It may be winter when it first goes on sale, but the arrival of 2009 Topps Baseball means spring can't be too far behind. Series 1 goes 330 cards deep, with late 2008 rookies like David Price and inserts taking advantage of Topps' access to some of the greatest players ever to step on the diamond.
Standard hobby boxes of 2009 Topps Series 1 Baseball contain 36 10-card packs and have one autographed or relic (memorabilia) card. Jumbo boxes come with 10 46-card packs and should yield one autograph and two relics on average.
Base Cards and Parallels
The first series of Topps baseball cards in any given year can rightfully be thought of as a look back at the end of the previous one, and so it is with the 2009 edition. The 330 cards in the base set consist of 255 veterans, 30 MLB Rookie Cards of players who made their debuts late in 2008 and various cards of season highlights, league leaders and award winners.
Topps sticks with white borders for the second straight year, with splashes of color in two corners (and some random dots) and a home plate element at the bottom with a team logo. The photos seem to have more space than in 2008, and while the overall look doesn't scream instant classic, it's probably less polarizing than the designs from the previous two seasons.
Base card photos are mostly vertical but some horizontal cards are mixed in. The card backs remain some of the best in the business and even squeeze in some fun trivia questions above the stats.
Parallels are pretty close to last year's, with Gold cards numbered to 2009 and Black cards numbered to 58. Framed Silk cards also return and are numbered to 50.
One final twist to the base set comes in the form of 19 short-printed variations. Seventeen of these cards replace a current Major Leaguer with a legend, one pictures CC Sabathia in his new Yankees duds instead of his Brewers uniform and the final card swaps Geoff Jenkins out for new U.S. president Barack Obama.
A hobby box should leave you not too far from completing the base set. I opened a random box and found 291 of the 330 cards, along with five Gold and one Black parallel.
Autographed Cards and Relic Cards
Topps Baseball isn't going to be anyone's first stop for autographs and memorabilia cards, but it does usually have some nice programs and has made them easier to pull in recent years. That's true in 2009, as even regular hobby boxes should have one hit.
Many of them come under the Career Best banner, with memorabilia cards, jumbo patch cards, autographs and autographed relics all celebrating personal statistical records. Phillies fans will enjoy the World Champions cards that have game-worn pieces and/or autographs from the 2008 World Series winners.
Returning relic sets include In The Name, with full letters from the nameplates of All-Star Game jerseys and Mickey Mantle Reprint Relics numbered to 58. Ring of Honor Autographs have also appeared in previous sets.
Topps also signed a deal not long ago giving it exclusive use of some of the greatest baseball players of all time, and it has rare relics and autographed cards of players like Lou Gehrig, Cy Young and Jackie Robinson in the mix. Legends of the Game Relics are numbered to 20, while Legends of the Game Cut Signatures are unique 1-of-1s. There are also Stamp Collection cards with actual postage stamps of the legends embedded inside.
Rounding out the autographs are American Legends Cut Signatures, which keep up the recent Topps tradition of offering cut sigs of subjects other than baseball players. A total of 25 names from literature, politics and entertainment appear on these 1-of-1 cards.
My hobby box delivered as advertised, producing a Career Best Autographed Relic of Nick Markakis, numbered to 50.
With some sprawling insert sets that didn't really catch on and others that had grown stale, Topps came up with some new inserts for 2009. They start with Turkey Red cards (1:4 packs), simulating tobacco cards from 1911 and featuring a mix of modern and old school stars. The Legends of the Game (1:6 packs) also get their own 25-card set with Gold and Platinum parallels.
Ring of Honor cards are holdovers but are part of a year-long program. The first 25 cards are in Series 1, the second 25 cards will pop up in Series 2, and the final 25 cards can be obtained at hobby stores one per week from February through the All-Star break.
Codes for ToppsTown, the company's online community, can be found one per pack, but Topps made them actual cards of players this year (called Ticket to ToppsTown), which is a nice touch. And continuing a growing trend, 1-of-1 Sketch Cards of a number of past and present MLB players are signed by the artist and inserted one per case.
More cards that are technically inserts are World Baseball Classic Rookie Rising Star redemption cards. These have codes which can be redeemed online in exchange for a Chrome Refractor of a player from the 2009 WBC, which will be produced once the tournament is over.
The About.com review box provided me with an excellent sampling of inserts, yielding 36 Ticket to ToppsTown, nine Turkey to Red, six Ring of Honor and six Legends of the Game. One thing I missed in packs this year was checklist cards, which are AWOL for 2009.
The Last Word
Topps Baseball is one of the true staples of the hobby, and the trick that its manufacturer faces each year is to change enough to keep it fresh while retaining the aspects that collectors have come to expect. Series 1 of the 2009 edition does an admirable job walking that line, balancing a fairly nondescript base set with positive changes to the inserts and nice use of the Hall of Famers Topps now has available to it.
Hobby boxes should run in the $65-75 range with jumbos over $100, but there are also retail boxes for those on a strict budget. Expect this series to be as widely collected as always, and look for Series 2 a few months down the road.