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.

Ralph Branca

fullsizerender“Ralph Branca, beloved Dodger pitcher and the man who courageously stood up to racism with Jackie Robinson, dead at 90”.

At the age of 90 years old, Ralph Branca quietly passed away the day before Thanksgiving in his Rye Brook, New York nursing home yesterday.

I wish more headlines read like the one above.   Instead, the majority of them define him as the man who “gave up the ‘shot heard round the world’.

Born on January 6, 1926 in Mount Vernon, New York; Branca was the 15th of 17 children.  While attending New York University, Branca was their star pitcher in 1944 and would find himself making his major league debut that summer for  the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With the help of a blistering fastball and a curve ball that snapped like a flag in the wind, 1947 would be Branca’s breakout season as he went 21-12.  The next season he would compile a record of 14-9 and making it 3 winning seasons in a row, he would top out at 13 wins and only 5 losses in 1949.  Branca would make the National League All Star team all three years.

A post about Branca wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fastball he threw to Bobby Thompson on October 3, 1951 at 3:58 P.M..

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Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hits a game-winning home run off of Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca in a playoff game at the Polo Grounds – October 3, 1951, New York (AP)

In the final game with the New York Giants to determine the National League championship, Bobby Thompson lifted a Branca fastball into the left-field bleachers with two men on base in the bottom of the 9th inning.  The shot off of Branca secured the National League pennant for the inter-borough rivals.

The “Shot Heard Round the World” is often cited as the most memorable home run in baseball history and sits alongside such baseball memories as Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, Larsen’s perfect game in a World Series and Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds.  Americans alive at the time and who possessed any vague interest, could recall with exacting detail where they were when they heard the news.

The same can be said for Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination.

Branca once said, “Nobody remembers that at 21, I won 21 games.  Nobody remembers that at 25, I had 75 wins.  All they remember is that homer.”

It would later be discovered that the New York Giants had been stealing signs from the Polo Grounds center-field bleachers during the entire 1951 season.

“He absolutely knew that fastball was coming”, Branca would go on to later say about his close friend Thompson.

Thompson denies he had the signs decoded. “Even if you know what’s coming, and I’m not saying I knew what was coming, you still have to hit the damned ball.” he would later say.

Branca enjoyed a 12 year career (1944-1956) and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944-53, 1956), Detroit Tigers (1953-54), and New York Yankees (1954).  His career win-loss record was 88-68, ERA 3.79, and totaled 829 strikeouts.

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Ralph and Jackie at the Brooklyn Dodgers office the day Jackie Robinson signed his contract.  February 12, 1948

Branca was also an early friend and champion of Jackie Robinson.  He was one of the few in the game to great Jackie as an equal from day one.

“Ralph was good to Jack,” Rachel Robinson once said, “when it wasn’t fashionable to be good to Jack.”  In 1944, as Robinson broke the color barrier, fellow members of the Dodgers signed a petition protesting Robinson joining the team, Branca courageously refused to sign.  In those early years on the road, Branca, unlike many of his teammates, regularly socialized with Jackie Robinson and proudly stood beside him when Robinson first took the field on opening day, April 15, 1947.

Branca grew up in a diverse Mount Vernon neighborhood and his immigrant parents taught him respect and acceptance from an early age. Growing up, Branca had black, Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighbors, friends, and teammates.  “Where I lived, on 9th Avenue in Mount Vernon, black families lived right next door to me. They came in my house, I went in theirs,” he says.

While many will choose to remember Branca as merely the losing half in possibly the most famous home run in baseball history, let us not also remember him as a man of unwavering integrity who stood tall in the face of racism.