Category Archives: Geoff Jenkins

The Parallel Dilemma, Part 5: Finally, the Finale

Featured Cards: 2007 Topps Phillies Team Set #PHI10, Chase Utley; 2007 Topps #350, Chase Utley; 2011 Topps National League All-Stars #NL4, Cliff Lee; 2006 Topps Phillies Fan Appreciation Day #12, Rick White; 2008 Topps Phillies Team Set #PHI9, Geoff Jenkins; 2008 Topps Updates & Highlights #UH220, Geoff Jenkins

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

I’ll be honest, I never intended to write so much about parallels and cards I argue are actually parallels — even if the term doesn’t apply literally. After rereading the first four posts on this subject, I realize that I may have inadvertently smothered my primary point about all this: there is a ridiculous amount of duplication of essentially the same card. Forget about parallels in the literal sense of the term; if you collect a complete Phillies team set of Topps, Topps Chrome, and Topps Opening Day, you will end up with a large number of cards that are essentially duplicates. To me, this feels like a lot of wasted space in the collection. However, purchasing a complete team set is sometimes both the easiest way to discover the variations — the cards I am interested in — and the cheapest way to procure them.

Sadly, the parallel mess doesn’t even end with the aforementioned sets, thanks to the fact that for some time now Topps actually produces team sets. The team sets are very similar, in spirit, to the regional issues Topps produced for Burger King from 1978-1980, only they don’t require you take a massive hit on your health to try to complete them. Like Topps Chrome, the cards are mostly the same as those in the regular Topps set, just renumbered. However, in each blister-packed Phillies team sets Topps has produced thus far (they’ve made one each year since 2006), there are at least a couple different photos in the set. Yes, buying the set means getting a few new cards, but only at the expense of expanding on the number of “duplicates” in your collection.

On the other hand, I shouldn’t complain too much. In 2005, in conjunction with Pepcid AC, Topps produced a 21-card Phillies team set used a stadium giveaway on Alumni Night. Except for the number on the back, all the cards in the set were exactly the same as their versions in the Topps Total set that year. When I purchased one off of eBay, I felt like that I had just unnecessarily wasted cash on it (I know, it was given away as a freebie for fans attending a game, but Topps still should have kept in mind the concerns of collectors such as myself). Along those same lines, this year Topps created blister-packed American League All-Star and National League All-Star sets. Chase Utley, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are all in the set, and other than the card number and National League logo stamped in foil on the front, all their cards are essentially the same as their card in the regular Topps set or the Topps Phillies Team set.

By the way, with just one card Topps nearly made amends for the 2005 Pepcid AC Alumni Night disaster with the stadium giveaway set they produced for the Phillies the following year. Distributed on Fan Appreciation Day, the overwhelming majority of the cards were just reprints of what Topps already used. However, there was on gem in the set: the Rick White card. He didn’t appear in the Topps Traded set later that year, and he never appeared on any other card as Phillie — not even in a team-issued set. You still had to put up with nearly two-dozen duplicates, but getting this set meant having at least one Rick White Phillies card in all his glaring, ultra-huge goatee glory. Although I didn’t care for the actual execution (in particular, the use of the color yellow), I also liked that Topps actually changed the color-scheme on the card, thus making the entire set easy to differentiate from the cards in the regular Topps set and the Topps Phillies Team set.

In just about all of these examples, what I really wish Topps would do is change the photos on the cards more. Hell, I know and accept that Topps will actually reuse a photo ad nauseum across different sets — they have a long and storied decades-old tradition of doing so that continues to this day — and I’m actually somewhat okay with that, so long as the photos are reused under different designs and recropped. Note, for example, the way they reused the same Roy Halladay photo in their 2011 Topps Black Diamond Redemption and 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen Autograph cards of him (although, his pitching arm did seem to mysteriously vanish in the Black Diamond photo). I just wish that Topps would mix up the photos a little more when reusing the same design for the third, fourth or fifth time. I don’t mind reusing the same design repeatedly — hell, I love the fact that the Phillies team issues from 1989 through 1994 all reuse the same design. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer and want variation in design. However, I find it interesting to see players from different squads and even different eras all sharing a common card design, and I especially like seeing multiple photos of one player using the same design. I think it’s part of why I like the Heritage brand — as well as the now-defunct Fan Favorites and Bowman Heritage brands — so much, and why I was so disappointed in the debut of the Lineage brand.

While I dislike having to waste my precious resources on finding out about the variations across the parallels that Topps creates, there is a small upside to all this. Because of the small differences between the various sets, you can actually create much larger team sets that range across the various Topps offerings. In other words, combine the unique cards from each set and create a “Master Set,” if you will. I’ll start on this concept with my next series of posts.

Diminishment of Enjoyment

Featured Cards: 2008 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection #ULT-AJK, Dick Allen, Geoff Jenkins & John Kruk; 2004 Topps Originals Signatures #(JMO13), Joe Morgan; 2007 Upper Deck Exquisite Rookie Signatures Reflections #REF-DH, J.D. Durbin & Yoel Hernandez; & 2003 Donruss Team Heroes Autographs #400, Steve Carlton

I enjoy collecting — I wouldn’t be doing so and or writing about it if I didn’t enjoy it — but it’s safe to say that I don’t enjoy it the way I did when I was a teenager, or even a young adult. Part of it is the way the business end of the hobby asserted itself with an ugly adamancy, but even that is something I have adjusted to. The fact is that the business aspect of card collecting started weaving its death-grip on the hobby before I started collecting seriously (as opposed to the way children collected cards, before the advent of Beckett Monthly). For me, it’s always been there — it’s just now predominant in a way that I never would have imagined as a teen. No, for me the introduction of extremely limited product created the biggest collecting buzzkill over the past 20 years.

Looking back at my teens, I thoroughly enjoyed, but didn’t fully appreciate, the sense that I sometime could put together a fairly comprehensive collection of baseball cards. Admittedly, I didn’t possess much knowledge about pre-World War II cards, so it was a very false sense, but nonetheless I felt like that if I persevered and spent my money wisely, the overwhelming majority of Modern Era cards were within my grasp. That line of thinking drastically changed in the summer of ’91 when Topps issued its first Stadium Club set. To employ a horrid sports cliche, the set was a instant game-changer for me; at that moment I realized I was no longer going to be able to purchase complete sets of every new set issued, while simultaneously working on completing my pre-1981 sets. Up until then, I had two separate collections: my primary collection, where I tried to collect one of everything, and a duplicate collection of just Phillies cards that was a sideline to the main collection. Within a couple days of the release of Stadium Club, I started trading, selling and cannibalizing the primary collection with the goal of building the most complete Phillies collection possible.

For a number of years, this worked. Throughout the ’90s and until roughly the middle of 2003, I did a fairly good job of collecting every Phillies card as they were issued (for the most part, I didn’t bother with parallels, as I didn’t and still don’t see much point in them) and managed to complete every Phillies team set back through 1950 (with the notable exception of the 1951 & 1952 Topps sets).

Are there actually 10 people out there (other than me) who would want this card?

However, assembling and maintaining the collection was taking its toll on me. I was no longer enjoying collecting — it felt like it had become a rather expensive job. The sheer quantity of new product was exhausting, but more importantly, the print runs on the inserts were starting to become ridiculously small. So small in fact that I finally had to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to add all of them to my collection. Even if I had all the time and financial resources necessary for the task, there was just no way I could collect one of every Phillies card ever made. It just wasn’t possible any more.

Luckily for me, this second game-changer coincided with the birth of my son. It allowed me to walk away from the hobby in a meaningful fashion and gave me plenty of time to think about how I wanted to continue collecting. Until roughly 15 months ago, I used my far more limited resources to collect only the cards that I genuinely liked and/or really wanted to have in my collection. As I returned to building a more comprehensive collection, I’ve filled in many of the gaps in the main sets and cheaper inserts. I have also acquired, when and where I could, some of the much-harder-to-find inserts. I even made a goal of attempting to collect a couple of full team insert sets with really small print runs just to see if I could. The biggest of these is the 2003 Donruss Team Heroes Autographs. Currently, the only one I’m missing is Mike Schmidt. Sadly, there were only 10 Schmidt cards printed, and the chances are exceedingly remote that I will ever have the money to spare at the moment that one ever becomes available again. However, I did manage both the Abreu and Carlton cards, so I feel certain sense of accomplishment on that front.

Eight years later, it’s still sometimes difficult to not pursue one of every Phillies card. I know I don’t have the time or the resources to do it. However, that teenager from over 20 years ago still lives inside of me, and he can’t let it go. Although I wish that Topps (and by extension everyone else who printed cards over the past 20 years) wouldn’t resort to such gimmicks in order to raise interest and/or demand, I do understand why they choose to print cards in such limited numbers. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have to like it.

Note: The combined print run of the four cards featured in this post is 138.