Category Archives: Mike Schmidt

Keeping Up With Topps Wall Art Issues

For roughly a year now, Topps has been issuing 5″ x 7″ sets (usually serial-numbered to 99) to coincide with each of their Wall Art releases. Ever since they came out with the 60th Anniversary Team Sets, I’ve been trying to keep up with 2014 Topps Wall Art ID Schmidtthem and add each to the Phillies Database as Topps adds them to its website. However, Topps also removes them from the website as soon as they sell out, and though I try to check the site regularly, I’m certain that I’ve missed a few over the past year. Unfortunately, Beckett has done a rather poor job of documenting them in its online checklists. So, if I didn’t see it on Topps’s site, then chances are pretty good that I don’t have the card listed (I have caught a few on eBay, after the fact.) As for acquiring the cards themselves, thankfully, there are dealers who are buying the 5″ x 7″ sets and breaking them up for team and player collectors. Otherwise, I know I would own rather few of the Phillies from these sets as I don’t have the money, time, or patience to buy each offering and then attempt to sell all the unwanted singles on eBay.

For those of you who are interested, Topps just issued another series of online exclusive team set that is very reminiscent of last year’s 60th Anniversary offering. The ’52 Tribute Team Sets are $19.99 and though the print run is still 99, they 2015 Topps '52 Tribute Rufincreased the set size to nine cards from five. Proving that Topps just can’t help themselves when it comes to parallel creep, they’ve also issued a Gold version that’s serial-numbered to just 49 and costs an extra $10. However, they did at least have the decency to include an extra card, Schmidt, in the Gold version. Because of the nature of my obsessive-compulsive disorder regarding my collection, I splurged and purchased the Gold, but I wasn’t very happy about it. Quite frankly, I didn’t see why Topps had to resort to the extra card gimmickry — the Gold version already differs in that the background for each player is yellow/gold, rather than green, blue or red as is the case with the regular set (which doesn’t use yellow/gold at all.) Both sets should have had the Schmidt card. Since I just submitted my order a couple days ago, I haven’t received my set yet. However, looking at the scans of the cards on Topps’s website, I’m already seeing lots of things to nitpick about. I’d list them, but honestly, what’s the point? Topps doesn’t clearly doesn’t care about the small details the way I do.

Nonetheless, I am still looking forward to the set for no other reason than I get to update the 1952 Topps design virtual pages I previously created. I’ll post a copy of the PDF once I have that completed.

2015 Topps Past Present Future PhilsIn the meantime, I’ll continue to add the 5″ x 7″ versions of the Wall Art that I like whenever I can — and some of them have been great. In particular, I loved the Past, Present, and Future card that Topps recently issued, as well as last year’s Call-Ups Postcards of Maikel Franco, which used the ’59 design. I was considerably less impressed with their Schmidt ’80s Throwback Thursday Postcard. I suppose Topps deserve credit for trying to make the card look like it was an ’80s issue, but the design looks like a reject for one of the 44-card box sets endemic to the era and they have used that particular photo so much that it should now be considered part of the public domain.

Finally, just because it gives me a way to tie this neatly end this post, Topps has also issued a 5″ x 7″ Series One team set. I assume they’ll do the same after releasing Series Two, but I won’t care if they decide not to. I just view them as oversized parallels and have no interest in them.

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.

Panini a Boon for Phillies Autograph Collectors

Featured Cards: 2013 Panini America’s Pastime #256, Jonathan Pettibone; 2013 Panini Cooperstown Cooperstown Signatures #HOF-JIM, Jim Bunning; 2013 Select #215, Steven Lerud; 2013 Panini America’s National Pastime Pastime Signatures #MS, Mike Schmidt

I completely understand why other c2013 Panini AP Pettiboneollectors choose to stay away from the partially-licensed Panini and Leaf sets. Aside from the fact that all of us prefer to see the team logos and insignia, the efforts required to digitally remove both them and easily identifiable stadium/field structures from the cards result in a rather limited array of photograph types. In-action cards (other than ones taken mid-swing or mid-pitch) are nearly impossible, and the frequent decision to crop out the player’s hat from the photo gives the cards a somewhat odd look in the same way that capless photos do. It’s not their fault, but these issues means that Panini and Leaf sets just don’t look like proper baseball cards. In fact, until last year, I really didn’t feel much need to add any of them to my collection. Oh, a few trickled in, but there was no concerted effort on my part to add them.

2013 Cooperstown Signature BunningThat changed in 2013. Panini, in particular, started to release sets that showed that they were serious about designing good-looking sets that stayed within the restraints imposed upon them by MLB’s refusal to license its insignia and trademarks to anyone other than Topps. True, the cards still suffer from the flaws I previously enumerated, but they certainly look a lot better than the sets that Donruss and Leaf have issued over the past few years. Just as importantly, though, Panini has positioned itself as a major force in the autographed card arena. I would go so far as to say that if you’re refusing to collect Panini cards because of the lack of an MLB license, then you are missing out on some awesome Phillies autograph cards.

In my opinion, Panini issued two of the best Phillies autograph cards of 2013: the John Kruk & Carlos Ruiz dual-autograph card from Panini America’s Pastime and the surprise Tony Pérez card in Coooperstown Baseball. However it didn’t stop 2013 Select Lerudthere. They issued the first, and almost certainly only, Steven Lerud Phillies autograph card, a large number of Larry Bowa autograph cards (remember, he had only one prior to 2013), a large number of additional John Kruk autograph cards that all used different photos — something Topps needs to work much, much harder on — and a decent array of cards that didn’t use autograph stickers. Although, to be fair to Topps, Panini did make far more liberal use of stickers, and that should be held against them.

When I looked at the final counts of 2013 autograph cards I added to my collection, I was surprised to discover that I possessed only two fewer Panini cards than Topps cards. Actually, this is technically an undercount as I am awaiting delivery on two additional Panini autograph cards that will bring the two companies even. This is in spite of the fact that Panini issued roughly half the number of sets 2013 Panini AP PS Schmidtreleased by Topps. I’m also willing to bet that the amount I spent on the Panini autographs was significantly less than the amount I spent on the Topps autographs — though I didn’t keep any real records that would let me conclusively answer that question.

My point is that if you love collecting Phillies autograph cards, then you shouldn’t just dismiss the Panini sets just because they lack an MLB license. Yes, some of the sets are nowhere near as appealing as Topps issues, but in addition to some of the things I’ve already highlighted, without them I wouldn’t have the number of John Kruk, Carlos Ruiz, Larry Bowa, Cliff Lee, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton or Mike Schmidt that I currently own. Panini isn’t for everyone — and they certainly do need to engage in some better quality control — but I view their presence in the hobby as an absolute plus.

Card #19,400

Featured card: 2013 Topps Triple Threads Relic Combos #TTRC-HRS; Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, & Mike Schmidt

If you’ve been following this 2013 Triple Threads RH-JR-MSblog long enough, you know I have a habit of alternating between posting regularly and then disappearing for a few months. It’s never an intentional thing — it stems mostly from the fact that I have a large number of interests and projects and not enough spare time to cultivate all them equally. So, I tend to experience bursts of paying undue attention to one particular interest or project to the detriment of most of the others. The last few months was just one of those periods. There is a payoff at least — I’ve been fervently pounding away at the database project. I’ll say more about it in a post later this weekend (as well as post the newly revised Excel file), but for the moment I’ll just state that it now contains 65,500 entries, which is double what the last posted version of the file contained.

Until then, the 2013 Topps Triple Threads card above is the most recent addition to the collection, which is now at 19,400 items. When it arrived, I was suddenly struck by how jaded I am as a collector now. It wasn’t that long ago that I would’ve thought that a card bearing uniform swatches from three different Phillies MVP winners would be been a highlight to my collection. While I certainly like the card and am pleased to own it, I wasn’t excited about its arrival, and I really can’t say that it’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection. I would certainly feel differently about a a triple autograph card of the three, but no such card exists.

2013 Topps Archives: A Very Belated Phillies Collector’s Review

Featured cards listed at end of post.

This is only the second year that Topps has issued its Archives set in the current format, and it was already one of my most anticipated sets of the year. I’ve made no secret of my love for cards of current players in vintage designs, thus the very very nature of the Archives and 2013 Topps Archives RuizHeritage brands unquestionably makes them must-own sets. There is very little that Topps can do to actively ruin the experience of collecting those cards — not that they can’t make some very notable mistakes, but more on that I progress in this review.

Unfortunately, the change in performance for the team means a drop from last year in the number of Phillies in the base set. With only six cards (down from last year’s 11), there’s no real way to complain about the player selection. Ruiz was an All-Star last year, Schmidt is now a staple in all Topps sets in which he can realistically appear, and when Topps was first determining player selection, choosing each of the Three Aces was something of a no-brainer. Given Ryan Howard’s status in the hobby since his rookie season, selecting him to round out the Phillies made sense. Having said that, Topps did a terrible job when it came to properly scattering the six players across the four designs in the set — none of them appear in the 1985 design. This really is an unforgivable oversight. There are thirty teams, and each of the four designs in the base set contains 50 cards. So long2013 Topps Archives Halladay as a team has at least four players in the set, it should be represented in each of the designs. I was especially annoyed by this sloppiness in set construction as the 1985 set is one of my all-time favorites. My annoyance only amplified when I realized that both Howard and Halladay appear in both the 1972 design and the Topps 1972 Minis inserts to the regular Topps set. I’m not quite sure why Topps felt the need to give double-duty to the design this year, but as much as I love retro-themed cards, I really would have appreciated more variety in Topps’s efforts this year. (Because of this and the fact Topps does reuse photos quite frequently, I almost feel like I should applaud Topps for managing to avoid using the same photos in both the minis and the 1972 portion of the Archives set.)

Just as an aside, I feel like I have to give Topps credit for getting the color scheme right for the Phillies in the 1982 design. In the 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites set, they rather amazingly used the wrong colors for the Bob Dernier card, listed his position as “3rd Base” (a position he never played in his entire professional career), and used a hatless photo to boot — something that typically only happened when a player had just changed teams. It’s almost as if they intended the card to be a Cubs card (it has the correct Cubs colors and Dernier did get traded to the Cubs after the 1983 season), changed their mind at the last second, and couldn’t be bothered to properly fix anything on the card’s border, other than the team name. This may well be Topps’s worst Phillies card ever.

2013 Topps Archives Hamels2005 Topps ATFF Dernier

As with last year’s set, all the retired Phillies in the high-numbered Fan Favorites SPs in the main set are really just non-autographed versions of the Fan Favorites autographs. With that in mind, it’s nice to see Juan Samuel finally receive a Phillies autograph card. By using the 1987 Topps design for it, Topps managed a rather subtle nice touch in that it also used the ’87 design for Von Hayes’s first Phillies autograph card in last year’s Archives set. It’s also nice to see the inclusion of Larry Bowa, 2013 Topps Archives FFA Bowa Autoeven though the slightly blurry, in-action photo on the card looks like it belongs in the 1973 set and not the 1978. Given his long-standing status with the team, I’m actually surprised he hasn’t shown up more often in such Topps sets. Furthermore, with only one other autograph card to his name, having more autograph cards is quite welcome. The same is not entirely true, however, for Daulton’s appearance. Yes, he is the epitome of “Fan Favorite,” but as I’ve stated before, there are a plethora of deserving retired Phillies who have yet to appear as a Phillie on an autograph issue, and Daulton has appeared on over a dozen different autograph cards to date. To add insult to injury, Topps continues to use the same crappy 1992 template it used with last year’s Mitch Williams Fan Favorites cards. The colors are too light — so much so that Daulton’s name is actually hard to read — and the font for the team name isn’t even close to how it looked on the actual 1992 cards.

1992 Topps Daulton2013 Topps Archives Daulton

(2013 Archives card on right — at least they used a picture of Daulton in an era-correct uniform for the card design, as opposed to previous efforts)

In the past, I’ve placed cards such as these in the same binder pages as the original cards. And while I will do so with the Samuel and Bowa cards, I won’t be doing it with this Daulton card.

Unlike the Daulton card, there’s lots to love about most of the other inserts. Understandably, Topps paid special attention to the 1983 set with its 1983 All-Stars and Dual Fan Favorites inserts. The All-Stars subset in the 1983 Topps set is wonderful design, and it’s nice to see it used with Schmidt in an (again) era-correct uniform (the lack of patch of his left sleeve means that it must be from before 1983). The Dual Fan Favorites is a nice tweaking of the Super Veteran subset from the ’83 issue. However, while they look nice, I think I would have preferred to see Topps leave the Super Veteran concept completely intact. It’s hard to believe, but Jimmy Rollins has been a Phillie for a longer period (2000-2013) than Schmidt was when he appeared in this subset back in ’83 (1972-1983). Just imagine how a Rollins Super Veteran card would have looked.

1983 Topps SV Schmidt2013 Topps Archives DFF Samuel Rollins

No slight intended towards the Samuel & Rollins card that Topps issued — it’s a great card — I just think a Rollins Super Veteran card would’ve been even nicer.

In a similar manner, Topps reworked the 1960 design for its 1960 Relic inserts. As with last year’s 1956 Relics inserts, Topps did a nice job of editing the design to make it work as a relic card. The 1960 Relic inserts contain Ben Revere’s first relic card as a Phillie, but it’s something of a stretch — the relic is clearly from a 2013 Topps Archives 1960 RevereTwins jersey. In fact, there’s almost no way it could have contained a Phillies jersey unless Topps somehow placed a Phillies jersey on him sometime during the winter and then used that for the cards (after all, Topps makes no guarantees about the jersey coming from any particular event or season.) Personally, I wish that Topps would just use relics that actually match the team designation on the card. Luckily, some of Revere’s relic cards contain a swatch with a shade of red similar to that used by the Phillies in the ’70s and ’80s, so I acquired one of those. Unfortunately, completing my 1960 Relics insert set looks like it will be a challenge as the Ryan Howard card appears to be super short-printed.

Of the inserts, the most pleasant surprise was the Stadium Club Triumvirates. At this point, Topps possesses a very rich history of baseball set design across its many brands over the past 60+ years, and Archives is the perfect place to celebrate all of them. In fact, there should be more of this in future Archives releases. Stadium Club, Finest, Gallery, Tek, Stars, Gold Label, Bazooka, modern Bowman releases and all of the inserts associated with those sets should be fair game for the Archives set. In fact, Topps is limiting itself by relying solely on designs from the Topps flagship set over the years — some of the other designs should find their way into the base set itself.

2013 Topps Archives Triumvirate

Given the rich history of baseball set designs at this point, I am a little confused and disappointed by Topps’s decision to use its 1965 football design as a basis for the Mini Tall Boys inserts. While there’s no real need to move into the other sports to attempt this kind of crossover, I suppose that the Archives set is the place to try out this kind of experimentation. However, for me it just didn’t work. It probably doesn’t help that with a few notable exceptions I don’t 1983 Topps Glossy AS Carltonparticularly enjoy non-standard-sized cards. Since there was already a focus on the 1983 set, the Glossy All-Star Set Collector’s Edition (the mail-in set of 40) would’ve made far more sense as an insert than the Mini Tall Boys.

In the end, despite all the easily avoidable flaws and questionable choices Topps made with the set and its inserts, I still loved this year’s Archives release. I really do wish that Topps would hire some people whose job would essentially entail being as attentive to detail as collectors such as myself (to avoid really obvious mess-ups such as the details on the 1992 design and using the 1972 design in two different sets this year), but at the same time it’s obvious that Topps has an opportunity to put together a truly special brand for years to come — if they properly leverage their full history. Whether Topps has the desire and/or wherewithal to do so remains to be seen, but I certainly hope that they realize some of the potential the Archives brand truly holds.

Featured Cards: 2013 Topps Archives #162, Carlos Ruiz; 2013 Topps Archives #8, Roy Halladay; 2013 Topps Archives #58, Cole Hamels; 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #115, Bob Dernier; 2013 Topps Archives Fan Favorite Autographs #FFA-LB, Larry Bowa; 1992 Topps #244, Darren Daulton; 2013 Topps Archives #240, Darren Daulton; 1983 Topps #301, Mike Schmidt; 2013 Topps Archives Dual Fan Favorites #DFF-SR, Juan Samuel & Jimmy Rollins; 2013 Topps Archives 1960 Relics #BR, Ben Revere; 2013 Topps Archives Triumvirates #s T-3A, T-3B, & T-3C, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, & Roy Halladay; 1983 Topps Glossy All-Star Set Collector’s Edition #36, Steve Carlton

It Is Finally Mine

Featured Card: 1973 Topps #615, Mike Schmidt (RC)

1973 Topps Schmidt Front

It is not merely sufficient to state that this past week I was finally able to add Mike Schmidt’s rookie card to my collection — as with many collectors, the addition of such a high profile item inevitably comes with a story.

During my teen years, before I started to focus solely on collecting Phillies baseball cards, I wanted nothing more than a Mike Schmidt rookie card. However, for all practical purposes they were priced completely out of my range. In fact, the only way I could potentially add one to my collection was to put one on layaway; so, that’s exactly what I did. The local card shop — Beachcomber Coins & Collectibles, which is still in business today — had one in VG-EX condition for $200 (this was in the late ’80s when his rookie card was booking for $600 in NM condition), and I made the appropriate arrangements. For reasons that I now no longer recall, I only made a few payments before deciding that I really couldn’t afford the expense — even spread out over many months. I lost some portion of the initial deposit, but got the rest of my money back.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to only collect baseball cards that exclusively pictured Phillies. That meant that the Schmidt rookie card was no longer an object of my affection. In fact, when I made that decision I had a Bob Boone rookie card, which was from the same Topps set, in NM condition that I either sold or traded (can’t recall which) in an effort to acquire other vintage Phillies cards that I needed for my newly reconfigured collection. Until fairly recently, the notion of acquiring Schmidt’s rookie card, or reacquiring the Boone card, just wasn’t on my radar.

With his 1973 Topps card outside the parameters of my collection, the closest I came to acquiring an actual Schmidt rookie card was the various reproductions issued by Topps starting in 2001 (The Phillies Room has a comprehensive post detailing these efforts by Topps). Unfortunately, none of these efforts resulted in a satisfactory solo Mike Schmidt card done in the 1973 style.

That changed last year when I decided to slightly relax the strict limit I imposed on my Phillies collection and start collecting any baseball card that pictured a Phillie, regardless of whether or not players from other teams were shown and designated as well. That suddenly meant that various Topps league leaders and combo rookie card subsets, Fleer Superstar subsets, and a host of other cards were now suddenly on my radar. Of course, that meant that acquiring Schmidt’s rookie card was finally an active concern again.

1973 Topps Schmidt BackLuckily for me, things have changed quite a bit in the 25 years since I put that card on layaway. So much so that Schmidt’s rookie card now books for $150 in NM, but not professionally graded, condition. When you factor inflation into the equation ($600 in 1988 is the equivalent of $1,180 today), the value of this card has dropped over 90%. By waiting 25 years, the card eventually become very affordable to me — especially since I was extremely content to purchase one in a lesser condition. I also knew that with a certain amount of dumb luck on eBay (where dumb luck plays an inordinate role in the final purchase price of individual auctions) that I could probably get a slabbed copy of the card in an acceptable condition and a more than fair price. I was right, and I was able to purchase the Schmidt card shown here  — which is in better condition than the one I placed on layaway 25 years ago — for just over $50.

The primary takeaway from this for me is that this is a stark reminder of a couple essential facts about the current state of baseball card collecting. One, there is no such thing as using baseball cards as a long-term investment.* Yes, it is possible to make money buying and selling them, but those financial rewards are based on short-term fluctuations and, to a very unsettling degree, dumb luck. Second, and the first fact derives from this one, collecting baseball cards is a dying hobby. I recall reading somewhere in the past couple years that the median age of a serious baseball card collector is approximately 45-50 years old — which means that after nearly 30 years of seriously collecting cards (as opposed to the way my 9-year-old son collects them), I am still younger than the average baseball card collector. Younger collectors are not appearing fast enough to replace older collectors as they leave the hobby, and I truly believe that nothing is going to alter this trend until card collecting becomes just as niche a hobby as toy train collecting.

As a result, it will continue to get easier and less expensive to acquire items like Schmidt’s rookie card. I’m certain that in 25 more years, my Schmidt card will be worth even less than it is now, but I don’t care. I finally have one in my collection.

* It is certainly likely that pre-WW II vintage cards will continue to see hold their value and/or see it rise, but I believe that it the result of these cards becoming antiques that are sought after by people who may not have any interest in baseball cards as a hobby.

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.

Phillies and the Topps Prime Numbers

Featured Cards: 1983 Topps #70, Steve Carlton; 1982 Topps #100 Mike Schmidt; 2004 Topps #1, Jim Thome; 2010 Topps #500, Brad Lidge

Over the weekend, Joe Posnanski had a fun little post focusing on the past 50 years of “Topps Prime” card numbers — numbers ending in 00 or 50, which Topps tends to reserve for superstars and major stars, respectively. He also pointed out how card #1 became quite the ultimate honor starting in the early 1990s, when Topps ended its decades-long practice of using it to honor the previous year’s World Series champs, league leaders or record breakers and instead gave it to Nolan Ryan. The post played a but with how Topps treated HOFers over the years, and there was one tidbit that stuck out like an incredibly sore left thumb when I encountered it:

“Steve Carlton also appeared on only one Topps Prime card — in 1973, right after his extraordinary 27-win season for a dreadful Philadelphia Phillies team. At least he got a 00 card — he was No. 300.”

1983 Topps Carlton FrontLet that sink in for a moment… the man who is one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time got the star treatment from Topps only once in his career. In 1983, the year after becoming first pitcher ever to win four Cy Young Awards, Topps gave him card #70. Admittedly, that is still a star number of sorts, but one typically handed out to lesser stars. However, that was par for the course for Topps — in the years following his two previous Cy Young campaigns, he received card numbers 540 and 630, respectively. Interestingly, in the 1983 set, Topps handed out #50 to Bob Horner, #250 to Bill Buckner, #450 to Ted Simmons and #650 to George Hendrick.

Here’s some other fun facts regarding Topps’s treatment of the Phillies in their star numbering system:

  • In 1967, Topps honored Dick (don’t call him “Richie”) Allen as the first Phillie to receive a Topps Prime, with card #450. He also received a card ending in 50 in 1969.
  • Mike Schmidt did not receive 1982 Topps Schmidt Fronthis first Prime number until 1982, when he was awarded card #100. That was the first of five straight years with a card ending in 00. Amazingly, in 1987, the year after winning his third MVP Award, Topps demoted him to card #430. He received 00 cards in the ’88 and ’89 sets.
  • In 1983 and 1984, Topps assigned 00 numbers to both Schmidt and Pete Rose.
  • In 1992, Topps assigned #200 to Lenny Dykstra. Yes, he had a really nice season, but giving him a superstar number seems a little out of line.
  • Dykstra would be the last Phillie to receive a Prime card until 2004 when Topps made Jim Thome the 2004 Topps Thome Frontfirst and still only Phillie to receive card #1. It’s worth noting that Thome received card #1 in the 2004 Topps Heritage set as well.
  • In the following year, Pat Burrell received his first and only Prime card, #450, an honor Jimmy Rollins has never received.
  • Despite being the NL ROY in 2005 and the NL MVP in 2006, Ryan Howard received card #330 in the 2007 Topps set. Interestingly, Chase Utley received card #350. Topps rectified this oversight in 2008 when Howard became the first Phillie since Dykstra to receive a 00 card.
  • Despite winning the World Series in 1980, no Phillie received a Prime card in the 1981 Topps set. However, following their 2008 victory, Utley and Howard received 00 cards and Cole Hamels received a 50 card. If you count the Steve Carlton veteran variation, four different Phillies received Prime cards in the 2009 set.2010 Topps Lidge Front
  • In an example proving that Posnanski’s point that Topps was maddening inconsistent with this system, Brad Lidge received card #500 in the 2010 set — the year after posting a 7.21 ERA and leading the majors with 11 blown saves.
  • Although it probably shouldn’t count, Roy Halladay’s first card as a Phillie in the 2010 Topps Update Series was card #100, which was also used for a Robin Roberts veteran variation. Halladay has received Prime numbers in each successive set, though that will likely end its run 2013.
  • Schmidt’s 2011 veteran variation was assigned card #50, which had not been assigned to a Phillie in the base set.
  • Cliff Lee held down card #100 in the 2011 Update Series, marking the second year in a row that Topps assigned the card in that set to a Phillie.

Given the year the Phillies and so many of their players had in 2012, it’s unlikely that any of them will receive the Prime number treatment in the 2013 set. Hopefully, the 2013 season will give Topps reason to assign a couple Phillies a Prime number in the 2014 set.

1989 Topps/LJN Baseball Talk

1989 Topps LJN BB Talk Schmidt Front1989 Topps LJN BB Talk Schmidt Back

Set Type: Primary
Card dimensions: 3¼” x 5¼”
Additional Information/14,000 Phillies Commentary:  Topps worked in conjunction with the LJN Toy Co. to produce this series of “talking” baseball cards that bore what were essentially cheap, mini vinyl records on the back. For more information about the set, check out the Wikipedia entry on the cards and player. Furthermore, to hear a sample of what the cards sounded like, check out the entry from Clyde’s Stale Cards which goes into some additional detail about the set.

Even though I knew about the cards and player when they were released, I did not add any of the Phillies in this set to my collection until nearly a year ago. For no discernible reason, it was never high on my priority list. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t know whether the cards, which recycled the design of the 1989 Topps set, used new photos or were essentially oversized reprints of the players’ 1989 Topps cards. Even if they used new photos, I didn’t know whether or not the cards were updated to include mid-season trades, and I certainly didn’t want to buy either the Bedrosian or Samuel cards until confirming, at a minimum, that they were pictured/depicted as Phillies. My initial antipathy only increased when discovering the Robin Roberts card before any of the other Phillies in the set and seeing that it just bore a reprint (a rather poor one at that) of his 1952 Topps card. The knowledge caused me to further disregard the set until a few years ago, when I finally saw online scans of the other Phillies in the set and had my questions answered to my satisfaction — yes, all the other Phillies in the set bear photos that differ from their regular Topps card.

Although I have no interest in tracking down a working player to hear what was recorded for the Phillies in this set, I would certainly love to find/hear MP3s for the material on these cards.

Robin Roberts
Mike Schmidt
Juan Samuel
Steve Bedrosian

New Year, Old Grudges

Featured Cards: 2002 Upper Deck Ovation Diamond Futures #DF-JR, Jimmy Rollins; 2012 Topps Five Star Autgraph Relics #FSAR-MS, Mike Schmidt

It’s the start of a new year, but before I resume semi-regular posting again, I feel the need to address a couple old grudges I have with how the media treats baseball cards.

2002 Ovation DF Rollins FrontMy first beef is an old flame that ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield rekindled when he posted “Baseball card industry grows up” to his SweetSpot Blog on Christmas Eve. What annoys me about pieces like this one is that the various national media outlets run similarly written pieces with infrequent regularity to show the current state of the hobby. They all read the same, but worse than that, they are always written by hobby outsiders. Yes, Schoenfield made an effort to interview attendees of the card show he reported from, but the perspective is all wrong. Pieces like this should at a minimum incorporate in-depth views from an insider — in particular, collectors like myself and (I assume) those who read this blog. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of the articles such as Schoenfield’s rarely attempt to convey the opinions of hard-core collectors who continue to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars a year cultivating their collections. Although I greatly respect Schoenfield’s baseball writing, his reporting on the state of the hobby really did not do properly demonstrate the hobby’s current state.

This leads to my other grudge: the sheer laziness exhibited by Beckett (supposedly, the voice of the hobby) when it comes to “real” reporting. My hackles were raised once again after reading the travesty of an interview conducted by Chris Olds in the February 2012 issue of Beckett Baseball. In it, he discusses Topps Five Star with Topps’s Director of Product Development, Clay Luraschi. I had been looking forward to it because a month ago Beckett posted on its website a teaser which stated that the chipping issue would be one of the things addressed. Sadly, this was the entirety of the interview regarding the horrible state in which so many Five Star cards emerged from their $500/pack boxes:

Q: With the chipping issue on some cards … has Topps Identified the cause?

Yes, we have received collector feedback on the quality of some of the cards and we are addressing it internally. We feel confident that it’s an issue that can be resolved moving forward.

Really, that was it; nothing2012 FIve Star Schmidt Front more is stated about it. No follow-ups regarding how Topps is going to address the issue or the potential causes. There’s not even a piece of PR fluff acknowledging just how bad the problem was and that Topps understands why this was such a huge, hoary deal. Olds’s fluff interview with Luraschi really reads more like a press release hyping the set — there’s no depth at all too it. I understand Beckett probably feels that it needs to be an industry cheerleader of sorts, but it’s also one of the few established media sources where real reporting is likely to happen regarding sports cards. Yes, they need the advertising money that comes from the dealers and manufacturers, but they also need to be responsive to the needs of the collectors. I started buying individual issues of Beckett again a few months ago, and I’m becoming more and more glad that I didn’t just purchase an annual description. Simply put, the cost of an issue of the magazine (even at discounted subscription rates) grossly exceeds the worth of the small amount of usable information in any given issue.

Blogs are great because of the voice they give so many people. However, very few of us who maintain them have the resources available to media companies such as Beckett. It would be nice to see their editors expend some time and energy engaging in something more than PR and industry cheer leading.