When I chose my 2011 Phillies Parallel Card of the Year, I stated that one of the criteria was that “whatever changes Topps made with the parallel actually made the parallel card more desirable than its base set counterpart.” That’s happens to be a good starting point for how I chose my Parallel Set of the Year. Given my oft-stated aversion to parallels, coming across a set of them that I enjoy more than the regular-issue cards is rather rare. So rare, in fact, that there are only three sets up for the honor. The other thing these three sets have in common is that I actually made it a goal to collect an the entire team set — even though in each case I already owned a complete base team set before acquiring the parallels.
But before I write about those three sets, a few quick words about the Topps Opening Day set. Because it’s marketed as a separate set with its own inserts and parallels, it doesn’t qualify for Parallel Series of the Year. However, I did want to at least mention it because it is an essence a parallel set — one which in my opinion is preferable to the actual Topps set from which it derives. The reason for this is the total lack of foil or any other printing gimmick. In my opinion, the Opening Day set is what Topps’s flagship set should look like, and that’s because the lack of foil on the lettering means that the front is actually far more legible than the front of a standard Topps card. The only complaint I have, and it’s a quibble more than a real complaint, is that the lettering is in grey rather than white, which would have made it even easier to read.
The first of the three parallel series I considered comes from the Topps’s other set that’s actually a derivative of its primary set: Topps Chrome Sepia Refractors. I have to admit that when I first heard about them, my initial reaction was, “Meh.” After all, Topps Chrome already possessed nearly a dozen other types of refractor parallels, did it really need another? Then I saw a Sepia Refractor and decided that while Chrome still shipped with too many parallels, none of them were better than the Sepia Refractors. I think the thing I liked the most about them was that the sepia gave them a distinctive look from the base cards and any of the parallels in Chrome. I know sepia parallels are actually nothing new for Topps, but it was the first time they appeared in a set that used that year’s primary card design, and I loved it. It just so happens that it was the Chrome parallel set I loved most. Unfortunately, the set did have a major strike against it — one that ensured I couldn’t pick it as my Parallel Series of the Year: it was serial numbered to just 99 cards, which made it an comparatively expensive team set to complete.
The next runner-up was Topps Diamond Anniversary. Although it was a type of parallel Topps hadn’t produced before, the look itself wasn’t actually different or special — in fact, it was nearly identical to the 1995 Score Platinum parallels. However, much like Topps Opening Day, the text on the front of the cards was actually easier to read than the text on the base cards. Additionally the Diamond Anniversary parallels possessed the bonus of being easier to scan than the base cards (a definite plus given my scanning project) as well as being relatively easy to acquire — unlike the Topps Chrome Sepia Refractors, which bore a serial-numbered print run of just 99. The only thing that detracted from the Diamond Anniversary parallels was Topps’s decision to issue the Cognac Diamond Anniversary parallels and the Hope Diamond Anniversary parallels in its Update Series offering. While they are separate parallel issues, the only real difference is the color tinting, and it was too much of good thing.
Given much of what I wrote in previous posts, the only thing that’s probably surprising about the appearance of the Topps Lineage 1975 Minis in this post is that they’re only a runner-up. A very close second place, mind you, but a runner-up nonetheless. The reason for this is that while I harbor an unabashed love of Topps recycling old designs for current players, I also prefer that those cards to replicate both sides of the design. So, while the Lineage 1975 Minis only followed standard industry practice by using the same back as the base cards, I was actually disappointed that Topps didn’t take the time to properly reuse the back of the 1975 design as well — especially given that I thought the design of the back of the base cards was especially uninspired.
So that brings us to my pick for the 2011 Parallel Series of the Year:
2011 Topps Gypsy Queen Minis
I understand one could very well argue that that this series is actually the least inspired of the ones mentioned in this post, and I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument. After all, at first glance there’s not much of a difference between this parallel series and the Topps Allen & Ginter’s Minis — parallels that I did not consider for the honor. However, there’s one small detail that actually made a huge difference between the Gypsy Queen Minis and the Allen & Ginter’s Minis: variations. The original 19th-century Gypsy Queen set, much like the Old Judge set, included many photo variations for many of the subjects in the set. While the Topps didn’t do this for the base Gypsy Queen set, they did do so for the Mini parallels. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are received this honor. More so than any other series that came out in 2011, I made it a priority to get all the Gypsy Queen Mini parallels. The only thing that would have made these Mini even better is if they had been both in sepia like the Gypsy Queen cards upon which Topps modeled the set and standard sized. Unfortunately, Topps decided to do a separate Mini Sepia parallel that were serial numbered to just 99 — which you’ll recall is what I considered a major flaw with the Topps Chrome Sepia Refractors — and, far more importantly, did not contain variations. It’s a shame Topps made that decision. Gypsy Queen Sepias with variations and without a ridiculously small print run would have been my favorite set of the year (parallel issues aside).
Featured Cards: 2011 Topps Opening Day #52, Placido Polanco; 2011 Topps Chrome Sepia Refractors #40, Cliff Lee; 2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary #341, Kyle Kendrick; 2011 Topps Lineage 1975 Minis #56, Shane Victorino; 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen Minis #47(a) & #47(b), Jimmy Rollins; 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen Minis #3(a) & #3(b), Cole Hamels