Monday, February 9, 2015

2015 Topps: The life of the party

Imagine, if you will, someone throwing a party for all the latest Topps designs.

2013 is laughing it up in the back of the room. 2009 is grabbing a beer from the fridge. 2007 is sitting awkwardly near the corner because no one wants to look at it. Some of the designs are making out better than others, but you get the feeling it's just another day of the same-old, same-old for them.

And then 2015 Topps walks in the room and everything stops. A record needle scratches off in the distance. Conversations dim to a hush. It's so lavish, and everyone stops to stare. It's much more glamorous and inspired than anything else at the party.

This is how I felt when I finally got my hands on some 2015 Topps this past Thursday. I was floored. After three rack packs and four loose packs (as well as another five loose packs on Friday), I'm convinced.

2015 Topps is now officially the life of the party.

The base cards are, of course, the main beauty of 2015 Topps, but we'll get to those in due time.

Instead, let's dutifully start off with the inserts. Like about 95 percent of collectors, I don't buy Flagship for the inserts. And I certainly don't buy it for the HITTTTTZZZZZZ.

But we might as well get it out of the way now. I did pull a semi-HITTTTZZZZZZ card with this Javier Baez jersey, and yes, I'll admit it, he turned my head a bit being a Cub and all.

That said, I put it up on Ebay in hopes of generating a few extra bucks for a card show in a couple weeks.

Because Lord knows I'd rather have 100 dime cards than one lowly jersey card.

Topps seems obsessed with creating these old guy/new guy inserts.

Why, I don't know.

Nobody seems to like them.

These "Baseball History" inserts are actually a decent idea.

Each year is commemorated with two separate cards in this series. One honors a baseball event, while the other honors a news item from the same year. (The accompanying card to the Nolan Ryan, for instance, honors Gerald Ford's assuming of the presidency in 1974.)

It's not a bad concept...

...but the fact that there's already another year-based insert series in 2015 Topps makes it seem so very redundant.

These "Highlight of the Year" cards commemorate, well...a highlight from a select year of baseball. I'm all for more Bobby Thomson and Roger Maris cards, but I can't help but think "pointless" when I get a glimpse of these things. It's nothing we haven't seen before.

It doesn't help that they look like they were designed in a high school Photoshop class.

Even if the cards don't look all that nice, at least the "Free Agent 40" inserts are an original idea.

It's been forty years since free agency officially began in baseball, and that's what that series is all about. Good concept, poor execution there.

On the other hand, I simply don't get the concept behind those "Archetypes" inserts in the first place. Who wants to build a set that honors...that honors...that honors...wait. What the heck is that set supposed to honor?

I've never heard anyone describe Jackie Robinson as an "archetype."

With the addition of colored borders this year, Topps has done away with the Target red/Wal-Mart blue parallels in 2015.

Parallels as a whole are toned down this year, which is nice. I only pulled two of the rainbow foils from my various breaks, the better of the pair being that nifty Howie Kendrick double dip.

Exclusive to Target retail packs is the "Jackie Robinson Story" insert series.

I'll take 'em over those horrendous "Archetypes" inserts any day of the week.

These are also exclusive to retail outlets.

Funny thing is, they're better than most of the mainstream inserts Topps included this year. The "Robbed" series is like a dream come true for me, given that I have an entire mini-collection built around "at the wall" shots like those.

The design of this year's "First Home Run" set doesn't grab me all that much, but I like that Topps dug up appropriate photos to go with each card. Adrian Gonzalez's first dinger came with the Rangers, and, although no one will ever equate "A-Gon" with the Rangers, there he is in the Texas blue.

It's nice to see a little effort from Topps when it comes to inserts, even if it doesn't happen often.

As you might know by now, the "First Pitch" series is causing quite a splash.

Honestly, I'm really only interested in two of the fifteen subjects in this set. I have the Jack White card coming from the ever-generous Marcus from "All the Way to the Backstop...," and I just ordered two copies of The Dude off Just Commons. (One for me, one for Dad.)

But I will say that I did well by pulling Mr. Tom Willis from my rack packs. The guy has thrown out numerous first pitches at ballgames despite being born without any arms.

Inspiring, to say the least.

Okay, I'm sick of inserts by now, and so are you.

Let's get to the fun. The real reason 2015 Topps is the new life of the party.

The base cards.

You've probably seen these on countless other blogs already, so I'll try and keep it brief. Between the colored borders, lack of foil, snazzy layout, and terrific photography, I'm proclaiming 2015 to be the best Flagship set of the last twenty years. (With the possible exception of 2003.)

I checked my local Target for 2015 Topps on both Tuesday and Wednesday and came up empty both times. I was starting to get a little upset when I headed back on Thursday, upon which time I found that they were finally in stock. And all that anger instantly flushed away.

The wait was well worth it.

The backs are every bit as solid as the fronts.

The stat lines aren't cramped. The bios are easy to read. The card numbers are nice and big. Unlike past years of Topps, there's enough room for everything here. It's not claustrophobic.

And how great is it to see card #348 popping up in Series 1?

Ah, the joys of an expanded checklist.

As is the case with any new set, certain comparisons need to be made.

Trouble is, I'm not sure 2015 Topps can be compared to anything else. It can't just be lumped in with all the mechanical white-bordered, foil-dominated designs we've seen lately. The dueling colors kind of remind me of '75 Topps, but that's a bit of a stretch. Nope, 2015 Topps does indeed stand on its own.

That, then, brings up the decision on what to call the design. I've heard "The Fingerprint Set," "The Ripple Set," "The CSI Set," and quite a few others. But one that really resonates with me is "The Vinyl Set."

The little circles surrounding the logos on each card do remind me of grooves on a record.

It's even more fitting considering the sweet, sweet music I hear every time I look at one of these beauties from 2015 Topps.

It's nice to see that Topps isn't going with as many zoomed-in "game faces" in 2015.

I noticed a lot more body shots while digging through the cards from my breaks.

Thank goodness, because I sure was getting sick of those ghastly "game faces."

All things considered, I only have a few minor gripes with 2015 Topps.

The first is the overexposure of some of the photos in the set. Jered Weaver looks like something out of a nightmarish cartoon because of all the enhancing Topps did to that shot. I can understand a little touching up here and there, but you have to know when to say when, Topps.

I've already read about the Evan Gattis gripe on about a dozen different blogs by now, so what I'm about to say isn't anything new. But still...

How is a guy with two full seasons of big league experience a "Future Star," Topps?

My last complaint is a carryover from the last couple years of Flagship.

Collation. Collation. Collation.

As I mentioned, I bought three rack packs and four loose packs of 2015 Topps on Thursday. Out of those fell about a dozen different sets of doubles and even a few sets of triples. With a 350-card base set, there's absolutely no reason for that to happen.

Come on, Topps. Get it together.

I mean...

Aw, heck.

With cards as great as these two, I can't stay mad at 2015 Topps. If anyone is deserving of such cardboard mastery, it's Madison Bumgarner.

Sorry, Royals fans.

Next year is here.

Next year is here.

Next year is here.

I'm hoping that if I repeat it to myself enough times, I'll start to believe it.

One of the biggest pluses of 2015 Topps is the return of team cards.

They mysteriously disappeared after 2011, but they're back with a vengeance this year. I like that Topps added each team's final 2014 records to the front of each card, although I'm not particularly sure I want to remember the Cubs' 73-89 finish.

Still, for lack of a better term, this year's team cards are just plain fun. 

And, yes, before you ask, I'm proud to say that I did indeed pull a Jeter.

In case you didn't hear, the guy retired last year. As we all knew would happen, Topps granted him a true sunset card in this year's checklist, one that includes complete career stats on the back. The front is no slouch either, featuring a shot from Jeter's dramatic game-winning hit in his final game at Yankee Stadium.

I understand why "The Captain" would be card #1 in the set, but I think it would've been much more fitting for him to be card #2 in honor of his soon-to-be-retired uniform number.

No matter. It's a memorable final tribute either way.

But was it the best sunset card 2015 Topps had to offer?




This, my friends, is what a sunset card should be. If such a thing is possible, this card sums up Paul Konerko's entire 18-year career in a single shot. Even people who don't know a thing about baseball could tell how beloved the guy was from this photo alone.

And the tears in Paulie's eyes show just how much he loved the South Side of Chicago.

It's one of my new favorite sunset cards of all-time, no doubt. And, unless something drastic happens, it'll be my Card of the Year come December. I don't think I'm jumping the gun in saying that at all.

If Flagship is any indication, I'm hoping we're in for some real treats in 2015. Although I seriously doubt we'll see anything as good as Paulie here.

I can honestly say that this is the most inspired set I've seen from Topps in a long, long time.

It makes the party pulse.


Zippy Zappy said...

I like how the quality of the photographs have improved compared to, well, every set ever.

I won't be going after this set but if I did I imagine that most of it would look like the "so-HD it looks like it painting" look seen on the Eric Young Jr. card from 2011 Flagship.

On a side note this set does get some minus points from me for having Eric Young Jr's first generic base card in a Topps flagship set.

BobWalkthePlank said...

I got to see Baez play in person last year. He may have hit the hardest velocity homerun I have ever seen. He then proceeded to strikeout just about every other time at bat. Think that pretty much summed him up.

shoeboxlegends said...

Great post, Nick! I agree with pretty much everything you laid out, beauty of a set...

JediJeff said...

Oh good - I don't have to give you that Javi Baez base card.

Big Tone said...

I love the team specific colored borders.Great "party" analogy ;)

Bulldog said...

I agree whole heartedly. I really loved all aspects of the set. So far I've only opened two rack packs but plan on getting more. That said when I opened my second rack pack, 24 of the cards were exactly the same from the first. What a huge disappointment. I'll still pick up more but they really need to fix these issues. Again I really enjoyed the set, subsets and inserts. It felt like Topps slept walk through their designs the past few years.

Marcus said...

Yeah, digging the "Robbed" inserts, and that Konerko card is awesome. Need to track that one down for sure.

GCA said...

I'm with Bulldog, got my first blaster at Target. Then got two more yesterday at Wal-Mart. They only had four total. I mixed them up and picked out two. Got 'em home and was mildly disappointed that four out of five of the 1st Home Run inserts in the first box were the same guys as my Target box. Then I opened the 2nd one and FORTY SEVEN of the base cards were the same as the other one I bought at the same time! Guess you need some trade bait at some point, but DANG!

Jason Culley said...

Been away from the blogosphere for awhile and trying to catch up. This is one of my favorite reads since I am collecting the 2015 Topps base set and am blogging about it. Shameless plug -

In my opinion this years design is one of the better ones lately. So far I have recapped two value packs and no doubles, that will change soon.

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