Sadly, 2011 wasn’t a good year for insert series. The fact that 2010 had so many really nice insert series really helped to highlight the paucity of really good insert series in 2011. Without even checking the 2010 cards my collection, I can state with absolute certainty that I enjoyed Bowman 1992 Throwbacks, Topps Turkey Red, Upper Deck Biography, and, most especially, Topps Peak Performance — which in some ways was actually a real set as opposed to just an insert series — more than any of the 2011 inserts. I don’t know if Topps was either just uninspired or lazy in 2011 (I’m inclined to believe “lazy”), but either way none of their insert series this past year was anywhere near as good as the four 2010 series I mentioned.
But, before I continue, I guess it’s important to set some criteria an insert series must meet for consideration for Insert Series of the Year. The most obvious of these criteria is number of cards. Clearly, one or two cards by themselves is insufficient (sorry, Topps Allen & Ginter’s Baseball Highlight Sketches). So, I’m settling on a minimum of four cards, with the understanding that a four-card Phillies insert series is at a decided disadvantage against a larger series. In this case, size does matter. Along those lines, I am counting similarly designed/themed memorabilia and autograph cards in determining how many cards are in an insert series. For example, when you include all the memorabilia, autograph and autograph-memorabilia cards (but not Diamond Anniversary parallels of any of these cards or double-counting memorabilia cards which potential contain different types of memorabilia), Topps 60 contains 18 cards. If this explanation doesn’t make complete sense, never fear — I’ll include counting methodology with each insert series I discuss.
Honorable Mention: 2011 Topps Diamond Die-Cut Redemptions
Number of cards: 8
I really wanted this to include this set as a viable contender for the honor, but quite frankly the cards are just too scarce. On the secondary market — for me, that predominantly means eBay — prices for the Ruiz and Domonic Brown cards start at approximately $5 each, and they only get worse from there. By my best guess, this is the most expensive insert series lacking autograph or memorabilia cards to compile. The Diamond Cut Redemptions also suffer from the fact that you had to pay Topps to ship you the card if you happened to win it via one of the Diamond Giveaway Code cards. I only have one of them — the Carlos Ruiz you see here — but based on just that one card, they are gorgeous.
Runner Up #1: 2011 ToppsTown
Number of cards: 9, spread across Topps Series 1, Topps Series 2, Topps Opening Day and Topps Update Series
ToppsTown (I’m basing the capitalization on what appears in the title bar of the browser when you go to the ToppsTown website) gets consideration because its tied for the largest number of “base” cards of any insert series this year. In fact, this nine-card series contains no autograph or memorabilia cards at all, which in combination with the fact that the cards are relatively easy to obtain, gives it some extra bonus points. However, even though like the Diamond Die-Cut Redemptions it includes Ruiz, the horribly bland design and reflective foil surface prevent the set from being anything more than an also-ran.
Runner Up #2: 2011 Topps Kimball Champions
Number of Cards: 9
Let’s see… Reuse of old 19th-century card design: check. Relatively easy and inexpensive to complete set: check. Decent set size: check. Nice mix of retired and current players: check. On the surface, should be the insert series of the year. However, while I like new cards based on vintage designs, this particular set inspired very little enthusiasm from me. In addition, I’m not particularly fond of non-standard-sized cards — something I noted even while I gave the Parallel Series of the Year to the Gypsy Queen miniatures. It’s possible that I might have liked Kimball Champions more if they were standard-sized, but somehow, I doubt it.
Runner-Up #3: 2011 Topps Black Diamond Redemption
Number of cards: 5
This was a series that I desperately wanted to like a lot more than I really did. Yes, Topps has really gone to the well an awful lot on this particular design — there’s the original set, three different ’52 Rookies offerings, a Heritage issue, and more than a few inserts. However, 50 years later, this design is still the Holy Grail Topps sets, so it’s understandable that they will continue to use it from time-to-time. Furthermore, I think there’s something really cool about seeing all those cards placed together, and I am always looking forward to seeing more Phillies receiving a card using the design. Having said that, this particular iteration of the design left me cold. For starters, enough with the capless photos, Topps! Yes, I get it… You need them for your Heritage cards, but these aren’t Heritage cards. Furthermore, decades ago, when you used them regularly, you almost always did so because a player changed teams during the off-season. Utley and Howard have never changed teams! The only player in this series whom you could have conceivably gone capless in a Heritage offering was Lee, and he was a Phillie less than 18 months previously. Stop it! Just, stop it!
Oh, and the sparkly finish just doesn’t belong either. On second thought, this series doesn’t deserve runner-up status after all. However, I really needed a therapeutic rant.
And now for the winner…
2011 Topps 60
18 total cards: 3 “base” inserts, 5 autographs, 2 autograph relics, 6 relics, 2 jumbo relics
As much as it pains me, this set is really just the winner by default. Though the design is different, Topps 60 is really a pale imitation of it’s older brother: 2010 Topps Peak Performance. While both sets function in the same basic fashion, Peak Performance did a much better job. In fact, I can easily demonstrate Peak Performance’s superiority over 60 with just a simple numeric comparison: a mere nine Phillies comprise all the cards in 60, while 15 Phillies appear in some fashion throughout the various Peak Perfomance cards. On that note, I’d like to actually spend some time talking about the sheer awesomeness of the Peak Performance insert series…
2010 Topps Peak Performance
31 Total Cards: 8 “base” inserts, 3 autograph relics, 9 autographs, 1 jumbo relic, 10 relics
As I said back at the beginning of this post, the Peak Performance insert series merits consideration as a set onto itself. In fact, it’s larger than many of the sets that Topps issues over the course of any given year since the mid ’90s. The numbers above don’t do the series justice. There are players who appear only on autograph cards (e.g., Andrew Carpenter and Carlos Ruiz), players who appear only on relic cards (Jayson Werth and Brad Lidge), and players who appear only in the base inserts (Steve Carlton) — as well as three different Ryan Howard variations. While the base cards are inexpensive and easy to obtain, the same is true of many of the autograph and memorabilia cards as well. In fact, with the exception of the various Howard and Mike Schmidt autograph cards, you can acquire most of the cards in this set for less than it would cost you to put together a 2011 Topps Diamond-Cut Redemptions Phillies team set.
I’ve spent an awful lot of time bashing Topps over the past nine months. However, I will gladly state for the record that I would be a much happier collector if Topps put out more inserts such as the Peak Performance series. While I won’t be able to complete the entire set (a couple of the Ryan Howard cards have print runs of just 50 and the Schmidt memorabilia card seems rather difficult to find), I was still able to collect what I wanted, which was at least one card of each player — even if I couldn’t procure each and every single card. I can’t say the same for Topps 60, or even most of the insert series that come out in a given year.
Featured Cards: 2011 Topps Allen & Ginter’s Baseball Highlight Sketches #BHS-4, Roy Halladay; 2011 Topps Diamond Die-Cut Redemptions #DDC44, Carlos Ruiz; 2011 Topps Update Series ToppsTown #TTU-13, Shane Victorino; 2011 Topps Kimball Champions #KC-118, Cliff Lee; 2011 Topps Black Diamond Redemption #60, Ryan Howard; 2011 Topps 60 Game-Used Memorabilia #T60R-RR, Robin Roberts; 2010 Topps Peak Performance #PPR-JW, Jayson Werth; 2010 Topps Peak Performance #PP-125, Roy Halladay