I recently realized that I never got around to making a Sets of the Year list for 2018.
I'll give you the abridged version: Stadium Club was #1 (again), but after that things get a little more complicated. I really liked Flagship, Archives was solid but a tad disappointing -- and then there's the dark horse called Topps Big League, which I thought made a helluva debut last year. Nice photos, simple design, relatively large checklist, budget-friendly price. If I had to go out a limb I'd say it was indeed runner-up to Stadium Club last year.
All this makes me even more guilty that I didn't know the 2019 version of Big League was set to release until days after it actually came out.
Ironically, I only discovered 2019 Big League was on the shelves when I saw a Twitter photo of some dude buying 87 Bowman megaboxes, and a comment on that photo saying something along the lines of: Everyone else can buy Big League (the word bro may have been inserted in there somewhere, too).
HEY: I'm everyone else! Keep your megaboxes, I'll take Big League. I ran over to Target and saw that, yes, Big League was indeed in stock. I bought a couple blasters and a rack pack, and in the fun chaos that ensued, I came away with the opinion that I like the 2019 version more than its terrific debut. I know I like the look better: pennant-based logos always get me, and the design as a whole has a very familiar feel to it.
I don't know why, but I think of my Little League concession stand when I see these cards, which is a high compliment.
Big League is the only set around nowadays where I can honestly say I read all the card backs -- how else am I gonna learn that Eric Thames has a karaoke bar in Korea named after him?
While they're not the real draw of Big League, the parallels are still fun to get -- I believe the blues are exclusive to blasters, and the yellows to rack packs.
Better yet, perhaps my favorite aspect of Big League is back in 2019: I get to cut cards out of the blasters! Panel-based cardboard has long been a thrill for me (even if I can't really explain why), and I grabbed the two blasters with Shohei Ohtani and Kris Bryant as the cutouts. I've since bought a third blaster with a Mike Trout, but some other local collector (who I've yet to meet) hoarded all the Juan Soto blasters, which is the fourth and final card I need from the slim cutout set.
And so the Hunt for Soto is on.
The inserts are a smash hit with Big League as well: I honestly don't think there's a bad look in the lot (though I could probably take or leave those strange Caricatures).
I'm also particularly fond of the "Wall Climbers" since all 10 cards in it are mini-collection hits.
May release date = dudes in new (albeit photoshopped) uniforms!
Opening a set like Stadium Club is obviously exciting because almost every card is a masterpiece, but there's something to be said for something like Big League where photographic gems are thrown in here and there.
I know I wasn't expecting to pull anything like that Moncada (a dual mini-collection hit!) or that epic Chris Taylor when I sat on my bed and started ripping these packs open.
The random intervals of fun in this set almost catches you off-guard, and that makes opening a pack of Big League a thrill that keeps me wanting to come back for more.
It's probably not a set for the case breakers or deep-pocketed enthusiasts among us: it's a set for you and I, the "everyone elses" in the collecting universe.