2011 has been a big year for Atlanta Braves baseball card collectors. Due to trends in card collecting, teams with many young players tend to get a lot of attention from the card manufacturers. It isn’t often that the Braves get so much attention so we should enjoy it while it lasts. Sure, the wallets of those of us who collect are taking hits, but isn’t it worth it for a few quality baseball cards? Here are the bigger stories in Braves card collecting from 2011. (And for Christmas morning, I’m going heavy on the pictures, and lighter on the words. Enjoy.)
The Return of Hammering Hank
When Donruss lost the right to produce new baseball cards following the 2005 season, they still had Hank Aaron and Willie Mays under exclusive contract. Although Donruss would produce several sets featuring Aaron, Mays and other Hall of Fame players alongside recently drafted prospects pictured in their high school uniforms, Aaron had for all intents and purposes been dismissed from the hobby.
Early this year, Topps made a big splash when they announced that Aaron would be returning to Topps products. The big tease was a picture of a blue-ink autographed replica of his 1962 Topps card that would be inserted into the 2011 Topps Heritage set. It wasn’t just a beautiful card, it was the most impressive card I’ve ever laid eyes on. I even bought a case of Heritage hoping to land the card. (I didn’t of course.) Of course, excitement turned to disappointment for many collectors when the card turned out to be a mail-in redemption. Still, I’m jealous.
Of course, Topps sprinkled Aaron (and fellow Hall of Fame superstar Sandy Koufax) throughout all of their products this year. There are times when I find insert cards to be annoying and pointless, but when those insert sets include pulling Aaron or Koufax in a new pack of baseball cards, you can only complain so much. Many fans and many of the younger collectors don’t have a real sense at the history of the game. I hope that Topps keeps including players from yesteryear in their products as a way to educate the masses.
Here’s one of those cards that gives me mixed feelings. I love the big beautiful patch on the card. I love that the card is numbered to 10. The picture of Aaron is simply too small though. This is a typical design failing on the part of Topps. I need a Hank Aaron patch card, but this isn’t the one, although, that is one beautiful patch.
I’m not a big fan of gimmicks in the Topps base set, but the veteran short prints have started to grow on me. (In each set, Topps inserts 24 different legends cards into packs. These cards are considered variations since they have the same number as cards in the regular set.) This year, Topps included Hank Aaron in an Atlanta Braves uniform in Series 2, but the card pictured above is my favorite. I’m a sucker for the old school Milwaukee Braves uniforms. I also like the diamond variation. The shot of Aaron really pops from the surface of the card.
There's much more to see on the other side!
These cards just seem like a really bad idea to me. As you can probably tell from my posts, I’m a very specific type of collector, and high end sets like Triple Threads just don’t appeal to me. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down this card in a trade. I just don’t think the card is attractive at all. I’d rather just see the patch or the swatch. I would love to see Topps rethink the high end and get rid of Triple Threads, but I’m not holding my breath.
Now here’s a card I’d love to get my hands on. I don’t find it particularly attractive, but this card has the potential to be the most important Atlanta Braves card of the year. The signature of the Braves best player ever and their best catcher ever makes it interesting enough. Of course, the importance of this card will depend upon the career of Jason Heyward. I think he’ll come back strong this year, but I know many disagree. I wish the season would start already so we can all find out!
Eric O’Flaherty, This is your Atlanta Braves Baseball Card
Topps rectified a wrong with several of their past sets with the inclusion of Eric O’Flaherty’s first baseball card in an Atlanta Braves uniform this year. The card was included in Update Series and I was truly excited to see the card show up. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that it shouldn’t have taken this long for the first EOF baseball card to show up. He’s been worthy of one from the moment he first pitched for the Braves. I’m glad to see him rewarded for it.
As you can see, this is a great close-up shot of O’Flaherty in his motion. As grateful as I am for this card, I would now like to see Topps include autographed EOF cards in their products for 2012.
EOF wasn’t the only player that Topps was slow on the draw to produce in a Braves uniform. Eric Hinske has been featured in every Topps set of his career, no matter where he played, until 2010. Topps deemed Hinske not worthy of a baseball card that year. They rectified that in Series 2 this year.
In my excitement over the inclusion of EOF in Update Series, I had missed that Topps had also included the first Braves card for Brooks Conrad. Of course, now that the Braves have non-tendered the scrappy bench player, he’ll pop up in every set Topps produces next year. (I though this was his first Topps card, but I was mistaken there. He was featured in Bowman while with the A’s, and remarkably, was included in 2004 Topps Traded with the Astros despite never appearing in a game with the big league team.)
Freddie and J-Hey
Topps loves to attach themselves to young stars on the rise, and they’ve been all over Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. They have both graced boxes of the Bowman Platinum product during their rookie years. This year, both were seemingly featured in every insert card subset geared towards young ball players. They were both featured on numerous autograph cards in various configurations. It’ll be interesting to see if Heyward is still featured so prominently in 2012. My guess is yes, Topps isn’t ready to give up on the young right-fielder just yet.
Right from the start, Topps decided to associate good friends Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman on card. The card pictured here is from the Dynamic Duos insert set from Series 1. Really, it’s a blah set, but this card was nice for Braves fans since it featured our 2010 ROY candidate and the man we rightly expected to become a 2011 ROY candidate.
I’m not sure who comes up with the sayings at Topps for their Triple Threads relic cards, but I think they should be fired. Brave New World? I’m not a fan of “booklet” style cards to start, but if you would at least get rid of the awful sayings and just made these huge relics, it would be far more collectible. Still, this was a dual-auto, dual-relic of the Braves young duo so there’s a market for these ugly cards.
This would be my favorite Jason Heyward card from 2011 and I was particularly pleased to see the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy on the Heritage cards, as I had only expected to see it on the base Topps cards. 2011 would see Topps release dozens of Jason Heyward cards.
Freddie Freeman graduated from the prospecting Bowman sets to base Topps in Series 1 this year. Even though the early Bowman signatures are the cards that draw the most money for a player, their first Topps base card is the true rookie card and is, for many collectors, the card to get. Freeman was just getting started with Series 1. Like Heyward, he would be featured on dozens of cards by Topps in 2011.
Young Arms Everywhere
In 2010, Jason Heyward set behind only Stephen Strasburg as the most collectable rookie. This year, the Braves would thoroughly dominate the prospecting sets put out by Topps. Freddie Freeman was certainly one of the starts of this year’s releases, but it was the young pitching that was seemingly everywhere in the different sets. This may be the largest collection of young Braves talent since the Bowman brand began to dominate the prospecting market.
In his first full season, Craig Kimbrel established himself as one of the best closers in the game. As he racked up save after save in one dominating appearance after another, it became obvious that he was the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Topps recognized this as well, and his presence in their product lines was raised throughout the season. This card is based on the Glossy Rookie insert cards put out in the late 80’s.
Brandon Beachy was never mentioned among the Braves dominating prospect arms. All he did in 2011 is establish himself as one of the Braves most consistent and dependable starters. Like Kimbrel, Topps gave Beachy more and more attention as the season went on. This year’s Allen & Ginter set polarized the opinions of collectors everywhere. I like the set and this is one of Beachy’s best cards of the year.
As I’ve been making clear, I’m not one to recommend Bowman products typically. Still, this is such a great photo, I had to include the card. I’m a sucker for any straight on shot of a pitcher with the ball suspended in the air.
The photo on Julio Teheran’s Topps Chrome card is similar to the Minor photo above and is an easy recommend. Topps put out a lot of Teheran cards this year, and I would expect that he will be all over their various sets in 2012.
I’m still shocked that Delgado contributed so much to the Braves run in 2011. I’m equally shocked that Topps seems to have used the same photo of Delgado on most of their cards in 2012. I suppose that it is possible they just caught him in the exact same position in his wind-up for each card.
In the Minor League Heritage set put out this year, Vizcaino is pictured as a Hillcat. In Topps Pro Debut, he’s with the Rome Braves. Vizzy was fast tracked to the big leagues and Topps scrambled to get him into all of their prospect sets. His Topps 100 Bowman card does a great job of capturing his follow through. He’ll also be all over the 2012 Topps products.
In a few weeks, we’ll take a look at what fans of the Braves can expect out of the 2012 Topps products. This was a great year to be a Braves collector and if you aren’t one yet, next year seems like a great place to start. (If you were collecting in 2011, what was your favorite card?) Until then, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR.