Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: Ranking the Sets of 2019

It's all over the internet, TV, and virtually everywhere else one may look. Today is New Year's Eve, 2019, and in several hours, we will usher in a new month, year, and most importantly, decade.

Late December always entails a couple of different blog posts which, admittedly, I'm getting to a little late this year. It's time for me to analyze how successful I was in accomplishing my card collecting goals for 2019, not to mention I should create new objectives for 2020.

I'd also like, if I have the time and creative mindset necessary, to create some type of post recapping and/or highlighting what the 2010s were like for Baseball cards. I'm still in the stages of what this post would look like, and if I end up following through with it, I'll write it in the next week or so.

The final of the end-of-year blog posts that I write is a full ranking of the year's Baseball card releases, and that's exactly what I've dedicated the final day of the year and decade to talking about. Before I get to the countdown, however, I want to note a couple of things.

For starters, I rank the sets on this list primarily based on the actual design, though this becomes slightly more complex when it comes to products like Archives and Heritage. For those 2, I look at how well Topps did with recreating the older designs and how they stack up to previous releases.

Yes, not every Topps/Panini release is featured on this list. I'm sticking to products that I'm familiar with; in fact, for the first time in the blog's history, I'm sticking solely to sets that I've actually opened packs from.

You'll also see that I've combined Donruss/Optic as well as Topps Flagship, Update, and Chrome into their own respective categories. I just don't deem it necessary to talk about Topps Chrome and Topps Series 1 and 2 like they're drastically different design-wise.

Finally, as sad as it may be (for me anyway), Panini Chronicles will not be featured. There are just way too many designs that the product is worthy of its own countdown which I actually wrote.

I have 14 sets to talk about as I gradually lead up to #1. Let's begin with what I feel is the least interesting set design of 2019.

#14 Bowman

I don't recall coming across a single 2019 Panini Diamond Kings base card this entire year, so the go-to fall guy for the last spot on my set rankings lists in the past wasn't there this time around. As a result, the "honor" went to 2019 Bowman, a set that becomes more boring as the years go on.

The off-center style didn't necessarily bug me all that much, though I wasn't exactly thrilled about this detail. Rather, the cards just lack any sort of personality or wow factor. Luckily, big-time prospect collectors don't care what the cards look like.

#13 Topps National Baseball Card Day

NBCD is a promotion that I've been participating in since Topps reintroduced the idea back in 2017. Though I end up with just 2 5-card packs each year, I sample enough cards from the checklist to the point where I feel comfortable including the cards on my countdown.

This year featured the best set design as well as card backs in the promotional set's abbreviated history, but it simply doesn't have enough to compete with the bigger releases of 2019.

#12 Panini Donruss/Optic
Upon close inspection, the similarities between 2019 Topps NBCD and Panini Donruss become increasingly profound. So, how does the set without logos come out on top over a licensed product? 2 words: card backs.

The orangish/yellow or, for Rated Rookies, blue card backs in 2019 Panini Donruss are a huge step up from their past attempts. The amount of blank space has decreased significantly, and I'm just hoping that Panini can continue this type of momentum and continue improving into the 2020s.

#11 Topps Finest
The Topps Finest hobby box that I opened back in June will likely be the first and last one of these boxes that I'll ever rip; the price just didn't seem worth it when I later analyzed the value of the individual cards, and it didn't help that I didn't land anything all that impressive.

As for the base set, the cards look nice, but chrome cardstock can enhance virtually anything. I will say this, however; I don't believe they're at the caliber of previous Finest sets, especially 2014 and 2016.

#10 Topps Fire
Truth be told, I surprised myself by ranking Topps Fire above Finest, a much higher-end product, but I can't ignore the fact that I slightly prefer the former of the 2 releases. While the backs leave a little something to be desired, the fronts are some of the best we've ever seen from Topps Fire.

Finally, Topps took the notion of "less is more" and applied it to this set. Instead of a black background with a ton of sparks and flames, Topps changed it up, giving us a few simple colors and highlighting the player instead of the work of their designers.

#9 Panini Prizm
It's easy for me to overlook the Prizm base design given the sheer craziness of all the different parallels that I'm chasing because of my 2019 Panini Prizm project. However, the base design isn't too shabby; it's sleek, modern, and, once again, Panini has improved their card backs.

Though the market for these cards is far too great in Basketball for a change to be made, I'm starting to wish that the Prizm base design consisted of silvers instead of cards like the one above. That way, they won't show dust as easily.

#8 Topps Heritage

I surprised even myself by placing Topps Heritage so low on this list, but if I'm being totally honest, I wasn't overly impressed with the product this time around. Maybe other sets were simply better, or maybe I'm getting a little burned out.

Either way, Topps Heritage dropped from #5 in 2018 all the way to #8, and it's a shame because I actually prefer the 1970 design to 1969. Plus, Topps did a stellar job, as always, recreating the set, but, for some reason, I'm just not feeling the magic I once was in regards to Topps Heritage.

#7 Bowman's Best
It seems as if the best elements were taken from both 2017 and 2018 Bowman's Best and combined into one, cohesive design, creating a superb base design that's both modern and colorful at the same time.

Just like Panini Prizm, 2019 Bowman's Best is sleek, but the shade of grey used by Topps is far more appealing than the darker grey that Panini uses for Prizm. Plus, there's just so much color on both sides of the card that I can't help but love it.

#6 Topps Allen & Ginter
Allen & Ginter claimed the #1 spot on my countdown a year ago, so it may seem like I don't like this year's design for the product to fall 5 places down on the list. Though this isn't true, I do have 1 main issue with the 2019 cards: the absence of the color splotches.

Since the set's debut back in 2006(?), we've known what to expect from Allen & Ginter, and I mean that in a good way. The color splashes behind the photos of each subject have been a mainstay in the product, and although Topps replaced them with traditional backgrounds, it doesn't feel like A&G without them.

#5 Topps Flagship/Chrome/Update

Going into 2019, I can't say I would've expected to rank Topps Flagship above Allen & Ginter or Heritage, but my views on the 2019 Topps design have certainly changed since it was debuted back in the summer of 2018.

The card backs, moreover, feature players' complete stats (yay!), and the design, as many have pointed out, looks like a modernized version of the 1982 design. Topps Chrome and all of its gorgeous refractors only made the cards more appealing.

#4 Topps Gallery

When Topps revived Gallery back in 2017, the artwork was something I had never seen before, and the white borders complimented it incredibly well. In the years that have followed, however, there haven't been many significant changes to the product, and that comes with its upsides as well as its downsides.

Despite this minor complaint, I still ranked Gallery in my top 4 favorite sets of the year, so, evidently, Topps is doing something right. I just hope that they take more risks with these cards in 2020, perhaps going back to gold frames?

#3 Topps Stadium Club
When I was deciding in my head where I'd rank each of the 2019 sets, I told myself to put Stadium Club a little lower on the list due to the fact that the cards have lost some of their wow factors following such stellar showings over the last few years.

Well, ranking it "lower," I suppose, still means making the top 3 because although Stadium Club may not be as incredible as it was 2 years ago, its still one of the most anticipated and celebrated Baseball card sets of the year.

If you're doubting Topps ability to be creative with this set now that it's been around since 2014, look no further than the Christy Mathewson card above.

#2 Topps Gypsy Queen
The biggest surprise, for me, out of all the 2019 Baseball card releases was Topps Gypsy Queen, Topps' finest effort in regards to this product that we've seen in ages.

The banner, frame, card backs, and every little nuance contributes to this set design that, finally, has some sort of identity after Topps spent years trying to give these cards something to work with.

The mockups for 2020 Gypsy Queen look just as promising, so, hopefully, after 2 disappointing years, things are looking up for my former favorite product.

#1 Topps Archives

Going into a brand new decade, Topps Archives will not only be my favorite set but an excellent retail option as well. Since 2017, they've chosen a near-perfect lineup of 3 designs for the 300-card base set with this year's choices being '58, '75, and '93.

Topps did a sensational job, though not perfect, with recreating these old school designs, and the checklist is incredibly diverse, featuring guys that are rarely recognized by any other set.

Needless to say, Topps Archives had all the ingredients for a top tier release, and they were able to accomplish just that with the lineup of sets, incredible checklist, and more factors.

Because of that, Archives reigns supreme as my favorite Baseball card product of 2019.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Select Singles: Card Show Recap #26

Today's trip to the card show marked the end of the holiday Baseball card purchases for my Dad and me.

First came our annual Bowman's Best hobby box which delivered the greatest hit we've ever pulled. Now, a trip to the local card show to check in with the dealers, pick up some singles and grab a surprise that I'll be saving for tomorrow.

The first purchase that we made actually produced the content for this entire post, but I didn't expect our purchasing of singles to end there. I spent time searching through dime boxes, miscellaneous bins, and wandering the show floor, peeking into display cases.

That being said, however, nothing really caught my eye, so after being at the show for over an hour, we regrouped and made a decision as to how we'd spend the rest of our funds. The result will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

For now, I have 4, yes four select singles that I spent the better part of the show choosing. Though the total number of cards is less than what I typically amass, I chose each one carefully, and I'm very happy with the outcome as well as the price.

As you can see, the first card, shown at the top of this post, is a gorgeous combo card from Topps Gallery, the best one I've seen so far that features both Vladimir Guerrero and Vlad Jr. I've seen a few others online and even have one in my collection, but they can't compare to this masterpiece.

The closer I examine the card, the more little details I pick up, particularly the overarching theme of Canada, given that the teams are the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays.

As if the artwork, specifically that of the uniforms, wasn't fabulous enough, the Canadian flag in the background brings it all together.

If you know about the Chicago Cubs teams from the late 1960s and early 70s then you'll understand why my Dad chose for us to add this '66 Topps rookie stars card of Bill Hands and Randy Hundley to our Cubs PC.

The photos may not be the most flattering, but there's always been a market for rookie cards, something that's been significantly enhanced over the last decade or so.

We wouldn't buy a card like this for just any team but in an effort to build-up our Cubs PC, we were more than willing to part with the $2 that this rookie stars card cost.

As far as Topps Flagship and, additionally, Topps Heritage is concerned, there's nothing better, in my opinion, than a well-executed combo card, and the Padres Power from 2019 Topps Heritage High Number is no exception.

Truth be told, I hadn't seen this card before in my life until I was searching through stacks at the card show today. I'm not the biggest Machado fan, but I have promised to "super" collect Fernando Tatis Jr, my favorite non-Red Sox or Cubs player in the game.

Once 2020 comes along, he'll no longer be considered a rookie, and the prices of Tatis Jr cards will be significantly lower than they've been this year.

However, if I'm going to pay for a Tatis Jr rookie card, at least I can find them for affordable prices at the card show, not to mention how lucky I am that they're available in the first place.

I was shut out when it came to Tatis Jr cards in the box of 2019 Bowman's Best that I opened, so I went into today's card show looking for a base card and possibly a refractor. While I didn't find the former of the 2, I found a gorgeous refractor that the scanner, per usual, did not do justice to.

If Topps isn't going to bless me with Tatis cards right out of the pack, at least I have the card show to help me out.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Stocking Stuffer Archives Pack

Like many others, I failed to even leave my house yesterday. Surrounded by family food, and crumbled wrapping paper, I spent the day making cookies and watching Basketball. For the 3rd consecutive year since I began blogging, posting on Christmas Day did not so much as cross my mind.

Yesterday was far from the only day of December in which I did not write a blog post. Today's will be  #12 out of 26 days, meaning I opted not to post more times than I actually sat down and put one together.

In case you haven't noticed, the past few months have seen a decrease in the number of blog posts from where I was 6 months and, especially, a year ago. While I used to aim for 24-25 posts per month, I've gone down to anticipating 18-20.

12 posts in 26 days, however, is too low, even for me. Hopefully, I can become inspired over the last few days of the year and finish up the year with a bang.

After all, I still want to rank the set designs from 2019, analyze how well I did in achieving my goals from the beginning of the year, and, potentially, review this entire decade in Baseball cards.

The last of the 3 ideas is quite ambitious, but it would hopefully make up for my lack of posting this month.

Now, let's shift away from that topic and get to today's post, a rack pack of 2019 Topps Archives that I found as a stocking stuffer this Christmas. The first card was #2, Patrick Corbin. Here's the rest.

#4 Michael Chavis
For whatever reason, Chavis' Topps Archives rookie card not only stands out to me as one of my favorite cards of the base set but one of the best Red Sox cards of 2019.

The simplicity of using primarily 3 colors (red, yellow, and white) makes for a gorgeous card that compliments the 1958 Topps design extraordinarily well.

#67 Goose Gossage

#78 Hank Aaron
I purchased a fair amount of retail Archives upon its release, and I bought even more as they appeared in the dime boxes at the card show. As a result, I'm familiar with most of the base set, but that doesn't make this Hank Aaron card any less special.

The one thing that surprised me, however, was that Topps chose a picture of the 21-time All-Star with their old logo, as a shoulder patch, being incredibly visible. Considering the controversy, you'd think they'd just choose another image.

#97 Bob Gibson
As if the background of this standout card could be anything other than bright red to go with the St. Louis Cardinals team colors. I'm not sure if they keep the colors consistent for each team, but I'm telling you that this card wouldn't be the same without the red background.

#88 Chipper Jones

#107 Bernie Williams
At this point, we've now moved onto the 1975 Topps design after 6 cards from '58.

#149 Frank Thomas
Up next on the list of players that I definitely need to start collecting is Frank Thomas, one of the most talented power hitters of all-time.

The problem is, for one reason or another, I never seem to find that many of his cards at the show or online even though he timeline of his career lines up with some of my gold tier player collections such as Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell.

He also didn't play for a team that I collect avidly; as a result, I simply haven't amassed all that many Frank Thomas cards, and I'm skeptical as well about my ability to do so in the future.

#184 Danny Jansen

#200 Bryce Harper
Even my dad, despite his feelings towards Bryce Harper, agreed that this was one of the better cards of the pack, an impressive feat when you consider the number of fabulous base cards we've pulled thus far.

Whereas some of the previous cards featured minimal colors and a plain background, Harper's makes use of red, green, and blue in addition to a background that features actual fans rather than just 1 bold color taking up all the space.

#146 Kyle Hendricks

#320 Ronald Acuna Jr. SP
As much as I love how Archives has done their short-prints over the last few years, this Ronald Acuna Jr card is a duplicate, and my post from earlier this month outlined what I've been doing with duplicate cards.

That said, I can always save Acuna for a future frankenset. It'll be nice to have a non-Topps (or any other company) base card past spot #300 in the set.

#TM-15 Topps Magazine Rhys Hoskins
In addition to a couple of different SP designs, Topps recreated their 1990s magazine covers as an insert set in this year's Archives which was, in my opinion, a highlight of the 2019 release.

Rather than paying homage to another card design from decades ago, Topps decided to be creative and replicate magazine covers, a risk that I certainly appreciate and that they don't always due because of their monopoly.

#218 Ernie Banks
 We've now reached the 3rd and final design and one that I didn't think would work that well in Archives: 1993 Topps.

Even though they exceeded my expectations in how past and present players would look in this design, some players, like Ernie Banks, just don't look right in an early 90s base set.

#274 Ozzie Smith

#291 Nomar Garciaparra

#251 Williams Astudillo

#222 Pete Alonso
I can think of much worse ways to end the pack than with a terrific card of this year's almost unanimous NL Rookie of the Year award winner.

Though some of the 1993 cards looked a little off, the combination of the Mets home uniform with the simple design works the best out of all the '93 cards I've seen thus far.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Birthdays

Tomorrow is Christmas: a day for reflection, relaxation, and to spend time with your loved ones. First and foremost, I wish you all a Happy Holidays.

For Baseball fans, Christmas Day is almost always mentioned along with the name Rickey Henderson, for the Man of Steal will turn 61 years old tomorrow. My Twitter feed, in addition to Christmas trees and holiday pack pulls, consists of a few tributes to the all-time stolen base leader.

Whenever I think of Baseball players' birthdays, Henderson always comes to mind right away, as his birthday is on arguably the biggest holiday of the entire year. However, a few other players came to mind, so I decided to do some research on this subject.

Surprisingly, the birthdays listed on the backs of Baseball cards don't typically correspond with major holidays such as New Year's, July 4th, and Valentine's Day. In fact, there's only a small handful of players, from what I found, that celebrate a national holiday on the same day on which they were born.

Also, to keep the list relatively concise, I ignored dates such as Christmas and New Year's Eve. Rather, I concentrated on the actual holidays.
Rickey Henderson, as I mentioned, is easily the most notable out of all of these players. He's been one of the most popular players in the hobby ever since his major league debut, and his cards, particularly autographed versions, remain very sought after.

I'm fortunate enough to have acquired one of Henderson's autographs myself earlier this year at The National, a gorgeous on-card signature from Topps Tier One. Further, he's one of my platinum tier player collections, so, needless to say, I'm a pretty big fan of his.

But the 1990 AL MVP isn't the only MLB player celebrating a birthday in just a couple of hours (EST). Former Red Sox pitcher Hideki Okajima, an integral member of the 2007 World Series team, will be 44 on Christmas Day.

Okajima spent 5 seasons with the Red Sox (2007-2011), making the All-Star team as a rookie and posting a 2.22 ERA on the season. After 2009, however, he was hardly the same pitcher, and back-to-back rocky seasons led him to move back to Japan.

He also had a couple of minor league stints with the Yankees and Orioles as well as some major league playing time in Oakland but nothing substantial after he left Boston.

One of the more underrated members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Nellie Fox would have been 92 years old tomorrow. The 15-time All-Star, who receives virtually no recognition nowadays, from what I'm aware of, rounds out our December 25th birthday subjects.

Fox's .288 career batting average and nearly 3,000 hits, it seems, wasn't enough for the BBWAA at first. 22 years after he passed away due to skin cancer, Fox was elected into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee.

I didn't have much luck in regards to Valentine's Day or the Fourth of July, but luckily, 2 pretty notable players were born on Halloween, October 31st.

This means, in 2020, 2-time World Series Champion Mickey Rivers will turn 72 while the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff, will be 57 years old. Somehow, despite his stellar repertoire (493 homers, .284 average, 10 hits shy of 2,500, and 1,550 RBI), the latter is still not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Finally, this date may not be an actual holiday, but I share a birthday, October 18th, with Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Hey, it's better than nothing, even if his contract is shaping up to be one of the worst in franchise history with the obvious exception of Bobby Bonilla.

I hope you all enjoyed this little post about MLB players' birthdays. Who knows, maybe you learned something.

Once again, Happy Holidays to you all.