Completed Set – 2017 Topps

I’m a “set” guy.  I like choosing a set and hunting down each piece of the puzzle. Admittedly, I’ve lost interest in completing a few of the recent sets I’ve set out to complete.  The Heritage sets with their high-number cards are just too much of  a challenge for my taste.  I prefer sticking to base sets with the exception of the Topps Gypsy Queen sets which have just the right amount of short-prints and variations to keep me interested.

With each new flagship Topps release, I will hand-collate the base set.  It usually takes me all year but I always manage to get it done before the World Series hits.  This year, as I slid the last card of the Topps Series 2 set into it’s final page sleeve I decided that I should do a blog post featuring my favorite 10 cards in the set.

The problem was, I had more than 10 cards that I wanted to feature.  Topps has come a long way with their flagship sets and the photography.  At one point in time, premium photography and exciting shots seemed to be reserved for the Stadium Club sets.  The 2017 Topps design is awesome and I really enjoyed putting this set together.  Here we will look at my top 15 cards in Series 1 and 2.

Once this post is finished, the cards will be taken back out of their pages, tucked into their respective “row” of a monster-box, labeled and up on the shelf they will go to sit and wait for the day they get broken back out to see the light of day.

The ritual drives my wife crazy.  That’s her problem though.

Without further ado, let’s get to the cards and we will fittingly start with #1 in Series 1.

01011121 (4)#1 – Kris Bryant – The Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and National League Most Valuable Player graces Card No. 1 and joins a long list of great players who have been represented on the first Topps card of the year from Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams to Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter. I’ve always loved the horizontal cards and Bryant was actually chosen by baseballs to get the coveted #1 card in this year’s release.  The one-week online vote occurred in October of last year where fans chose from a list of 16 nominees on Topps.com. Topps started the Vote for Card No. 1 in 2016 when Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned the honor in the inaugural vote.

01011121 (5)#236 – Lucas Duda – As a Met’s fan, we can start here.  I love the throwback Mets uniform in this shot and the fact that it’s not even Lucas Duda on the card.  The first time I pulled this card, I stared at it and knew something was off.  The photo is actually of utility player Eric Campbell who is not even playing in Major League Baseball anymore as he signed with the Hanshin Tigers last year.  The corrected version of the card was released in factory sets and the New York Mets team sets only.  I’ll track the corrected one down on the Bay at some point.

01011121#140 – Jesse Hahn – Here we have a nice crisp shot of the A’s starter.  For some reason,
I feel like cards with daytime photos shot in California always seem to have a “brighter” feel to them.   Check out any older A’s, Dodgers or Angels cards and you’ll see what I mean.  In this particular photo, Topps captured Hahn using one of the warm-up mounds in foul territory at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  You can also see “Jacob Ellsbury” featured on the ticker tape scoreboard in the background.  This would likely date this photo as May 22, 2016 which was a day game against the New York Yankees.  The Bombers would go on to take that game 5-4 with Ellsbury using the 3rd inning to drop a Hahn fastball over the deep center-right field wall for a home run.

01011121 (6)#6 – Kevin Pillar –   Cards featuring plays at the plate are always popular with me.  I think the first play at the plate card I owned was the 1987 Topps Wally Backman.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.  Topps zeroed in on this July 7, 2016, sixth inning play at the plate as Detroit Tiger catcher James McCann tags out Toronto runner Kevin Pillar.  The Jays would go on to beat the Tigers 5-4 behind 3 RBI’s from Troy Tulowitzki.

01011121 (3)#133  -Jace Peterson – This is actually one of three really nice “double-dip” action shots in the set.  The Braves second-sacker has split most of the 2017 season between AAA Gwinnett.  A versatile player who can play all infield positions as well as the outfield, if he can perform at the plate, he will be a key player for Atlanta.

01011120 (7)#36 – Addison Russell – Probably one of the most notable cards of Series 1 due to the fact that this card (along with the Bryce Harper variation) were featured in most of Topps pre-release marketing.  Collectors were seemingly very familiar with it before the set was even released.  Despite that, it’s an awesome card.  The partial full-bleed design of the set works really well with this card.  I love the clarity of Russell and the base-runner against the blurred out background.  Very effective card that captures the moment.

01011120 (8)#443 – Dee Gordon – Here we have a great action shot featuring Gordon turning a graceful double-dip against the Phillies Cesar Hernandez.  This photo was from the September 18, 2016 game between the Marlins and Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park.   The Marlins would take this game from the Phils by a score of 5-4.  In addition to a slick-fielding lead off hitter, Gordon is known also as the son of former Royals and Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon.  I will always remember the emotional lead off home run he hit in his first at bat after the untimely passing of teammate Jose Fernandez.

01011121 (2)#251 – Justin Turner – As Justin Turner played here locally in 2009 & 2010 with the Norfolk Tides; I’ve followed Justin Turner’s career pretty closely over the years.  After being let go by the Mets in 2013 as just one of the many bone-headed moves by Met’s general manager Sandy Alderson (how does that guy still have a job?), Turner rebuilt his swing and overall approach at the plate and is currently an All-Star as well as one of the most feared hitters in the league.  Imagine a Met’s infield with Turner at third and Murphy at second.  I not only love the photography on his 2017 card, but I think it looks great in the sideways landscape format.  This photo is from the June 17, 2016 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers and features Turner celebrating his walk-off RBI single which won the game in the 10th inning.  He had also tied the game in the 8th with two run homer.

01011119#581 – Brock Holt – Another great landscape shot from Topps.  Featuring Brock Holt warming up between innings or before a game, you see a beautiful sky in the background as well as the telltale signs of the iconic Fenway Park.  I can actually imagine myself sitting in the front row at this game.

01011120 (6)#350 – David Ortiz – As Nick over at the Dime Box baseball card blog would call it, this is Ortiz “sunset card”.  Topps did a fine job of capturing Ortiz’ graceful swing launching of his last home runs into the bleachers at Fenway Park.  This photo was taken on July 26, 2016 in the third inning and happens to be a 3 run homer.  San Francisco Giants catcher   Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also featured in the photo.  An absolute first ballot Hall of Famer, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite for years and will go down as one of the most beloved Red Sox players.  I have to admit, I’m huge Ortiz fan and this card marks the end of a career that was thrilling to watch every step of the way.  I’m still on the hunt for a copy of his 2013 Topps SSP “Boston Strong” card.

01011120 (5)#508 Hanley Ramirez – Topps really outdid themselves with the Red Sox cards this year as their are so many great shots of them.  Here is another great landscape shot featuring Hanley Ramirez watching his 7th inning home run against the Blue Jays on October 2, 2016.  I love how the catcher and the umpire are both featured in this card as well.   Despite the efforts of Ramirez, Toronto would go on to win the game 2-1 and clinch the Wild Card spot.  Coincidentally, this game was also the last home game of Big Papi’s career.

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#324 Ben Revere – Taking a break from the BoSox, let’s move over to the Washington Nationals and take a look at this great shot of speedy outfielder Ben Revere robbing Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman of a home run during the fourth inning of their August 19, 2016 match up.  You can watch a video clip of the grab HERE.  The Nats would go on to take this one from the Braves 7-6.  This grab was one of the few bright spots in Revere’s season and 2016 would be his only season with the Nationals.  He was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels this past December.

01011120 (2)#520 Andrelton Simmons – Topps took advantage of the flame throwing backdrop of Angels Stadium to capture Simmons celebrating a double.  Simmons was traded to Los Angeles from Atlanta last November so this is his first card in an Angels uniform.

01011119 (6)#669 Corey Kluber – If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to stare down the pipe of a Kluber fastball, this would probably be a pretty accurate example.  This photo was from the 2016 ALDS matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe would go on to take the game from the Jays 2-0.  2017 has seen Kluber be as good as any pitcher in the game could be and the Indians are currently leading their division by 8 games.  This year I put my Cy Young bets on Kluber or Chris Sale.

01011119 (5)#576 Russell Martin – Topps has made a concerted effort to feature key moments from the prior season and this card is exemplary of that effort.  Here we have a a close play at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the explosive 2016 ALDS between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.  After a lead off double by Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre hit into a fielder’s choice leading to Desmond being tagged out at the plate.  This was the second meeting between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the postseason, the first being the 2015 American League Division Series in which the Blue Jays defeated the Rangers after losing the first two games at home, which was marked by a controversy-laden deciding Game 5 defined by José Bautista’s bat flip.  It was also the first series between the two teams since May 15, a game which featured multiple bench clearing skirmishes and the infamous Rougned Odor punch of Bautista.

That’s it for the Top 15 cards of the 2017 Topps Series 1 & 2 set.  I’ve just completed a nice 1978 Topps set so I’ll likely get started on a Top 10 list of those cards as well.

Have a great Labor Day everyone.

 

Hank Aaron

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1974 Topps #1

It was 43 years ago today that Hank Aaron became baseball’s all-time home run king.   Aaron awoke that morning perched atop baseball’s most coveted leader board; tied with the larger than life and most legendary sports figure in the world, George Herman Ruth. The world had been watching and waiting for months as all ears and eyes became focused on the bat in Aaron’s hands.  It would be those hands and the flick of those wrists that would propel the game’s most talented yet unassuming men into immortality.   For years, Aaron had been chasing the record with his particular brand of quiet excellence. Often in the shadow of the flashier talents of the era – players like Mantle, Mays, and Robinson.

Pitcher Claude Osteen once said of Aaron, “You have a better chance of slapping a live rattlesnake across the face and getting away with it than you do trying to fool Hank Aaron.”

Aaron could often be seen sitting on the bench in the dugout staring at the opposing pitcher through the tiny hole in his ball cap.  This was his way of isolating his adversary and studying him.

He never saw a single one of his home runs clear the fence.  Instead, Aaron kept his head down and focused on touching first base.  Aaron once said, “watching the ball go over the fence isn’t going help.”   It was this insurmountable focus and drive that helped Aaron to endure the challenges of chasing Ruth.  Aaron told a reporter once, “I’m not sure who is chasing who these days.  All I ever hear about is Ruth, Ruth, Ruth.”  Aaron received a lot of fan mail as he made his way towards the top of the home run leader board – much of it racially motivated.  Aaron received death threats from those who didn’t think a black man should ever hold the record.  He was surrounded by security guards for much of the 1973 and ’74 seasons and on the road, he often booked several hotel rooms under his name as well as assumed names.  Aaron was even forced to take up temporary living quarters in Atlanta because he was not safe in his own home.

Number 715 came on April 8, 1974 during the Atlanta Braves home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The evening was unusually cold for early spring in Georgia.  It was a full-house at Atlanta Stadium with Los Angeles’ Al Downing on the mound; hoping to not become any part of history if he could help it.

It was the second inning when Aaron stepped into the batter’s box for the first time. Before walking to the on-deck circle, Aaron turned to Dusty Baker in the dugout and said, “Man, I’m going to go get this over with right now.”  The anticipation from the crowd at hand and the rest of the world was immense.  Downing dealt Aaron five pitches, none of which produced a swing, and walked Aaron.  Aaron would score that inning, breaking Willie May’s National League record for runs scored.

In the fourth inning, with Darrell Evans on first base, no outs and the Dodgers leading, 3-1, a high fastball left Downing’s pitching hand and as quickly as it was delivered, Aaron turned on it and deposited into the left-center field bullpen.  The time was 9:07 PM and coincidentally, that is also the EXACT time of this writing (weird!).

As Aaron rounded first base, the scoreboard flashed “715” in bright lights and the

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1983 ASA The Hank Aaron Story #6 – I sent this card to Mr. Aaron when I was 8 years old.  He was nice enough to sign it for me.  It was one of my first TTM autographs.

stadium erupted into pandemonium along with a series of fireworks exploding overhead. As Aaron circled the bases, two fans who had made their way past security guards and joined him briefly between second and third. When Aaron rounded third, the sight of his teammates waiting for him at the plate gave the world a rare glimpse of emotion from the stoic Aaron as his intense focus broke into a wide grin.  The glorious yet often painful journey was finally over.

Monte Irvin, who stood in for  baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (who was in Cleveland attending a meeting of the Wahoo Club), congratulated Aaron. When Irvin mentioned Kuhn, the crowd booed relentlessly, showing their scorn that he was the one person who had chosen to ignore the evening.

“I just thank God it’s all over,” said Aaron.  The incessant media interviews, near-constant scrutiny, death threats and hate mail could finally be moved aside.

Braves reliever Tom House, who caught No. 715 in the bullpen, raced to greet Aaron and present him the ball. The crowd roared for a full 10 minutes as Aaron was mobbed by teammates, relatives, friends and well-wishers.  Aaron recalled the moment like this:  “I don’t remember the noise or the two kids that I’m told ran the bases with me.  My teammates at home plate, I remember seeing them.  I remember my mother out there, and her hugging me.  That’s what I remember more than anything about the home run when I think back on it.  I don’t know where she came from, but she was there.”  

House likely had the best perspective on the scene:  “I’ve got a master’s degree in marketing, and I don’t supposed my professors would give me high marks for opportunism, with so much being offered for the ball.”  But I’m not at all sorry.  What made it worthwhile was what I saw when running in with the ball in my glove.  I ran so fast that my teammates joked that it was the fastest they had ever seen me run.  I just wanted to get rid of it and get it into Henry’s hands.  In the crowd at home plate, I found him looking over his mother’s shoulder, hugging her to him, and I suddenly saw what so many people have never been able to see in him – deep emotion…  It looked like he had tears hanging on his eyelids.  I could hardly believe it.  ‘Hammer, here it is,’ I said.  I put the ball in his hand and he said ‘Thanks kid.’ and touched me on the shoulder.  I kept staring at him and it was then that it was home to me what this home run meant, not only to him, but to all of us.”

After the ceremony, play resumed and Aaron played the entire game, which the Braves won, 7-4.

Dusty Baker shared his humorous take as he stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the sixth.  He noticed the crowd noise dying and the loud clanking of the gates in the bleachers.  He stepped out of the box, looked around and saw that nearly everyone was leaving!  “I realized then that they had just come to see Hank!  Not me, not the Braves, but Hank and his pursuit of Ruth.”

As Baker stepped in, the phone in the dugout rang.  It was for Hank.  President Nixon had called to congratulate him on his achievement.  Afterward, Aaron told hundreds of reporters, “The home run wouldn’t have really meant that much to me if we hadn’t won the game.”

Johnny Klippstein

01011106-2After Cleveland’s big win last night in Game 1 of the World Series and a short post about Cleveland’s Hall of Fame player/manager Lou Boudreau, I thought I’d sit back, watch tonight’s Game 2 and post about a Chicago Cub.

Johnny Klippstein is not a name you hear very often but he pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 1950-1954.  Known as one of the “most liked guys in baseball” during his 18 year career, Klippstein pitched for 8 teams from 1950-1967 and posted a 101-118 record.  Nicknamed the “Wild Man of Borneo”, Klippstein was seen as a player with great potential who could turn in masterful performances from time to time.  It was often his lack of control that overshadowed his dominance on the mound.   Leading the league in hit-batters one year, he also claimed the single-season record for wild pitches twice.

In 1943, at the age of 15, Klippstein was visiting an uncle in Appleton, Wisconsin and decided to take advantage of a tryout camp being held locally by the St Louis Cardinals. After trying out, Klippstein was signed the following spring.  300 players tried out and out of all of them, Klippstein was the only to sign a contract.

After completing school in the spring of 1944, Klippstein reported to Allentown of the Class B Interstate League.  As one of the youngest players in the league, he won his first game but posted a 10.50 ERA.  After bouncing around the minors that season, Klippstein returned home to finish up his last year of high school.  Following the school year, he returned to baseball for the 1945 season and performed much better.  The Cardinals were finally starting to see the potential in Klippstein.

After missing the entire 1946 season due to being drafted into the Army, Klippstein returned to the Cardinal’s minor league season and struggled to regain his form.  After a disappointing season, the Cardinals lost Klippstein to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1948 draft.  After excelling in the Dodgers minor league system through the 1949 season, the Dodgers ended up losing him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for $10,000 in cash.

Klippstein made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs but never blossomed with Chicago.  After the 1954 season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds where he developed further as a pitcher, learning the slider and working on his control.  It was in 1958 the

St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial

Klippstein facing Stan Musial as Cincinnati catcher Ed Bailey awaits the pitch.

Klippstein was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he reinvented himself as a relief specialist.  The following year, he would pitching over 50 games, the Dodgers would go on to win the National League Pennant and eventually defeat the White Sox.  1960 would be the season in which Klippstein would show his age and as the Dodgers became more concerned about his health and effectiveness, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians where he would go on to lead the league in saves with 14, post a respectable sub-3.00 ERA and was considered one of the most effective closers in all of baseball.

Despite his success, the Indians made him available for the expansion draft and shipped him to the Washington Senators in exchange for $25,000.  The Senators flopped that year and so did Klippstein, posting a 6.78 ERA and leading the league with ten wild pitches. Klippstein was shipped back to the Cincinnati at the end of the season.  The next year he pitched much better but found himself being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training of 1963.  He would go on to have the best season of his career pitching in 49 games and posting an ERA of 1.93.  The Phillies would go on to finish in fourth place that season. 1964 saw Klippstein being marginalized and found himself buried in the bullpen and eventually waived.  The Minnesota Twins would pick him up and he would go on to develop a quick-pitch curve which helped him to become one of the most effective closers in the league and help the Twins clinch the pennant.  The Twins would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks in part to the magnificent pitching of Claude Osteen and Sandy Koufax.

1966 would see Klippstein on the hill just 26 times and found his 18 year career over.  He finished with a lifetime 4.24 ERA.  When asked about his “best season”, Klippstein often remarked that he never had one.

Despite wearing the uniform of 8 different teams in his career, Klippstein loved the Chicago Cubs and remained a die-hard Cubs fan for the rest of his life.   In 2003 while listening to the Cubs defeat the Marlins, he passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer.  I can only imagine how excited he is to now be looking down on his Cubs and his former Indians both sharing the spotlight in the 2o16 World Series.