The Composition of a Checklist

Eof_mediumI have no idea if the players even care. As a fan and as a collector, it bothers me a great deal. As I age, I forget things. It’s hard enough for me to remember the players who started for the Atlanta Braves teams of the past. (Do you guys remember that Walt Weiss played for the Braves? Surely, I knew that.) The lesser players come and go. Some leave their mark, and others don’t. One thing is for sure, if they don’t get a baseball card, I am far more likely to forget them. It is, after all, hard enough for me to remember them anyway.

I spent most of last season, and much of the season before, obsessed with the fact that Topps wouldn’t put Eric O’Flaherty on a baseball card. Considering the sheer number of sets that Topps puts out each year, it seemed ridiculous that he wouldn’t get a card. His graduation from LOOGY to dominant reliever last season finally earned him his card in an Atlanta Braves uniform. That card was in 2011 Topps Update Series and was my favorite card of the year for no other reason than it felt like I had waited so long.

When a player comes up through your team’s minor league system, their first card will inevitably be in one of the Bowman sets. This is true of Jason Heyward. It is true of Brian McCann. When a player, however, arrives to your team through different means, their first appearance in the new uniform will typically be in one of the three series of the base Topps set. Top players are usually featured in their new uniform as soon as possible. Both Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes were rushed into 2012 Topps Series 1 with pictures in their new uniforms, even though there are no actual pictures of them in those uniforms. As Braves fans, we didn’t have to wait long to see Dan Uggla wear his new uniform.

Non star players are rarely rushed onto a card in their new uniform. If their contribution to their team is significant enough, they will find their way into the Update Series. If not, they will be on hold, as EOF was, until someone at Topps pulls the trigger. EOF’s card last year was overdue. (Of course, considering the season he had, you would think he was a shoo-in for the base set this year, but he was not in Series 1 and is not on the preliminary checklist for Series 2. Bummer.)

When looking at the Braves checklist for Topps latest release, which hit store shelves this past Wednesday, it all makes perfect sense with a single exception. I am confounded by the arrival of a Jose Constanza card in 2012 Topps Heritage. Not unhappy mind you, just perplexed.

Chipper_mediumGreat baseball card designs require simplicity, card fronts dominated by the photograph, simple visual elements that don’t distract from one another, and most importantly, to be truly great, the design needs to be printed on cardboard, not slick glossy weirdo paper. As much as I like this years design, I could never rank it with the great sets of the 50s, 60s, 70s, or even the 80s. Starting in the 90s, one year’s design seems to blend into the next. It isn’t that the designs are bad. Truthfully, on recent years, the design of the base set is rarely awful. They just aren’t great. There’s just something insubstantial about the designs. They lack personality. They lack character.

1963 Topps has to be on the short list for the greatest sets of all time, even if the design is basically 1953 Topps with the teal logo replaced with the colorful circle and a black and white photo. The 1963 design practically screams fun. I throw the word “iconic” out a lot when talking about the classic Topps cards, and 1963 is certainly deserving of that title.

Topps has done a better job than usual with this year’s Heritage set. Like the 1963 set on which it is based, 2012 Topps Heritage features upper torso shots of the players. The only true action photos are the slightly blurry cards in the World Series subset. The colors are bright and vivid. As always, the cardboard feels great in the hand. This is how baseball cards should be made.

While Topps is doing a pretty good job paying tribute to a classic set with each year’s Heritage set, they’ve pretty much settled into a standard format. The set is 500 cards with 75 of those cards, card numbers 426 - 500, short printed and inserted one in every three packs. The insert sets are still a little boring and are the same as all of the Heritage sets of recent memory, with the exception of the added Stick Ons insert set which doesn’t include any Braves. (This year’s Then and Now inserts include three classic Braves players: Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn along with a Michael Bourn card where he’s pictured with Luis Aparicio.) While the insert sets are not overloaded with Braves, the team is well represented.

Like everything with Topps these days, they have gimmicked up the Heritage set a bit. They’ve included a short set of variations featuring JFK. There are color variations and photo variations of several players. There are a few “fake” error cards, including one of Julio Teheran. They’ve created parallels exclusively for Wal-Mart and Target again. There are so many of these that I can’t keep track of them all. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better at ignoring the gimmicks. This year’s Heritage is great and I recommend the set whole heartedly.

Constanza_mediumWhen composing a checklist, there are certain groups of players that will typically be featured in a set. The starting lineup is a given. Four or five of the starting pitchers will be covered. The closer will be there, as will the top setup man. Another card might be reserved for a once-great veteran that has settled in as a role player. If there are any available cards left for a team, they’ll be used on prospects rather than the guys that fill out the roster. Consider that in David Ross’s three years in an Atlanta Braves uniform, you can count the number of sets he’s appeared in on one hand. Clint Sammons has appeared on numerous cards in a Braves uniform because someone at Upper Deck decided he was a prospect. That’s just the way the hobby works.

Jose Constanza is one of the most unlikely choices to get a baseball card. He did appear in the 2007 Bowman set as a prospect with the Cleveland Indians, but, with the exception of minor league cards, more or less disappeared from the hobby. LIke many, I expected his time in Atlanta to be short. For a few weeks in the dog days of August last season though, he excited many Braves fans as well as his teammates. He would even briefly take Jason Heyward’s spot as the starting right fielder.

Arguments over the wisdom of playing Jose Constanza flared up over this site, Twitter, and the other blogs. While I never thought he should have replaced Heyward in the lineup for more than a few days, I did once tweet that I was enjoying watching him play. One guy sent me a direct message on Twitter telling me that I was clearly too stupid to understand the “hot hand fallacy”. For the record, I’m not. I reserve the right to think that Jason Heyward should have still been getting the majority of the at-bats while still getting a thrill out of watching “Georgie” Constanza hitting a slow roller to short and beating the throw to first. What can I say? I thought he was fun.

For many reasons, many of them disappointing, the Atlanta Braves 2011 season was memorable. The name Jose Constanza figures into some of those memories. I’m glad we have a baseball card of “Georgie” to help keep those memories fresh.


2012 Topps Heritage Atlanta Braves Checklist

Base Set

Blue Border Variations (Wal-Mart Exclusives)

  • 275 Dan Uggla

Chrome Inserts

  • HP25 Michael Bourn
  • HP27 Dan Uggla
  • HP60 Tim Hudson
  • HP64 Jair Jurrjens
  • HP93 Dan Uggla (NL Home Run Leaders)

Baseball Flashbacks Inserts

  • BF-HA Hank Aaron

New Age Performers Inserts

  • NAP-CJ Chipper Jones

Then and Now Inserts

Clubhouse Collection Relics

  • CCR-DU Dan Uggla
  • CCR-TH Tommy Hanson
  • CCR-THU Tim Hudson

Flashback Relics

  • FR-EM Eddie Mathews
  • FR-HA Hank Aaron

Real One Autographs

  • ROA-FF Freddie Freeman
  • ROA-HA Hank Aaron

Heritage 63 Mint

  • 63EM Eddie Mathews
  • 63WS Warren Spahn
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