Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Images of 2017 Topps have started to float around the internet, and perhaps what I'm most taken aback by are the card backs.

In a marked departure from the norm, flip sides of this year's Topps feature Twitter handles and Instagram accounts instead of full career stats. As someone who treasures stats on the back of his cards, this is a saddening development.

One of the many reasons I love collecting is the fact that my collection is often educational. I know career stats can be easily accessed with a few clicks these days, but there's something special about stat lines on the back of a baseball card that just can't be found on a Baseball Reference page.

Sometimes, as a couple envelopes from Adam of the terrific "Infield Fly Rule" blog helped show, one lesson you can learn from cardboard is that absolutely no one -- or no company -- is flawless.

We expect perfection from our collection, but every once in a while you'll find a "Mark McGuire" in a pack of baseball cards.

I worry that card backs are becoming (or have already become) a thing of the past.

Of course, the fronts are the main focus of the industry, but that doesn't mean the flip sides should be a collecting ground for stuff like Twitter handles. Card backs are just as sacred.

Back in Upper Deck's heyday, they featured bonus photos, some of which were better than whatever was on the front.

I get more early '90s Upper Deck in trades than any other company/era in history.

While I already have about 90 percent of the singles I receive, a few new ones slip through the cracks every now and then.

Adam added a couple notches to my new Dexter Fowler collection with these envelopes.

It'll be rough seeing this guy as a St. Louis Cardinal in 2017.

A couple other '90s cards for the binders, including a new addition for my small collection in tribute to the late Doug Million.

Also present were hits to my player collections of arguably the two most popular first baseman to ever call Chicago home.

Sometimes fellow bloggers can even help educate me about the game I love so much.

I can't say I'd ever heard of Jeff Gray before Adam attached this note to Gray's 1992 Donruss issue. I followed his command to "look this guy up" and was left to wonder how I'd never heard Gray's story before.

Gray was enjoying a fine season in 1991 -- his third year in the bigs -- having launched himself into a pivotal role in the Red Sox bullpen with a 2.34 ERA going into late July. Sadly, on July 30, Gray suffered a stroke following a workout, one so serious that it had doctors wondering whether Gray would ever walk again. (It was, ironically, eleven years to the day of J.R. Richard's career-ending stroke.)

Gray attempted to make a comeback with the Red Sox but -- like J.R. Richard -- never again pitched in the big leagues, a sad end to a budding career. If nothing else, however, I'm glad I now know his story, thanks to Adam. It's a good reminder of the educational side of this hobby.

Baseball cards have, after all, taught me more about the game than anything I've ever seen on TV or Twitter.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Top Five: Tom Seaver

All this recent Hall of Fame talk led me to a question I can't believe I'd never asked myself before: who was elected to Cooperstown the year I was born?

Turns out the HOF welcomed four new inductees in 1992. The Veterans Committee put umpire Bill McGowan and longtime Tigers hurler Hal Newhouser into Cooperstown, while Rollie Fingers (2nd ballot) and Tom Seaver (1st) were elected by the writers.

Seaver, in fact, received 98.8 percent of the vote, a record that stood until just last year when Ken Griffey Jr. notched 99.3 percent of the total vote. (Though it's still hard to believe no one has ever been unanimously voted into Cooperstown.)

It's for this special birth-year link that I've decided to showcase my five favorite cards of Tom Terrific this week.

#5 -- 1981 Kellogg's #38 Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver is most well known as a Met, but he did have some fine seasons with the Reds later on in his career.

I've been lucky enough to find a few of his oddball issues over the years, but this '81 Kellogg's beauty has remained my absolute favorite. It represents the lone year Kellogg's decided to produce standard-sized cards, and seriously, how sweet are those yellow borders?

I say it time and time again: I really wish baseball cards came with my cereal when I was a kid.

#4 -- 1972 Topps #446 Tom Seaver IA

This is a favorite of mine for the pure oddity of it.

I've owned this card for years and I still have no clue what I'm looking at. What kind of "action" is going on here? What's Tom Seaver doing? Laughing? Expressing discontent? Doubling over in extreme pain?

You tell me, because I sure as heck don't know.

#3 -- 1976 Topps #5 Tom Seaver RB

A classic card of Tom Terrific, though not without its share of confusion as well.

This is Seaver at the top of his game -- hence the "Record Breaker" subset -- staring down a helpless soul in the batter's box. The hitter is what makes me scratch my head here. Specifically, his helmet, which looks airbrushed to the point of resembling a construction worker's hard hat. But why alter the cap of a mere bystander in the first place?

It's notable that Stadium Club used this same image for Seaver's card a few years ago, though the helmet didn't look in the least bit airbrushed that time.

Once again, a card of Tom Terrific befuddles me.

#2 -- 1971 Topps #160 Tom Seaver

No confusion here, just my oldest Topps card of Mr. Seaver.

I seem to have an uncanny ability to remember when and where I obtained many of my cards, but I can't for the life of me tell you where I got this one. All I know is that I've had it for a long time and that it was probably one of the first of the 200+ Tom Seaver cards I now own.

If only my collection could talk.

#1 -- 1974 Topps #80 Tom Seaver

The top slot for Tom Terrific wasn't a contest: I knew it'd be this one all along.

Between the full crowd, ready-positioned first baseman (Ed Kranepool?), and the ferocious follow-through, it's one of the best action shots ever produced by Topps, plain and simple.

This was also one of the last of its kind: it would be 17 years before Flagship would go horizontal again.

If there ever comes a day where a Baseball Card Hall of Fame becomes a reality, this better be one of the first inductees.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Short Term Stops: The All-Pirates Team

It's hard to say what my feelings are towards the Pirates.

I can't say I actively root for them, since it's hard to root for any team that plays in the same division as the Cubs. But at the same time, the sympathetic baseball fan in me can't help but want to see a cellar-dwelling team like the Bucs finally pull through and make a run at a title.

Until their magical 94-68 finish in 2013, the Pirates hadn't had a winning season since 1992 -- the year I was born. They perennially sat at or near the basement of the NL Central before becoming the pennant-contender they've transformed into in recent years (save for 2016).

I may have my conflicts towards the Pirates as a franchise, but there's little disputing the fact that they've accumulated a prodigious Short Term Stops roster.


1994 UD All-Time Heroes #203 Ron Necciai

"Short Term Stops" Pirates Accolades:

Ron Necciai (1952 Pirates, 12 games, sunset season)

We begin with a bit of an oddball-ish member of the squad.

Ron Necciai isn't a name most casual fans know. He did, after all, only spend a single season in the big leagues (1952), posting a mediocre 1-6 record to go along with a 7.08 ERA.

But the man behind the numbers is quite a story. Necciai was a highly-touted prospect in his heyday, and on May 13, 1952, he did the unthinkable as a member of the Bucs' minor league affiliate in Bristol: he struck out 27 batters...in a nine-inning game.

With a feat like that, it's sad that the baseball world didn't get to see more of Ron Necciai.

1978 Kellogg's #8 Goose Gossage

Goose Gossage (1977 Pirates, 72 games)

Here's one of my all-time favorite Short Term Stops.

Goose Gossage posted stellar numbers during his lone season as a Pirate. His 1.62 ERA and 26 saves were good enough to earn him an All-Star berth in '77 and a fat contract from the Yankees the following offseason.

For a long time, however, I thought no Pirates cards existed of Goose. He's still a member of the White Sox on his '77 Topps issue, and he was (heavily) airbrushed into Yankee pinstripes for '78 Topps. But unbeknownst to me, both Hostess and Kellogg's documented Gossage's brief Pirates career.

The Kellogg's card is particularly awesome, and might just be my favorite card in the history of the hallowed 3-D brand.

1982 Topps #160 Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant (1981 Pirates, 9 games)

El Tiante was on his last legs by the time he became a Pirate.

He spent a single injury-riddled season in Pittsburgh, going 2-5 with a 3.92 ERA in just nine games with the '81 Bucs. He'd pitch in six games for the Angels the following year before calling it a career. 

This, as far as I know, is Tiant's only card as a Pirate, and it's good to see the injuries didn't kill the Fu Manchu and that effervescent smile.


2005 Donruss Team Heroes #149 Benito Santiago

Benito Santiago (2005 Pirates, 6 games, sunset season)

Benito Santiago seems so quintessentially '90s that it's almost hard to believe his career lasted until 2005.

The Pirates were the ninth and final team Benny would suit up for during his 20 years as a big-league backstop, though the stint was far from memorable. Santiago appeared in just six games for the 2005 Bucs, hitting .261 in 23 at-bats before being released in May.

At least it resulted in one of the few notable cards I've ever seen from Donruss Team Heroes.

First Base

2002 Topps American Pie #94 Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg (1947 Pirates, 125 games, sunset season)

I don't know what my all-time favorite Short Term Stop is, but Hank Greenberg as a Pirate would definitely be in the running.

The backstory of how Greenberg wound up in Pittsburgh is fascinating enough. The Tigers sold Hank to the Pirates after a misunderstanding stemming from a wartime photo depicting Greenberg in Yankee pinstripes, which he'd only worn because he'd forgotten his Tigers jersey and no other uniforms were available that day.

Greenberg wanted to retire as a career Tiger, but the Pirates coaxed him out of it. He'd spend one final season in the bigs, posting a .274-25-74 line in 125 games for the '47 Bucs before calling it quits for good.

Though it technically lists him as a Tiger, this American Pie card is the only one I've ever seen to feature Hank as a Pirate, which makes it one of the centerpieces of my collection.

Second Base

1976 SSPC #584 Willie Randolph 

Willie Randolph (1975 Pirates, 30 games)

This card was a white whale of mine for a long time.

It's the only non-multi-player card I know of to feature Willie Randolph as a Pirate. Randolph, a largely unknown rookie at the time, spent just 30 games with Pittsburgh in '75, collecting the first ten of his 2,210 career hits in the process.

He'd be traded to the Yankees the following offseason and would go on to become a key cog in the Bronx Bomber dynasty teams of the late '70s.

Bet the Pirates wish they had that one back.


1998 Fleer Tradition #218 Shawon Dunston 

Shawon Dunston (1997 Pirates, 18 games, half-year stint)

Like a few of the cards I've already mentioned, this is the only card I've ever seen of Shawon Dunston as a Pirate.

If you blinked, you might've missed Dunston's brief 18-game stint with the Bucs near the end of the '97 season. After being traded from the Cubs, Dunston hit a sparkling .394 during his short time in Pittsburgh, though it wasn't enough to boost the hopeful Pirates over the hump in the NL Central that year.

As a Cubs fan, it's a little weird seeing Dunston in anything other than blue pinstripes, but the Short Term Stop lover in me can't help but adore it.

Third Base

1968 Topps #175 Maury Wills

Maury Wills (1967-68 Pirates, 302 games)

It's not so much the brevity that earned Maury Wills a spot on this roster -- he did play in over 300 games with the Pirates, after all -- it's the unfamiliarity.

Wills is so ingrained in the minds of most baseball fans as a Dodger that he looks just plain wrong in anything else, despite the fact that he stole 81 of his 586 career bases during his two years as a Pirate.

This is the only Pirate card I own of Wills, and the fact that some young collector stuck Wills's '69 Topps Decal on the front for good measure gives it a cool kind of ghostly effect.


1990 Score #592 Moises Alou 

Moises Alou (1990 Pirates, 2 games, half-year stint)

I remember being obsessed about this card when I was just getting interested in Short Term Stops as a young baseball fan.

It seemed incredible that a guy could play in two games with someone and yet still have a card depicting him with that team, but that's exactly what happened with Moises Alou. His two games with the Bucs are documented on a handful of different cards, my personal favorite being his hallowed '90 Score rookie.

Alou collected exactly one hit in two at-bats as a Pirate before a late-season deal sent him to Montreal, beginning an auspicious career that would last until 2008.

It's cards like this one that laid the groundwork for my current Short Term Stops obsession.

1992 Stadium Club #784 Kirk Gibson 

Kirk Gibson (1992 Pirates, 16 games)

Though he was just four years removed from his magical 1988 NL MVP campaign, Kirk Gibson's baseball career looked to be over by the time 1992 came around.

After having been traded to Pittsburgh the preceding offseason, Gibson would play in just 16 games with the '92 Pirates, hitting .196 with two homers before being released in May. The stint was so disheartening that it caused Gibson to announce his retirement. The lovable Sparky Anderson, however, convinced Gibson to sign with the Tigers for the '93 season.

Gibby would enjoy three more solid years with the Tigers -- his original team -- before hanging them up for good, a justified cap to a great career that didn't deserve to end with a .196 season.

2001 Upper Deck MVP #293 Derek Bell

Derek Bell (2001 Pirates, 46 games, sunset season)

"I ain't going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I'm going into 'Operation Shutdown'...I haven't competed for a job since 1991." -- Derek Bell, 2002

Those would be the last (public) words Derek Bell would ever say as a major leaguer.

Bell was released by the Pirates days after his now-infamous "Operation Shutdown" remark, a boast even more absurd considering Bell hit just .173 with five homers in 46 games in 2001. It'd prove to be his sunset season, as no other team signed Bell following his release.

Bell was in competition with a few other outfielders for the final spot on this roster but, in this case, "Operation Shutdown" wound up winning him the job.

That just about does it for this edition of "Short Term Stops."

Thanks for tuning in.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Top Five: Hoyt Wilhelm

Here's a new theme I'm debuting on the blog today in an effort to get me posting a little more on Saturdays, which has historically been a day of darkness on the blog.

The concept is painfully simple: I choose a player and feature my five favorite cards of said player. The player will sometimes be selected at random, other times -- in an effort to keep up with the current affairs of the game during the upcoming season -- it might be someone in the news for whatever reason.

I like this concept because I'm really a player collector at heart. It's just that I'm a player collector of (literally) hundreds and hundreds of different subjects. I'm hoping this theme helps reign things in a bit by getting me to focus on one guy at a time. I'm starting with the obvious choice of Hoyt Wilhelm because Hoyt holds the most prominence in my collection. 

I don't yet own his '52 Topps rookie (and probably won't for a while), but in the meantime, I've still managed to accumulate a number of fine Hoyt cards during my quest for that white whale.

#5 -- 2005 Throwback Threads "Throwback Collection" #TC-52 Hoyt Wilhelm JSY /250

My Hoyt collection, as of today, stands at 133 different cards.

Though this one features a fine pinstriped piece of old flannel jersey, it's not anything you'd normally expect to be in a Top Five list of mine. But here's a fact: I might not be collecting Hoyt today -- or baseball cards at all -- if it wasn't for this card.

I bought this card on a trading forum during my year-long foray of collecting nothing but hockey cards about ten years ago. I'm not exactly sure why I purchased it. I was big into jersey cards at the time, and Hoyt was a name I knew at a good price.

My dad, a lifelong baseball fan who is (at best) apathetic towards hockey, was ecstatic when I told him I wanted this card, so ecstatic that he gave me the five dollars needed to buy it. Slowly but surely, I began to drift farther and father away from hockey cards and closer and closer back into baseball cards over the months that followed.

I mostly have Hoyt -- and my dad -- to thank for that.

#4 -- 1953 Topps #151 Hoyt Wilhelm

This was the card that catapulted Hoyt to the top of my collection.

It was donated to me, free of charge, by a gracious trading forum member (yes, the forums did have their good moments). My Hoyt collection had a few notable notches at the time, but was this was the first huge mountain I conquered: it was the first OH MY GOD piece of the puzzle.

From there, I knew I'd be devoting the rest of my collecting life to Hoyt.

#3 -- 1972 Topps #777 Hoyt Wilhelm

But Hoyt -- a largely stoic individual judging by the photos on his baseball cards -- has his fun moments, too.

The knuckleballer was nearly 50 when this card was released, so it's jarring seeing an old-guard guy like him on the hip, disco-y '72 Topps design. I could be wrong, but I'd guess he's the only WWII veteran to be featured in this set.

Add the nearly empty red seats behind Hoyt and the fact that this dreaded high-number -- his only card as a Dodger --  is indeed his sunset issue, and you have what is almost certainly the quirkiest Hoyt Wilhelm card on the market.

#2 -- 1961 Topps #545 Hoyt Wilhelm

High-numbers are annoying, but there's something infinitely satisfying about tracking them down.

I spent a bit over $30 to finally add this card to my collection. That's way more than I usually feel comfortable forking over for any individual card, but I had to make an exception for Hoyt. It certainly helps that this candid shot of the future HOFer showing off his classic knuckleball grip makes for one of Hoyt's finer cardboard moments.

If only it wasn't a damn high-number.

#1 -- 1955 Bowman #1 Hoyt Wilhelm

In the top spot is a card with the lowest number of them all: #1.

This is a beautiful card on its own, and a member of my best binder page. The '55 Bowman design remains one of my all-time favorites, and this card comes smack in the middle of Hoyt's heyday with the New York Giants.

What puts it over the top for me is the fact that it is indeed card #1 from the '55 Bowman checklist. Perhaps it was sheer random chance, but the fact is that Bowman could've chosen any of the hundreds of then-current big leaguers to kick off (what I think is) their best set, but they bestowed that honor on Hoyt himself.

Fitting for the man who will forever be Number One in my collection.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I've been in the doldrums lately, baseball cards included.

This isn't anything new. Winter is winter. While it makes sense that the majority of cards are released during the peak of the baseball season, I sometimes wish more sets would come out at right around this point in the year when there's no baseball around.

It'd go a long way in helping with the winter blahs, and it'd certainly keep me more invested in blogging. This is my first post in almost two weeks, and the truth is I haven't had much motivation to blog as of late. Though I should, because I still have a heck of a lot of trades to catch up on, including a pair of envelopes I received from Tony of "Wrigley Roster Jenga" fame during my hiatus.

Tony has shown himself to be a maestro of the PWE, especially when it comes to oddballs. Among the goods from his first batch was this oversized (tobacco reprint?) gem of Mickey Welch, one of baseball's lesser known 300-game winners.

Even more impressive is the fact that Welch's 307 career victories came over the course of just 13 seasons.

Tony's included a few of those Hot Button Baseball singles in his PWEs to me, which I assume to be some sort of mechanized baseball card game that completely flew under the radar of my adolescence.

Also present was a quirky add to my multiple-exposure mini-collection with the Recchia, a card I can say with near 100-percent certainty I would've never seen had it not been for Tony.

I believe I specifically requested both of these from Tony at one point.

I'm guessing the Boggs was designed with the intention of highlighting the star's famous batting eye, but it came out looking like something out of an awful B-level horror flick instead.

Here's another card I'm pretty sure I requested from Tony.

My Mike/Giancarlo Stanton collection is at over 200 unique cards now due to my seemingly uncanny ability to accumulate cards of the Marlins slugger.

More from the oddball files including the Terry Collins, a card that serves as a good reminder that managers too can spend a long time in the minors before getting a shot in the big leagues.

Collins had toiled as a skipper in the minors since the early '80s before being hired to lead the Astros in 1994, and he'd have to wait another couple decades to enjoy the kind of success he's found with the Mets over the past few years.

A couple more less-heralded members of the local Thunderbolts, though the O'Hara wouldn't even be the best bat-retrieving subject of this PWE.

That honor has to go to the Trenton Thunder's Bat Dog, Chase.

I have absolutely no idea how I didn't already know about this card. It's joyous on so many levels, the first being that Topps would even think to include something like this in their Heritage Minor League checklist (though I'm obviously glad they did so). It also doesn't hurt that Golden Retrievers happen to be my personal favorite breed of canine.

The real cherry on top is the "stat line" on the back of the card which can't help but make you smile, including Chase's weight of "Ruff Ruff," his birthplace of "Bark Ruff, Bark" and his N/A "Minor League Ruffs," among others.

If a card like that doesn't help with the doldrums, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How much money do I spend on cards?

As of this writing, I've spent exactly $0 on cards in 2017.

Obviously, that'll change in due time, but a part of me has always wanted to find out what I spend on this hobby in a given year. Although...I've never had the courage to track such a thing, because I'm not altogether sure I want to know the answer. (Not that I'm a big spender or anything, but still.)

One problem is that I've never been much of a budget guy, which sets me apart from Robert of the "$30 A Week Habit" blog. Robert and I have been trading buddies since near the dawn of my blog, and he sent me a couple top-notch PWEs during my hiatus. (I'll be sending something your way shortly, too, Robert.)

This '81 Topps Traded Danny Ainge rookie was a Dime Box Dozen need at the time, and unless there's some wildly obscure oddball out there, I'm almost positive I now own all the baseball cards ever issued of Ainge between 1981 and '82.

I have to say, I'm seriously considering tracking my spending here in 2017, possibly by adding a little ticker to the side of this blog.

One question off the top of my head is whether or not I include shipping costs in the total budget. Should every PWE I send out tack on 49 cents to the yearly number? Or should it only consist of cards I purchase directly?

Retail most definitely counts towards the budget, but hopefully if enough people like Robert hit my various current needs I won't need to buy as much.

Thank God I'm not much of a set builder, because my budget would just about explode if I had to track Heritage SPs like this one down.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm probably on the extreme lower end of the financial collecting spectrum.

I'd guess I spent more on cards in 2016 than ever before, but that's only because last year was the first time I had a steady full-time job.

I hit maybe five or six card shows a year tops, and unlike I've done in the past, I don't buy retail for the sake of buying retail anymore. 

Sure, I'll sample most products that hit the shelves, but once I have most of the base cards covered, I start to let the inserts trickle in through card shows and trades, like these two Wrigley-themed inserts from Robert.

More 2016 inserts from Robert included a hearty batch of last year's "Berger's Best" reprints.

While I'll grant that reprinting cards from less than a decade ago is a bit of a stretch, I do still seem to be one of the few collectors remaining who enjoy reprints.

They're a good way to at least partially feel like I own cards that are, in reality, way above my budget.

I'd bet that a decent copy of Hammerin' Hank's 1954 Topps rookie would set me back more than I spent on cards all of last year.

It can be a conflicting thing sometimes, collecting baseball cards. I usually treat my cardboard purchases as separate events, but tracking and culling them across an entire year could be an interesting -- and perhaps eye-opening -- study.

We'll see if I actually have the wherewithal to do it, but maybe 2017 will finally be the Year I Actually Find Out How Much I Spend On This Hobby.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sets of the Year: 2016

It is time, once again, for me to rank the sets we saw throughout the just-ended card season.

As usual, this was a fun list to create, and the same rules apply as past years. I had to have bought at least one pack and/or elsewhere acquired an ample amount of singles of a given product for it to qualify for this list.

Though I do own cards from sets like 2016 Museum Collection and Gold Label, you won't see them here because I don't really have enough to form any kind of opinion on them. Also (as in the past) I've consolidated each brand and their various offshoots into a single category for the sake of time and space.

Let's begin with the now four-time reigning Worst Set of the Year.

#10 -- Donruss/Optic

The sets near the bottom of this list appear in almost the exact same order as they ranked in 2015, so I'll try to make this as quick as I can.

My opinion about Donruss hasn't changed over the years...just, no.

#9 -- Bowman/Chrome

Bowman produced its first non-foil set in what seemed like forever in 2016, but the design remains a little too TV-graphicy for my taste and will probably never be a favorite of mine.

#8 -- Gypsy Queen

I'm always good for a pack or two of Gypsy Queen every year, but the fact remains that (as far as the base cards go) I just find this set incredibly bland, no matter how Topps tries to tinker with it.

The best way I can put it is this: not once have I bought a pack of GQ and felt as if I've gotten my money's worth.

#7 -- Diamond Kings

The dawn of Diamond Kings created a bit of a stir in 2015, but I didn't hear much about it this year.

I was lukewarm on it last year and the 2016 edition didn't much change my opinion. DK wins points by sometimes including relatively obscure past greats like Jake Daubert in its checklist, but outside of that there's not a whole lot that excites me about this product. Unlike other sets bringing up the rear on this list, however, I do think DK can be tweaked into a set that I enjoy.

What those tweaks are or how they should be applied, though, I don't know.

#6 -- Allen & Ginter

It often feels like I've said everything I need to say about Allen & Ginter.

Topps opted for a more Heritage-esque card stock in 2016 A&G, but I didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about the cards themselves. Nice? Sure. Exciting? Not so much.

I'm fine with A&G being on the shelves year-in and year-out, but at this point I'm not sure if A&G can ever recapture its mid-2000s greatness.

#5 -- Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome

Here's where the list starts to get interesting.

Flagship comes in at #5, which is the lowest I've placed a Flagship set since I started creating these countdowns four years ago. Topps revolutionized their central product by doing the unthinkable and whipping up a Flagship set without borders.

Instead, we got smoke and odd nameplates that look like something you'd see during a FOX telecast. Couple that with uninspired photography and you have what amounted to a boring Flagship release. Buying packs of Flagship this year carried more of an I guess I should than I want to train of thought.

I think a Topps Without Borders set can one day succeed, but for my money, 2016 Topps was a failure.

#4 -- Bunt

Fresh off the heels of Flagship's failure comes the most surprising set of 2016: Topps Bunt.

Bunt was the only debut brand to crack this list, and it was met with raucous applause from many collectors, for good reason.

First, the price point: I bought an entire 36-pack box of the stuff for only a few dollars more than a blaster. Second, the design: giant team logos are almost always a good thing (though the backs kinda suck). Third, the fact that Bunt's success seemed to be somewhat of an accident: I get the feeling Topps was tossing this brand out mainly as a shill for the online Bunt app.

I didn't once try out the Bunt app -- I'm just not an app kind of guy -- but the cards themselves are clean and were, against all odds, simply better than what the almighty Flagship had to offer us in 2016.

Do us all a favor and bring back Bunt in 2017, Topps.

#3 -- Heritage/High Numbers

Heritage, as usual, was a winner in 2016.

No matter how much others have tried to sway me to the contrary, '67 Topps has never been much more than a middle-of-the-pack Topps set to me. But when it comes to Heritage, my feelings regarding the chosen design are almost second nature.

Heritage, for me, is really about how well it stays true to the original, and how much it causes me to go back and maybe reconsider my feelings towards the honored design. I think 2016 Heritage succeeded in both departments.

This year's edition clearly echoed the original design, and at the end of it all, I can honestly say that 2016 Heritage probably kicked '67 Topps up a few notches on my all-time list.

#2 -- Archives

What I just said about Heritage goes double for Archives, which was far and away the most improved brand of 2016.

This year's edition featured the 1953, '79, and '91 Topps designs, and you'd be hard pressed to find a weak card among any of the three. We've seen quite a few '53 reproductions before, but the fact that the 1979 and '91 Topps designs have never gotten much pub in retro sets made 2016 Archives a breath of fresh air.

The '91s in particular were amazingly well done and singlehandedly catapulted '91 Topps -- a design that originally came in at #13 in my countdown a couple years ago -- into my all-time top ten favorite Topps sets.

Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see what designs Topps chooses to honor for 2017 Archives.

#1 -- Stadium Club

Here it is, folks, the now three-time reigning Set of the Year: Stadium Club.

There's just not a better brand out there. Stadium Club has it all. Horizontal, vertical. Old players, new players. Hair-raising action shots, fun candid moments. Every card has the potential to be a masterpiece.

Stadium Club has faced some noble competition over the past few years -- 2014 Heritage and its honoring of '65 Topps, the colorful 2015 Topps, not to mention this year's Archives -- but nothing has yet been able to take it down.

In 2016, as in years past, Stadium Club remains at the very top of the baseball card mountain.