Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Hall of Fame and Al Capone’s Vault

Maybe it’s what we want to be in it that matters more

I was going to do one of those I-don’t-have-a-vote-but-here’s-who-I-would-vote-for articles that are all the rage these days, but I would just end up with a ballot that looks like what Joe Posnanski and Jay Jaffe ended up with (though I’m only starting to warm up to Curt Schilling and I’m not quite sold on Larry Walker).  Since those guys did a better job than I ever could, there’s really no point in that exercise.  Instead, let’s look at the voting itself, which is likely to be all there is to discuss once the results are in.

To have a vote on who gets a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame within the first 20 years following their retirement, you need to spend 10 years as a member of the BBWAA.  Put in another 10 and your voting privileges won’t expire until you do.  If you’ve been wondering why some of the voters seem like senile old coots, well, they are.  To be included on the ballot, you need to have appeared in the majors in at least 10 different seasons and get through a rigorous nomination phase that apparently everyone except Edgardo Alfonzo gets through.  Seriously, the list of “Guys on a Hall of Fame ballot who weren’t half the player Edgardo Alfonzo was” has got to be in the hundreds (Tony Womack?  Are you kidding me?).  Any player who receives votes on at least 75% of the submitted ballots gets a Hall of Fame plaque, any player with less than 5% is removed from consideration, and everyone in the middle has 15 years to do one or the other before getting the axe.  This ensures that guys like Darryl Strawberry don’t clutter up the ballot while virtually identical players like Dave Parker remain in the discussion for 15 years.  Or that we spend 12+ years wondering how Alan Trammell can be considered Hall worthy when his superior teammate Lou Whitaker never made it past his first ballot.  Yes, the process that passed on Keith Hernandez and settled for Jim Rice in his final year of eligibility is completely not broken.  Well, at least it isn’t the Veterans Committee.

So with such a flawless process already in place, now we get to pass judgment on the Steroids Era for the first time.  Except for when Jeff Bagwell was denied because he had big muscles, and you know what they say about guys with big muscles…  And all the years that Mark McGwire has received minimal support (at least he came clean, though he downplays the impact of his steroids).  But now, for the first time ever, we have legitimate superstars, inner circle guys, who have been connected to performance enhancing drugs.  PEDs.  The greatest evil ever to stain the reputation of Major League Baseball.  This time it counts.

Business as usual

So what did the writers do?  Some, like the ones I most agree with, weighed each player’s performance without giving them major penalties for admitted, suspected, or wildly speculated PED use.  Since knowing for certain who used and who didn’t or who benefitted and who suffered is an absolute impossibility, you can’t really do much to negate the effect of steroids when weighing a Hall of Fame case.  While this is the approach I would choose, it isn’t the only one out there.

Everybody’s dirty

Other writers decided that the entire era is tainted and refused to vote for any of them.  Some even refused to turn in their ballots, which means that they won’t count against anyone when the votes are tallied (the blank ballots however will add to the total ballots cast).  This doesn’t seem like a good long-term solution, but it could send a message that better guidance is needed.  I would argue that saying “Hey, we need better guidance!” would send a clearer message, but I’m not the one getting paid to figure these things out.

Everybody’s dirty (except for my guy)

While I can (kind of) admire taking a stand by using your ballot to vote against the system, I just don’t get the guys who turn a ballot with a single name because everyone else who was worthy was dirty.  Jack Morris is usually the lone name (probably because he had a lot of votes last year) and the assumption is that, because of the years he played in, he is free from PED suspicion.  Everyone else must have been on something, but my guy’s clean!  Never mind that steroids have been a part of baseball at least back into the ’60s or that amphetamines have been used (illegally) as performance enhancers for longer than that (but that’s OK because the teams were giving them out like candy).  Dale Murphy is another name that comes up in this category because he’s just a swell guy.  The best defense of a Murphy-only ballot I’ve seen is that, if the character clause can be used to disqualify some of the best players in history, it should also be used to boost a good guy whose numbers weren’t quite there.  The logic is flawless, but I’m not buying the premise.  In any case, declaring that only one person on this ballot is worthy is highly questionable at best.

I am the law!

We don’t know who did what when, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pass judgment!  The most frustrating ballots are the ones that combine all of the above logic to generate a standard 5 or 6 player ballot with “clean” players.  This gets murky because PEDs not only inflated the stats of the users, but they also reduced the stats of the non-users.  This exercise requires banishing all players with tarnished reputations and lowering the standard for the Hall.  In a perfect world, I could see this working.  In a world where today’s saints are tomorrow’s disgraces and Murray Chass has waged a one-man smear campaign against Mike Piazza for the better part of a decade based only on a bad case of acne, you might as well make your picks by dartboard.  I understand the pressure from readers who rant about how anyone who votes for a “cheater” will burn in hell, but the writers should have learned by now to ignore their less eloquent critics.  And, while I agree that Tim Raines should be in the Hall, how can anyone ever call him “clean?”

Sorry, ran out of room

The 10-player limit on the Hall of Fame Ballot gives writers an interesting out when it comes to controversial cases.  While voters only list 5 or 6 names on average, a few do max it out, especially in years with this many qualified players.  If you want to steer clear of the McGwire/Sosa/Palmeiro controversy or the Bagwell/Piazza witch hunt, just load up your ballot with borderline guys and then lament that you had but ten slots with which to vote.  You can placate their supporters without attracting the ire of their opponents.  Genius!  Bonus points for using a convoluted nonsensical mathematical system for justifying that there were ten players more deserving than Piazza on this year’s ballot.

No first ballot for you!

I understand that people always want a way to distinguish the great great players from the good great players, but maybe the number of times on the ballot isn’t the way to do it.  Some great players fall off the ballot in their first year of eligibility, while some get in quickly and others wait far too long.  Recently, voters have been assigning special meaning to a “first ballot” Hall of Famer, using this honor as an excuse to delay entry for anyone not deemed worthy (and don’t get me started on the ones who just want to make sure nobody gets in unanimously).  Just look at Roberto Alomar, who got 73.7% of the vote in his first year (meh, borderline) and 90% in his second (duh, superstar).  The same logic is coming up in the PED discussion, with many voters putting off a decision until next year.  Stalling isn’t a particularly effective voting strategy, especially with a loaded ballot that won’t be getting any smaller.

And inside the vault…

With the combination of these voters, there’s very little chance of anyone getting in this year.  Maybe Biggio, who seems to be more “clean” than his teammate Bagwell for reasons that defy logic.  Maybe Morris, whose case now seems to rest on his number of opening day starts and the number of innings he pitched, plus the fact that his career ended before everyone was doing steroids (which somehow proves that he’s clean).  Piazza?  Probably not, which is a shame.  Trammell and Raines should be getting more support as the writers shun the more recent players, but that’s not happening.  And Dale Murphy, nice guy, isn’t getting in.  Sorry.

Is there any hope?

There seem to be some problems here with no clear solutions.  However, this would all be a waste of space if I didn’t propose any solutions, so here goes.

1. Expand the ballot to 15 names

Most voters don’t even use up the ten they have, but that limit predates the expansion era.  With more teams and more players, it stands to reason that there should be more players each year who are worthy of the Hall.  The problem is only going to get worse over the next few years, so the time to act is now.  It won’t fix everything, but it is a reasonable measure that should be easy to pass.  At least it would look like someone is trying.

2. Have the Hall take an official position on PEDs

When writers are throwing up their hands in confusion, something needs to be done.  I suppose you could just stop sending them ballots, but the more constructive solution is to put together a press release telling them exactly how to feel about PEDs.  This seems to be what they’re after.  One possible statement is this:

Drugs are bad, mmmkay?  You shouldn’t do drugs, mmmkay?  Steroids are bad, players shouldn’t do steroids, mmmkay?  Doing steroids will get you suspended but doesn’t make you ineligible for the Hall of Fame, unless you get caught three times, mmmkay?

What, don’t think that will fix everything?  If the Hall comes out and says “Steroids happened and we expect that there are players enshrined here who used steroids and other PEDs and that there will be more PED users enshrined in the future,” then the “NO ROIdZ IN TEH HALL EVAR!!!~!” crowd would lose some footing from their untenable position.  Voters are still free to withhold their vote for anyone who ever came into contact with PEDs, but they won’t be able to hide behind the claim that they’re defending the purity of the Hall of Fame.  That cherry was popped long ago.

3. Make all Hall of Fame ballots public

This one probably won’t help anything, but it’s an overdue measure in an age where every scrap of data is overanalyzed.  Public ballot reveals started last year with major award voting and it made it perfectly clear who the idiots are.  Now, some of the senile old coots out there are proud of their idiocy, but the writers shouldn’t be able to hide behind a veil of secrecy when they’re making decisions based on rumors, accusations, and baseless speculation.  If you can’t disclose your vote and the justification behind it, you shouldn’t have a vote in the Hall of Fame.

4. Form a Steroid Era Committee and give the writers 20 years off

Can’t handle the responsibility of judging the players in an era when you kind of dropped the ball on their steroid use?  Why not call in a special committee to take over and take the blame for letting in cheaters and/or the underqualified?  Just like we write off most of the Hall’s lesser inhabitants because of the various flavors of Veterans Committees, a Steroid Committee could shoulder the blame for the entire era.  Because we know that the ones who vote for the PED users are the real villains.

5. Have the writers start the discussion before the ballots are sent out

We’ve been through a month of hand-wringing over the steroid issue, and now it will be forgotten for another 11 months until next year’s ballots come out.  Maybe we could get some more reasonable positions on these issues if people started talking about them before they fill out their ballots.  In fact, the only way any of this will start to make any sense is if the writers can begin to agree on how to approach Hall of Fame voting.  Obviously, every voter approaches their decision differently, but right now they’re so far apart that the entire process is a waste of time.  With that in mind, let’s lay out just what we’re dealing with.  After all, I’m an engineer, not a sanctimonious arbiter of good and evil.

The Saints

Nobody.  Seriously, nobody.  Even if someone performs miracles, PED use will be suspected.

The Suspected PED Users

Everyone who played prior to the institution of testing.  That includes Bagwell and Piazza plus Morris and Murphy.  Everyone.  You can’t prove that someone didn’t use PEDs, so I’ll raise your wild unfounded speculation about player X with wild unfounded speculation about player Y.  It seems like people only want to put home run hitters in this category, but that’s absurd.  How about the guy who threw a 10-inning shutout in game 7 of the World Series and pitched 240 or more innings in 10 seasons?  Sounds suspicious to me.

The Assumed PED Users

Here’s your Bonds and Clemens tier.  They’ve been linked to PEDs so strongly that they’ve been taken to court.  Not necessarily successfully, but we’ve declared them guilty in the court of public opinion based on something more than big muscles or acne.

The Admitted PED Users

Mark McGwire on this year’s ballot, with honorable mentions to Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and future conundrums Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez.  At least they came clean, right?  Or maybe they only admitted to what they were accused of to save face.  How do we know that they’re telling the whole story?

The Exposed PED Users

These guys failed tests of some sort, so this is where Sosa, Palmeiro, and eventually Melky Cabrera and Ryan Braun will go.  Maybe it was just a one-time mistake, maybe they were just good at hiding it.  We know they were taking something though, at that one specific point in time.  For the rest of their careers though, see above.

The Repeat Offenders

Manny Ramirez, founding member.

The Permanently Ineligible

Three strikes and you’re out.  That’s MLB’s position at least, some of the writers stopped reading at the top of the list.  At least we can all agree on this one.

So how do we treat these guys?  Are they all the same?  Are some worse than others?  Do we need different standards for players in different categories?  (Hint: Bonds and Clemens probably still get in even if you raise the Hall of Fame standard to the ceiling.)  Should we pull a Tour de France and wipe the entirety of the Steroid Era from the history books?  Who do we really want to see get a plaque on a wall in the most boring room of the Baseball Hall of Fame?  Because that’s really what this comes down to.  It’s not about integrity or honor or the message it sends.  It’s not about the sport’s history, righting wrongs, or deciding the fate of the world.  This is about who gets a plaque and who has to settle for a cardboard cutout and some memorabilia.  Or whatever the heck they have for displays in there these days, it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been there.  It would be nice to see it again, but I think I’ll wait until there’s a Mike Piazza plaque on the wall.  Until then, the vault is empty for me.

Product Spotlight: 2012 Topps Triple Threads

Finally, an excuse to say “Dickey pants”

Triple Threads is one of the most-loved Topps products, so of course I am largely indifferent towards it.  This is one of the products born from the post-Playoff/Donruss era, when most of the products I liked were discontinued or marginalized, so I’m holding a bit of a grudge.  And as a “Let’s face it, you’re not going to get a big hit out of this, just buy what you want on eBay and save some money” product, I get annoyed waiting for the few cards I want most to show up in auctions at prices that aren’t completely insane.  Note to sellers: most of these cards will sell for less than $20, stop it with the “Everything $99” approach.  The most annoying thing about this product though is the trademarked Topps infinite parallelization of every single card.  In addition to the base version (typically numbered to 99 for autographed cards and 36 for non-autographed cards), there are Sepia, Emerald, Gold, Sapphire, Ruby, and occasionally a few other parallels, plus a set of 1/1 printing plates for every single card.  This makes every card both rare (everything numbered to less than 100!) and common (more than 250 of each if you ignore silly color variations, with many players appearing on multiple cards in the same insert set).

Base Cards

Serial Numbering: None-625-250-125-99-50-25-1-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Gary Carter, Tom Seaver, David Wright
Non-Mets: Jose Reyes, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Rickey Henderson

Sadly, Topps did not drop the base cards from Triple Threads like they did for Tier 1.  They seemed really excited to show off this design on Twitter.  Am I missing something here?  This is about as dull a design as you can get.  Good thing these aren’t the main draw and only serve as filler along with their six parallels numbered to between 25 and 625, two parallels numbered to 1, and four printing plates per card.  Three Mets out of 100 cards is about average, so whatever.

Rookies and Future Phenoms Autographed Relics

Serial Numbering: 99-75-50-25-10-1-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ike Davis
Non-Mets: None

As usual, Triple Threads includes a bunch of inserts as an extension of the base set.  I do not know why they do this, probably just to make sure you can’t build a complete set that makes any sense.  Serial numbering on these follows the 99 sequence, so that’s 265 total cards for those of you playing along at home, with cards numbered to 10 or less featuring patches if patches are available.  Two of the 65 cards feature Mets, which is again about average.  As with all of the “triple” relics in this product, there are exactly three pieces of material in each card regardless of how many holes are cut in the card placed over them.  Putting 23 holes in a card does not mean that there are 23 pieces of material in the card!  Why are people on eBay so stupid?  Next thing you know, they’ll be calling every serial numbered card a 1/1 because every one is unique.  Oh, wait, they already do that…  Autographs on these cards are on the cards and not stickers, because Kirk Nieuwenhuis doesn’t sign stickers.  Seriously, have you seen how many cards this kid signed this year?  He’s at more than 1600 just counting serial numbered cards.  I’m amazed he’s not on the DL from a hand injury.

Triple Threads Autographed Relics

Serial Numbering: 18-9-3-1-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Dave Kingman, Ike Davis (4), David Wright
Non-Mets: Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, Duke Snider (2)

And here’s the gimmick that everyone (except me) loves, multiple variations of every card with stupid things written in the windows over the game-used material!  Lumbering lefty?  I guess it’s better than “send me an angel” or “heaven sent.”  Whoever comes up with this stuff must have been fired from a greeting card company for being too cheesy.  These follow the 36 numbering sequence minus the 36 and 27 for 36 total copies of each.

Triple Threads Relics / Relic Legends

Serial Numbering: 36-27-18-9-3-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: David Wright (5)
Non-Mets: Jose Reyes (3), Rickey henderson, Eddie Murray, Willie Mays

If you need more Wright, just head over to the non-autographed Triple Threads Relics insert set, which features five more variants on the full 36 numbering scheme minus the wood 1/1 for 98 total copies of each stupid phrase.  Among this year’s winners are “Wright Stuff” and “D-Money.”  Jose Reyes on the other hand got tagged with “Fresh Fish.”  As I’m sure Jay Sherman would say about this, it stinks.

Triple Threads Flashback Relics

Serial Numbering: 36-27-18-9-3-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Johan Santana, Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden
Non-Mets: Rickey Henderson

Here’s an idea that’s so obvious that I can’t believe I haven’t seen it before: put windowing on both sides of a jersey card (Topps did something similar with several relic sets a decade ago by making the bottom layer transparent, but these are the first I’ve seen that are open on both sides).  Two of these feature the Mets on the front and another two on the back.  Of particular interest here is the Dwight Gooden card with sewn-in pinstripes visible from both sides.  Numbering follows the 36 sequence we’ve been seeing on most of these non-autographed triple relics.

Unity Autographed Relics

Serial Numbering: 99-75-50-25-10-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Daniel Murphy (2), Ike Davis, Josh Thole (2), Lucas Duda (2), R.A. Dickey (2), Ruben Tejada (2), Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden (2), Gary Carter.
Non-Mets: Duke Snider

OK, let’s cut the crap.  The whole “triple” gimmick is nice and makes for interesting display pieces and once-in-a-lifetime pulls, but the bulk of the interesting cards in this product are in the Unity insert sets.  While last year’s Unity inserts could be combined in groups of three to create a panorama of the team’s stadium (or a frankenstadium if you combine players from different teams), this year’s Unity design is completely generic.  On the plus side, this is what Topps has been saving the bulk of the material from new players and players who haven’t been seen since last year for.  So if you were wondering why Lucas Duda and Josh Thole have been getting the shaft for the bulk of the year, it was so Topps could make them the big draw in this insert set.  Well, that and Dickey pants.  Double Dickey pants.  Fresh off Dickey’s second consecutive one-hitter this year, stains and all.  This may be the only game-used item whose authenticity has not been called into question by the recent counterfeit merchandise scandals.

Each card lists a specific accomplishment for the depicted player, with some players featured on multiple cards.  Accomplishments include a mix of awards, events, and on-field performances.  All autographs are on stickers and numbering follows the 99 sequence minus wood.  That’s right, there’s no Dickey wood parallel.  Deal with it.

Unity Relics

Serial Numbering: 36-27-18-9-3-1-1-1-1-1
Mets: Rickey Henderson (3), David Wright (3), Johan Santana (3), Daniel Murphy
Non-Mets: Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Carlos Beltran (3), Eddie Murray (2).

For players without a ready supply of sticker autographs, there’s the non-autographed variety of Unity.  These follow the 36 numbering sequence (without wood, like the autographed variety), making them harder to find than their autographed brethren (particularly when it comes to patches, which are at the 3 or less parallels as opposed to 10 or less for the autographed versions).

2011 All-Star Workout Jerseys

Heath Bell, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes appear here with various pieces of their 2011 All-Star workout jerseys.  Base patch cards are numbered to 9 or less, all others are numbered to 1.  They’re nice, I guess.

Multiple Player Cards, Booklets, Oddballs, and Other Assorted Rarities

There are a bunch of them.  I don’t care about any of this stuff though and most of it is out of my price range, terribly boring, or both.  Go somewhere else if you want an unbiased review, or just look at the pre-launch tweets from Topps for some of the many cards you will never own.  This is the only reason to open boxes of this stuff, which I don’t do.  These cards might as well not exist.

Bottom Line

While I may not care for the card design, Triple Threads never fails to deliver new material.  Mets with their first MLB uniform material include R.A. Dickey, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, and Lucas Duda.  Tejada and Josh Thole have their first blue jerseys in this product and Dickey has the first Mets pinstripe material since the change to cream/ivory base material in 2010 (and on top of that it’s from the pants he wore during his second consecutive one-hitter this year).  Dwight Gooden has the first Mets sewn-in pinstripes visible from both sides.  And Nieuwenhuis’s black jersey swatches can only be from the jersey he wore on June 3 to honor John Franco.

Players who recently changed teams haven’t been left out either.  Carlos Beltran, fresh off having pieces of a Giants uniform in Museum Collection, has his first Cardinals patch cards in Triple Threads.  While these are all numbered to 3 or 1, there are three different cards for a total of 12 patch cards.  Yeah, that’s still not very many.  More common though are pieces from Jose Reyes’s spring training jersey, which Topps tweeted a picture of back in the spring.  Material available for Reyes in his various cards includes black, black mesh, and orange mesh fabric swatches as well as some patches numbered to 10 and 1.

And then there’s the retired players who are shown on other teams on cards featuring pieces of Mets uniforms…  Rickey Henderson and Eddie Murray have some beautiful big Mets patch cards that show them in other teams’ uniforms.  They’re way out of my price range in any case, but it bugs me to see such great cards marred by showing the player in the wrong uniform.

Still, it’s hard to get too excited about this product.  Triple Threads has a lot of stuff, but none of it really stands out.  It doesn’t have the on-card autographs of Tier One or Five Star, the attainable jumbo relics of Five Star or Museum Collection, or the card design of Bowman, Finest, or Museum Collection.  But I suspect that I might be just a bit biased.  Player selection is this product’s real strength, but even that just makes it a placeholder for many players until something better comes along.

Best Mets Cards of 2012

Looking back at things that didn’t suck about the Mets in 2012

Well, the Mets didn’t win the World Series last year.  Or make the playoffs.  Or finish with a winning record.  They didn’t finish in last place, but that’s more because of the Marlins than anything the Mets did.  The year started off with the Mets in contention, but the second half crash and burn was in full effect in 2012.  What a miserable year.

Except for a few bright spots.  After just over 50 years, the Mets got their first no-hitter, courtesy of Johan Santana and a questionable foul ball call on Carlos Beltran.  After more than 20 years, the Mets had a 20-game winner in R.A. Dickey, who then went on to become the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award (before being traded to the Blue Jays).  Matt Harvey made an impressive debut and Zack Wheeler worked his way up to be in position to do the same in 2013.  And of course David Wright was back in MVP form and signed a contract that should keep him in a Mets uniform until the end of his playing days.

In the errata category, the Mets brought back Banner Day and will have it back again this year.  They also finally announced that Citi Field will host the 2013 All-Star game.  And that pesky black drop shadow has finally been banished from the uniforms.  The black uniforms themselves refuse to die, but a pair of new blue alternates should keep their use to a minimum.  And how about those $20 clearance blue Dickey jerseys that everyone except me was able to get?  I am still accepting Christmas presents if anyone has an extra road version in XL.

As for baseball cards, 2012 had a few bright spots.  While Mets representation in some products (Topps Heritage) was very poor, there was still a good supply of new game-used and autograph cards, plus plenty of official Rookie Cards and actual first cards.  Here’s a few of the best (and worst) cards that 2012 had to offer.

Best Manufactured Material

2012 Topps Series 1 Golden Greats Coin Tom Seaver

Topps had some interesting manufactured material inserts this year, but none could come close to their coin relic cards.  These huge double-sided medallions are absolutely stunning in person.  Topps Update introduced the runner-up, the Hall of Fame Plaque manufactured material relic.  It’s hard to beat a heavy chunk of metal.

Best Parallel Insert Set

2012 Topps Archives Gold Foil Parallel

Topps introduced even more types of parallel cards this year with the various colors of Ice and Wave Refractor parallels in addition to the usual colored borders, sparkles, refractors, xfractors, atomic refractors, superfractors, etc.  None of them were even close to being a match for the gold foil parallels in Topps Archives.  These look great in person and get even better when scanned (unlike most chrome/refractor cards).

Best Sticker Autograph

2012 Topps Archives Fan Favorites Autograph Gary Carter

Sure, he’s not shown as a Met, but there isn’t a Mets sticker autograph that can come close to this.  Not only is this an autograph from the late Gary Carter on a 1975-style card, but this is the first-ever sticker autograph to appear in a Topps Archives product.

Best On-Card Autograph

2012 Topps Five Star Silver Ink Gold Signature R.A. Dickey

Alternatives to the usual blue (and occasional black or red) autographs have been in short supply in recent years, but Topps released some nice specimens in silver, gold, and white marker in several of its premium products.  The best of the bunch has to be R.A. Dickey’s gold signature in Topps Five Star.  Between the strokes of the signature and the picture chosen to accompany it, there’s really nothing more you could want from this card (well, other than less chipping).  The card itself has three color variants (all numbered to 10 or 5), but I like the look of the purple version.

One problem with the silver and gold markers Topps used this year is that they don’t always write evenly, leaving many signatures looking weak and washed out.  That wasn’t a problem for the white ink parallels in Topps Tier One though.  Combine the strength of the ink with David Wright’s signature and you have a clear winner (or runner-up in this case).  These were released as redemptions (boo!), but they were fulfilled fairly quickly (woo!).

Worst Autograph

2012 Panini Signature Series MLBPA Logo Autograph Jordany Valdespin

This card had a lot going against it before it even got to the autograph.  First, without a license from MLB Properties, Panini couldn’t use proper team names or logos, instead settling for “New York Baseball Club” in place of Mets and cropping out all logos.  Next, their style of patch isn’t terribly exciting, essentially being just some embroidery on the fabric.  And the use of the MLBPA logo, while something to brag about because it is the one license they do have, just isn’t all that interesting (and the detail doesn’t really come through all that well).  Add in the two other manufactured material autograph sets with the same checklist (one with the iconic Rated Rookie logo and one on simulated baseballs), and this card looks like a dud.

Add in the autograph and it’s a total bomb.  J-stroke, dot, V-stroke, dot.  Look, I know these kids have a lot of autographs to sign, and nobody writes anything by hand anymore, but has it really come to this?  That’s not an autograph, those are initials.  I’m not expecting calligraphy or anything, but is it too much to ask for these guys to at least come up with a symbol they can draw?  I’ll even take a random scribble over something like this.  The autograph market is in trouble if the future holds nothing but simple initials.

Best Uniform Memorabilia Card

2012 Topps Triple Threads Unity Autographed Relic R.A. Dickey

Did you even need to ask?  They may not be big, but Dickey’s pants swatches are the only Mets pinstripe material from an active Mets player in 2012 and are the first Mets pinstripes from the last three seasons’ uniforms.  And he also threw a one-hitter wearing them.  There’s just no way to top that.

Best Patch Card

2012 Topps Update All-Star Jumbo Patch R.A. Dickey

A mockup of what this card sort of looks like

Dickey’s jumbo All-Star Patches are a thing of beauty, but being numbered to 6 has kept them from my hands (and scanner).  I’ve got the whole (non-Dickey-worn) jersey in my closet though, so I can make do without it.

Best Bat Card

2012 Topps Museum Collection Dual Jumbo Lumber Ike Davis David Wright

Bat cards aren’t that big of a draw anymore and in most cases are just variants of generic relic cards that may contain a piece of bat or jersey.  Museum Collection offered one of the only bat-only memorabilia inserts in its Jumbo Lumber relics.  Not only were these limited to bats specifically, but every piece was nice and big.  The dual version paired David Wright, the Mets’ lone representative in the single Jumbo Lumber relics, with Ike Davis.  For Ike, this was his first memorabilia card of the year.

Best Other Memorabilia Card

2011 Panini Limited Hard Hats Dwight Gooden

Panini was still stuck in 2011 in May of 2012 when they released Panini Limited, a product filled with interesting memorabilia cards like what Playoff/Donruss was known for.  Dwight Gooden was well-represented with bat, jersey, hat, and fielding glove pieces in addition to the (no pun intended) crown jewel: a piece of game-used helmet.  Helmet cards are extremely rare, somewhere between wristbands and catcher’s equipment.  This is the first MLB-worn helmet card from a Mets player (previous examples are all from the 2000 Futures Game) and may have been from a Mets helmet.  No pieces of the Helmet’s logo have surfaced, so we may never know for sure.

Worst Memorabilia Card

2012 Topps Triple Threads Relic Jose Reyes “Fresh Fish”

Really, Topps?  These lame attempts to be hip and quirky are why I can’t get behind Triple Threads as a product.  What’s next, referring to David Wright and his impending contract extension as “D-Money?”  Oh, right.  These stupid phrases are almost as idiotic as eBay sellers who think there are more than three pieces of memorabilia in them because of the windowing (hint: it’s called “Triple” Threads for a reason).

Autograph Product of the Year

2012 Topps Archives

The return of Topps Archives was one of the biggest card-related stories of the year and the product did not disappoint.  Picking up where the 2005 product left off, 2012 Archives was loaded with autographs from big stars and minor favorites alike, packing in autographs from 20 former Mets (Nolan Ryan and Willie Mays are not shown, for obvious reasons), all on-card except for Carter (for obvious reasons).

Honorable Mention – 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition

Yeah, Panini has a different kind of calendar.  This was one of the first new Panini baseball products and it got plenty of attention.  While Topps put autographs from the Mets’ top two 2011 draft picks in 2011 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects and moved on, Panini went with the top four, plus Phillip Evans.  Then they threw in Chris Schwinden for good measure.  Most of the autographs are on stickers (some of the Nimmos and Fulmers are the only ones that are on-card), but the unique player selection, die-cut parallels, and interesting ink variants more than make up for that.  Topps has shown no interest in autographs from “lesser” draft picks, so this would be a good niche for Panini to focus on.

Game-Used Product of the Year

2012 Topps Museum Collection

Great card design, lots of material variety, decent player selection.  I could go on, but what more is there to say?

Honorable Mention: 2012 Topps Triple Threads

I may not personally like the style and format of Triple Threads, but you can’t ignore the material.  So many players and so much new material are in this product that it always rates as one of the most significant products of the year.  But I’m still not giving it the top spot.