The one single thing that I have the hardest time getting adjusting to since I returned to card collecting in late 2005 is the release schedule. It seems like new products are hitting store shelves constantly. Even though MLB has limited card manufacturing to a single company, Topps, and both MLB and the MLBPA have placed a limit on the number of sets that Topps can produce, new sets are released in every month of the year. There's no real break. The regular season is over, and Topps has already released two sets and several more are on the way. One of the sets just released is the Update Series, and I’d like to talk a bit about the origin of the series and the Braves players that appear in the set this year.
Since 1952, Topps has put out a main set of baseball cards every year. This set is, historically, the definitive set of cards for any give season. It has come to be known as the Topps "base set". Through most of this run, the set has been released in a number of different series throughout the season. Some years, the set was released in as many as seven different series throughout the course of the baseball season. From the mid 1970s through the early 1990s, the set was distributed as a single series. In recent years, Topps has released the base set as two 330 card series.
There have always been problems for Topps with the base set. Veteran players are often playing for different teams than they played for in the previous season, yet, they are still depicted in their old uniform. There are always rookies that didn’t make the base set and have become contributors to their team. There are other players who make an unexpected impact during the season, but weren’t included in the base set. To correct these problems, Topps introduced the concept of the Update Series, or as it was originally known, a Traded Set.
Traded Sets were initially introduced by Topps in 1972. That year, the base set was released through six series of cards. The cards featuring the traded players were a subset of 7 cards and were included in the sixth series. The cards are somewhat rare, and notably, they included cards of future Hall of Fame members Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Steve Carlton. Topps revived the idea in 1974 inserting 44 traded cards in late runs of the 1974 sets. Another Traded Set would follow this same pattern in 1976. At this point, Topps only featured players who had moved from one team to another in their Traded Sets.
In 1981, Topps began issuing a 132 card Traded Set late in the season. The cards were released in box set form through hobby dealers and for the first time, they included not only players who had changed teams, but also rookies who had made a splash during the season. The first ever solo cards of Tim Raines and Fernando Valenzuela made the 1981 set popular with collectors and Topps has been issuing them ever since. While collectors enjoyed seeing the veterans in their new uniforms, it was the rookie cards that were the big draw. (The 1982 set featuring the first solo Cal Ripken Jr. Topps card and the 2001 set featuring the first Albert Pujols Topps card are the defining cards and sets of the form.)
Of course, with changes in collecting and card manufacturing philosophy, the Update Series of today doesn’t resemble the Traded Sets of old exactly. While the sets are dominated by the cards of players who have changed teams and the rookies who have made an impact, there are others to fill out the set. You now see cards of players who simply weren’t included in the first two series of cards in the season. This is great, and makes it easy to treat the Update Series as a third series, an extension of the base set. The Update Series also includes All Star cards for many of the League All-Stars, which are great. They also include special cards for the Home Run Derby participants. (These spots in the checklist would be better spent singling out a few other players that otherwise don’t have cards.)
So, in a crowded release calendar, Topps Update Series stands out. As the final series of the Topps base set, it should be an essential pickup for every collector. (See below the fold for more on the Braves in the set.)
Braves in the Update: Traded
In this years set, Michael Bourn is the only Braves player featured who was acquired by trade. His first featured card in a Braves uniform shows the speedy centerfielder throwing the baseball with some sort of weird grimace. There’s nothing really wrong with the shot. I especially like that the ball is in the air for the photo. Still, I'm a little disappointed. For his first Braves card, it would have been nice to see Bourn doing what he does best, stealing a base.
Braves in the Update: Rookies
There were eight rookies who appeared on the Braves roster and did not appear on a card in Series 1 or Series 2 this year: Matt Young (who inexplicably appeared in Topps Chrome), Arodys Vizcaino, Julio Teheran, Antoan Richardson, Wilkim Ramirez, Cory Gearrin, Randall Delgado, and Jose Constanza. If you were to look at that list, and you had to choose three Braves rookies to appear in the set, you’d have to pick Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino. Why Gearrin and not Vizzy?
The most likely reason is the lead time that Topps needs to put the set together. Teheran, Delgado and Gearrin had all made an impact by the All Star break. There's no way that Topps could have known that Vizcaino would be called up. (They can only include players after they’ve appeared in a major league game.) Still, I’m happy for Gearrin and I think he’ll get another shot to produce. I am, however, particuarly disappointed that Constanza didn’t get a card. I do think the team stuck with him a bit too long in right field, but for a few weeks, the kid was excitement personified. It would be nice to have a card to cement that memory. I’m afraid that, with time, his contribution will fade from our minds.
Braves in the Update: All-Stars
Topps hits a home run with the All Star cards in this year’s Update set. Using shots from the actual game should be mandatory for all All Star cards, and I'm glad to see that Topps continues this practice with the 2011 Update Series. I can only think of one way the cards of the Braves pitching trio of Jair Jurrjens, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel could be better. They should have included a shot of Everyday Jonny in his follow through, as they did with Kimbrel and Jurrjens. That would make the strip of cards look even better.
The Brian McCann All Star card is particuarly great. It is McCann’s first All Star card from an All Star Game where he was voted the starter, an event that was five years overdue. Better yet, they included a great shot of McCann tagging out Jose Bautista at the plate on a throw from Hunter Pence. (Gotta say, my heart stopped when I saw there was going to be a play at the plate. I had visions of Pete Rose and Ray Fosse.) I love the way Bautista has his arms up to protect himself in case McCann decides to apply a hard tag. A great card.
Braves in the Update: Missing Players
These are typically my favorite cards in the Update series, even over the rookies. I have no special affinity for George Sherrill or Scott Linebrink, but they pitched enough that I’m glad they got a card in a Braves uniform. (Neither appeared in Series 1 or Series 2 for their previous teams.) I’m especially thankful that the exclusion of David Ross from Series 1 and Series 2 has been rectified. I’m always happy to get a new Peter Moylan and Brooks Conrad card as well.
It is the last card included in this group though that makes this year's set for me. Not only is it my favorite card of the set, but my favorite card of the year. I’ve waited a long time for a baseball card of Eric O’Flaherty in a Braves uniform, and Topps has finally come through. I have written about this here, and I have complained endlessly to every collector I know about his exclusion from previous sets. I don’t know if EOF knows he hasn’t had a Braves card yet, or if he even cares. As a fan though, having this card gives me endless joy. (Note to Topps: You need to include O’Flaherty in your autograph checklist for next year!)
Braves in the Update: Others
There are a number of Braves cards featured in the various insert sets as well. Most notable is the continued appearance of Hank Aaron throughout the inserts in all of the Topps sets released this year. It's great that Aaron is appearing on Topps cards again. His absence while his Donruss contract ran out was felt throughout the hobby.
If you are looking for an auto, the Aaron is the big catch. Also notable are All Star autos available of McCann, Venters and Kimbrel. (The silk variation of Joe Mather is a strange inclusion, to say the least. How long a lead time does Topps have for this set?)
2011 Topps Update Series Braves Checklist
Base Set (also includes the Dark Red, Light Blue, Gold, Black, Platinum, Platinum Diamond, Canary Diamond, Hope Diamond, and Cognac Diamond Parallels)
- US4 Brian McCann
- US22 Randall Delgado
- US34 David Ross
- US45 Peter Moylan
- US109 Jair Jurrjens
- US129 Brooks Conrad
- US134 Michael Bourn
- US143 Craig Kimbrel
- US151 Cory Gearrin
- US152 Julio Teheran
- US172 Jonny Venters
- US219 George Sherrill
- US253 Scott Linebrink
- US271 Eric O’Flaherty
- US10 Hank Aaron
- 233 Joe Mather
- 269 Julio Teheran
Topps 60 Inserts
- T60-102 Hank Aaron
- T60-139 Dan Uggla
- T60-146 Freddie Freeman
- T60-148 Craig Kimbrel
Kimball Champions Inserts
- KC-107 Dan Uggla
- KC-110 Hank Aaron
Diamond Duos Inserts
- DD-17 Craig Kimbrel / Julio Teheran
- DD-20 Hank Aaron / Jose Bautista
- DD-25 Eric Hosmer / Freddie Freeman
- DD-26 Buster Posey / Brian McCann
- TTU-20 Freddie Freeman
- TTU-43 Brian McCann
Glove Leather Manufactured Relics
- MGL-HA Hank Aaron
- MGL-JT Julio Teheran