The Card of the Year

The 2012 Topps Tim Hudson card is perfect in every way. Will it lead to a creative rebirth of the Topps base set? Don't count on it.

It’s only been a year and a half, and I’ve already forgotten one very important aspect of the game. I haven’t forgotten that the date was June 20, 2011. I haven’t forgotten that the Braves were playing the Toronto Blue Jays at the Ted. I haven’t forgotten that it went down in the 7th inning. I haven’t forgotten that coming into the seventh that neither Tim Hudson nor Blue Jays’s starter Ricky Romero had given up a run. I haven’t forgotten that there was a botched squeeze play that left David Ross out at home and Diory Hernandez standing on first. I haven’t forgotten that David Ross was highly upset at Hernandez and, coincidentally enough, I haven’t forgotten that it was the last game that saw Diory Hernandez take the field for the Braves. I haven’t forgotten that Eric Hinske had been on deck, but he was called back and Fredi let Tim Hudson hit for himself, as they say.

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I think most Braves fans remember what happened next. Tim Hudson stepped up to the plate and belted the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers. It was a massive shot and it’s hard to forget Romero’s reaction. Huddy then took a very long time rounding the bases, clearly reveling in the moment. His teammates were ecstatic. You’d have thought the Braves had won the World Series. Huddy was interviewed by the crew at Baseball Tonight that evening. It was a great day for one of professional baseball’s good guys.

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Of course, the way I remember it, Huddy finished the game in a blaze of glory and walked off the field with his home run plating the only runs that sealed his complete game shutout. That’s not what happened though. Hudson took the mound in the ninth, but after a single and a walk, he was removed from the game. He received a massive ovation from the fans in attendance that night. Huddy then watched from the bench as Craig Kimbrel came on and struck out the side. That’s what he does after all. After the game, everyone mobbed Hudson. 2011 was a painful season by the end, but that June night was a magical moment and a great memory for every Braves fan who witnessed it.

Every Braves fan who collects baseball cards was fortunate that a Topps photographer captured a remarkable photograph that night.

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Tim Hudson’s 2012 Topps Series 1 baseball card is a nearly perfect example of a great modern baseball card. The Topps 2012 design is one of their best of recent vintage. It’s minimal and with the added emphasis on quality action photography, it does little to distract. (One quibble: I prefer to see a player’s position on their card.) In this case, the photograph is perfectly framed within the design. The team and player name design feature is tucked away on the bottom left side of the card. Tim Hudson is shown, in perfect focus, on the right side of the card looking up as his home run shot rises into the left field seats. Not only do we get a perfect shot of Huddy’s uniform number and name, but his head is turned at the perfect angle so we get to see his face as well. If he knows the ball is heading over the fence, he’s playing it cool. “Act like you’ve been there before,” as they say.

The above ingredients add up to a great baseball card, but it’s the background of the shot that makes it perfect. There are two fans in red shirts in the top right corner of the card. One clearly realizes what has just happened and is out of his seat with his arms raised high. The fan to his right is just starting to rise, watching the trajectory of the ball. Perhaps they were running their mouth and missed the swing? It happens to the best of us. Across the top of the card are the other fans behind the dugout in various state of happiness over Huddy’s shot. Hinske may be obscured by Hudson in the photo, but you can’t miss his muscular right arm high in the air in celebration. Big Red, Tommy Hanson, has both arms raised high over his head like Huddy just scored a touchdown. Is that Jason Heyward at the end with his arm punching the air? I love that in the celebratory dugout, Fredi Gonzales is watching Hudson instead of the flight of the ball. Maybe he wanted to see his pitcher’s reaction?

Look, there are a lot of baseball card sets released every year and it’s really hard for a single base card to stand out. Topps is to be commended for capturing a great baseball moment and encapsulating it into a baseball card. When they get it right, no one does it better.

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Of course, in the grand scheme of current collecting trends, the card simply doesn’t matter. A quick look at the sell sheet for any Topps baseball card set will let you know that nobody cares about the base card anymore. The Tim Hudson card is numbered 58 in a set of 330 irrelevant baseball cards. There are parallels of these cards that matter. There are insert cards stuffed into the packs that matter. There are manufactured relic cards that matter. There are base card variations that matter. There are autograph cards that matter. The base cards? Who cares, right? I’ve been in the card shop looking around and watched from afar as a kid and his Dad opened some packs of base Topps. All of the cards that mattered went into one pile while the base cards went into another. They told the guy behind the counter he could keep the base cards. I don’t see this as typical.

When Topps released their first set this year, I wrote about it here. That post was titled “I Love This Set”. I meant it at the time. The design was good and the action photography was perfect. Still, even then, I saw where Topps was headed. The first baseball cards featuring Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes in their new uniforms were short printed so most couldn’t acquire them without emptying their wallet. The big buzz was about a squirrel card. Yes, Topps made a super short printed card of a squirrel. With the exception of the 1987 Topps minis, the inserts were among the most boring Topps has ever devised. After an immediate spike in prices following release, the price of Series 1 boxes has plummeted.

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Series 2 sent the gimmickry to another level. The card that should have been the most coveted of the 2012 base cards, the Bryce Harper rookie, was short printed and checklisted as card 661. It was then manipulated into so many different variations that I have no idea at this point how readily available the card is or is not. BaseballCardPedia put together a guide to Harper’s 661 card and all it does is make me question why I would even care. Update Series was the biggest blow to this long time collector. The entire purpose of the Update Series was perverted for more shameless gimmickry that might sell a few extra boxes in the short term, but doesn’t nothing to build the hobby.

I ask myself why I even care, and then I see the 2012 Tim Hudson card and I fall in love with collecting all over again. I don’t hate the endless inserts, variations, parallels and relics. I even acquire a few for the few player collections I have. Still, they aren’t why I collect baseball cards. I collect them for the memories of the game. Most of those memories aren’t as well encapsulated as the memory on the Huddy card, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination for me to look at a 1980 Steve Carlton card and remember his dominating performance against the Royals in the World Series. One look at a Dale Murphy card and my mind returns to the days of bad Braves teams that I loved with all my heart on WTBS.

I’ll always collect baseball cards. I can keep mining the past and I will enjoy myself. Still, I’m not ready to give up on collecting new cards. I’m still a fan of the game and I don’t want to give up on getting new cards of the players I love. I refuse to make the bold proclamation that I will boycott Topps next year. I’m sure I’ll pick up a few packs of retail at the very least. Still, the promise of new cards in 2013 fills me more with dread than hope. It looks like another perfectly fine design, but it’s clear that no real effort is being put into the Topps flagship product. The set follows the exact same template as this year and the year before. I say again, if Topps doesn’t care, why should I?

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Topps seems to do everything in their power to cater to as many different types of collectors as possible with one exception. They don’t care about the old time set collectors. The people who love Topps and their history the most, the people who would be the most upset if they were to cease to exist, are the people Topps cares about the least. It wouldn’t even take that much to get us back into the fold. We may hate the endless gimmickry and parallels and inserts, but if Topps would just stop screwing with cards 1 through 660, we could live with them. Better yet, do something different with the base set. Try and make the new collector care about the average base card, rather than whatever gimmick card they spent 30 seconds reading about on Yahoo News. Mostly though, just leave 1 to 660 alone. Please.

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