The general narrative of the 2016 card season has been one of apathy, for the most part.
A lot of collectors, myself included, saw this year as something like treading water. It often felt like nothing interesting was hitting the shelves, and there didn't seem to be a lot of excitement around the cards being unveiled to us by Topps.
But that's one of the reasons I go back and do these end-of-year lists. Often times, it's good to gain a little distance from things to best judge them. And you know what I found? 2016 really wasn't that bad of a year for cards. (I think it just seemed a lot worse because Flagship was a yawner.)
As I've done every December since I started this blog, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite cards issued throughout the year. It was, at times, a painful task, as I ultimately had to leave off many masterpieces, like the Whitey you see above.
You know it had to be a pretty decent year for cards if a beauty like that one didn't make the cut.
#10 -- 2016 Topps Archives #267 Carlos Gonzalez
I'll be putting together my Sets of the Year countdown (hopefully) next week, and you better believe Archives will be ranking high on that list.
I could've put any number of cards from the checklist on this list, but I went with CarGo here in the end. I salivate over these types of "foul line" shots, and this is one of the finest you'll find. What a stellar angle of a full PNC Park crowd as Gonzalez crosses the plate for a Rockies run.
#9 -- 2016 Topps Heritage High Numbers #587 Munenori Kawasaki
To some, it might be strange to put some guy who played exactly 14 games in the 2016 season on this list, but Munenori Kawasaki isn't just some guy.
I didn't think Muni would get a card this year, but Topps, in all their glory, decided to insert him into their Heritage High Numbers checklist. Certainly beats all the multiple cards of no-name rookies you see these days.
It's only the second Topps card of Kawasaki -- the funniest man in the big leagues -- and it could well go down as the only card to document Kawasaki's brief tenure as a World Champion Cub.
#8 -- 2016 Topps National Baseball Card Day #43 Ichiro Suzuki
This on isn't on the list so much for the card itself, but rather the promotion that went along with it.
As I posted about at the time, Topps resuscitated its National Baseball Card Day extravaganza back in August, a cardboard holiday that prompted me to give my LCS a little business that afternoon on a day that I would've otherwise been sitting around like a couch potato.
Every customer who walked into the card shop that day got a free pack of exclusive NBD cards, and I was lucky enough to pull an Ichiro (my favorite current ballplayer) out of mine. It was an all-around fantastic day to be a collector.
Let's hope Topps brings National Baseball Card Day back in 2017.
#7 -- 2016 Stadium Club #294 Jackie Robinson
As it has every year since its revival, Stadium Club earned multiple spots on my Cards of the Year countdown.
Jackie Robinson has a tendency to turn any card into pure gold, but the stunning black-and-white action shot -- coupled with the multitude of outfield ads -- made this one a no-brainer for my list.
#6 -- 2016 Topps Heritage High Numbers "Now & Then" #NT-4 Bartolo Colon
In one of the truly great moments in baseball history, Bartolo Colon hit his first major league homer on May 7, 2016, at the spry age of 42.
Topps, of course, issued a Topps Now card of the watershed moment, which is still going for massive amounts of cash. I'll let you in on a little secret, though: there's a card of the same exact event that you can get for loose change.
It didn't get a lot of pub, but this Heritage insert allowed me to collect all the joy and glory of Bart's homer without having to break the bank.
#5 -- 2016 Stadium Club #13 Sandy Koufax
Here's a card that's grown on me lately.
Sandy placed at just #6 in my 2016 Stadium Club countdown a few months back. Now it's my #5 card of the entire year. I don't know what I was missing before. Was it the neon scoreboard lights? Was it the intense Koufax peering in at his catcher? Was it the (aforementioned) glorious outfield ads?
And according to some research from fellow blogger Douglas, this shot actually comes from Koufax's third no-hitter, which he spun against the Phillies in 1964. Douglas, at the time, asked: Does that move it up the ladder?
I say: Yes. Yes it does.
#4 -- 2016 Stadium Club #126 Roberto Clemente
There may not be a player I enjoy collecting more than Roberto Clemente.
As I've mentioned in the past, he's my all-time favorite ballplayer, and it certainly doesn't hurt that his baseball cards are always pretty darn nice as well. One of my new favorites in the many, many Clemente masterpieces is his 2016 Stadium Club issue, which features him taking time out of his day to sign for some eager young fans.
In many ways, this fantastic shot captures everything I love about Roberto Clemente.
#3 -- 2016 Topps #96 Jose Bautista
I heavily debated on where to put this card on my list.
I picked it as the Card of the Year back when Flagship hit the shelves back in February, but turns out that prediction didn't last. Bautista's famous bat flip was still fresh on the minds of many when this masterpiece arrived -- I remember the card receiving some national news attention at the time -- but I wonder if it's a tad dated now that we're over a year removed from it.
The bat flip itself might be a somewhat distant memory, but there's no denying that this is a brilliant baseball card.
It captures the pure emotion of the moment more than just about any other I can remember.
#2 -- 2016 Topps Update #US-254 David Ortiz AS
Baseball waved goodbye to one of its icons in 2016.
David Ortiz could be a polarizing figure at times, but overall I think most would agree that baseball was a better game with Big Papi between the lines. The outpouring of respect and honor he received during his 2016 farewell tour reflected that.
Topps paid a stunning tribute to Ortiz with this beautiful image of him tipping his cap to the San Diego crowd following his departure from the 10th and final All-Star game of his hallowed career.
It's one of those cards that you think should be framed in a museum somewhere instead of a nine-pocket page.
Come on, how could it not be?
Although I was hoping to save it for the Topps Now post I've been planning (which I still hope to publish soon), there's no denying that this was the Card of the Year as soon as it arrived in my hands.
It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that the Cubs' first World Series title in 108 years was the defining moment of 2016, and personally, the crowning moment of my entire baseball-watching lifetime. I won't bother trying to put it into words because it's impossible.
So, naturally, I had to own a card of it, because that's the rule when you're a collector. While I'm sure we'll see a handful of World Series highlight cards from the early 2017 sets, I couldn't wait that long and ended up plunking down the cash for this Topps Now single. I have mixed feelings about Topps Now as a whole, but this one was definitely money well spent.
Just those words -- Chicago Cubs celebrate first World Series title since 1908 -- are more than I ever dreamed I'd see on a baseball card in my life, much less as soon as here in 2016.