42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 2)

It’s hard to believe that we’re already seeing the start of August. This has been the fastest but longest year of my life…if that makes sense? While I am happy to see baseball return this year, I’ll be honest, I rather enjoyed watching the classic game reruns on MLB Network and ESPN. While I’ve watched quite a bit of the 2020 live games, I find myself wishing they were still playing reruns. I’m probably the only one that feels that way. My cable network does show a ton of Yankee games and I’ve realized how much I enjoy Alex Rodriguez as an announcer. Again, I’m probably one of the only ones that feels that way.

I wanted to circle back to an earlier post called “42 Years of the BEST Mets Cards.” The idea was simple. I would highlight each year of the Mets and choose the “best” Topps card from that year. When I say “best”, I don’t necessarily mean the most popular card or even the best player of each year. These are simply cards that when I look at the team set, they stick out to me. Given that I’m 42 years old, I thought that 42 would be a good number to work with. To keep the post from being too long, I broke it up into 2 parts. Let’s wrap up the remaining 19 of the 42 years.

Part 1 left off with Rey Ordonez’ 2001 Topps card and as I went back to check out what I wrote, I found a gasp…typo. Next time you catch one…let me know!

We will kick off Part 2 with 2002. 2002 also marks the beginning of three straight sub .500 Mets’ seasons. I remember those days. It was awful to be a Met’s fan. Can’t wait to write about these dumpster fires. *sigh*

2002 – 2003 – 2004

Many sports writers considered the 2002 Mets to be like a bad traffic accident on an interstate highway – they were an awful sight to see, but for some reason, many just couldn’t turn away.  With a payroll of $102 million, the 2002 Mets were expected to give the Atlanta Braves a run for their money.  Instead, they would finish 5th in the NL East.

Mike Piazza gets the best card award that year as we see him standing guard over home plate with cross-town rival Jorge Posada approaching.  Piazza was coming off of an All-Star 2001 season where he became one of only eight major leaguers in baseball history to have 5 consecutive seasons hitting better than .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.  2002 was also Piazza’s ninth straight 30+ home run season. He would be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal team performance.

Hoping for something different in 2003, the Mets would fire Bobby Valentine at the close of 2002 and bring in Art Howe from Oakland.  They would get nothing different.  2003 would be another last place finish for the disastrous Mets and in 2004, the Mets would only manage a fourth-place finish.  Scrappy utility player Joe McEwing gets the best card award for 2003 and 2004.  A fan favorite in New York during his time there, he was also David Wright’s first mentor.  Topps chose two similar shots of McEwing for his ’03 and ’04 cards.  The only difference really being that one features him at Wrigley and the other features him at Turner Field.  I’ve never cared for the 2004 design that Topps chose.  The silver foil lettering is tough to read at first glance, but I actually just realized tonight that they used the actual photo and incorporated it into the border design in the bottom left hand corner.  Look at that little guy down there!   

2005 – 2006 – 2007

2005 would see Willie Randolph leading the ball club and they would improve by going 83-79 and finishing 3rd in the NL East.  He would become the first African American manager of a MLB team in New York.  Matt Lindstrom gets the top card in the 2005 Topps set despite spending the entire year with the AA Binghamton Mets.  Topps chose a sharp “batter’s eye view” shot of Lindstrom that was likely taken at a practice or Spring Training game.  If I had to guess, I would say that this is a curveball.  As unremarkable as this card is should tell you a little something about how unremarkable the OTHER Mets cards were in the 2005 Topps set. The 2006 best Topps card goes to none other than The Captain David Wright.  As a local guy that grew up right around the corner from me, I’ve always been a Wright fan.  He would make the first of seven All Star game appearances in 2006 and finish the year with 26 home runs.  While the Topps design that year was a bit busy for me, this is a great shot of Wright in the batter’s box during a home game.  Wright would help propel the Mets into first place that year but they would eventually fall to the Cardinals in the NLCS.  2007 would see another successful year for the Mets despite not seeing the post season.  The top card goes to the speedy Jose Reyes as he is pictured sliding headfirst into third.  He would steal 78 bases that year as well.  In June of 2006, he would lead off seven consecutive games with a hit, a feat only his manager Willie Randolph had ever accomplished. 

2008 – 2009 – 2010

After three good years at the helm of the Mets, Randolph’s fourth season would begin with a slow start, poor play in the field and at the plate, and a record barely above .500, the Mets would replace Willie Randolph with bench coach Jerry Manuel.  The Mets would finish with 89 wins in 2008 and once again miss the playoffs. It would be their final season at Shea Stadium and their last winning season until 2015.  Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Johan Santana has the best card that year.  Another down the barrel shot of him on the mound, Santana would be coming off of an All Star 2007 season with Minnesota and would finish 2008 with a a 16-7 record and a 2.56% ERA.  As a birthday present, my wife took me to New York to see the Mets play the Astros on August 22.  Santana would get his 13th win of the season.  2009 would not be kind to the Mets as they finished 4th in their division and sent 20 players to the disabled list throughout the year. At the beginning of the season, many Mets fans were excited to experience Mets baseball in their brand new Citi Field. The $600 million stadium provided not only a beautiful atmosphere, but also an opportunity to move on from the collapses of the previous two seasons. Three time All Star Luis Castillo would be the starting second baseman for most of the year, while he gets the top card of 2009 for this great shot of him sliding headfirst into second, he would go down in infamy for refusing to participate in a charity event at Walter Reed Medical Center where the Mets visited wounded military personnel.  He would say that he didn’t want to be “horrified at the sight of US soldiers without any arms or legs.”  Mets management and the fans were not impressed and let him know it anytime he stepped out onto the field.  To be fair, he wasn’t the only one who skipped out on the event. Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez also stated that they had “other commitments” which didn’t sit well with team management. It would be more of the same in 2010 for the Mets as they hobbled to another disappointing fourth place finish.  They would be an embarrassment both on and off the field and rightfully earned the nickname the “New York Mess.”  All Star David Wright comes out on top with the best card of the year.  I’ll be honest, I had a hard time between the Wright card and Jose Reyes.  Both had great cards that year but this shot of Wright leaping for a line drive is just awesome. 

2011 – 2012 – 2013

2011 would be the 50th anniversary for the New York Mets. What a great time that would have been for them to do anything noteworthy. If only that that had been the case. To the surprise of no one, the Mets would finish fourth in their division and miss the post season for the fifth straight season as injuries and an inflated payroll plagued the team. As Mets ownership found itself wrapped up in the Bernie Madoff scandal, there was no money to sign any high priced free agents to help turn the team around. One bright spot that season would be Jose Reyes winning the batting title – the first in Mets history. Carlos Beltran gets the best card award for the season. While the aerial shot is fantastic, you can tell the photo was taken through the home plate netting. 2012 would be as you can probably guess by now, another disappointment. Despite Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the first in Mets history and R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young award; the Mets would finish fourth in their division and suffer the loss of Hall of Fame catcher and fan-favorite Gary Carter. He would die of brain cancer in February. On June 27 against the Chicago Cubs, the Mets would become the first major league team to hit a home run cycle. Daniel Murphy began with a two-run home run, his run in 352 at-bats, then in the fourth, then Ike Davis hit a three-run home run followed by Murphy’s solo home run off of Casey Coleman, who had replaced starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. In the sixth inning, Scott Hairston, who was typically a utility outfielder throughout the first half of the season, hit the cycle ending grand slam off of Coleman. The Mets won the game, 17–1. Murphy gets the top card of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season. He gets the top card in 2013 as Topps captured him making a flying throw. 2013 saw the Mets break their streak of five years worth of fourth place finishes. They would finish third.

2014 – 2015 – 2016

Daniel Murphy continues his “best card” streak as he is my pick three years in a row. I’d like to imagine that he’s rounding the bases after a home run you can tell it was a home run because of the red background which means the Citi Field “home run apple” was in motion. The Home Run Apple was originally installed at Shea Stadium in 1980 as a way to improve the atmosphere at New York Mets games, and an apple was chosen as a play on New York City’s nickname of the “Big Apple.” The Mets continued the tradition at Citi Field and doubled the size of the apple. The Mets would tie for second place in 2014 only to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. 2015 was a stellar year for the Mets as they finally reached the World Series and the best card of the season goes to rookie Noah Syndergaard. Noah actually had two cards in the 2015 Update set but I prefer this horizontal card detailing his rookie debut over the vertical base card. I remember when these cards were first released – a buddy of mine loved them. I on the other hand hated them at the time. Today, after looking at the Tops designs before them, they aren’t that bad. The Mets made their fifth appearance in the World Series after sweeping the Cubs 4–0 in the NLCS that year and would go on to meet the Kansas City Royals. The Royals would win the World Series 4 games to 1. It would be the 2016 design that really grew on me as it ushered in the next three years of “full bleed design” for Topps. Some collectors hated the lack of borders and the “fogginess” of the 2016 cards. Admittedly with some of the cards, the fog is distracting bu in the case of this Neil Walker card, it fits perfectly. This card is beautiful. You can see him rounding the bases as the fans in the background cheer on. The Mets would play to a second place finish in the division and lose to the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card game. I remember watching Conor Gillaspie hit a go-ahead 3-run homer in the top of the 9th off of Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia, placing the Mets in a three-run deficit that would eventually cost them the game. That was a tough night to be a Met or a Mets fan.

2017 – 2018 – 2019

As we head into the tail end of the post, we also see the Mets return to the tail end of their division in 2017 with a fourth place finish. They would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and equaled their worst record since 2009. Injuries to key players, poor performances from players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, and Robert Gsellman, and by controversy within the organization and around players led to manager Terry Collins announcing his retirement following the final game of the season. (As of this writing today (8/2/20), Cespedes continues to be a Grade-A “a-hole” as he apparently no showed for the game today and when questioned, said that he was “opting out” of the season. He’s “opted out” since he was signed by the Mets if you ask me.) Third baseman Matt Reynolds gets the best card of the 2017 set with this “Jeter-esque” throw from third base. Anyone who knows me should not be surprised that catcher Travis D’Arnaud would get the top card of the 2018 set. I love catcher cards and this is a great shot of him reaching into the stands attempting to snag a pop up foul. 2018 would be another fourth place finish for the Mets despite bringing in a new manager (Mickey Callaway) and getting off to a red hot 11-1 start to the season. They would be eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth time in ten seasons. The biggest storyline of the season for the Mets did not emerge until the final month of the season as David Wright battled back from spinal-stenosis for one final home game. He would retire that evening. The top card of 2019 goes to…Citi Field. There were a few really good player cards that year but one has to agree, this is just a magnificent card. The Mets would finish third in the division and would miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

2020

With Amed Rosario’s sweet 2020 card, we will wrap up Part 2 of “42 Years of the Best Mets Cards.” I love the close up shot of Rosario going deep in the hole and coiling up to shoot a bullet to first. The pressure to perform is on Rosario this year after two pretty unimpressive seasons on the field and at the plate. Regardless of how his career ends up, this will remain my favorite card of the 2020 New York Mets set.

Well, I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of this post. Have a great week out there and stay safe!

Completed Set – 2010 Topps National Chicle

I picked up my first pack of National Chicle back in May of 2009.

It was August 30, 2019 that I treated myself to the final card needed to complete the 330 card base set.

This set took just over 10 years to complete – approximately 3,650 days.

I had decided to try and complete this set back in 2009 when I saw an advertisement for it in a Beckett magazine. I have always loved the pre-war era “art” cards and was excited that Topps was going to release a modern throwback release with the same theme.

National Chicle was first distributed in 1934 under the names Diamond Stars and Batter Up. This little known vintage set featured a wealth of eclectic, great looking cards and was produced until 1937.

For 2010, Topps commissioned a team of 12 sports artists to replicate the original 1930’s Chicle look.

275 of the cards on the preliminary checklist are broken up into:
205 active players
40 legendary players
25 rookie
players

The remaining 55 short-print cards are broken up into three subsets:
25 retired stars revisted (featured in present day uniforms)
10 vintage veterans (featured in throwback uniforms)
20 rookie renditions (2010 rookies on throwback card designs)

At the time of release, reception to the tail end of the set was luke warm at best as there was little to no explanation as to why the themes were chosen. I liked them as they are certainly thought provoking and quirky.

Most collectors prefer at least a heads up before the card companies go too far outside of the box.

For instance, why is White Sox rookie Tyler Flowers featured on the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas rookie card? I’ve seen a variation of this Flowers card with the “no name on front” error which is pretty cool.

The most likely reason is that Topps told the artists to have fun with the project.

Athletic’s rookie Matt Carson looks strikingly similar to a young Ricky Henderson on his 1979 Topps rookie card.

Artist Jeff Zachowski had Frank Robinson’s 1957 rookie in mind when he painted Red’s rookie Drew Stubbs.

The Babe posing in an Atlanta Braves jersey? Or is that Chipper Jones? Artist Paul Lempa points out that Babe Ruth did end his career with the Boston Braves. Now it makes more sense.

Giants rookie Buster Posey does his best 1952 Willie Mays impersonation thanks to artist Brian Kong.

I have always loved the Jimmie Foxx card in this set. I think I first saw it posted over at Nick’s “Dime Boxes” blog. (check it out if you haven’t already!) Pittsburg artist Chris Henderson painted him against a bold background and the action shot is just awesome. Although it didn’t win Boston a championship, Carlton Fisk’s iconic home run to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series remains one of the great moments in Major League Baseball history and is depicted here on his 2010 Chicle card.  We also see a nice throwback to Johnny Bench’s 1969 Topps card by artist Monty Sheldon. The only thing missing is the 1968 Rookie Cup.

Artist Monty Sheldon produced the John Maine and Curtis Granderson cards. I love the horizontal design and backdrops depicted. Kershaw shines in front of a strikingly red background and Evan Longoria looks right at home on artist Jeff Zachowski’s tropical depiction.

Easily one of my favorite cards in the set, artist Chris Felix puts a modern day “Scooter” against the shadows of Yankee Stadium as he plays “pepper” with a teammate. We also have a pretty good idea of what A-Rod would look like had he been a Bronx bomber in the early 1900’s.

Two more fine examples of Chicle honoring baseball legends in both their original uniforms and present day uniforms. Chicle “plays two” with Cub’s legend Ernie Banks by featuring him on two cards. Artist Mike Kupka presents “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks as a Cub in either 1970 or 1971. You can narrow down the jersey as there is no centennial patch on the sleeve. Jason Davies flips Banks into today’s modern uniform on his short-print version.

Honoring the team that drafted him, we see a fine depiction from Monty Sheldon of Ryne Sandberg in his Philadelphia Phillies uniform. In what is widely considered one of the worst trades in baseball history, in 1982 he would be traded to the Chicago Cubs along with the aging Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. The rest is history as he would go on to play his way into the Hall of Fame. After retiring as a Cub in 1997, Sandberg would end up managing the Phillies to the worst record in baseball in 2015. He would resign on his own after his promise to return to “fundamental baseball” never materialized on the field.

Here we have four more dazzling horizontal cards of Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Warren Spahn, and Roy Campanella. Artist Monty Sheldon produced the Musial, Spahn, and Campanella while former Marvel comic artist Brian Kong took care of replicating the mighty Jackie Robinson taking a cut against the bold red background.

Lots of collectors wondered about the spider featured on Cy Young’s card. He played for the Cleveland Spiders in 1891. Fielding their first team in 1887, the Spiders never enjoyed a winning season. Young is largely credited with turning the club around with his signing in 1891. The Spiders had their first taste of success in 1892 when they finished 93–56 overall; winning the second half by three games over Boston with a 53–23 record. National Chicle also features Young in a modern day Indians’ uniform. The Mick is also featured on two cards. One in his traditional Yankee pinstripes and the other in his “retired stars revisited” version.

I’ll close this post out with three of my favorite players. Ken Griffey Jr. is featured on only one card in this set. The same goes for Jeter and my local-favorite David Wright.

This set was certainly a challenge. The short-prints were tough to find and regardless of the player on the card; often carried a premium price. Ten years is a long time to chase a set and I found myself abandoning all hope of completing it more than a few times. However, writing this post made me realize just how much I like this set.

The last card to finish the set? As a Met’s fan, it pains me to say that this guy was the one. There were about 4 years where this ONE card was missing. I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy. Chipper, you killed the Mets for all of those years. Makes complete sense that YOU would be the one that was needed to complete a 10 year quest to complete this set.

Congrats on the Hall of Fame induction. It is well deserved. If I had to choose a player to be the final card in a set; I would be more than happy to choose you.

March Card Show Pickups

One night I was checking out some of the other collector blogs and as a few of the guys were showing off their card show finds, I realized how long it had been since I had been to a card show myself. After a quick google search, I saw that there was a card show in my area that was only a few weeks away. I shot my buddy Matt from Passion for Cards a text and he said he would meet me out there.

I didn’t really have any major cards on my wish list but I knew that he has been working on his 1963 Topps set. You can check out his pickups from the show HERE. Go ahead and subscribe to his channel as well. He never lets me down in showcasing his sweet collection. It’s a MONSTER too!

The show was at a local bingo hall and featured about 25 dealer tables. Lots of vintage cards and autographed memorabilia were mixed in with the usual dime-boxes, quarter boxes, and buck-boxes. I only had a few hours so I pulled a chair out of the corner and posted up at one of the dealer’s dime-box tables. Picked up about 300 cards in total. Here are a few of my favorites.

I recently started a player collection of Rickey Henderson. These cards will help fill some gaps. You can check out a post I did on Rickey a few months ago HERE. In 1995, Topps featured Rickey in their Bazooka set. He hit .300 that year with 9 home runs and 32 stolen bases. I was happy to find the 2001 Topps Traded as it features Rickey in his Padres uniform and books for $12. Not bad for a dime. Lastly, Rickey showed up in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Leaf featured his on the base paths in their relatively uninteresting base set.

I found myself pulling more and more of the Topps Archives out of the boxes. I’ve always thought that Topps Archives was one of the more creative sets out there. Each year, the 300 card set is broken up into three different designs from the past. I’ve always liked the 1991 Topps design and anytime I can find someone from the Mets is always a bonus. Mookie looks great on the 1984 Topps design again as well. Topps really outdid themselves with the photo choice of Xander Bogaerts. This one will go into my “personal favorites” binder.

I’ve already completed my 2014 Topps Gyspsy Queen set but I wanted to add this Johnny Bench to my catcher’s collection. Same goes for the 2000 Fleer Greats card. Despite never being a set that caught my eye, I grabbed it for a dime. Allen & Ginter is a great set for signatures and some years the design strikes my eye, 2012 wasn’t really one of them but Bench looks good on this one.

I decided I would start a mini-collection of cards with the ivy-covered outfield wall in the background. I was able to add three good ones out of the dime-box. The Fleer Ultra Ray Lankford is much more vibrant in person. He is a widely underrated player given that he played most of his career in a lackluster Cardinals era. He came in at the tail end of the Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith era and was traded to San Diego just before the Pujols/Molina era. Even still, his 38 career WAR as a Cardinal is 13 more than McGee, and just 3 behind Lou Brock. Andrew Cashner’s Topps Chrome rookie card features him warming up at Wrigley. Today he can be found at Camden Yards in an Orioles uniform. Predicted to be the worst team in baseball this year, they are off to a hot start with a new GM, new manager and virtually a new 25 man roster. Leaf captured a likely force out at second for Ryne Sandberg’s base card. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

As a nine year old little league player, I volunteered to play catcher at one of the team’s first practices. Mainly because I thought wearing the equipment was cool and because Gary Carter was a catcher. The other reason was because if I didn’t do it, we probably wouldn’t have had a catcher. Our main pitcher threw harder than anyone in the league. I learned to catch the ball at all costs because if I didn’t, it was going to hurt – bad. I love cards of catchers. I love to see the changes in the protective gear and the mitts over the decades.

Three more for the Adrian Beltre player collection. Those 2018 Archives on the 1991 design get me every time. Beltre is one of the greatest third baseman of our generation. With Beltre, you have the big traditional numbers: 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 runs batted in. You have the awards: five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 Most Valuable Player Award finishes. And you even have an outrageous advanced statistic: 95.7 career wins above replacement, which trailed only Albert Pujols among active players when Beltre retired last year. He also hates to have his head touched. I love to watch YouTube clips of teammates trying to catch him off guard and touch his head.

The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has been a hotbed for Major League baseball talent and I try to collect the local guys. Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 draft and has played for the entirety of his 15 year career. If he can stay healthy, Ryan may close out his career with 300+ home runs. I picked these up for .30 cents and realized that I had picked up the middle SP card not only once, not twice, but THREE times. Not the first time that’s happened. Ryan’s parents still live here in the Virginia Beach area and his mother used to come into my restaurant pretty frequently. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. You can learn more about the disease and help the cause through Ryan’s “ZiMS Foundation.”

David Wright is another local baseball star that I collect. I always said that I would never collect unlicensed brand cards like Donruss but these Wrights look so good that I had to pick them up. Wright was not on the Captain of the Mets but played 1,585 games across 14 seasons, with 1,777 hits and a .296 batting average. Spinal stenosis took him off of the field for the last two years but he remained firmly at the helm of the team from the dugout.

There is another show in a few weeks. We are getting a new driveway installed soon so the Wife has me on a budget. It’s a good thing I still have $59 in cash left over from this show.