They're everywhere baseball fans might be lurking. The big department store. The sporting goods aisle. Team shops. Souvenir stands at the ballpark. Sometimes even the airport gift shop. Topps' team sets are packaged up neatly in blister packs and hang on racks from coast-to-coast. If you thought they're just an overpriced chip off the old base set block, though, you're sadly mistaken.
Launched in 2006, the Topps factory team set concept is now in its fifth year, with this year's sets hitting shelves within the last week or two. They're designed to be a regional product, with each team's sets on display in their home market throughout the season. That means collectors who go in search of the uniquely numbered sets, have to go online or make friends in other cities to collect them all.
Produced just as spring training was getting underway, they offer the most updated Topps cards issued so far this year. Players who changed teams later in the off-season may not show up in packs until Topps' year-end update set but they're pictured as members of their new team inside the 17-card factory sets.
Jayson Werth is a Phillie in the 2011 Topps base product but he's in the Nationals team set. Same picture-- a little graphic artistry has turned him into a Nat. That fact alone often has those who dabble in cards a little confused, like the Washington Nationals' blogger who didn't quite get the concept of the team sets, updated to include player movement in the off-season.
"You won't to see Werth in a Nationals uni until the Traded set," said JayBee Anama, a Chicago-area collector. "And even then, Topps most likely will not use the same picture that was used for the team set."
Anama is a big fan of the factory sets. He owns all 150 of them issued prior to this season and has blogged about what is an often overlooked niche for modern era collectors. He's also compared the cards in the team sets to their base brethren.
Some of the variations and quirks he's uncovered include:
- The 2007 Topps Mariners Jose Guillen card has the correct picture not used in the regular set (the regular card was an error which used the picture of Yuniesky Betancourt).
- The 2010 Topps Opening Day Roy Halladay graphic artistry that put the ex-Blue Jay in the Phillies' retired #32 was corrected in the 2010 Topps Phillies set.
- The 2010 Topps set also has Vladimir Guerrero as a member of the Angels. He does have a Rangers card in the Update Series. But his first Rangers card was found in the 2010 Topps Rangers set.
- Jose Bautista didn't have a regular card in the 2010 Topps set, and although he does show up in the Update Series, has a card in the 2010 Topps Blue Jays set.
- The 2009 Topps Rangers Nelson Cruz card shows him posing with bat on shoulder (I think...can verify when I get home), but his regular card in the 660 Topps set has a close up of him, dirt flying, trying to avoid (or possibly already) being tagged out by a fielder.
- The 2007 Topps Yankees Derek Jeter card that is in the team set is different than the action card used in the factory set.
- The 2006 Topps set features Troy Glaus as a Diamondback, and he appears in the Blue Jays team set in 2006, but the pictures used are exactly the same.
- Ken Griffey Jr. makes a surprise appearance in the 2009 Topps Mariners set (as opposed to the White Sox set) and he somehow replaces Jarrod Washburn on the original checklist.
- The 2006 Topps Devil Rays set features a team card. The card was supposed to be of B. J. Upton according to the preliminary checklists.
Topps' first team sets from 2006 contained just 14 cards. The number grew to 15 in 2009 and last year, Topps upped the checklist to 17 cards.
"I love these sets as they serve as the perfect complement to the regular Topps set," Anama stated. "And thanks to the internet, I am able to get all 30 teams instead of just one or two available here in Chicago. I can tell you they look really nice together in a binder.