Topps picks up where it left off in its flagship set, as Series Two baseball is now on the shelves in stores and hobby shops. For set builders, this set remains the easiest to put together, and there are enough parallels and inserts to make it a challenge.
A hobby box contains 36 packs, with 10 cards to a pack. Each hobby box will contain either an autograph card or a relic. Series Two is a 330-card base set, beginning with card No. 332 and ending at No. 661. That last card happens to be Yankees pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka. Another marquee card to look for is No. 496 — White Sox rookie slugger Jose Abreu.
The collation in the hobby box I opened was excellent, as I pulled 310 of the 330 base cards — a 94 percent completion rate. As a set builder, I could not be happier.
As has become its custom, Topps plays up the expressive and the unusual in its card shots. Sure, there are plenty of hit, field and pitch poses, but there are also some fun shots.
For example, the expression on the face of Brandon Phillips (card No. 509) is priceless. It shows Phillips yelling intensely, presumably after a play that favored the Reds. Fabulous photography. Another nice, expressive card is No. 515, showing Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson in full extension as he tries to score.
There also are some cards that fall a little flat. I was never a fan of horizontal design, and there seem to be more in Series Two than in the first series. The worst example of horizontal layout was card No. 651, which shows former Tampa Catholic star Denard Span doffing his cap to Nationals fans. Nice idea I suppose, but all we see is the back of Span’s jersey; I prefer shots that show the player’s face, to be honest.
One thing I didn’t like about the card design — and I neglected to mention it when I reviewed Series One — is the thin bar to the right of the players’ pictures, vertically spelling out the team name. It seems redundant, since the team logo is in the bottom left-hand corner of each card.
There was one variation card in the hobby box I opened — a Will Middlebrooks card with the Boston third baseman depicted in his Team USA uniform. The card carried No. 136 on the back.
The hot card was a Trajectory Relic of Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. The card had a gray uniform swatch and was one of 32 different memorabilia cards in this subset, which follows a player’s career from his rookie season to the present. This subset also has gold parallels numbered to 99. There also is a 55-card Trajectory Jumbo Relics subset; as you can imagine, the swatches are much larger. And of course, there are autograph cards in this vein, too.
An insert that is exclusive to hobby and jumbo boxes in Series Two is the Future Stars That Never Were subset. This 30-card subset contains what would have been a “future stars” card had Topps issued such a card in that particular year. This set includes players like Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson. I pulled two cards; Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt. The design for the Mays card mirrors the iconic 1952 Topps set and is printed on thick stock. The Schmidt card shows the Phillies Hall of Famer in a 1974 design; I found the year selection odd, since Schmidt’s rookie card is in the 1973 set. But it does look nice.
These cards are glossy and have some nice weight to it. This card will appear once in every 18 hobby packs.
There were two buyback cards: a 1969 card of White Sox first baseman-outfielder Tom McCraw and a 1978 card of Reds outfielder Cesar Geronimo. Unlike some of the other buybacks I have found in other Topps products, both cards are in excellent shape, with sharp corners and near-perfect centering (I’d call it 55-45). A silver “Topps 75th” logo is stamped in the upper part of the cards — on the right-hand corner for McCraw, and on the left side for Geronimo.
There was one green camo parallel of Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin in the set, numbered to 99. Gold parallels are more plentiful, with 10 pulled from the box I sampled. Gold parallels are numbered to 2014. There also are Red Hot Foil parallels, falling one every six packs; in keeping with the average, I pulled a half dozen of these cards.
There are some other interesting inserts in Series Two. Saber Stars, seeded one per eight packs, focuses on the kinds of stats that would make sabermetrics guru Bill James proud. I pulled four of these cards, with three referencing “ultimate zone ratings” for hitters and “fielding independent pitching” for pitchers.
Topps reprises “The Future Is Now” insert in Series Two, with 30 cards in the set. These inserts are seeded one in every four packs, and I hit the average again by pulling nine of these cards.
Another repeat insert is the 1989-style die-cut mini cards. This is a 50-card set, and the box I sampled yielded five of these cards. I still am not in love with the 1989 design, because it reminds me too much of the baseball card glut era (1988-1992).
There are two other inserts that utilize online codes for collectors. The first is Power Players, which picks up where Series One left off. There are 220 parallels (110 in Series One and the same number in Series Two). A collector goes to www.topps.com/PowerPlayers and creates an account, then enters the code numbers. There are different prizes offered by Topps, with the big one a set of exclusive autograph cards; to do that, a collector must collect all 220 parallels.
The other online promotion is called “MLB The Show 14,” which can be accessed by collectors who own PlayStation devices. There is a seven-step guide to redeeming the codes, and Topps advises that there is “No Puchase Necessary.” Oops.
Topps’ flagship product remains a fun set to collect. It is relatively inexpensive, and collectors of all ages can take on different challenges.