Category Archives: John Kruk

The Topps Chrome/Finest Splotch & Fade

Have you checked your Topps Chrome and Finest cards from the ’90s lately. If you haven’t in some time, you may want to take a look at them again. Word of warning: you may not like what you see.

I only1998-Finest-Bottalico found out about this issue early last year, when I started to complete a set of 1998 Finest that an old high school friend originally started to compile. Because he had only worked on the first series, it seemed to me I could greatly speed the process along by buying a complete second series and then finding the missing cards from the first series. After finding what I was looking for on eBay, I eagerly opened the box to take a look at my new cards and was stunned by what I saw. Nearly ⅓ of the cards were either completely faded into an odd greenish tint (as seen on the 1994 Lenny Dykstra Team Stadium Club Finest I posted a scan of back in November) or developed a very splotchy fade that seems to form in the more brightly colored portions of the photo. (All the cards given to me by my friend were absolutely fine.)

Fairly quickly, I contacted the seller to see about sending it back for a refund — I wanted nothing to do with what I considered damaged goods. He was just as surprised as I was; he thought they were all in mint condition but admitted that he hadn’t looked at the cards himself in years. After sending him a few scans proving that I wasn’t fabricating this issue, we ended up 1998 Finest Schillingworking out a partial refund and I kept what he sent. Shortly thereafter, I used one of the sellers in the Beckett Marketplace to replace some of those cards and was just as shocked when roughly the same percentage of the cards had the same issue. That’s when I started to realize that this wasn’t an isolated issue and decided some research was in order.

The first thing I did was start looking far more carefully through my own collection, and sure enough many of my 1998 Finest Phillies cards displayed the same issue. Furthermore, the splotch and fade problem affected other sets as well. Various Bowman and Topps issues from 1994 through 1999 had this problem as well, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the cards still bore the peel-off protector. Since I didn’t closely look at the cards on a regular basis, I have no idea when the various cards first started exhibiting signs of this happening. It just may be that some of the early ’00s just aren’t old enough to start displaying the splotch and fade yet.

From there, I tried to do some research online and found this had become something of an issue that other collectors were discussing on various message boards. A lot of suppositions and theories were being thrown around, but no one knew what was causing it. What was especially appalling was that I couldn’t find anything on the Beckett or Sports Collectors Digest sites about this problem. Admittedly, there may have been some articles back when my hobby involvement was at a minimum and I just didn’t enter the right combination of search terms to find the information I was looking for, but if it’s out there it’s hard as hell to find. Certainly, no one else on the message boards I read was linking to articles describing the phenomenon.

1994 Finest KrukSo, the question is how do we know that any new Chrome or Finest cards purchased today won’t eventually experience similar issues? Why spend serious bucks when the cards harbor a chance of looking like a splotchy mess years down the road? Those rare sepia chrome parallels look awesome now, but will they look like a mess 15 years from now? What, if anything, has Topps done to ensure that this issue will no longer affect any of the cards that use this printing technology? And, if neither Beckett nor SCD has tried to investigate, then why the silence? (I suspect that Beckett has never investigated. Otherwise, hobby apologist Beckett Baseball Editor Chris Olds would have quickly come to his publication’s defense in my comment on “First Look: 2015 Topps Chrome Baseball.”)

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering just making scans of my 2012 Topps Chrome Halladay batting variation SP and the various sepia parallels I’ve picked up over the past few years and then selling them all while they are still the proper color. I just don’t want to find myself holding the bag if/when they start experiencing the hideous splotch and fade.

How Rare Is It Really?

Because it’s a nearly a four-hour drive to see my dad, I only see him a few times a year. When preparing for these visits, I frequently make it a point to bring a few of the latest acquisitions to my collection. 2012 Triple Threads LuzinskiI do this in part because although he collects model trains instead of baseball cards, he played a large role in the collection I originally built during my teen years. Just as noteworthy, he is a Phillies fan and as a collector he generally appreciates the vintage and relatively rare modern cards I choose to share with him. During such a visit at the end of 2012, I showed him my Greg Luzinski 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics, #TTAR-161. While examining it, he couldn’t help but notice that it bore a 1/9 serial number, and he was impressed that I had something so rare in my collection. At which point, I stated, “Well, it’s not really quite as rare as Topps would like you to think.”

The fact is I don’t understand why so many people fall for the parallel shell game perpetuated by Topps and all the other major manufacturers. I’m sure that it works to the extent it does because collectors love the notion that they own something that’s incredibly rare, and incredibly small serial numbers provide concrete proof of rarity. However, when you step back, seriously consider what’s really going on, and do some simple arithmetic, many of these “rare” cards aren’t as rare as the manufacturers would like you to believe. Let’s take another look at that Luzinski card. The one I own is actually a gold parallel. If you combine the print runs of the regular insert with all the print runs, you still have only 33 cards. That strikes me as an impressively low figure — certainly nothing to scoff at in terms of rarity. However, there are two other Luzinski cards in that particular insert set. They use the same photo, apply the autograph sticker in the same spot and also bear pieces of a bat supposedly used by Luzinski in a MLB event. The only other notable differences are the text on the back of the cards and the bat shards on cards #TTAR-162 & #TTAR-163 instead respectively spell “Philly Favorite” and “The Bull.” Combine the three cards and all their respective print runs, and you get a total of 99 Luzinski 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics.

Now, even by current 2001 UD GG LB Auto Luzinskistandards — as opposed to those from the late ’90s — that’s still fairly rare. However, it’s certainly not rare enough to justify the cost Topps charged for a pack 0f 2012 Topps Triple Threads. Hence, the need for the parallel shell game. To me, the worst part about it is that I see dealers and other collectors absolutely falling for it. Currently, one individual is asking $59.99 for a Sapphire parallel (serial numbered to 3) of #TTAR-162. Given that the last few versions of the card on eBay have sold in the $10-$20 range, regardless of its stated print run, I suspect it won’t sell for anywhere near that much. I will, however, concede that outside of his 2001 Upper Deck Gold Glove Leather Bound Autographed card it is Luzinski’s only autographed memorabilia card printed in anything even marginally resembling collector-friendly quantities. Still, given recent selling data, $60.00 is ridiculously overpriced.

The problem is that the same cannot be said for so many other cards bearing serial numbers whose sole purpose is to mask the true print run. I recently acquired the John Kruk 2013 Topps Tribute Autographs Framed Printing Plates 2013 Topps TT Auto PP KrukCyan card. This was significant for me on two counts: it’s the first “1/1” Kruk card in my collection, and it’s also the first Kruk printing plate. However, is “1/1” really a correct way to refer to the card? There are three other printing plates, the regular insert set, and seven different parallels for the card those plates were used to create. Adding them all up gives you a total of 240. Again, that’s still an nice, low number by current standards, but from that perspective this “1/1” Kruk card doesn’t feel quite as unique as it once did. Furthermore, unlike the Luzinski’s 2012 Topps Triple Threads card, there are a slew of other similar Kruk autograph cards out there. If you are a completist such as myself, you can more easily and cheaply acquire over a couple dozen different Kruk autograph cards. When viewed through such a lens, acquiring a Kruk 2013 Topps Tribute Autograph card doesn’t carry the same urgency or importance as obtaining a Luzinski Triple Threads card.

To be sure, 2009 Topps Unique TT Auto Philliesthere are some legitimately really rare cards out there, and the parallel shell game tends to obscure them. I actually own one of the five 2009 Topps Unique Triple Threat Autograph Relics cards featuring Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Raúl Ibañez. Topps did not produce any parallels or printing plates; thus, there literally are just five of any of these cards in existence. (I’ll let you guess as to how many other autographed relic cards featuring this trio of players were produced.) To me, this card is far more unique and rare than my “1/1” Kruk autographed printing plate — or any other printing plate for that matter. Then there’s the case of the 2005 Donruss Classics Classic Singles Curt Schilling card, #CS-15. This is a slightly more interesting example because the card exists in so many different varieties: 2005 Donruss Classics CS Relic Auto Schillingplain, relic, autograph, both relic and autograph, dual relic, and parallels of each. However, after examining the print runs for each of the variations, you discover that Donruss only issued seven Schilling cards bearing an autograph sticker. Thanks to the various memorabilia combinations (or lack thereof) and parallels Donruss employed, each of those seven bears a “1/1” serial number, but only two of those seven bear both bat and jersey relics. One can actually make the argument that by creating so many specialized “1/1” cards, Donruss inadvertently drew attention away from just how rare the autographed versions of those cards themselves actually were.

It seems that true “1/1” cards — cards which neither exist in parallel form nor have the printing plates issued as well — are actually much rarer than any of us realizes. The only cards that consistently seem to honestly bear such a serial number are cut 2013 Panini AP PC Mauchautograph cards of deceased players and managers. I’m fortunate enough to own a small handful: most notably a few of the cards from 2010 Topps Sterling Certifed Cut Signatures — an insert set that will certainly contain the only fully licensed certified autograph card for many baseball figures — as well as the Gene Mauch card from 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Pastime Cuts. (It’s incredibly likely that should I ever find someone selling the Ethan Allen card from that particular insert set I will seriously consider busting my budget in order to obtain it.) I know that parallels are here to stay, but I do wish that the hobby as a whole wouldn’t exhibit such willful ignorance as to how they’re being used to both mask true print runs and cheapen the meaning of a “1/1” serial-numbered card.

Featured Cards: 2012 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relics Gold #TTAR-161, Greg Luzinski; 2001 Upper Deck Gold Glove Leather Bound Autographed #SLB-GL, Greg Luzinski; 2013 Topps Tribute Autographs Framed Printing Plates Cyan #TA-JK, John Kruk; 2009 Topps Unique Triple Threat Autograph Relics #TTAR-HRI, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, & Raúl Ibañez; 2005 Donruss Classics Classic Singles Signature Materials Prime #CS-15; 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Pastime Cuts #25, Gene Mauch

Running Reports on the Collection

Featured John Kruk cards: 2005 Upper Deck Artifacts MLB Game-Used Apparel Autographs #MLB-JK; 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Characters of the Game #CG5; 2005 Upper Deck Classics Post Season Performers Materials #PP-JK

I have many reasons for creating the Phillies Baseball Card Database, but one of the biggest was that my previous system of Excel spreadsheets — which basically involved a separate spreadsheet for each year and was not actually arranged in a manner that made 2005 UD Artifacts Apparel Auto Krukfor easy data crunching — made it very difficult for me to easily glean certain types of information about my collection. Yes, I could quickly and easily calculate how many cards I had from a given year and then sum those totals to determine the total number of cards in my collection, but that was the total extent of my ability to quickly take statistical snapshots of my collection. For instance, although I kept track of whether a card bore an autograph or a swatch of memorabilia, it was only with great deal patience and a no small amount of time could I tell you how many autograph cards I had for a particular player.

Although the database is still incomplete, it now contains all but 125 cards of my collection. This means I can now actually gather information regarding particular players and/or types of cards — so long as I know that all the cards necessary for the report are in the database. For example, I now have all my John Kruk cards in the database, so I was able to run a couple data searches on the2013 Panini AP COG Kruk collection to determine the following about the John Kruk cards in my collection:

Total number of cards: 283
Solo autograph-only cards: 25
Multi-player autograph cards: 3
Autographed memorabilia cards: 5
Solo memorabilia cards (no autograph): 12
Multi-player memorabilia cards: 4

I can go on by giving parallel and insert counts, number of Kruk cards by year, as well as a few other pieces of data, but I’m certain you get the idea. Just about the only thing I cannot do is quickly determine how many unique Kruk cards I own. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg though — there are all sorts of pieces of information I can start gathering. I’ve already ran a few other preliminary data reports, and I now know for certain that I have more Mike Schmidt cards than any other player, though that’s still an incomplete number. What was really surprising, however, was the individual who holds the second spot for most cards in my collection: Scott Rolen. That one still boggles my mind.

2005 UD Classics PPP KrukI don’t know when exactly I’ll have all my collection in the database. Although getting my collection into the database as soon as possible is one of my primary factors when deciding what sets to place next into the database, I’m not making that the overriding factor for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that I need to easily track what still needs to be added and where I am in the middle of any given set and its associated inserts and parallels. Still, the thought of just dumping the remaining 125 cards into the database is an enticing one — I can’t wait to see what type of additional facts I can learn about my collection once it is all in there.

Kruk & Ruiz, Together At Last!

Featured Card: 2013 Panini America’s Pastime Hitters Ink #HI-PHI, John Kruk & Carlos Ruiz

Last week, in my first post after a three-month hiatus, I mentioned how jaded I had become as a collector. That, somehow, I wasn’t really that excited about adding to my collection a short-printed triple-relic card featuring three different Phillies to win an MVP award. However, I have to admit that changed a couple days later when the first cards and inserts from 2013 Panini America’s Pastime started appearing on eBay. The second I saw the Hitter’s Ink card featuring Kruk and Ruiz, I knew I had to have it in my collection — it was a moral imperative.

2013 Americas Pastime HI Kruk & Ruiz

Well, it arrived yesterday, and in my heart, I squealed like a little schoolgirl seeing One Direction in person. A dual autograph card featuring my two favorite Phillies from the past 20 years, and the best part is that the autographs are directly on the card, not stickers! I also give Panini all sorts of credit for choosing photos which required negligible retouching to remove the Phillies insignia. At first glance, you don’t even notice they’re gone. I cannot overemphasize how thrilled I am to have this card in my collection.

What makes me love the card so much more is that it makes no logical sense why someone at Panini thought Kruk and Ruiz should share a dual autograph booklet — unlike, say, a dual autograph booklet or card featuring any combination of Phillies who have an obvious connection, such as playing same position, winning similar awards or honors, playing in all star games together, etc. Panini attempts to make such a rationalization by comparing Kruk’s Phillies career batting average to Ruiz’s batting average from 201o through 2012, but that really takes an act of precise cherry-picking. In other words, they had to concoct a reason for this particular pairing.

I don’t know if this card is the true centerpiece of my collection — it’s far too early to say that right now. However, including all parallels, Panini only made 46 copies of this card, and when the day comes that I can put together some sort of display to highlight my favorite pieces in my collection (unfortunately, due to space constraints, it’s nearly entirely in boxes), I’m certain that this card will be a part of it.

My Favorite 2013 Set of the Year

Featured Cards: 2013 Hometown Heroes #207, Larry Bowa 2013 Hometown Heroes City Hall Signatures #CHJK, John Kruk; 2013 Hometown Heroes Hometown Signatures #HSJS, Juan Samuel

By and large, most of the offerings from Topps and Panini in 2013 didn’t leave me with any lasting overwhelmingly favorable impression. Yes, I liked certain sets, but I didn’t absolutely love any of them the way I did Gypsy Queen in 2011 or Museum Collection in 2012. However, there was one set that pleasantly surprised me in 2013, and that set was Panini’s Hometown Heroes.

2013 Hometown Heroes BowaI can understand some negative reaction to the set, best epitomized by mttlg over at Collect the Mets, who called it “a bland design filled with autographs that have been done better by Topps over the last two years.” What he saw as a bland design, however, I saw as something that nicely drew upon of some of the designs from the 1930s (in particular, the cards that made use of a solid-colored background). Furthermore, I viewed the very basic design as a way of Panini working around the fact that they have airbrush away logos and team names — those edits are far less noticeable in a much more plain design. Given how busy so many modern sets, even some of the retro-themed ones, I personally appreciated the much more stripped-down look of Hometown Heroes. (Though, I feel it necessary to add that I am still waiting for one retro-themed set to match some of the best of what 1993 had to offer.)

But that wasn’t the only reason I loved the set. Although it uses a sticker for the autograph, Panini gave me my favorite John Kruk insert autograph card of the year. I don’t know if print run information on the card (if they 2013 Hometown Heroes CHS Krukdid, Beckett doesn’t give it in its listing of the card), but based solely on the purely anecdotal and total unreliable count of copies that showed up on eBay (that would be two), it’s one of his hardest Phillies cards to find. Like the base set, the design is spartan, and I can appreciate why some will find it ugly. However, for me, that’s part of its charm. Although, I do feel it’s probably necessary to admit that I may love the card so much because it’s a Kruk autograph card that finally uses a new photo. Yes, Topps lowered my expectations so thoroughly that I could mistaking the ugliest Kruk autograph card ever for beauty.

2013 Hometown Heroes HS SamuelYet, I do agree with mttgl on the fact that the autographs were otherwise disappointing. The on-card autographs for Larry Bowa and Juan Samuel in Topps Archives just blew away the ones that Panini put together. However, it should be noted that I probably would’ve liked both the cards quite a bit more had Topps not just issued autographs for them. Nonetheless, given that neither of them thus far have appeared on very many autograph issues, for me it’s an easy deficiency to overlook. Nonetheless, getting someone new for a Phillies autograph card shouldn’t be that hard. There are still plenty of good candidates out there for Panini to pounce upon, and I will keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that a few of those candidates (of which Samuel was one until just this year) finally appear on one soon.

2013 Allen & Ginter’s: A Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured cards listed at end of post.

2013 Topps AG KnightsYesterday, I reaffirmed my love for sets that reuse vintage designs; this extends to sets inspired by vintage designs. I thought that the 2005 Topps Cracker Jack was a nice update the classic Cracker Jack design and I have absolutely loved the follow-ups to Topps’s first Gypsy Queen set — I particularly hope that Topps does not stop producing those anytime soon. Yet, I have not been as big fan of Topps’s Allen & Ginter’s (A&G) brand over the years. The primary reason for this has been the inclusion of cards highlighting individuals, items and locations outside of MLB. I am fully aware that this is keeping in within the spirit of the original Allen & Ginter sets from the late 19th century, and as such I don’t fault Topps for their inclusion. Furthermore, since I primarily collect Phillies cards, this isn’t that much of a concern. However, for this very reason alone I very rarely buy packs of A&G and am even less likely to ever attempt completing a set, or even buy one already complete. That doesn’t negate, 2011 Topps AG Oswalthowever, my looking forward to how the Phillies in the set look, and I have to say that I am very pleased with the 2013 edition.

Last year’s set featured what looks like an overcorrection to a major mistake Topps made in 2011. I’m sure that creating a design to look very similar to a iconic 19th century set while simultaneously sporting a new look must be difficult, but the 2011 set just looked too modern; the solid, rounded border looked like it came straight from the 1980 Topps set, and team logos do not belong anywhere on a set harkening to the 1880s — very few teams (if any) actually had anything that could reasonably called a logo back then. It appears that Topps realized this after the fact, but the effort to make the border on the 2012 set look like it could’ve been from roughly 18872012 Topps AG Pierre was far too intricate. Furthermore, the stylized art deco font for the A&G brand name actually looked like it belonged on a movie poster from the 1920s. It was actually a decent retro design, but still too modern, for completely different reasons.

This year’s edition of A&G, now in its eighth year, finally gets it right. Everything about the set screams 19th century design. The fonts look period appropriate and the lined border manages to be decorative without becoming ornate. Furthermore, Topps even managed to avoid their mistake from the 2010 set by leaving the area around the photo predominantly white. It’s a very clean look, and is easily Topps’s best A&G base set effort since it started to create new designs that were clearly different from the ones used by the original Allen & Ginter cards.

2013 Topps AG KrukFrom a Phillies collector’s perspective, the player selection is decent given that once again, as with the Archives set, the team’s decline over the past couple seasons means a drop in the number of Phillies cards from last year’s set (only 11 Phillies this year, as opposed to 14 last). The only real omission is from the base set is Rollins, who gets a Mini Framed Relic insert card, which helps to remove the injustice of not seeing one of the most important players in franchise history in the set (regardless of how you feel about Rollins, this is an indisputable fact). The nicest thing about the base set has to be the inclusion of, for Topps, a new picture for John Kruk. It’s not completely new as Donruss used it in its 2005 Donruss Timeless Treasures Material Ink cards, but it’s still nice to see Topps finally select a new photo.

The parallels and relic insets are basically what we’ve come to expect from Topps’s A&G set over the years, so there’s little need to go over most of them. However, I would like to know how/why Topps chooses to include some relic cards in a standard-sized format while other are issued as a Framed Mini Relic 2013 Topps AG AtY Howardas I can’t discern any pattern to the process. This year’s unique, big, concept insert set is Across the Years. The thing about insert cards are they really are just flimsy excuses to make more cards of star players. However, manufacturers attempt to give a justification the existence of most insert sets — including previous, similar past A&G insert sets such as last year’s What’s in a Name in 2012 and 2o11’s Hometown Heroes — by providing information that you won’t find about the ballplayer in his base set card. This really isn’t the case with Across the Years, which lists events that occurred on the player’s birth date and the names of other celebrities who share the same birthday. Interesting idea, but with no real information about the player depicted on the front, it does drive home the fact that inserts really are nothing more than excuses to print more cards of the game’s stars (the same criticism can be leveled at the This Day in History insert set in 2010 A&G).

Now I’m up2013 Topps AG Rip Halladay to the point where I really want to rant against a particular element of A&G: the Rip Cards. Before I start, I understand that Topps shows no inclination to discontinue producing them and that they are here to stay. Nonetheless, every time I see one, I wish a pox upon the people at Topps who continue to allow the production of these cards. I hate them because they’re an extraordinarily unnecessary gimmick that requires the destruction of a card. In addition, most people just haven’t figured out that you can very carefully slice open a Rip Card using something like an X-Acto Knife and leave the back far more intact than just ripping it. As a result, most opened Rip Cards just look terrible on the back. Furthermore, each card that isn’t ripped means there’s a card that has been, for all practical purposes, produced and deliberately withheld from the hobby.

Admittedly, I can’t afford 1/1 cards in 2013 Topps AG Rip Halladay Backnearly all instances, but that’s not the point. You don’t announce the making of a 1/1 card or special extremely limited mini inserts and then leave the hobby wondering if/when it will finally emerge from its prison. I really wish Topps would just seed all the cards buried in Rip Card directly into packs and just transform the Rip Cards into a super-limited, serial-numbered insert set. Instead, this year Topps decided to double-down on the Rip Card idea and create Double Rip Cards. Now, you have a card in which the picture on both sides of the card can be ruined. At least before, the front of the card could be left intact and otherwise pristine. Not anymore. I don’t just wish a pox on the idiots who came up with and approved this concept — I wish a pox on their entire genetic line.

Sadly, I doubt that my wishing a pox upon the people behind the Double Rip Cards will work, which means that they will become another staple in the A&G line, and we will continue to see even more otherwise rare cards either desecrated or forever locked away from the hobby for no rational reason whatsoever.

2013 Topps Allen & Ginter’s Martial Mastery #MM-KN, Knights; 2011 Topps Allen & Ginter’s #108, Roy Oswalt; 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter’s #2, Juan Pierre; 2013 Topps Allen & Ginter’s #333, John Kruk; 2013 Topps Allen & Ginter’s Across the Years, #ATY-RHO, Ryan Howard; 2013 Topps Allen & GInter’s Rip Card #RIP-88, Roy Halladay


Featured Card: 2013 Topps Museum Collection Autographs #AA-JK, John Kruk

2013 Museum Autographs KrukDear Topps:

I love the fact that you’re still making John Kruk cards. As the last favorite player of my youth, he has a special place in my collection of Phillies cards. By that, I mean that I will add every single Phillies card you make of him to my collection. Having said that, could you please, PLEASE, rotate the photographs on his autograph cards a little more frequently? This is the fourth time in less than a year that you’ve used this photo on an autograph Kruk card. CBS rotated the models on The Price Is Right during Bob Barker’s reign as host more frequently that you’re rotating some of these photos. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 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.

No Love,

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.

2005 Donruss Timeless Treasures Material Ink

 2005 Donruss TT Mat Ink Schilling Front2005 Donruss TT Mat Ink Schilling Back

Set Type: Insert
Card dimensions: 2½” x 3½”
Additional Information/14,000 Phillies Commentary: Distributed in Packs of 2005 Donruss Timeless Treasures. The large number of parallels combined with inconsistent print runs for each of the parallels make it difficult to concisely list the Material Ink inserts and all their print runs. As a result, the checklist for each of the various parallels is listed individually below, 2005 Donruss TT Mat Ink Kruk Frontwith the print run for each player listed in parenthesis after his name. The serial number is printed on the back of all the cards, and the front of all the cards bear a swatch of memorabilia and a sticker signed by the player.

This was an issue with many other insert sets produced by Donruss in 2005. I understand the parallels represented an attempt to breathe scarcity into particular product, thus increasing demand, but I wonder just how successful that effort really is. Furthermore, it needs to be stated that the combined print runs for Murphy’s card, which is the most “plentiful” of the three Phillies in the set is just 88. There really wasn’t a need to use variations to increase the perception of scarcity — there were damn few of the cards to begin with. For myself, I was happy with just one of version of each Phillie to appear in the set, and I can’t help but think that this was the case for most team/individual player collectors. In fact, I would actually love to know how other such collectors handle sets such as this one.

One of the things I found so amusing about this particular set was the inclusion of Dale Murphy as a Phillie. Since his retirement, in fact, the manufacturers (in particular, Donruss) have produced a fairly substantial number of Murphy autograph and memorabilia cards depicting him with the Phillies — certainly more so than the proportion of his career with the club seems to dictate. (Or his actual performance while with the club, for2005 Donruss TT Mat Ink Murphy Front that matter.) Then again, Donruss did this with a lot of players; notably, Donruss depicted Robin Roberts with Houston Astros on a couple autograph issues, and they issued a few different auto/memorabilia cards showing Steve Carlton with either the Chicago White Sox or San Francisco Giants. If nothing else, Donruss was equal opportunity in this regard.

I have no idea whether Donruss issued an autograph card for Murphy showing him with the Colorado Rockies.

Material Ink Bat MI-3
Dale Murphy (10)
Curt Schilling (10)
Material Ink Combos
Dale Murphy (10)
Curt Schilling (5)
Material Ink
Combos Prime
Dale Murphy (5)
Curt Schilling (5)
Material Ink Jersey MI-3
Dale Murphy (50)
John Kruk (25)
Curt Schilling (5)
Material Ink Jersey Number MI-3
Dale Murphy (3)
John Kruk (29)
Curt Schilling (1)
Material Ink Jersey Prime MI-3
Dale Murphy (10)
John Kruk (10)
Curt Schilling (5)

A Pox on Topps for Five Star Baseball

Featured Cards: 2012 Topps Five Star Silver Signatures #FSSI-JK, John Kruk; 2012 Topps Five Star Autographs #FSA-JK, John Kruk

Short version:

Dear Topps,

Make it stop!

No love,
14,000 Phillies

Longer version:

$500 for a pack of five cards. Let that seep into your conscious for a while. For that sin alone, this set should die a quick, horrible death. What, Topps didn’t have enough ridiculously high-end product? Wasn’t Topps satisfied with its effort on Museum Collection? (Which, I should add, became my guilty pleasure of 2012 — but more on that another time.) Did Topps not make enough money hand over fist with Triple Threads and Tribute? Furthermore, the ugly marketing of the set by Topps just left a nasty taste — somewhat similar to the gum Donruss included in packs of their ’81 baseball cards — in my mouth. In fact, it angered me that they said this set was for their “most passionate, hard-core, heaviest collectors.”

Really? Fuck you, Topps. I spend hundreds of dollars per year adding new cards to my Phillies collection. I currently own numerous Phillies cards bearing serial numbered print runs smaller than my age (in some cases less than half my age, but I’d rather not dwell on that), but because I cannot spend $500 on one pack, I’m not a passionate, hard-core collector? Here, have some 31-year-old gum from one of your products, chew it for about five hours, and then get back to me about how I am not a passionate collector.

If that wasn’t enough, the Five Star cards themselves (not the design, I’m talking the materials, and final result) are enough to make a collector cry. I was at a local baseball card store on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and saw someone purchase and open a pack. He was kind enough to let me take a look at the cards, and I was aghast to see that three of the five cards displayed noticeable chipping and/or dings. I’m sorry, but for $500/pack the effing cards should come out in pristine condition. There’s just no excuse for this hot, steaming mess. Worse still, all the cards are 180-point in thickness. The only way to properly store the things in a manner to avoid damage (in many instances, further damage) is to purchase and use a lot of Ultra-Pro holders — and this includes the base cards.

Finally, and this is a problem endemic to all high-end sets, there’s the problem with the resale market. I spent just $25 to acquire the two Five Star Kruk autograph cards shown in this post. I realize and accept that these days the resale value of all the cards in a pack very rarely matches what one paid for it. However, the problem seems especially acute with Five Star. Thinking back on what I saw in the card store last week, I doubt that particular collector will be able to recoup even half of what he paid if he was to list all five of those cards on eBay.

Topps needs to stop this crap now. I understand Topps likely needs the high-end collectors gamblers to maintain a healthy profit margin, and that once they have their money they don’t give two pieces of a Pat Burrell game-used jersey about the secondary market. However, how about treating the rest of us collectors — the ones on a budget — with a little more respect and care? How about doing more to show us that we matter and spending a little more time on quality control and not rehashing the same exact same card under multiple different brands (see any Phillies player who appeared in Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Opening Day and the Topps Phillies Team Set). You know, try to actually mix up the photos a little more, put more effort into including bench players and bullpen long men, and stop including SPs in the base set of the Heritage brand.

I actually feel somewhat dirty for having acquired the two Kruk cards shown here. The depressing fact is, however, that it’s likely that some of the base cards will filter their way into my collection when/if I can purchase them cheaply enough. Why? Because I am a passionate collector (even I don’t meet the Topps financial criteria for such a label) and I want as complete a Phillies collection as possible. I’ll have my fingers crossed so that they won’t be too dinged or chipped when they arrive.

Hopefully, Five Star is the first and last time we see something like this from Topps. Sadly, I doubt that will be the case.