I’m going to try to spice up the Topps Lineage attitude on the blogosphere. I know, I know. The base cards are printed on the same crappy cardstock as Topps base set for over twice the price, the design is lazy and the cardbacks are even worse. In short, it doesn’t offer the value it’s sold for – or at least what Topps originally marked it for. Now, it’s selling quite reasonably now (side note – Lineage and Gypsy Queen started at about the same price point – and the cost of a GQ hobby box today would net you almost 3 Lineage hobby boxes).
I’m not here to change your mind on that stuff – nothing I can say or do will put stats on the backs, make the cards thicker, or put the 1972 Topps design on the cloth stickers they are supposed to pay homage to. I am here to do some comparisons for this set like I did with many previous “retro sets” from this year. And the place to start, as always, would be with the base set. Lineage has one subset – the last 10 cards of the set are the “best of the best from the All-Star Rookie (ASR) Team over the years”. Well, at least, the “best of the best from the ASR Team over the years that Topps could get in contract to use their image in a 2011 card set”.
Topps All-Star Rookie Team – history
First – a little history of the Topps ASR Team. Topps began awarding the distinction in 1960 for the best rookie performance at each position from the previous year. The 1960 set had a sequentially numbered subset for these cards with a rookie cup on the card. Topps kept a rookie cup designation on the base cards of these players except for 1974 and then 1979-1986. For those years, Topps still selected the team – they just didn’t add the designation to the cards of those players.
Topps All-Star Rookie Team – the “real best”
I did some painstaking research (actually, just a little time when I was bored at work and decided looking at baseball stats was worth staying an hour later). And before I scan in the cards that Topps put in 2011 Lineage, I wanted to pick the selections I’d have made at each position. The rules?
- The player must have been on the ASR team.
- The position selected must be the position the player was selected for. For example, Ryne Sandberg was awarded the honor for his play at 3rd base – even though he was a 2nd baseman for 90% of his career, he is eligible at 3rd.
- Since Topps doesn’t differentiate between Outfield positions in selecting its annual award, neither will I.
- Topps added a 3rd pitching slot this year for a reliever last year – but didn’t add it to this set, so I won’t. But Doug Corbett or Todd Worrell would be the likely choice – though Papelbon would be it if he had made the 2006 ASR team. Not sure why he didn’t.
- The player’s rookie year performance is the first factor – how good the player’s entire career has no bearing. For example, Ken Griffey Jr. had a good rookie season that warranted selection to the 1989 ASR team, and he had one of the most prolific careers of any outfielder in baseball history. Fred Lynn had an excellent career that won’t land him in the Hall of Fame – but he had arguably the best season of any rookie.
- The secondary factor will be how iconic the player was or his Topps ASR card is. This would give weight to cards like Willie McCovey – whose RC was in that first subset, and to guys like Mark McGwire, Fernando Valenzuela, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden and Mark Fidrych who were THE story during their rookie year.
Note: the year listed below is the rookie year – keep in mind the ASR card would be the year after. Stats are (Avg/HR/BI/OBP/SLG, followed by awards)
- Topps selection: Johnny Bench 1968 (.275/15/82/.311/.433, ROY, GG)
- My selection: Mike Piazza 1993 (.318/35/112/.370/.571, ROY)
This one is actually pretty easy. Piazza’s rookie year is the best a backstop has ever had; it’s up there as one of the best rookie seasons of any player. Bench is a clear 2nd place – but it’s a distant 2nd place. Bench’s 1969 card isn’t his rookie – so it doesn’t garner many points for being significantly iconic when compared to Piazza’s 1994 card.
It’s interesting that Topps used the exact same shot for this photo – and he’s from the era that the cup is the same for these two cards.
- Topps selection: Willie McCovey 1959 (.354/13/38/.429/.656, ROY)
- My selection: Mark McGwire 1987 (.289/49/118/.370/.618, ROY)
Big Mac’s numbers are just too impressive – and he was as hot a commodity as they come at the time. Don’t let McCovey’s power numbers fool you – he did that all in 192 at bats. I’m not positive, but that has to be the fewest for a hitter to win a Rookie of the Year Award. Given that his card somewhat iconic – I think Topps selection isn’t bad here, especially since they’d probably want to stay away from McGwire and the steroids stigma. I’d have McCovey 2nd and 1984 ROY Alvin Davis (.287/27/116) 3rd right behind him. Seeing these 2 cards side by side – I think it would have been cool if Topps put the appropriate trophy from the year in question on the Lineage card.
Topps used the same photo from McCovey’s 1961 Topps card.
My selection & Topps selection: Joe Morgan 1965 (.271/14/40/.373./.418)
The first guy we agree on is also the first one without Rookie of the Year hardware. Morgan was actually beaten out by fellow 2nd baseman Jim Lefebvre in 1965 – for no good reason. Lefebvre hit 2 less homers, scored 43 fewer runs than Morgan’s 100. Morgan actually led the league in walks and scored 100 runs. Good thing Topps got it right with the ASR team – so Lefebvre isn’t even eligible. Dustin Pedroia would have been next on my list.
I actually didn’t recognize the Morgan 1966 card, and I don’t know of any card that has the Lineage photo used – could it actually be an original card photo?
- Topps selection: Chipper Jones 1995 (.265/23/86/.353/.450)
- My selection: Albert Pujols 2001 (.329/37/130/.403/.610, ROY)
I was wondering who this would be – until I saw Pujols won the award as a 3rd baseman! I thought that would make this one easy – but then I saw the stats for Dick Allen’s 1964 rookie campaign – .318/29/91 – in the middle of the worst offensive times the NL had seen since the dead ball era. Still, Pujols campaign is too good – I’d say his is the best rookie season of any player I’ve mentioned so far. There’s also some unstated value in a guy who puts up those numbers and can play 3rd, 1st or either corner OF position. I’d actually put Longoria or Scott Rolen ahead of Chipper on the list.
This looks like a second original in a row for Topps!
- My selection & Topps selection: Cal Ripken (.128/0/0) (.264/28/93/.317/.475, ROY)
Why are there 2 sets of numbers up there you ask? Let me explain. There is a really good argument that Nomar Garciaparra deserves this. In his 1997 ROY season, Nomar led the league in hits, triples, hit 30 homers and scored 122 runs. But Ripken is the only player to be on the Topps ASR team twice. And even though I have no idea how he made it with one contributed run in 1981 – that combined with his really great 1982 season puts him ahead of Nomar for me. Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki and Derek Jeter could all be on that list as well.
Topps keeps ’em coming with the original photos!
- My selection & Topps selection: Ichiro (.350/8/69/.381/.457, 242 H, 56 SB, ROY, MVP, GG)
Topps and I agreed on the first one. Ichiro won the MVP – I don’t really need to say much else. But I guess I will. If you win the MVP as a rookie – it’s one of the best rookie seasons ever. There have only been 2 players to do that. And I don’t care that he had played nearly a decade over in Japan – a rookie is a rookie, and Ichiro’s season is one of the best ever. An argument I might listen to was whether or not he deserved the MVP – Jason Giambi very well may have been the better choice. But Ichiro is the right choice on this list either way!
- Topps selections: Andre Dawson (.282/19/65/.326/.474, ROY), Andruw Jones (.231/18/70/.329/.416)
- My selection: Fred Lynn (.331/21/105/.401/.566, ROY, MVP, GG), Ryan Braun (.324/34/97/.370/.634, ROY)
The other rookie to win the MVP is Fred Lynn, who won both awards in 1975 – I don’t need to say much else for that either, but I will. Fred Lynn’s 1975 season is up there with Ichiro and Pujols (both in 2001) in the top 5 rookie seasons (for hitters) all-time. Dawson had a good Rookie year, deservedly winning the 1977 ROY, and he’s better than Topps’ next selection in the OF. The original checklist had this as being Manny Ramirez, but it only took 2 or 3 sets before they started excluding players who retire after using women’s fertility drugs.
I’m not sure why they put Jones in here at all – he was 5th in the ROY voting (Scott Rolen won) – that’s the lowest of anybody on their list in this set. In fact, Jones is the only player on their list who wasn’t first or second in RoY voting. Braun’s rookie campaign, while not quite at the level of Ichiro, Pujols, Piazza or McGwire, is still amazing when you consider it was done in 113 games. And they definitely could have used his card from a rights standpoint!
I couldn’t find the same photo from any of these, but it looks like Topps used a picture from the same photo shoot for Dawson that they included in their American Pie set.
Right Handed SP
- Topps selection: Tom Seaver 1967 (16-13/2.76/206, ROY)
- My selection: Mark Fidrych 1976 (19-9/2.34/97/8.5, ROY)
Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden and Seaver are very notable honorable mentions here – it’s tough to leave either off the list. But Fidrych may have deserved to be the Cy Young his rookie year (he was 2nd to Jim Palmer). Seaver isn’t a bad pick, but I’m surprised they didn’t go with Doc or the Bird – I’m pretty sure they’ve used both of them in other Topps products this year, and I would put Seaver in 4th on that very impressive list.
Topps isn’t fooling me – I knew I’d seen that photo somewhere. They grabbed on from 10 years after his rookie year – his 1977 Topps card.
Left Handed SP
- Topps selection: C.C. Sabathia 2001 (17-5/4.39/171/2.7)
- My selection: Fernando Valenzuela (13-7/180/2.48/5.4, ROY, CY)
Valenzuela is the easiest choice of anyone on. Like Ichiro and Lynn with the MVP – he won the Cy Young. Enough said, but he also was Fernando-mania. Remember, his numbers are in the strike-shortened season. I’d also put Dontrelle Willis, who won the 2003 NL ROY, and Mark Langston, who was 17-10 and led the AL in K’s in 1984, ahead of Sabathia. Willis is in the majors still, so they could have gone with him. But they should have done what it takes to go with Fernando!