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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Collect call: 2014 Topps Allen & Ginter

It’s one of the baseball card sets I look forward to every year.

Just like the anticipation I feel for Topps’ flagship Series One and Two, the Allen & Ginter set delivers interesting cards that have an eclectic mix that is irresistible. Never mind that the design has remained pretty much the same since it debuted in 2006. These cards always seem to have some nice surprises from an educational standpoint.

And if nothing else, I like to be entertained and educated.

The base set this year is 300 cards, with an additional 50 short prints. The SPs fall about one every two packs, and the hobby box I opened was right on the average as it yielded 12 cards. I also pulled 126 base cards.

What I like about this year’s cards is that the Hall of Famers seem to be shown in their younger days, and not as grizzled veterans. Examples include the cards of Al Kaline, Carlton Fisk, Roger Clemens, Roberto Clemente and Don Sutton. There is a short print of Harmon Killebrew during his early days with the Washington Senators that is absolutely fabulous.

A hobby box contains 24 packs, with eight cards to a pack. Each pack will have a mini-card, with either a regular back or and Allen & Ginter logo. Some will be black-bordered, too. Some hobby boxes will have box toppers, and the one I opened had an oversized card of the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury. There are 15 different subjects for these cards, including Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Wil Myers, Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw and Willie Mays.

I enjoy the Allen & Ginter set because of the diversity of the subjects portrayed. There are people from all walks of life, and not just from baseball. For example, this year’s set includes pro bowler Mark Roth, women’s soccer player Carli Lloyd and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who “is now an investor and owner of the Topps Company.”

Beauty pageants are represented by Erin Brady, Miss USA for 2013; and Maria Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, Miss Universe for 2013. Even a former pro wrestling champion is included — Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as The Iron Sheik, the WWF heavyweight champion whose title reign fell between Bob Backlund and Tampa native Hulk Hogan in 1983-84. The Iron Sheik was indeed born in Iran as he claimed (in Tehran).

Here’s a quirky pack I opened. It contained Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, along with a card of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. I am probably reading too much into that coincidence, but the combination reminds me of baseball’s view of steroids and performance enhancing drugs in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Other subjects include rotisserie baseball co-founder Glen Waggoner and powerlifter Laura Phelps Sweatt. And it seems appropriate that surgeon James Andrews gets his own card. He has been more active over the past few years than some of the players included in this set.

An Allen & Ginter hobby box promises three hot cards, with a collector possibly getting an autograph card, a relic, printing plate or a book card. The hobby box I opened was more conventional, with an autograph and two relics.

The first hot card was a framed autograph of Austin Wierschke, a Rhinelander, Wisconsin, native listed as a “texting champion.” OK, I laughed at this one until I saw that as a 17-year-old in 2012, he won the LG U.S. National Texting Championship for the second straight year. That also meant that for the second consecutive year, he took home the $50,000 first prize.

He defended his title by texting a 149-character message with proper capitalization, punctuation and various symbols — in 39 seconds.

Both thumbs up — and down, I suppose.

The second hot card was a relic of golfer Danielle Kang, featuring a purple swatch of material. The third card also was a relic, a gray watch from Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.

The inserts are once again an eclectic mix of natural wonders, history, geography and baseball lore.

Air Supremacy is a 20-card set, and the card I pulled was a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt (nicknamed “Jug”). World Capitals is what you might expect, a 20-card set touting some of the world’s top seats of government. I pulled four such cards, and all had horizontal designs of the cities of London, Berlin, Moscow and Ottawa.

Natural Wonder is a 20-card insert set that showcases some of the world’s most beautiful sights with a horizontal layout. I pulled five of these cards, and while I have not heard of any of them (Punalu’u Beach in Hawaii, Cave of Crystals in Mexico, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Travertine Pools in Turkey and Socotra Archipelago in the Indian Ocean), it also includes the Luray Caverns (I’ve visited there).

Fields of Yore is another horizontal design insert that pays tribute to old baseball parks. It’s a 10-card set, and there were two in the box I opened — Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

The last of the regular-size inserts that I pulled were the Pastime’s Pastimes, a 100-card set that falls one in every two packs. The cards have a grayish-black look to them, with a smoky background behind the player — like a puff of smoke or a small cloud. It’s a nice looking card that highlights what players do away from the field. There were 12 in the box I sampled.

Mini-inserts also are plentiful. A 26-card set called Where Nature Ends focuses on great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Gilbert Stuart, Michelangelo, Paul Cezanne and James Whistler. The card I pulled was of 19th century artist Winslow Homer, who painted “The Fox Hunt.”

The World’s Deadliest Predators is a 22-card set. I pulled the blue-ringed octopus (1 milligram from its blue rings can kill a human, by the way …), but other cards include the great white shark, American alligator, piranha and the honey badger.

Little Lions is a 15-card set that feline lovers will enjoy. I found an Oriental bicolor among the packs I opened. There are Siamese, Persian and Maine Coon in the set, too.

And finally, Outlaws, Bandits & All-Around Ne’er Do Wells profiles 11 famous criminals, including Robin Hood, Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde. I pulled a card of Ishikawa Goeman, a 16th century outlaw from Japan.

Once again, Allen & Ginter is a solid set. Some baseball purists might not like its non-traditional approach, and some of the inserts may appear contrived to some, but I enjoy the look and the information. The notes on the card backs are written with some thought put into them, and it makes for a satisfying collectible.

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