

2013 Pinnacle Ruf BackWith that in mind, there’s quite a lot to like about Panini’s revivial of the Pinnacle brand. It works as a decent low-end set, a kind of throwback set I alluded to a couple days ago: no foil or other printing gimmicks, a limited number of parallels and no SPs. Furthermore, Panini designed the fronts to reflect the designs of the original Pinnacle releases; most notably, the all black borders, and rookie cards grouped together in a subset. Even the parallels are resurrections of the original sets’ parallels: Artist’s Proofs and Museum Collection. Unfortunately, the backs look nothing like the backs of the 1992 & 1993 sets which fronts of the 2013 edition clearly evoke. Most notable is the absence of player portraits on the back, and it would’ve been nice to see Panini make such an effort on this release. Beyond that, it just looks like a different design aesthetic altogether, which is 1993 Pinnacle Bell Backa shame given that the fronts of the 2013 set make it look like a natural predecessor to those earlier releases.

As for the Phillies player selection, the huge emphasis on rookies, which encompasses fully ¼ of the whole 200-card set, leads to Darrin Ruf and Tyler Cloyd pushing out a couple Phillies who probably should’ve been included instead — most notably, Cliff Lee. In addition, I’m not sold on the inclusion of Michael Young in the set, but clearly both Panini and Topps both felt that his presence in many sets this year was more important than the inclusion of Jimmy Rollins, whose status seems most impacted in sets hovering around this size. With just four other cards in the set, it’s hard to quibble with the remaining player choices: Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard.

2013 Pinnacle Auto CloydThere are two really notable aspects to the set’s inserts. First, we get Tyler Cloyd’s first autograph card properly showing him in “Philadelphia” attire. Topps still hasn’t issued a Cloyd autograph card — though to be fair, I think that is a borderline defensible position from Topps’s standpoint as Cloyd really is little more than a AAAA roster filler material. So, at this time this is the closest you are going to get to a true Cloyd Phillies autograph card. (His only previous autograph card, also a Panini release, shows him in either minor league or collegiate attire and looks even less like “real” Philadelphia card.) Second, Chase Utley gets a lot of insert attention in this set and is the only Phillie with multiple inserts, checking in with three. This is a refreshing change from what I’ve seen this year from Topps, who seems to have largely forgotten that even with all his injuries over the past few seasons, he’s still produced as one of the game’s elite second basemen.

However, one of 2013 Pinnacle CV Utleythose insert sets, Clear Vision, is a real puzzler. There’s no explanatory text whatsoever on any of these cards whatsoever, so without seeing the marketing material, I cannot make any sense of why players were selected for this insert. Additionally, I am unable to discern neither the rationale behind the various parallels for this set; the parallels each bear a different word on them — in the case of the pitchers, they are “Complete Game,” “No Hitter,” “Win,” “Shutout, and “Perfect Game.” Furthermore, are the parallels printed equally or in varying numbers? Once again, we have an insert set that serves no purpose whatsoever (not even a thinly applied one), other than to provide an excuse to print more cards of star players. At least thus far Panini hasn’t reused the same photo of Utley in any of its sets — though, admittedly, that’s a little easier for them since they don’t product as much product as Topps.

2013 Pinnacle HowardGiven the restraints the lack of MLB approval placed upon Panini, 2013 Pinnacle is a fairly decent set. Although it will never become a set collector’s will look fondly upon, it works well in the low-end segment of the hobby that the manufacturers really neglect since it’s not a huge money maker. Furthermore it provides an interesting glimpse into what Panini or Upper Deck, when they finally come around to issuing their first new baseball cards in three years, might produce should either of them decides to issue a comprehensive set of baseball players who play at the highest professional level in America. I, for one, am hoping such a set comes out sooner than later.

Featured Cards: 2013 Pinnacle #112, Cole Hamels; 2013 Pinnacle #161, Darin Ruf; 1993 Pinnacle #566, Juan Bell; 2013 Pinnacle Rookie Autographs #TY, Tyler Cloyd; 2013 Pinnacle Clear Vision Triple #CV50, Chase Utley; 2013 Pinnacle #139, Ryan Howard

2013 Topps Archives: A Very Belated Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured cards listed at end of post.

This is only the second year that Topps has issued its Archives set in the current format, and it was already one of my most anticipated sets of the year. I’ve made no secret of my love for cards of current players in vintage designs, thus the very very nature of the Archives and 2013 Topps Archives RuizHeritage brands unquestionably makes them must-own sets. There is very little that Topps can do to actively ruin the experience of collecting those cards — not that they can’t make some very notable mistakes, but more on that I progress in this review.

Unfortunately, the change in performance for the team means a drop from last year in the number of Phillies in the base set. With only six cards (down from last year’s 11), there’s no real way to complain about the player selection. Ruiz was an All-Star last year, Schmidt is now a staple in all Topps sets in which he can realistically appear, and when Topps was first determining player selection, choosing each of the Three Aces was something of a no-brainer. Given Ryan Howard’s status in the hobby since his rookie season, selecting him to round out the Phillies made sense. Having said that, Topps did a terrible job when it came to properly scattering the six players across the four designs in the set — none of them appear in the 1985 design. This really is an unforgivable oversight. There are thirty teams, and each of the four designs in the base set contains 50 cards. So long2013 Topps Archives Halladay as a team has at least four players in the set, it should be represented in each of the designs. I was especially annoyed by this sloppiness in set construction as the 1985 set is one of my all-time favorites. My annoyance only amplified when I realized that both Howard and Halladay appear in both the 1972 design and the Topps 1972 Minis inserts to the regular Topps set. I’m not quite sure why Topps felt the need to give double-duty to the design this year, but as much as I love retro-themed cards, I really would have appreciated more variety in Topps’s efforts this year. (Because of this and the fact Topps does reuse photos quite frequently, I almost feel like I should applaud Topps for managing to avoid using the same photos in both the minis and the 1972 portion of the Archives set.)

Just as an aside, I feel like I have to give Topps credit for getting the color scheme right for the Phillies in the 1982 design. In the 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites set, they rather amazingly used the wrong colors for the Bob Dernier card, listed his position as “3rd Base” (a position he never played in his entire professional career), and used a hatless photo to boot — something that typically only happened when a player had just changed teams. It’s almost as if they intended the card to be a Cubs card (it has the correct Cubs colors and Dernier did get traded to the Cubs after the 1983 season), changed their mind at the last second, and couldn’t be bothered to properly fix anything on the card’s border, other than the team name. This may well be Topps’s worst Phillies card ever.

2013 Topps Archives Hamels2005 Topps ATFF Dernier

As with last year’s set, all the retired Phillies in the high-numbered Fan Favorites SPs in the main set are really just non-autographed versions of the Fan Favorites autographs. With that in mind, it’s nice to see Juan Samuel finally receive a Phillies autograph card. By using the 1987 Topps design for it, Topps managed a rather subtle nice touch in that it also used the ’87 design for Von Hayes’s first Phillies autograph card in last year’s Archives set. It’s also nice to see the inclusion of Larry Bowa, 2013 Topps Archives FFA Bowa Autoeven though the slightly blurry, in-action photo on the card looks like it belongs in the 1973 set and not the 1978. Given his long-standing status with the team, I’m actually surprised he hasn’t shown up more often in such Topps sets. Furthermore, with only one other autograph card to his name, having more autograph cards is quite welcome. The same is not entirely true, however, for Daulton’s appearance. Yes, he is the epitome of “Fan Favorite,” but as I’ve stated before, there are a plethora of deserving retired Phillies who have yet to appear as a Phillie on an autograph issue, and Daulton has appeared on over a dozen different autograph cards to date. To add insult to injury, Topps continues to use the same crappy 1992 template it used with last year’s Mitch Williams Fan Favorites cards. The colors are too light — so much so that Daulton’s name is actually hard to read — and the font for the team name isn’t even close to how it looked on the actual 1992 cards.

1992 Topps Daulton2013 Topps Archives Daulton

(2013 Archives card on right — at least they used a picture of Daulton in an era-correct uniform for the card design, as opposed to previous efforts)

In the past, I’ve placed cards such as these in the same binder pages as the original cards. And while I will do so with the Samuel and Bowa cards, I won’t be doing it with this Daulton card.

Unlike the Daulton card, there’s lots to love about most of the other inserts. Understandably, Topps paid special attention to the 1983 set with its 1983 All-Stars and Dual Fan Favorites inserts. The All-Stars subset in the 1983 Topps set is wonderful design, and it’s nice to see it used with Schmidt in an (again) era-correct uniform (the lack of patch of his left sleeve means that it must be from before 1983). The Dual Fan Favorites is a nice tweaking of the Super Veteran subset from the ’83 issue. However, while they look nice, I think I would have preferred to see Topps leave the Super Veteran concept completely intact. It’s hard to believe, but Jimmy Rollins has been a Phillie for a longer period (2000-2013) than Schmidt was when he appeared in this subset back in ’83 (1972-1983). Just imagine how a Rollins Super Veteran card would have looked.

1983 Topps SV Schmidt2013 Topps Archives DFF Samuel Rollins

No slight intended towards the Samuel & Rollins card that Topps issued — it’s a great card — I just think a Rollins Super Veteran card would’ve been even nicer.

In a similar manner, Topps reworked the 1960 design for its 1960 Relic inserts. As with last year’s 1956 Relics inserts, Topps did a nice job of editing the design to make it work as a relic card. The 1960 Relic inserts contain Ben Revere’s first relic card as a Phillie, but it’s something of a stretch — the relic is clearly from a 2013 Topps Archives 1960 RevereTwins jersey. In fact, there’s almost no way it could have contained a Phillies jersey unless Topps somehow placed a Phillies jersey on him sometime during the winter and then used that for the cards (after all, Topps makes no guarantees about the jersey coming from any particular event or season.) Personally, I wish that Topps would just use relics that actually match the team designation on the card. Luckily, some of Revere’s relic cards contain a swatch with a shade of red similar to that used by the Phillies in the ’70s and ’80s, so I acquired one of those. Unfortunately, completing my 1960 Relics insert set looks like it will be a challenge as the Ryan Howard card appears to be super short-printed.

Of the inserts, the most pleasant surprise was the Stadium Club Triumvirates. At this point, Topps possesses a very rich history of baseball set design across its many brands over the past 60+ years, and Archives is the perfect place to celebrate all of them. In fact, there should be more of this in future Archives releases. Stadium Club, Finest, Gallery, Tek, Stars, Gold Label, Bazooka, modern Bowman releases and all of the inserts associated with those sets should be fair game for the Archives set. In fact, Topps is limiting itself by relying solely on designs from the Topps flagship set over the years — some of the other designs should find their way into the base set itself.

2013 Topps Archives Triumvirate

Given the rich history of baseball set designs at this point, I am a little confused and disappointed by Topps’s decision to use its 1965 football design as a basis for the Mini Tall Boys inserts. While there’s no real need to move into the other sports to attempt this kind of crossover, I suppose that the Archives set is the place to try out this kind of experimentation. However, for me it just didn’t work. It probably doesn’t help that with a few notable exceptions I don’t 1983 Topps Glossy AS Carltonparticularly enjoy non-standard-sized cards. Since there was already a focus on the 1983 set, the Glossy All-Star Set Collector’s Edition (the mail-in set of 40) would’ve made far more sense as an insert than the Mini Tall Boys.

In the end, despite all the easily avoidable flaws and questionable choices Topps made with the set and its inserts, I still loved this year’s Archives release. I really do wish that Topps would hire some people whose job would essentially entail being as attentive to detail as collectors such as myself (to avoid really obvious mess-ups such as the details on the 1992 design and using the 1972 design in two different sets this year), but at the same time it’s obvious that Topps has an opportunity to put together a truly special brand for years to come — if they properly leverage their full history. Whether Topps has the desire and/or wherewithal to do so remains to be seen, but I certainly hope that they realize some of the potential the Archives brand truly holds.

Featured Cards: 2013 Topps Archives #162, Carlos Ruiz; 2013 Topps Archives #8, Roy Halladay; 2013 Topps Archives #58, Cole Hamels; 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #115, Bob Dernier; 2013 Topps Archives Fan Favorite Autographs #FFA-LB, Larry Bowa; 1992 Topps #244, Darren Daulton; 2013 Topps Archives #240, Darren Daulton; 1983 Topps #301, Mike Schmidt; 2013 Topps Archives Dual Fan Favorites #DFF-SR, Juan Samuel & Jimmy Rollins; 2013 Topps Archives 1960 Relics #BR, Ben Revere; 2013 Topps Archives Triumvirates #s T-3A, T-3B, & T-3C, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, & Roy Halladay; 1983 Topps Glossy All-Star Set Collector’s Edition #36, Steve Carlton

2013 Bowman: A Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured 2013 Bowman Cards: #190, Ryan Howard; #135, Cole Hamels; #130, Tyler Cloyd; #197 Delmon Young; Bowman Prospects #BP30 Willians Astudillo

2013 Bowman HowardThe fact is that ever since the edict from MLB and the MLBPA banning the use of minor league prospects from base sets, the base Bowman set has basically become the 21st century equivalent of bubble gum packaged alongside insert prospect cards that for all practical purposes are rookie cards. I’m sorry, I just refuse to buy into the fiction that it’s not a rookie card if it’s an insert card. If that was the case, no one would care a whit about any of the Bryce Harper cards produced in 2011. But, since I avoid the prospect cards until the player actually reaches the majors (for example, I didn’t own Jon Pettibone’s 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects insert card until about a week after his MLB debut), my thoughts will focus predominantly on the base set.

First, the good. Last year’s 2013 Bowman Hamels FrontBowman set was the first since 1995 to make use of white borders, and I’m happy to see that Topps chose to do so again this year. Dark and navy blue bordered cards have their place, but the long run of such borders really got monotonous. The plain white border also happen to work well with both the relatively simple frame and, by current Topps standards, the incredibly judicious use of foil (it would’ve been nice to do without foil on the player’s name and instead just show the name in plain white as well). The base set by itself is actually fairly attractive — in fact, I might even like it better than the design for the flagship Topps product. Unfortunately, that’s about the best thing I can say about this year’s base Bowman set.

Again, this is because Topps doesn’t really care all that much for the base set — it’s just a vehicle for the prospect inserts. Hell, they don’t even properly follow the slogan for the Bowman brand: “Home of the Rookie Card.” A week ago, I pointed out that eight different Phillies made 2013 Bowman Cloydtheir MLB debut in 2012. Of those eight, only Jake Diekman was in a 2012 set, so that leaves six Phillies eligible for “official” rookie card status in 2013 (Tyson Brummett went to the Blue Jays during the off-season, thus is no longer a Phillie for this discussion). Prior to the release of 2013 Bowman, only Darin Ruf and Tyler Cloyd have received cards of their own — Steve Lerud shared his only card thus far with a prospect in the Mariners organization. That left three Phillies without a proper rookie card. Sadly, none of them have a card in 2013 Bowman, even though two of them, Freddy Galvis and Phillippe Aumont, were on the opening day roster. Yet, there’s Ruf and Cloyd again in the base set, and at the time the set went to the printer, neither of them had appeared in an MLB game in 2013. Nice job, “Home of the Rookie Card.”

So, who did we get instead? Well, 2013 Bowman Youngfor starters we get the exact same crappy airbrush job on Delmon Young that we saw in 2013 Gypsy Queen. Topps had an extra few weeks to improve on it and couldn’t be bothered. I really would have rather had an “official” Freddy Galvis rookie card than a really crappy duplicate Delmon Young photo. Thank you, MLB, for continuing Topps’ monopoly and rewarding this bad behavior. Just as bad, Ruf’s card bears the same photo as the one on his 2013 Gypsy Queen Autograph card — a photo that was clearly taken a moment or two after the photo used on his 2013 Topps card. At least his Bowman Chrome Rookie Autograph card uses a new photo, though I’m certain that it’s not the last we’ll see of that photo either. Beyond that, it’s all the Phillies players you’d probably expect to see. Michael Young and Ben Revere both appear to have photos taken during Spring Training this year, but in both cases there’s a somewhat dark outline around the players that suggests to me that these potentially could be airbrush jobs as well.

2013 Bowman Prospects Astudillo FrontAs for the Prospects inserts, as I said before, I don’t typically track them down, but the two base inserts were included with the team set I ordered. It really does astound me that Topps goes out of their way to make Prospect insert cards for players such as Willians Astudillo, who spent 2012 in the Gulf Coast League and won’t be sniffing the air in a Major League stadium until sometime in 2017 at the absolute earliest, while simultaneously missing on players such as Ruf and Cloyd until after their MLB debuts. Interestingly, the “1st Bowman Card” text is not found on any of its Prospects cards this year. Nonetheless, every time I see a card of a player like Astudillo I can’t help but recall the plethora of Jorge Padilla and Josue Perez cards issued by Topps, Donruss and Fleer in 2002 and 2003. On one hand, we can be grateful that we no longer need to collect the likes of Astudillo for complete team sets, but I really do wish that Topps would make better use of its resources.

And that is how I will continue to feel about Bowman so long as Topps handles it this way. I don’t actually expect to see Topps make any changes to the flagship Bowman brand — they’ve been remarkably consistent about the set and its inserts since 2005. Yet, it could be better still. Imagine if a higher percentage of the Prospects actually possessed legitimate Major League talent; imagine if the base set included more rookie cards. Those things could happen, if Topps made better use of its resources.

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen: A Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured Cards: 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #32, Darin Ruf; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini #29(b), Cole Hamels (photo variation); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #189(b), Cliff Lee (photo variation); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #288, Jim Bunning; 2012 Topps Archives Fan Favorites Autographs #FFA-JKR, John Kruk; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-JK, John Kruk; 2012 Topps Five Star Silver Signatures #FSSI-JK, John Kruk; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Relics #GQR-MSC, Mike Schmidt (bat variant); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen No-Hitters #NH-KM, Kevin Millwood

2013 Gypsy Queen Ruf FrontIn an off-handed way, I started reviewing this set when I posted about Topps’s Photoshop mishaps with the Ben Revere and Delmon Young cards. Although those were the first to Phillies from the set I owned, I actually acquired them at the beginning of my efforts to build a complete set — a separate endeavor from my collating a nearly complete master team set covering all the SPs, inserts, & basic parallels. Given how much I loved the 2011 & 2012 Gypsy Queen sets, seeing those two cards dampened by enthusiasm as I waited for my eBay purchases to filter in. Now that I have them all — or, at least, enough of them to feel comfortable in writing a full-fledged review — I can honestly state that the Revere and Young cards were an unfortunate harbinger of what I saw as a Phillies collector. But, before I continue talking about the set, I feel the need to recap a couple things Topps did with their 2011 and 2012 sets. In particular, the way they previous handled photo variations and the mini parallels.

While I understand the appeal of the minis2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini Hamels Var Front to a certain segment of the hobby and they certainly make sense in the context of the Allen & Ginter’s and Gypsy Queen products, I overwhelmingly prefer my cards standard-sized. In 2011, I was a little disappointed to discover that the photo variations were only available in the mini parallels. If it hadn’t been for those variations, I never would have bothered collecting a Phillies team set of them as well. However, in 2012, Topps decided to include photo variations in the primary set. Furthermore, these variations served as the SPs, thus making Gypsy Queen, from both the team collector and the set builder standpoints, a very attractive alternative to Allen & Ginter’s. True, the minis still had a couple exclusive variations, but the fact that most of them were available in standard-size as well made me far more forgiving to Topps for feeling compelled to assemble the mini team set as well. Despite my aversion to minis, I actually loved everything about the way Topps handled them, the SPs and the photo variations.

2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Lee Variant FrontFor this year’s Gypsy Queen set, unfortunately, Topps decided to take a step back and primarily relegate the photo variations to the minis and reintroduce non-variant SPs to the primary set. Worse, the SPs are scattered throughout rather than clustered together in the high numbers, as they are in the Heritage set. Even worse still, the few photo variations that they did include in the primary set are incredibly rare/expensive super short prints. Given the small number of Cliff Lee variants that have appeared on eBay thus far, I feel fortunate in acquiring one and being able to afford it. Finally, just to rub a little metaphorical wax stain to the whole endeavor, this year’s set contains the smallest number of Phillie photo variations to date. Quite frankly, I was disgusted by the whole change in approach by Topps, whom I felt had done a marvelous job with last year’s Gypsy Queen offering.

Then there was the glass-shatter moment. For those of you who don’t watch How I Met Your Mother, or don’t recall the specific episode of the show where the concept was introduced, the glass-shatter moment is when someone points out an irritating habit, heretofore unnoticed by you, exhibited by the person you love. Once it’s made obvious, 2013 Gypsy Queen Bunning Frontyou cannot help but be annoyed by this flaw every time you see it. This occurred when I read the following from the recent “Beauty and the Beast” post over at Night Owl Cards: “I still think the 2011s look very nice. But since then, GQ has overdone the border motif, increased the size of the border frame…” He’s absolutely right. While I disagree with him on most of his other criticisms of the set, once he pointed out the increased border size on the cards I couldn’t help but continually notice the meager amount of space allocated to the photo. Furthermore, as much as I loved last year’s set, at the time it came out I actually stated, “when you compare the 2012 set to other cards issued during the 19th century it certainly seems as if the border is just a little too ornate.” That problem is only worse in the 2013 set. Please keep in mind that I wanted to love the 2013 set, and it actually pains me to acknowledge all of its drawbacks.

I wish the pain would end there, but alas, that is not the case. I’ve grown to accept that in regards to retired players Topps doesn’t want to spend any more than necessary to acquire rights to photos it hasn’t used before, and that it will readily reuse a photo ad nauseum. But, is it too much to ask that they do a better job on rotating the photos they use on the autograph issues? I have four John Kruk autograph cards from 2012 & 2013, and three of them use the same photo.

2012 Topps Archives Auto Kruk Front 2013 Gypsy Queen Auto Kruk Front2012 Five Star Kruk Silver Auto Front

Come on, Topps, you issued a few dozen different Kruk cards featuring different photos during the first half of the ’90s. You certainly could recycle a few of those photos again.

Yet, while I am disappointed by many aspects of the set, there is still much to love. The number of Phillies relic and autograph cards, which includes Darin Ruf’s first fully-licensed autograph, is manageable in both number and2013 Gypsy Queen Relic Schmidt Front quantity, thus making it relatively painless to acquire them — with the notable exception of Mike Schmidt’s jersey and bat relic cards. Furthermore, Topps continued its tradition of using the primary set’s design for those cards, thus making them a rather attractive extension of the set itself, as well as using different photos for those cards (that is, different from the photo used in the primary set) — I really do wish Topps would do more of this with their other issues. In addition, while I certainly think the border takes up too much space, I like the intent of the design and find it nicely reminiscent of the 1909 Ramly (T204) issue. I don’t think the similarities in border colors are coincidental. Finally, Topps once again did a great job with the insert sets — in particlar, the Dealing Aces and No-Hitters sets — while ensuring that although the borders are different, there is no question what set they were packaged with (this would be true without the Gypsy Queen name sprawled across the front of the card).

2013 Gypsy Queen NH Millwood FrontSo, while I am not as happy with this year’s set as I was its two previous predecessors, I actually am hoping to see Gypsy Queen return next year. Although I sincerely doubt it will happen, nothing would please me more than to see Topps make an effort to produce a set similar to what I described a couple years ago: a variant of the original Gypsy Queen border in conjunction with sepia-tinged photos of players posed in early 20th century style uniforms. Yes, I understand that many of today’s teams don’t have a history that goes back that far, but many of those same teams have find away that issue with throwback uniform days. Topps could certainly figure something out as well.

2013 Topps Stickers Redux

Featured Card: 2013 Topps Stickers #168, Cole Hamels

Earlier this week, I visited the local Target to check on the availability of 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen. No dice. However, they did have 2013 Topps Stickers albums, which meant I could finally complete my team set. However what I saw lowered my overall opinion of Topps just a 2013 Topps Stickers Hamels Frontlittle bit more: I couldn’t find a single album with a Hamels sticker in a condition I would call better than just VG-EX.

The problem rests in the way the perforated sticker sheet is placed in the album. It was adhered by one of those rubber-like adhesive strips to the first interior right-hand page and placed really close to the spine. (I should have taken a picture before starting this post, but, alas, I wasn’t thinking ahead when I extracted the Hamels sticker from the album I purchased.) Given Topps’s chosen method, I don’t know what they could have done to better protect the condition of the sticker sheet in the production process. However, the Hamels stickers, which were on the edge of the sheets closest to both the spine and the center staple holding the albums together, I saw all had the same set of problems, to varying degrees:

  • A very noticeable notch on the left-hand border (see scan above);
  • At a minimum, some damage to the surface gloss on the front of the sticker; (some stickers showed discernible paper damage from the machining process); &
  • A slight, oily stain left by the adhesive strip on the backing of the sticker (a problem common to the type of strip used by Topps).

All this in addition to the fact that having a card with four clean edges is next to impossible without the use of paper-cutter, and even then, you would actually need to slightly trim the sticker in order to ensure that no perforation marks are visible at all.

I understand that most likely Topps feels their 2013 Topps Stickers Hamels Backstickers are primarily a children’s product, so that quality control probably isn’t that big a priority for them. However, they must know that various collectors are interested in acquiring NMMT+ of every sticker in the set. From what I saw at this particular Target, and knowing that the album is the only way to get acquire one, it is impossible to obtain a collector’s quality Hamels sticker. For all I know this location just got a bad batch and there are plenty of albums out there containing Hamels stickers in much better condition. However, I didn’t want to count on this, and I had a team set to complete. So, I chose the best one I could whilst cursing Topps under my breath.

I sincerely doubt that Topps cares about the gripes I have with this product. Their monopoly to produce MLB-licensed baseball cards was just extended through 2010, and they know that the overwhelming majority of the hobby will only purchased MLB-licensed cards, so they have no incentive (at least not until renewal of their license starts to become a concern) to actually pay attention to collectors such as myself. For reasons I won’t get into here, I don’t considering walking away from the hobby an option. Still, it would be nice to know if there was someone — anyone — at Topps who will recognize this problem for what it was and see that it doesn’t happen again.