The cold, white fleece that covers so much of the US right now sure makes it hard to believe that Opening Day is less than two months away. But the arrival of pitchers and catchers to Spring Training for the Diamondbacks and Dodgers help lend credibility to the idea. Plus, last week's arrival of 2014 Topps Series One Baseball helps with the "warm thoughts" while being forced to stay near the fireplace, heat vent or space heater.
Overall, the Topps product for 2014 is meeting with generally positive reviews. There has not been any "mad rush" for a particular card yet (remember the squirrel card chase?), and most of the hits offered around have been modest. The super short-printed 'sparkle' variations are for those who truly must have everything.
As with most issues of the past 15 years or so the Topps offering for this year is loaded with far more than just base cards. There are parallels galore (the base set of 331 cards alone has parallels in gold, camo, black, pink, platinum, red foil, clear, green, and yellow; plus there are Wal-Mart, Toys R Us & Target versions). And there are lots of inserts. Lots.
While reading through the stacks in front of me (yes, I actually read the backs of the cards) I found myself "rating" the insert sets. Some I really like; some are just okay; some I don't care for much. Sure it is only my opinion, but I thought I might share that snow-induced rating.
I did lay some rules out for this post so that it would not grow too long. This is for genuine insert sets only. That means we are not considering any of the parallels mentioned above nor the parallels to insert sets. We will not consider the short printed cards as an insert, which will leave out the the sparkle cards and framed rookie reprints. We will also exclude relics and autographs, manufactured patches, silk collection, printing plates, ring top cards and such.
That leaves 2014 Topps Series One Baseball with eight "true" insert sets (for this account, anyway). Here is our ranking of them in reverse order:
#8 - 2014 Topps Power Players
This is the digital feature for 2014 Topps where collectors use the code on the card back as a way to get a shot through a website to win autographed cards and memorabilia, baseball game tickets, and maybe their very own Topps baseball card. Collectors can also win exclusive parallels and coin cards. While I like these better than the game-card code-cards of the past couple of years, they just don't seem like much to me. After all, the design is the same as the player's standard base card, only the foil is just gray ink and there's a Power Players logo on the front. 110 players make up the set.
#7 - 2014 Topps The Future is Now
This insert set actually carries the advertising theme for 2014 Topps Baseball. The company says it is giving special attention to the current youth movement with the tagline, "The Future Is Now." However, this insert set reminds me of the 2012 Series insert set called Golden Greats that featured multiple cards of the same handful of legends. The 2014 Topps Series One Future Is Now has a 30-card checklist but focuses on only thirteen players Shelby Miller; Jurickson Profar; Jean Segura; Zack Wheeler; Yoenis Cespedes; Hyun-Jin Ryu; Wil Myes; Mike Trout; Jose Fernandez; Manny Machado; Yasiel Puig; Yu Darvish; Bryce Harper. I prefer the insert sets to be a bit more varied.
#6 - 2014 Topps 50 Years of the Draft
Those who love the draft may differ with my placement on this set. The MLB Draft has been around for 50 years. This ten card set looks at arbitrarily selected players who entered professional ball via the annual event The design is nice and a good (even if somewhat familiar at times) photo selection helps. It would have been nice to make the fake gold on the cards gold foil since the set is so small, but that is a quibble.
#5 - 2014 Topps Super Veteran
Retail packs also have exclusive Super Veterans cards. This is a 15 player insert set, and it will remind long time collectors of the same idea employed in 1983. These cards do have a bit more panache to them, as they still use a simple design to show how a player's looks have progressed from their rookie season to the current day. The sepia background for the older photo is a nice play against the full-color current picture.
#4 - 2014 Topps Upper Class
These card seemed to be designed to at least appear like premium cards. As Topps uses this insert set to spotlight top rookie classes through the years, they do so with gold foil and color backgrounds that run the gamut from red to teal to gray to brown without any sort of detectable pattern or reason. The list of fifty players is not a bad list for such a set, really, but even though I am in Missouri it is a bit of a mystery to me as to how David Freese made the same set as Koufax, Clemente or even Freddie Freeman.
#3 - 2014 Topps 1989 Topps Die Cut Minis
Some have railed against these little beauties because they employ the familiar 1989 design from the mass-produced era. But that design really gives itself well to these die-cut cards and, as far as I am concerned, looks way better than the "regular" 89's ever did! Of course, as with all die-cuts there will be a condition problem. That slick-looking name banner has a little notch at the bottom that hangs over the photo "frame" of the card. That will likely be a problem for safely securing this handsome and diverse set.
#2 - 2014 Topps Before They Were Great
Exclusive to hobby and jumbo packs, these inserts use images of outstanding players from early in their career. It is a single-shot take on the "Super Veteran" idea mentioned earlier in some respects. I really liked these slabs from the very first one I pulled as they seem more premium in nature due to their thicker card stock and class design. Personally, I would stick with retired players when using the term "great", but the two current players selected for the insert (Miguel Cabrera and Derek Jeter) are pretty hard to argue over.
#1 - 2014 Topps All Rookie Cup
This is my favorite of all the inserts so far this year. Perhaps it is because I grew up enjoying seeing which players got the trophy printed on their cards years ago (we had no internet to know the Topps All-Rookie team in advance). The 2014 Topps All Rookie Cup Team is meant by Topps to recognize their idea of the ten best players to be named to the annual squad. In fact, it appears they have chosen one player for each position from those squads and using both a right and left-handed starter (Seaver, McCovey, Morgan, Pujols, Jeter, Rice, Trout, Griffey, Bench, Sabathia). Of course, you have to remember that Albert Pujols played a lot of third base in his first season.