Sunday, September 19, 2021

The World's Champions (Part 1: Full-sized Baseball)

Along with Stadium Club and Heritage, Target has been keeping me well-supplied with blasters this year. Add to that list a blaster of 2021 Allen & Ginter that I got last month, plus the 2021 Factory Set that arrived a few days ago. I'm not really into Gypsy Queen or Fire, but Target has those for sale right now too.

Variety! Availability! I almost forgot such things existed.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #4 Eddie Murray

Right off the bat, we can see the design for 2021 A&G is evolutionary. It's unmistakably Allen & Ginter, and it's clear there's a limitless variety of border styles Topps can produce for this brand without deviating from the overall look and feel.

The backs are even more familiar, with the same "spell everything out like you're writing a check" style, and a very slight difference to the frame around the card number at the top. It's right below the prominent "The World's Champions" banner that inspired the name for this post.

I found myself more interested in the players I pulled rather than the design, mainly because I found a ton of Hall-of-Famers. Neither Larry Walker nor Derek Jeter were among them (although they are in the checklist), but congratulations to them both for entering Cooperstown. The other members of the 2020 Hall of Fame class were Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, although they're in very few recent sets.

I did find legendary switch-hitter Eddie Murray from his early days with the Baltimore Orioles. He was the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year, World Series Champion in 1983, and is the all-time career leader in sacrifice flies, with 128, just one ahead of his longtime teammate, Cal Ripken, Jr.

Baltimore abandoned the smiling bird logo you see on Murray's cap for a while, but it's back now as the team's official logo. The anatomically correct Oriole logo we knew for a few decades is gone, but it can still be spotted in the wild on occasion.

OK, that's actually an Orchard Oriole, not a Baltimore Oriole, but you get the idea. They're a rather rare sighting. Colorado is outside the range of the Northern Cardinal, but Blue Jays are quite common here, and they'll let you know it, loudly.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #127 Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas briefly played for one of those bird teams, the Blue Jays, but he's mainly remembered as a member of the White Sox. That's the team he chose for his Hall of Fame plaque, but this photo is from earlier in his career. He looks generally younger than he does now during his broadcasting gig with Fox Sports, and I think it's from 2003. The Chicago White Sox hosted the All-Star game that year, and you can spot part of the commemorative patch on his right sleeve.

Unfortunately, Thomas didn't get to participate in the Midsummer Classic the year his team hosted it. He was voted into a string of consecutive All-Star games from 1993-1997, but no others. At his peak, he was amazing. Between '93 and '97, he won two consecutive MVPs, had those five All-Star appearances, won two Silver Sluggers, and had a 184 OPS+.

Oh, and one triple. It's right there in the box score. June 19th, 1994.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #78 Barry Larkin

Joining these guys in Cooperstown is Barry Larkin, who spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. An interesting fact I learned during this year's Hall of Fame induction ceremony is that other than pitchers, shortstops are the most well-represented position in Cooperstown. Derek Jeter is now on that list along with Larkin, Ripken, Yount, Ozzie Smith, and plenty of stars that were before my time.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #348 Bob Feller (SP)

Moving a bit further down the checklist, we arrive at the short prints. All the card numbers above 300 fall into the short print category, annoyingly. Todd Helton is in the short print checklist this year, so I doubt I'll ever see that one. I'm pointing Bob Feller's card out mainly because it is a short print, not for any other particular reason. 

If Fanatics ends up letting Topps wither on the vine, the short print is certainly one aspect of card collecting that I would love to see vanish. I somewhat understand the desire to generate more buzz and desire by putting intriguing rookies into the short print section, but seriously, who is PC-ing Bob Feller in 2021? There is ample opportunity for collectors to chase limited edition cards elsewhere in the set, but for base cards, please just print them.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #339 Nick Castellanos (SP)

And so that'll make it a 4-0 ballgame.

Also up in the short print section, we find Nick Castellanos with a nice bat barrel shot. A first-time All-Star in 2021, he's become a minor celebrity in baseball social media circles by virtue of swatting a perfectly-timed home run last year, interrupting an on-air apology that former broadcaster Thom Brennaman was trying to stammer out after uttering a homophobic slur. It has become quite the meme.

Perhaps invigorated by the accidental social media stardom, Castellanos has eclipsed his season-high in home runs with 29 so far, sometimes even making it a 4-0 ballgame.

This joke just never gets old. See also: Balk Rules (#18).

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #44 Bryce Harper

Back to the land of long (?) prints, we find Bryce Harper, who is quietly having an excellent season. He isn't making the highlight reels anywhere near as often as the young stars like Tatis and Guerrero, but he has a league-best OPS and OPS+, 33 home runs, and is keeping the Phillies hot on the heels of the NL East-leading Braves. His stats this year aren't far off from his 2015 MVP season, and he is certainly in the running to win that award once again.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #105 Daz Cameron (RC)

It was just a couple months ago that I learned Ke'Bryan Hayes is the son of Charlie Hayes. And of course we all know about the new family dynasties of Biggio, Bichette, Tatis, and Guerrero. Well, upon opening this blaster, I wondered if this Tigers rookie happened to be related to Mike Cameron. Sure enough, yes. Daz Cameron is Mike's son, adding to the long list of familiar names that will be populating MLB rosters for some time to come.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter #166 Germán Márquez

The lone Rockie found in this blaster is their staff ace, Germán Márquez. He took a no-decision on Friday night against the Nationals, a game the Rockies ended up winning. It's highly typical of the Rockies to have a fantastic road trip this late in the season, long after having a terrible time away from Coors Field all season which cemented their hold on fourth place. It's a frustrating pattern nearly as old as the franchise itself.

Maybe next year. Likely without Trevor Story and potentially without Jon Gray.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter Historic Hits #HH-11 Roberto Clemente

Several days ago, you saw Major League Baseball celebrate Roberto Clemente Day. It falls on each September 15th to coincide with the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Clemente's uniform number 21, clearly visible on this insert card, can be worn by certain players across the league. Not everyone gets to wear it like they do on Jackie Robinson Day, only players and coaches of Puerto Rican descent, as well as any past winner or current nominee of the Roberto Clemente Award.

It's hard to pick one particular hit out of 3,000 to feature on a baseball card, but Topps attempts to do just that in the Historical Hits insert set. It's a sizable 50-card insert set. Looking through the checklist, I feel quite certain knowing which Historical Hit is being featured on cards like Aaron Boone, Joe Carter, Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, David Freese, and Luis Gonzalez. But for others like Ken Griffey, Jr., Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ichiro, it could be anything.

Roberto Clemente's Historical Hit was his last one. On September 30th, 1972, Clemente got hit number 3,000, reaching a milestone that will always remain the mark of greatness. As this card tells us, it was a double in the bottom of the 4th inning. Unlike all of those previous highlights, I don't think I'd ever seen the actual footage from this one before. It really got me when he tossed the ball to his coach for safe keeping, because we all know now that Clemente would tragically die in a plane crash on a humanitarian flight to Nicaragua before the next season could begin.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter Historic Hits #HH-17 Kirby Puckett

The second Historical Hit card from this blaster is of another player who left us too early at just 45, Kirby Puckett. He didn't pass away during his career, but it too was was sadly cut short due to a sudden eye disease that forced his retirement at 36.

But before that tragedy, he was a beloved star for the Minnesota Twins, leading them to two World Series titles. The second of those came in 1991, thanks to his heroics mentioned on this card. In an extra-innings game on October 26th, 1991, Puckett hit a walkoff home run to force a Game 7, which the Twins would win. This was a little before I was following baseball, so I don't have any specific memory of it, but here's the highlight anyway.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter T51 Murad Reimagined #MR-32 Ernie Banks

An equally-sized insert set found in 2021 is T51 Murad Reimagined, which are horizontal cards done in the style of an early 20th century tobacco set. The T51 designation signifies that it was originally issued by a tobacco company, the same classification as the famous T206 set. All this was devised by Jefferson Burdick, author of the American Card Catalog in which those classifications could be found. Burdick later went on to donate his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and spent a decade and a half cataloguing it for the museum.

One man quite literally spent a lifetime collecting and cataloguing what were mostly pre-war baseball cards. The hobby long ago ensured that it would grow far beyond what one person could handle in a lifetime. Sometimes I toy with the idea of putting my collection into a database, but it would truly be a massive undertaking and I simply can't imagine finding enough time to even put a dent in it.

In any case, Ernie Banks was one of the players selected for the T51 set. He shares the card front with a brownish-gold border, a circular Cubs logo, and a pennant that graces the front of all cards in this set. It's a design element that works particularly well for a Wrigley Field-dwelling Cub. On the back, we're told about a Historic Hit of sorts, Banks's final walkoff hit on April 13th, 1969, a bases-loaded single.

2021 Topps Allen and Ginter Mini Framed Relics #MFR-CYE Christian Yelich

I'll save the minis and non-baseball topics for Part 2, so I'll end with this quasi-mini relic card of Christian Yelich. It's a tobacco-sized mini sealed within a full-sized frame, and I do recall getting one of these via trade once before. Topps hasn't changed the design of these since 2008, as it still has the same little window so you can feel the actual relic.

It's small, but you can see part of the 50th Anniversary patch the Brewers wore last year. Just look down and left of the Nike swoosh. None of that made it to the actual relic.

The Brewers just clinched their fourth straight postseason appearance, and while they won't roll over the Rockies in three games like they did in 2018, they have a strong team, with or without the recently-retired Ryan Braun who did not play this season.

I've had a soft spot for Yelich ever since I got his foul ball way back in 2014. It's nice to have a relic to go along with it.


  1. Getting a framed relic is so much better than a full-sized relic. Topps seems to keep making the framed hits harder and harder to pull.

  2. I like Yelich too. Sure hope his career bounces back sooner than later.