Category Archives: Ethan Martin

2014 Topps Series One: A Phillies Collector’s Review

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

2014 Topps AscheNow 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 2014 Topps Camo Revere 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.

2014 Topps BrownWhile 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 2014 Topps 1989 Mini Schmidtcontinued 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 2014 Topps SV Rollinsversion 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.

2014 Topps BTWG SchmidtThe 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.

2014 Topps WM Blue MartinIn 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.

Revisting the MLB Debut Post

Featured Cards: 2011 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Prospects #BDPP2, Cody Asche; 1996 Fleer Ultra #522, Rich Hunter; 1992 Donruss The Rookies #108, Steve Scarsone; 2013 Topps Walmart Blue Border #197, Tyler Cloyd; 2013 Bowman Cream of the Crop Mini Refractors #CC-PP3, Ethan Martin

Back in May, I wrote a post 2011 Bowman DPP Aschedetailing the correlation between the Phillies performance over the past 10+ years and the number of players making their Major League debut in each of those years. At the time, I predicted that if the team faltered then we would likely see Cody Asche, Cesar Hernandez, Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle all appear at some point during the season and that Leandro Castro and Tommy Joseph would see outside chances at playing as well. Well, we know what happened with the Phillies, but I was only correct on two of those predictions: Asche & Hernandez. However, a number of other Phillies did make their MLB debut this year: Steve Susdorf, Cameron Rupp, Ethan Martin, Luis Garcia, J.C. Ramírez, and Mauricio Robles (Jonathan Pettibone had already made his debut at the time of the original post.)

1996 Fleer Ultra HunterThe nine players making their debut this season marks the highest number since 1996, when the Phillies used a mind-numbing 54 players, 13 of whom made their MLB debut that year. One of those was Scott Rolen, who would win Rookie of the Year the following season, but for some of those players, such as Rich Hunter, 1996 marked the only year that they would play in the Majors. A couple of them, Rafael Quirico, and Carlos Crawford, literally made their sole Major League appearance that season. Sadly for both Quirico and Crawford, they also earned losses in those appearances. Even though card companies were still churning out massive quantities of product in ’96, a few of those players never appeared on a Phillies baseball card: Bronson Heflin, Jon Zuber*, & Quirico. If it hadn’t been for the Phillies Team Issue set, Crawford would’ve never seen one either.

All this got me to thinking about how it’s a shame that the Phillies won’t be issuing an update to the second edition of their team issue set. It’s likely that at least a couple of this year’s MLB debuts may never see action in the majors again, and the 1992 Donruss Rookies Scarsoneteam issue set was their best hope for a Phillies card. This is a perfect example of what made Topps’s Major League Debut sets in the early ’90s and Donruss’s 1992 The Rookies set so great: you got plenty of cards of players making their only cardboard appearance for a particular team. Without those sets, we wouldn’t have Phillies cards for Steve Scarsone or Jim Vatcher. I loved it when Topps resurrected the idea of sets built around rookie and MLB debuts with their ’52 Rookies sets in 2006 and 2007, and although neither of those sets contained the only Phillies card for a particular player, that may have had more to do with dumb luck than anything else. As such, it would be nice to see sets like those again.

The irony of all this is that the prospect inserts in the various Bowman sets does provide Topps a way to have at least (pre-)rookie cards for most players. Yet, they are so focused on printing2013 Topps WM Cloyd cards for players who are years away from appearing in the majors that they frequently miss players who should appear in those sets. I would argue that there was no reason over the past couple years to not issue a Prospects insert card for B.J. Rosenberg, Tyler Cloyd or Susdorf given that they were all in AAA long enough to make their MLB debut a more probable event than the likes of Julian Samson, Chance Chapman, or Jeremy Hamilton — none of whom ever came close to sitting in a big league dugout.

So, out of this year’s players to see their first MLB action this season, I believe we can reasonably surmise who won’t ever appear on a Phillies card. Asche, Hernandez, Pettibone, Ramírez, Rupp and Martin have all already appeared on a Bowman Prospects insert card of some sort, so they don’t even enter the discussion. Garcia has 2013 Bowman Mini Martinpitched in 21 games this season and is currently on the roster, which means there’s a good chance that Topps will include him in either this year’s Update set (amazingly, they haven’t issued the checklist for that yet) or in next year’s Topps set. Even though I earlier pegged Susdorf as someone who arguably should have appeared on a Bowman Prospects insert card, his age and the Phillies outfielder logjam make it very unlikely he’ll even appear in a Phillies uniform again (other than in Spring Training next year.) So I’m guessing we won’t see him on a Phillies card. Same goes for Robles, who has only appeared in two games this season, and, truth be told, whose minor league numbers suggest he doesn’t belong in the majors. However, he’s only 24, so things could still change.

In the meantime, I continue to wait for Topps to issue a card for B.J. Rosenberg and Freddy Galvis, both of whom made their debuts last year and have spent months on the big league roster. Amazingly, Steven Lerud, who also made his debut last year, already has two Topps cards even though he has appeared in only nine games and spent only a few cumulative weeks on the big league roster. Even more amazingly — Rosenberg and Galvis have appeared in Phillies team issue sets while Lerud has not.

It all makes me yearn for the return of something like Topps Total or Upper Deck’s Fortyman.

* I am aware that the Phillies at some point printed a card for Zuber to use for answering autograph requests. However, it was never included in a team issue set, thus not readily available to the public. So, although he has a very limited Phillies card, I do not consider it an official baseball card release (if that makes any sense.)