Thursday, September 16, 2021

Completist memories from the non-completist

I freely admit that I'm not much of a completist.

Set building has never really been my thing. I can't bring myself to deem a certain collection "complete" and call it a day. I don't gauge my player collections by the hopes of any sort of finality. I own over 1,000 Vladimir Guerrero cards, for instance, but I have no idea how many that is out of Vlad's total number of cards in the universe (I'm guessing it's a tiny fraction). It's never been my goal to have them all. I gather whatever I can, and that's good enough for me.

Perhaps my only semi-completist collecting mode is my informal goal of having every Topps card of guys I collect, with an obvious emphasis on the older dudes because vintage Topps is the most fun to chase, of course. I call them "Topps sets." Some of these are never gonna happen (Mantle, Aaron, etc.), some are incomplete but in somewhat fathomable reach (Yaz, McCovey), and a handful, I'm happy to say, are indeed complete.

My complete run of Hoyt Wilhelms is probably my proudest "Topps set" - I was flipping through my Hoyts the other day, in fact, and I found myself remembering a few notable milestones along the way.

Oddly, I'm about 99 percent sure my first Topps Hoyt was the tough '72 high number you see at the top of the post - I can't remember why I targeted that one first, but I must've gotten it somewhat cheap because I bought it with my weekly allowance budget when I was 14 years old.

The last Hoyt I needed to complete the run was, as expected, the dreaded '52 Topps rookie that my dad joyously found a few years ago after years and years of us scouring the market for anything near an affordable copy.

If we're talking money spent out of my own pocket, my most expensive Hoyt was this '61 Topps high-number, which I bought for a little over $30 at a card show.

(It's one of four high-numbered Hoyts in his catalog - consider that a fair warning for any prospective Hoyt collectors out there.)

A card I thought would be tough but actually wasn't was this '53 Topps Hoyt - a generous forum member generously sent me a free copy back during my days on the trading forums.

But my favorite Hoyt? That's tough.

It probably should be the '52 Topps monster - but when you take away the mystique, it's not that visually pleasing of a card. Hoyt's eyes are half-closed, and he looks to be in mid-sentence, like a bad Polaroid taken at a family picnic. 

No, I'd have to go with our '61 Topps high-number friend again - the knuckleball grip, slightly cocked head, and generally excellent vintage pose embody everything I love about the guy.

With those memories abound, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at similar milestones from other notable Topps sets I've completed & get those nostalgic cardboard juices flowing again.

Roger Maris is another Topps set I'm proud to say I've completed, and I'm pretty sure it all started with this '65 Topps beauty I acquired during my forum days.

Last card: 1960 Topps

Most expensive card: 1958 Topps

A card that looks like it was used as a coaster at one point, but at about $40, it's also the only Maris rookie I'd ever be able to afford in a million years.

A surprisingly easy card: 1968 Topps

I went to a card show a few years ago all geared up and ready to scour the aisles for Maris's 1968 sunset card, fully expecting to have to pass on a few expensive ones and hem and haw until I found one just right.

Turns out the very first table I stopped at that day had this copy for $12, and that was that.

Favorite card: 1958 Topps

It's hard not to pick this one - I love the orange background and the perpetually strange sight of Roger Maris on the Indians.

To this day, it's one of those cards I don't quite believe I own - I'm holding it in my hands right now, and it's right in front of my eyes, but to think that my collection has something as gargantuan as a Roger Maris rookie is still foreign to me.

First Curt Flood card: 1967 Topps

I'm not in the business of telling people how or what to collect, but come on, I think everyone should own at least one Curt Flood card - it's good for the soul.

I'm not altogether certain what my first Flood was, but I tend to think it was this raggedy '67 Topps copy because I've had it for longer than I can remember & don't know where I got it, which are two signs that I've had a card for a while.

Last card: 1962 Topps

Another dastardly high-number (#590), which tends to be a common tale for cards I need to complete my Topps sets.

Most expensive card: 1962 Topps

A whole $15, which is more than triple the amount I've paid for any of Flood's other cards.

A surprisingly easy card: 1964 Topps

There's a guy trying to hoard every single '64 Topps Flood on the face of the earth, so this card is a little scarcer/pricier than you'd think.

But I didn't know about any of that when I found it in a 3/$1 box at a card show many moons ago.

Favorite card: 1958 Topps

Flood's rookie card is far from his most appealing, but I guess I'm guilty of falling victim to the rookie craze here, because this has long been my favorite.

First Reggie Jackson card: 1981 Topps

Again, I'm not 100 percent sure on this, but one of my earliest card memories is buying a whole box full of 1981 Topps at a garage sale when I was a kid, and I have to assume that's where my first Reggie came from.

Last card: 1972 Topps

Probably not the last card you'd imagine one would need to complete Reggie's run, but it was for me.

Most expensive card: 1969 Topps

Most expensive Reggie, yes, but not a budget-breaker my any means - I paid all of $20(!) for this Reggie rookie, thanks to a small hole punch in the bottom-right corner. 

A surprisingly easy card: 1969 Topps

I thought I'd have to fork over at least $100 to even get a beater copy of Reggie's rookie.

I threw out an eBay bid on this one a while ago, kinda forgot about it, and then was shocked to find out I'd actually won it a few days later for the cost of a blaster - a definite victory for this low-end/cheap collector.

Favorite card: 1976 Topps

A tough choice, since Reggie has quite a few excellent cards, but for me nothing can take down this heroic image from '76 Topps.

First Nolan Ryan card: 1991 Topps

I bought a near-complete set of '91 Topps as a kid - might've even been from that same aforementioned garage sale with the '81 Topps - so I'm guessing this was my first of Nolan Ryan's seemingly eternal run of Topps cards.

Last card: 1969 Topps

One of the caveats of my Topps sets is that I don't count multi-player rookies, League Leader cards, etc. - to me, a true Nolan Ryan card features Nolan Ryan and no one else.

So yes, I consider my Ryan run complete even though I don't own the '68 Topps rookie he shares with Jerry Koosman - which means I finished it when my dad found this '69 Topps in a lot he bought from an antique mall dealer who obviously didn't know much about cards.

Most expensive card: 1972 Topps

Paid $15 for this notably tough '72 Ryan, airburshed Angels cap and all.

A surprisingly easy card: 1970 Topps

Sometimes the cardboard gods curse you, and sometimes they smile down on you, and the latter is true with my Nolan Ryan collection because I've had incredibly good luck with finding his cards.

I bought a rough '71 Topps Ryan for $5 on COMC not long ago. Oh, and there was that time I found his '78 Topps for a penny. But I think the biggest coup has to be this impossible '70 Topps uber-high number (#712) at a card show a couple years ago, which I paid all of $10 for.

I've seen copies in way worse shape priced many times higher than that, which makes this all the more joyous, and all the more mystifying.

Favorite card: 1980 Topps

For me, Nolan Ryan doesn't have a card you point to and say, that's his best card, no argument.

He's got a few great ones, some okay ones, and a bunch of others that just kind of run together. In my mind it's a close heat between 1980 and '91 - I sway back and forth, but I tend to give the nod to 1980 because everything about this card just works. The colors, the All-Star banner, and the excellent night photo. It's 1980 Topps at its finest, and Nolan Ryan at his finest, all in one baseball card.

While these are far from the only Topps sets I've finished, they're among the ones I'm the most proud of, and it's been fun to stroll down memory lane here tonight and remember there are some joys to be had out of being a completist.


Shlabotnik Report said...

Some great runs there, certainly ones to be proud of!

I may have to borrow this idea for a post of my own, even though I'm not much of a player collector when it comes to vintage cards

Mike said...

Great post,and totally agree on the best Reggie!

Fuji said...

I'm like you when it comes to my player collections. I just get what I can get and I don't stress over not having certain cards.

Favorite Reggie: 1978 Topps
Favorite Ryan: 1971 Topps

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

Sweet deal on both Reggie RCs!

Elliptical Man said...

I have some Reggies and Nolans, but no Flood or Maris.

Of course, the Flood to get is 1970 and the Maris is '61.

Brett Alan said...

Reading this caused me to realize that the only George Brett Topps base cards I need are 1982 (I do have the OPC version) and the last one, 1994. I really should get on it.

I have all the Hoyts from 1964 on, and 3 of the earlier ones with 1954 being the oldest, but that's a long long way to go.

night owl said...

The concept of collecting all the cards of a player who was never Dodger is still foreign to me years and years after I first heard of player collectors.

It's got to be a Dodger or it's got to be a set or I ain't interested.

Matt said...

Just in case anyone was curious: According to the TCDB, Vladimir Guerrero has 13,796 cards. His son is almost halfway there already (6,053). If there are any player collectors who are truly completionists, I sincerely pity them.

Jon said...

The Maris run is one that I would like to complete as well, but I think I waited too long to get his rookie for that to be happening anytime soon.