Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Making It to the Big Leagues (Part 2: Subsets and Beyond)

It's shortly after 5pm Mountain Standard Time as I begin writing this, and I have Part 2 of a Topps Big League blaster to finish. Part 1 looked at a handful of base cards from 2018 Big League, and now it's time for a few subsets, parallels, and inserts.

The news will be there when I'm done.

What we do know is that Charlie Blackmon had an impressive season in 2017. Good enough for a fifth-place finish in NL MVP voting, in fact.

2018 Topps Big League #303 Charlie Blackmon / Giancarlo Stanton / Paul Goldschmidt SK

Because of that, he got first billing on a whole slew of cards in the Stat Kings subset, which are essentially three-player League Leader cards. This white-bordered card for NL Runs Scored is still part of the base set, but it fits better here in Part 2. Blackmon occupied the top spot, earning a bigger photo than Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt. He crossed the plate 137 times in 2017, which in fact led the entire Major Leagues. Even Aaron Judge's first full season didn't eclipse Blackmon in Runs Scored.

As the card back tells us, Larry Walker still holds the team record, scoring 143 in his MVP 1997 season. Stanton and Goldschmidt are briefly mentioned as well, and interestingly, they were both still on their original teams at the time. Like many elite sluggers, Stanton eventually joined Aaron Judge on the Yankees, and Goldschmidt signed with St. Louis. All three are appropriately shown at the plate on the card front. Unlike a League Leader card from the Topps flagship set, we only get stats for these three players, as opposed to the ten or so players listed you'd see on the back of one of those cards. More photos, fewer stats. It was a winning strategy for early Upper Deck sets, in general.

2018 Topps Big League Gold #305 Charlie Blackmon / Dee Gordon / Ender Inciarte SK

Unless you have an elite eye, are intentionally walked regularly, or somehow manage to generate catcher's interference plays at a superhuman rate like Jacoby Ellsbury, you have to get hits before you can score those runs. And Charlie Blackmon did just that, with a whopping 213 hits. That, too, led the Majors. This time his cardmates are Dee Gordon and Ender Inciarte. Gordon has moved on to the Mariners and is now a free agent, but Inciarte is still with the Braves. Blackmon remains top dog, and got a picture at his home park this time. 

They're tiny on this photo, but both Gordon and Inciarte are both wearing special patches. Gordon, as a Marlin, wore the #16 memorial patch for José Fernández, who died in 2016. Of all the celebrity deaths that year, Fernández's hit me pretty hard. The Marlins also hosted the All-Star Game in 2017, as you can see by the patch on his right sleeve.

Inciarte has one too, which you can just barely see. The Braves wore this patch in 2016 to commemorate their final season in Turner Field, a very short stay. They followed it up with a similar one in 2017, and I can't tell which one this is. In any case, the Braves are in Truist Park now, which has already been renamed once in its short life, thanks to yet another bank merger.

Anyway, back to the card. Getting 213 hits in a 162-game season requires you to have multi-hit games, and Blackmon had 68 of them. That's a team record he did beat, according to the card, outpacing Dante Bichette's 66 in 1998. He had only 36 "o-fers" in 2017.

All base cards in 2018 Big League got some colored parallels, though they aren't serial numbered. This looks pretty similar to the mustard yellow color used in the 2002 Topps base set (and again in 2020 Archives, which we'll get to someday), but they call this one-per-pack variety "Gold".

Hey, it's a budget set and this isn't 1996 anymore.

2018 Topps Big League Blue #315 Charlie Blackmon / Daniel Murphy / Justin Turner SK

Getting 213 hits in a season puts you in a pretty good position to challenge for the batting title, and Blackmon won that, too. José Altuve had a better mark over in the AL, but Blackmon's .331 edged out future teammate Daniel Murphy and longtime division rival Justin Turner, both with .322. 

Actually, they had to split hairs on that one, per the card back. It was a close race, so they had to go to an additional decimal place. Murphy finished with .3221, just beating Turner's .3217. Murphy did even better in 2016 with a .347 average, but lost the batting crown to another Rockie, DJ LeMahieu.

This is obviously another parallel, the accurately-named Blue version, available in blasters only. The dark blue doesn't contrast well with the statistic being featured, and the same goes for the Topps logo. There's one more color yet to come, but we have some more ground to cover before we get there.

2018 Topps Big League #307 Nolan Arenado / Daniel Murphy / Odubel Herrera SK

Back to the off-white borders of the base set, we finally get a different Rockie in the #1 photo. Nolan Arenado led the NL in Doubles in 2017, although a half-dozen American Leaguers had more.

Topps did Arenado and Rockies collectors a favor on this card, as Daniel Murphy and Arenado both had 43 doubles. There's certainly no splitting hairs there. A fractional double is just a single (and a great analogy for electron energy levels, as I suddenly experience a flashback to high school chemistry). Maybe Murphy should have gotten the nod here, as the card back says than Murphy had ten more doubles than Nolan over the prior four seasons. Odubel Herrera, not currently a Major Leaguer, rounded out the top three.

We are all aware of a major political event tonight, but one minor thing we just learned is that Nolan Arenado won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove award, and well deserved! It's nice to see that streak stay alive.

2018 Topps Big League Players Weekend Photo Variations #287 Alex Bregman

We're used to seeing nickname variation cards on some recent Panini sets, and Topps decided to get in on the fun. This card of Alex Bregman lives somewhere between a skip-numbered parallel set and an insert set. It's considered a photo variation, and it has the same card number as his base card, but it has an entirely different design both front and back. 

A-Breg wore that nickname on his Players' Weekend jersey in 2017, which used much better colors across the than in 2019. It was a delightful splash of color in the inaugural year of 2017, so much more fun than the plain black and white uniforms worn in 2019. You couldn't tell the all-black uniforms apart from the umpires, and it wasn't well-received. Players' Weekend didn't happen in 2020, so here's hoping that occasion returns in 2021.

2018 Topps Big League #356 Swimming Pool

I like this Big League set. It puts these unique and fun cards right in the main checklist rather than relegating them to an insert set. It's a lot like the early Triple Play sets. This is another subset, called Ballpark Landmarks. Only half the stadiums were included, and Coors Field was sadly omitted. Their division rival Diamondbacks did make it in thanks to the swimming pool beyond right-center. This isn't as interesting a photograph as we saw on Zack Godley's card in 2018 Stadium Club, and is obviously the exact opposite of social distancing, but it would be a great place to catch a game.

The card back gives us a fun fact, telling us that Mark Grace was the first player to get a Splash Hit in the pool. Of all the games I've watched where the Rockies visited Phoenix, that one has never come up. Topps did get something wrong on the back, telling us that the pool was built in 2011. That's not the case; it's been there since the ballpark opened. And even so, Mark Grace retired long before 2011. That one probably should have been caught.

2018 Topps Big League Gold #362 Stan Musial Statue

Back to the Gold parallel set, here's the Stan Musial Statue outside of Busch Stadium. This statue predated Musial's election to the Hall of Fame by a year, and has been a landmark outside both versions of Busch Stadium. This entered Cardinals lore in 1968, the same year that Bob Gibson gave us one of the best pitching seasons of all time. I don't remember seeing it in an establishing shot during ESPN's Long Gone Summer episode of 30 for 30, but it might have been in there somewhere. Incidentally, there is a fan sporting a Mark McGwire jersey, if you look closely.

2018 Topps Big League Blaster Box Bottoms #B2 Bryce Harper

I promised one more colored border, and here it is. There aren't many with this green border, as it was one of just four possible options collectors could find as part of the blaster box itself. I didn't do a fantastic job of cutting this Bryce Harper card out, as is common with box cutouts that have entered the hobby over the years. It wasn't a "Box Bottom", anyway. It was on the side and at a bit of an angle. It was tricky to get a pair of scissors in there perfectly.

2018 wasn't really that long ago, but already lots of these players have gone on to other teams. Harper is with the Phillies now. He didn't make it into the coveted four-card Box Bottom set in 2019, although he did return there in 2020.

2018 Topps Big League Ministers of Mash #MI-6 Bryce Harper

A few of these cards defy categorization. They're not really inserts, not really main set cards. This Ministers of Mash card of Bryce Harper is the first indisputable insert card I've seen, and we're nearing the end of this post. This ten-card set gave us each player's career home run count through 2017, and Harper already had 150. That ties in to the back of his Box Bottoms card (and presumably his base card, which I didn't pull), which told us that he was the third-youngest active player to reach 150 home runs. Stanton and Albert Pujols were slightly younger, and apparently Mike Trout was exactly the same age, to the day, when he reached the 150 milestone.

If you continue that comparison to Mike Trout, however, Harper has slowed significantly. Through 2020, Harper's "only" at 232, while Trout has screamed to (and a couple past) 300.

2018 Topps Big League Star Caricature Reproductions #SCR-CK Clayton Kershaw

Neither Trout nor Harper have a World Series ring, but as of last week, Clayton Kershaw finally got that monkey off his back. As a Rockies fan, I'd prefer not to have seen those division rivals win it all, but they've been an extremely good team for a long time, no doubt. I guess Mookie Betts was the last key piece to making that work.

In any case, Kershaw went 4-1 in the 2020 Postseason, including two wins in the World Series. His greatness is now without question or reservation. Regardless of his past October struggles, he was a star player to begin with, which meant that Topps included him in this 30-card insert set, which looks a little cartoony but not quite as much as the set's 2019 follow-up. It was also a slight annoyance to count how many cards are in this checklist, because the card numbers are of the alphabet soup variety, rather than the numerical variety.

These Star Caricature cards are from the final insert set of 2018 Big League. One blaster certainly isn't enough to complete it, but it is enough to see a little of everything. I'm glad I finally got around to looking at this, and I didn't expect to like it so much. At such an affordable price, I'll have to be on the lookout for more.

1 comment:

  1. The gold and blue parallels are really nice in this set. I'm not usually a fan of variations, but the Players Weekend were easy enough to acquire that I've got all but three of them. (A potential trade for 2 of the missing 3 fell through)