Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Trading Post #143: Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer (Part 2: Topps)

My previous post was on May 25th. Turns out that was a pretty big day in U.S. history. For obvious reasons, I haven't been focused on baseball or my collection, as my attention has turned to much more important matters. I've learned so much these past few weeks, and there's so much left to learn. While Infield Fly Rule will be keeping its baseball focus, feel free to head over to my personal Twitter account if you'd like to continue the conversation.

In the meantime, I owe a lot of fellow bloggers trade posts, and Nick just added himself to that list again with a PWE that arrived yesterday. I still have plenty of cards from Rod at Padrographs: Abner to Zimmer to cover, so here's Part Two, the non-Stadium Club Topps products that caught my eye.

2019 Topps Franchise Feats #FF-10 Todd Helton
Part one of this three-part series was something of a love letter to Coors Field, a place that is still sitting idle. But it has been home to the Rockies since 1995, and many of the events documented on this card took place, in part, at Coors. Franchise Feats is a 30-card insert set, one for each team. Topps picked some really big names for the well-known teams, players like Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron. Todd Helton got the nod for the Rockies entry in this insert set, and he was responsible for one of the eleven batting titles mentioned on the front.

What other claims to fame do the Rockies have? Well, they've made the playoffs five times, always via the Wild Card, which is the nice way to say that they've never won their division, but boy did they come close in 2018. They're a high-scoring NL team, which everyone already knew. They have won eleven total batting titles, but what might be surprising is how many different players have contributed to that haul. Most of the big names are there: Galarraga, Holliday, Blackmon, González. But the only one to win multiple batting titles as a Rockie was Larry Walker.

Also, they're the first team in the Mountain Time Zone. One could put the Diamondbacks in that category, kind of, but during the long summer months, most of Daylight Saving Time-resistant Arizona is on Pacific Time.

Of course, there are more feats on the back, mainly the Rockies improbable Pennant-winning run in 2007, of which Todd Helton was a big part. Helton wrapped up the Part One post, and I had intended for this card to be a transition into the rest of the Topps cards, but that post would have been five thousand words.

2019 Topps Total #49 Chad Bettis
In 2019, Topps Total made a comeback. I skipped it entirely. It bore little resemblance to the first Topps Total sets of the early 2000s. Yes, it was a huge 900 cards like the early sets, but rather than being an affordable and easy-to-build set like what Topps Total originally was, it was an online-exclusive print-on-demand offering at $10 per 10-card pack, more or less putting the Topps Now distribution model into pack form.

They released it in nine waves, an explanation of which is half the write-up on the card back. Not much room is left for player statistics or anything like that. Worse, these waves all had varying print runs, so completing a set like this would be an exercise in frustration. And even if you did, you'd get to read the same blurb about how the set features "a wide range of superstars, rookies, rising youngsters, and veterans" 900 times over.

Bring back Score.

To be fair, Chad Bettis didn't get many cards in 2019, although he was in Topps Series 1. A lifetime Rockie, which the card back also tells us, this card from Wave 1 has a print run of 584, according to Beckett. Scarcity has its place, but not with Topps Total. The whole idea of Total is to ensure middle relievers and bench players get cards too, but when they get a print run that makes Heritage short prints look downright plentiful, it defeats the purpose.

2019 Topps Total #159 Chris Iannetta
And another thing. At a buck a card, spell the guy's name right. It's Iannetta with two Ns.

Topps certainly expected these to have an element of scarcity, and I'm basing that on the fact that they decided to put some microprint under the Topps logo on the back. It's way tinier than the Pinnacle Authenticator rectangle you used to see in the 1990s, and you need a powerful magnifying glass to read the repeating word "TOPPS" in all capital letters.

I'm guessing this photo is from Spring Training. Looking at the team name on the dugout railing, they're playing the Oakland Athletics. But unless Topps dug very deep in the photo archives back to Iannetta's first stint with the Rockies, circa 2009, this would have to be from a Cactus League game.

2019 Topps Pro Debut Ben's Biz #BBB-BE BenEverywhere
I at least had an awareness that Topps Total was a product again, but a five-card insert set from Topps Pro Debut? This is brand new to me, as is Ben Hill, a sportswriter who covers Minor League Baseball. That number one on the back of Hill's jersey represents the number of Minor League parks I've visited, but he's been to all 159, wrapping up with Suplizio Field, home of the Pioneer League Grand Junction Rockies. That's the subject of this card, along with the hashtag #BenEverywhere. You can even see the interlocking "GJ" on the baseball in his right hand, which matches the style of the "CR" Rockies logo you're more likely to be familiar with.

I can't say I've ever seen the GJ Rockies in action, and it's been a while before I've been that far west in Colorado. It and Fruita are the last large-ish cities in Western Colorado before you reach the vast expanse of the Utah desert. Definitely top off your tank before proceeding.

Sadly, things don't look good for the state of Minor League Baseball, and it's likely that over a quarter of those 159 parks and their associated teams and players will suffer from the proposed contraction. Even the Majors are having a hard time getting a plan together right now, and Minor Leaguers are criminally underpaid even in the best of times.

2018 Topps Archives #129 DJ LeMahieu
Finally arriving at something I'm more familiar with, here's 2018 Topps Archives. I did a fairly deep dive of some recent Archives sets a few months ago, but I didn't run across many Rockies then. Now-Yankee DJ LeMahieu, yet another NL batting champion (mentioned on the card back), appeared on the 1977 Topps design, unfortunately without much purple. I suppose I don't mind the red color used for the Rockies team name, but the white-on-yellow text in the pennant is nearly unreadable. I had to look pretty closely to see that it has him listed as a second baseman.

What grabbed my attention the most is that he's not holding his own bat in this posed shot. He wore #9 for the Rockies, clearly visible behind his thick facsimile signature. But he's holding Trevor Story's bat, #27.

Retro card backs mean cartoons, and this one shows us a comic-book version of Fred Lynn hitting the first Grand Slam in an All-Star Game. We're not given a date for that, but it happened in 1983.

By the way, DJ had to give up #9 when he joined the Yankees, as that number was worn by Roger Maris and retired in 1984.

2018 Topps Gallery #117 Trevor Story
In Topps Gallery from the same year, Trevor Story has his own bat back and is even holding it so the label on the knob isn't upside-down. I haven't seen many of the recent Topps Gallery sets, although the brand was resurrected back in 2017. The earlier sets simply used photographs, but later on Topps channeled their inner Diamond King and went with painted images. This artwork was created by artist Dan Bergren.

I know even less about Project 2020 than Topps Total, but apparently this idea of artwork cards has gone completely crazy. I've seen enough on Twitter to know that some of the artist proof versions of Project 2020 are going for truly insane prices. That Michael Jordan documentary coupled with COVID-19 have teamed up to have done some wild things to the card market. Am I supposed to dig up all my 1987 Topps and sell them on eBay now? And I saw that Nachos Grande flipped an ungraded Trout Rookie Card for almost a grand?

I don't know. I'm probably just going to enjoy this Topps Gallery. It has gold foil, you know.

2019 Topps Gallery #79 Kyle Freeland
Gallery looked even more elegant in 2019. That script lettering at the bottom looks great, perhaps like one of the first Flair sets, and the urge to display it in something other than a 9-pocket page isn't something that crosses my mind for most sets. The very fine texture lines on the border are one of the most beautiful and precise features I can remember seeing on a card.

Neither Kyle Freeland nor Trevor Story are veterans yet, which means that the "Gallery Notes" sections on both their card backs mention some Minor League accolades, as well as some key events so far in their young careers. One of Story's is of course his barrage of seven home runs in his first six Major League games, and Freeland's is his near-no hitter in 2017, one of several major Rockies events that I missed by a day, another being Troy Tulowitzki's unassisted triple play.

We have Carlos Cabaleiro to thank for this artwork.

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen #89 Ian Desmond
I was sent a green parallel of 2019 Gypsy Queen last year, but this and a few others in the stack represent my first normal base cards from the 2019 release. As I said then, it's a busy design. Maybe it's me, but I feel like recent GQ sets are just trying a little too hard. Just above the position in the lower right is a tiny label that says "slated at". I definitely did not notice that when I first saw the set last year.

I'm not sure how much helmet flinging Ian Desmond does, but this looks like a happy occasion since all the fans are up on their feet. My first instinct was that the disappointed player in the visitor's dugout was a Padre, and sure enough, that's the very team that Ian Desmond hit a walkoff 2-run homer against on August 23rd, 2018. If I have the right moment, I missed this by two days.

I'm not sure exactly how Topps adjusts photos for Gypsy Queen, but whatever they do, it really makes shadows and dark areas stand out, especially pinstripes. This photograph would have a much different look if it were in the 2020 set, because last year the Rockies decided not to wear pinstripes with this alternate jersey anymore. I haven't yet seen many cards showing this new uniform, although a few have trickled into the market. I was expecting to have seen more 2020 Rockies cards by now with the new look, and I've been curious about how it will come across on baseball cards, but 2020 has had other plans.

2018 Topps Gypsy Queen Missing Blackplate #83 Mark Reynolds
It doesn't seem that long ago that Mark Reynolds was getting regular playing time with the Rockies. He was a frequent starter in 2016 and 2017, and while this Gypsy Queen card is from 2018, he was with the Washington Nationals that year. He came back to the Rockies for 2019 and even had a pitching appearance, but decided to retire a couple months ago.

The card back of this sepia-look parallel, which deliberately didn't use the black printing plate, says that the power-hitting Reynolds was only 19 homers away from hitting the 300 milestone. Sadly, he didn't quite reach that level, retiring with 298.

It might be obvious in retrospect, but he was on the leading edge of the three true outcome game we have today, putting up truly atrocious batting averages (below .200 multiple times), leading the league in strikeouts four years running (fantastic, if you're a pitcher), yet still finding himself among the top-150 home run hitters of all time when all was said and done.

2019 Topps Heritage #248 Gerardo Parra
Like Mark Reynolds, Gerardo Parra also spent some time with the Washington Nationals and even had a pitching appearance with them. But he electrified the nation during the World Series last year, and everyone's favorite Baby Shark-loving hugger became a true fan favorite. He signed a one year deal in Japan, and he's likely the only Washington National from 2019 who is actually playing games right now.

I opened plenty of 2019 Heritage last year, but Parra was not among them. I did see enough to recognize that we're probably seeing the same dusting of snow by the fence as we saw on Ian Desmond's 2019 Heritage card, although Parra looks significantly warmer, and he's also giving us our best look yet at the team's 25th Anniversary patch.

2018 Topps Heritage #200 Pat Neshek
Pat Neshek was a Rockie only briefly in 2017, but he still got a card in 2018 Topps Heritage, which was based on the 1969 set. He famously recreated the 1970 Lowell Palmer card in 2019 Topps Heritage, a card that has still evaded my grasp, but he got a hero card number of 200 in the 2018 set. The pose doesn't really match, but he shares a card number with the game-changing Bob Gibson, fresh off his record-setting 1968 season.

There's a little cartoon on this one too, documenting Neshek's two All-Star appearances in 2014 and 2017.

2019 Topps Chrome Refractors #183 Trevor Story
There have been a lot of retro cards so far in this post, but I can't resist a shiny object. This one of Trevor Story, using a different bat than he posed with for his Topps Gallery portrait, is a refractor, and Topps helpfully labeled it as such under the card number. It's one of the least-curled chrome cards I've seen in a while, and I really like how the 2019 design looks when given the shiny treatment.

2018 Topps #534 Germán Márquez
I didn't like the 2018 design quite as much as 2019, but I'll be honest, going down a waterslide sounds completely awesome right about now.

For his 2018 Topps base card, Germán Márquez was honored with the Topps Rookie Cup, and had a very similar shot appear in one of his 2018 Topps Now cards. It's a good high-number candidate for my Coors Field frankenset. But you might notice that this one is rather miscut. There's nowhere near enough overlap to tell what card was next to him on the sheet, but it's somewhat of a rare sight these days. It's more noticeable on the back, and that's probably because this is a full-bleed card. With no true border, it's pretty hard to figure out centering unless you have a literal slice of another card encroaching on the photograph.

That does make me wonder about how PSA and BGS and so forth come up with a centering grade on a full-bleed card.

2019 Topps Walmart Holiday #HW188 David Dahl
We'll close with one of the festive Holiday parallels from Wal-Mart. This one is cut accurately, or at least I think so. There's a nice border of holly and ivy, the accent colors are changed to red and green throughout (even on the back), and there's a stencil-like border surrounding the photograph itself. I rarely see these, but somehow they're always a little more interesting than the usual colored borders that Topps inundates us with. It's a fun stocking stuffer, and an opportunity to experience a little baseball in the dead of winter when these are released.

Of course, we have just as much of a lack of baseball right now as we do on Christmas Day, yet we're a week away from the longest day of the year. It's staying somewhat light until after 9pm right now. And I have tickets for June 22nd to see a game that will not happen.

2020 is one for the history books, and who can possibly imagine what will happen by this year's holiday season? To paraphrase Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams, America continues to roll by like an army of steamrollers, although Major League Baseball isn't marking the time so far in 2020, at least not on the field. And in the grand scheme of things, perhaps that's best. I've written about Mike Hampton at least three times in the history of this blog, a pitcher who spent just two seasons with the Rockies. But it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I learned the name Fred Hampton. I learned neither of those names in school. Point being, it's up to us to educate ourselves.


  1. Rod is my only source of 2019 Topps Total. Without him, I wouldn't have any in my collection. As for that June 22nd ticket stub... hold onto it. It'll be a cool souvenir like my 1994 World Series baseball.

    1. I wish it were real! It's just an e-ticket, unfortunately.