Category Archives: Game-Used

Best Mets Cards of 2013

Pitching dominates this year’s awards

It’s 2014, which means I’m running a bit behind on my 2013 wrap-up articles. The last few posts have covered most of the interesting cards from the last year, so now it’s time to narrow things down to just the best of the best so you don’t have to dig through 5,000 words for just the few things you’re interested in. Only 1,800 words…

Best Manufactured Material

2013 Topps Series 2 Tom Seaver Proven Mettle Coin

Not much has improved in this category since last year, so this award goes to a Seaver coin again. At least there was more player diversity this year and it wasn’t just all Seaver all the time.

Worst Manufactured Material

2013 Topps Pro Debut Travis d’Arnaud Hat Logo Patch

So many things are going on here, all of them wrong. Wrong team, wrong logo, wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t know what Topps was going for with this one, but it sure wasn’t anything that made sense.

Best Parallel Insert Set

2013 Topps Archives Orange Parallel

Last year, I went with the Archives gold parallel here. This year, Topps changed the formula and the gold parallel just didn’t look that good. The orange parallel on the other hand was something unique among the multitudes of parallels released in 2013. Available only one per pack in 25 cent Archives packs at participating hobby shops, these cards fluoresce in UV light. Unfortunately, I didn’t pull a single Met out of more than 100 packs and had to go to eBay for these…

Best Base Insert

2013 Bowman Inception Jose Reyes Sapphire Reprint

With parallels, autographs, game-used, and manufactured material accounting for most of the inserts out there, it can be hard to find contenders for this category. I found three: the Jose Reyes sapphire rookie reprint from Bowman Inception, the Tom Seaver Cut to the Chase die-cut chrome insert from Topps Series 2, and the Matt Harvey Prodigies die-cut refractor from Topps Finest. I’ll give Reyes the edge here, though it should be noted that a David Wright version could be found in Bowman Sterling (the Reyes looks better).

Best Rookie Card

2013 Panini Prizm Scott Rice

Five Mets had Rookie Cards in 2013: Jeurys Familia, Collin McHugh, Zack Wheeler, Scott Rice, and Juan Lagares. All of them had at least a Rookie Card (and all of the standard parallels) in base Topps except for Scott Rice. After 14 years in professional baseball, Rice made his MLB debut with the Mets in 2013 and received Rookie Cards in just 2013 Panini Prizm.

Best Sticker Autograph

2013 Topps Opening Day Mr. Met Mascot Autograph

An autograph from the best sports mascot ever? Nothing else even comes close.

Best On-Card Autograph

2011 Bowman Platinum Matt Harvey

How does a card from 2011 Bowman Platinum qualify for the 2013 awards? Well, when it takes two full years for the cards to just be signed, you can’t really call these 2011 autograph cards. Harvey autographs were some of the hottest cards released this year and none were dated 2013. It’s been a strange year.

If you insist on having autographs from the actual 2013 product year in this category, here are a few worth noting.  Shown here are the first Mets autographs from Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, the last Mets autograph from R.A. Dickey, and an autograph on a thick slab of clear plastic.

Worst Autograph

2013 Topps Series 2 Collin Cowgill Chasing History Autograph

Sticker autograph, photoshopped black jersey, player who was traded shortly after the card was released. And then Topps made a second attempt in Topps Update that at least fixed the jersey issue. This card has no reason to exist.

Best Uniform Memorabilia Card

2013 Topps Tier One Matt Harvey
2013 Topps Triple Threads Jeurys Familia
2013 Topps Five Star David Wright Jumbo Jersey (blue jersey variant)

Technically, this should probably go to the 2013 Topps Triple Threads Harvey/Wright/Wheeler triple jersey card, but that was out of my price range. Instead, have a bunch of blue jerseys. Except for the Wright, which I haven’t been able to get yet…

Best Patch Card

2012 Panini National Treasures Matt Harvey

Depending on the variant, this one could qualify for best jersey or patch. Either way, this is one of those cards that was a must-have regardless of the price before Harvey’s card prices went through the roof. Because now you sure can’t afford it.

Best Bat Card

2013 Topps Triple Threads R.A. Dickey

Bat cards just aren’t very common anymore. This year, the only Mets bat card worthy of this award isn’t a Mets bat card at all. R.A. Dickey’s first bat cards came after all of his cards had been changed over to the Blue Jays, but I’ll let that slide.

Worst Memorabilia Card

2013 Topps Triple Threads Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Poor Kirk Nieuwenhuis. After being all over 2012′s autograph and memorabilia cards, he found himself with very little MLB playing time in 2013 and far too many cards. He got September off after the AAA season ended and then had loads of memorabilia cards in Triple Threads. After already having triple jersey autograph cards in last year’s Triple Threads. As if the unnecessary Future Phenoms card weren’t enough, Nieuwenhuis had three single jersey autograph cards. The green jersey cards I can see, but everything else is just filler. I suppose it isn’t really fair to single out Kirk when so much of Triple Threads was unnecessary filler, but the award has to go to someone.

Best Hobby Shop Promotion

Panini Black Friday

Every year, card companies try to find ways to get people to visit their local hobby shops. 2013 was filled with various promotions, from the Topps Series 1 Spring Fever redemption packs to Panini’s Boxing Day packs. Topps Archives had the most with vintage card redemptions, 25 cent packs, and ’80s card redemption packs with Topps Series 2 base, blue sparkle, and silver slate parallels. The best of the bunch, as usual, was Panini’s Black Friday promotion that combines discounts on Panini products with bonus packs containing cards featuring some of the hottest players in four sports with parallels, autographs, and unique memorabilia. Matt Harvey was the lone Met featured in this promotion.

Best New Product

2013 Bowman Inception

Coming into 2013, I thought the last thing the hobby needed was another Bowman product. With five Bowman products on the market already, what more was there to cover? Bowman Inception brought premium thick autograph cards and no filler. All on-card autographs, no chipping problems, no base cards, and no chrome. In other words, something different. Travis d’Arnaud and Jeurys Familia are the only two Mets in the base autograph sets, about average for the 62 total cards between the rookie and prospect autographs. As an added bonus, Jose Reyes was also among the sapphire reprints in this product.

Most Improved Product

2013 Bowman Sterling

Elsewhere in the Bowman franchise, Sterling was in sorry shape in 2012. With some of the most boring and uninspired autograph cards on the market and little else going for it, Bowman Sterling was a product without a purpose. For 2013, Sterling kept much of the same structure as the previous year’s product with a few key changes. Autograph orientation switched from landscape to portrait, a minor change that greatly improved the design. Other design changes improved how the base cards scanned to the point that the signatures no longer blended into the background. The biggest change though was with the refractor parallels. 2012 Bowman Sterling had six refractor parallels and none between base refractors (numbered to 199) and gold refractors (numbered to 50). The 2013 edition reduced the numbering on base refractors (now numbered to 150) and added three tiers above gold: green (numbered to 125), ruby (numbered to 99), and orange (numbered to 75). Canary diamond print runs were also increased from 1 to 3 and 1/1 superfractors were added. On top of that, the autograph checklist was increased from 88 to 106 with the Mets representation including the first certified autographs from L.J. Mazzilli and the first Mets autographs from Noah Syndergaard. More players and more parallels with a better design made 2013 Bowman Sterling a welcome improvement over last year’s afterthought.

Most Disappointing Product

2013 Panini Hometown Heroes

I’m tempted here to go with 2013 Topps Finest, but at this point I have no expectations for a product with lots of history and no real direction. Panini Hometown Heroes on the other hand was a new product that promised a new take on the formula that brought us Topps Archives and Leaf Memories. What it delivered was a bland design filled with autographs that have been done better by Topps over the last two years. While it did bring a few new or hard-to-find autographs, the design deficiencies made it hard to get excited about any of them.

Autograph Product of the Year

2013 Topps Archives

No surprises here. With 15 former Mets in the Fan Favorites Autographs set, including 8 shown as Mets (and the first autographs from Keith Miller), nothing else comes close. What’s even more impressive is that Topps featured an entirely new group of autographs in the second year of the new incarnation of Archives, for a total of 32 former Mets (15 shown as Mets) over two years of Fan Favorites Autographs. That’s still well under ten percent of the former Mets with certified autograph cards, so there’s plenty of room for next year’s Archives to keep the streak going.

Honorable Mention

2013 Leaf Memories

Leaf is no slouch in the autograph department and Leaf Memories combines 1990-style autographs from their three prospects, Rafael Montero, Domingo Tapia, and Dominic Smith, with buyback autographs from players from the 1980s and early 1990s. Among the buyback autographs are the first from Kevin Elster and Rick Aguilera, plus countless favorites from some of the best Mets teams in recent memory. Well, relatively recent at least. The large number of redemption cards though keeps Leaf Memories from threatening to dethrone Archives.

Game-Used Product of the Year

2013 Topps Museum Collection

Now in its third year (though only its second under the Museum Collection brand), some of the shine is beginning to wear off Topps Museum Collection. It has all of the memorabilia variety we’ve come to expect: jumbo jersey and bat relics, autographed memorabilia cards, quad relics, four-player relics, etc. This year, the highlights were jumbo bat cards from Darryl Strawberry, autographed double and triple memorabilia cards from R.A. Dickey, and jumbo Matt Harvey jersey cards. Jumbo jerseys from Johan Santana and Ike Davis weren’t quite as exciting and the usual assortment from David Wright seemed like a repeat of last year. Still, this year’s cards sold better than last year’s counterparts, which may be why I wasn’t quite as interested in them this year.

Honorable Mention

2012 Panini National Treasures

As usual, nothing could match the quality and player/material diversity of Museum Collection. Panini made a good showing though with 2012 Panini National Treasures. With autographed jersey and patch cards from Dwight Gooden, David Wright, Matt Harvey, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, plus various booklets featuring Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, and David Wright and plenty of other former Mets like Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Keith Hernandez, and Jose Reyes featured in the other memorabilia sets, it should be obvious why National Treasures was a big hit.

Mets Game-Used History: 1998 to 2000

The awkward early years in the growth of a new fad

After the first three jersey cards debuted in 1997 Upper Deck, this new type of insert took some time to develop into the hobby mainstay it has been ever since 2001.  The intermediate period of 1998 to 2000 brought several key developments that refined and expanded the game-used memorabilia offerings in baseball products.  At the start though, the Mets weren’t part of the story.

1998

Upper Deck was all about more in 1998.  Not only did the base Upper Deck product add a third series, but each series had a separate game-used memorabilia insert set.  Series 1 introduced game-used bat cards in addition to jersey cards.  Series 2 combined the two and introduced the first combo memorabilia cards with a piece of bat and a piece of jersey in every card.  Series 3 used the same style as the Series 2 set only without the bat chips.  No Mets were featured in any of those sets, so Gary Sheffield is shown as a stand-in with his bat and jersey cards from 1998 Upper Deck Series 1 and his bat/jersey card from 1998 Upper Deck Series 2.

The construction of these cards is worth noting.  Like the 1997 jersey cards, the 1998 jersey cards feature a swatch of cloth sandwiched between two thin pieces of cardboard.  The bat cards on the other hand use only a single piece of thin cardboard with the bat chip glued on top.  The bat/jersey combo cards use both methods, with the large jersey sections inserted between the pieces of cardboard and the bat chip glued onto the top piece, putting each piece of game-used material on a different layer.  This would be the last time that thin cardboard would be used in memorabilia cards.

1999

The other major development in 1998 was the trade that brought Mike Piazza to Queens.  With memorabilia cards still largely limited to major stars (and, apparently, Bubba Trammell), Piazza gave the Mets their best chance to break into some of the various sets released in 1999.  In addition to the 1999 Upper Deck Game Jersey card, Piazza also had the first Mets bat cards in UD MVP and UD Ovation.  And that was about it for the Mets in 1999.

So how about some ex-Mets?  Nolan Ryan and Eddie Murray were among the retired players with memorabilia cards in 1999.  Plain white swatches aren’t very exciting these days, but there wasn’t much more than that back then.  In fact, 1999 was the only year without a pinstripe jersey card from a current, future, or former Met.

But we did get a black jersey card from future forgotten Met Bubba Trammell.  And a Mo Vaughn bat card because, sure, why not?  Not all memorabilia cards in 1999 were this boring, thankfully.  New sources of material were starting to make their way into cards.

In 1997, we got the first jersey cards.  In 1998, we got the first bat cards.  And in 1999, memorabilia cards further expanded into hats and shoes.  Also new to memorabilia cards was Fleer with the first such cards to come from a manufacturer other than Upper Deck.  By now, it was clear what direction the hobby was headed in.

2000

There were plenty more firsts for Mets memorabilia in 2000.  The 2000 product year started with some big new Mike Piazza cards, including the first Mets patch card in 2000 Upper Deck Series 1 and a card in the first multi-level parallel memorabilia set in 2000 UD Black Diamond (single, double, and triple bat cards, single is shown above).  This year though, Piazza was not alone.

Robin Ventura joined Piazza in representing the Mets in 2000′s memorabilia inserts.  In addition to the now-usual bat and jersey cards, Ventura was featured on several autographed memorabilia cards.  In another first, Ventura also had the first Mets hat card in 2000 Skybox Dominion (not shown).

The final first from 2000 features a name that you might not remember.  Jorge Toca had an MLB career that spanned just 27 plate appearances over three seasons.  So it should come as no surprise that this piece of bat was from a minor league game.  Still, this is the first Mets minor league memorabilia card.

Outside of Mets cards, many familiar players were featured on game-used memorabilia cards in 2000, particularly in Upper Deck’s largest-ever Game Jersey set.  The memorabilia card was becoming so popular in fact that manufacturers were looking for more types of material to put into it.

And that brings us to the first memorabilia cards featuring items that aren’t linked to one specific player.  When it comes to common items used in baseball games, nothing is as prolific as the game’s namesake.  Dozens of baseballs are used in every MLB game for a total of more than 125,000 used every year.  Linking them to a specific player though can be a bit tricky.  The card above claims that the swatches are from balls that were used by Piazza and Ventura, respectively, but with an average lifespan of 6 pitches, does that even matter?  Even if the balls were used by these players, it may have been for only a few seconds.  This marked the start of memorabilia cards featuring all sorts of things used in games, from bases and on deck circles to walls and seats to dirt.  The memorabilia card’s evolution had only just begun.

The Essentials: 2013 Mets Game-Used

The year in tiny pieces of fabric

A lot of baseball cards have been released in 2013.  Between Topps (MLB and MLBPA licenses), Panini (MLBPA license), Leaf (no licenses), and Upper Deck (MLBPA license but strict MLB oversight), more than 40 baseball products have been released this year.  So which cards stand out from the rest?  To answer that question, we’ll break down the key Mets cards from 2013 in The Essentials.

Game-used memorabilia cards have been a popular mainstay in the hobby for over a decade, but the concept seems to have gotten stale in recent years.  Gone are the days when anything a player wore, touched, or even saw at a game could be found embedded in a cardboard slab.  Today, cards are mostly limited to swatches of fabric or wood with little to identify where they came from.  Luckily, you have this site to use as a reference for all your fabric identification needs.  Or at least you will whenever I finish scanning and cataloging all of this stuff.  Which is to say, likely never.  At the very least though, I can walk you through the new and notable material of 2013.

Mets Patches

Let’s start with the big stuff – patches.  Patch cards are somewhat hard to find these days, particularly ones with great big interesting patch pieces like this card:

I’m a sucker for sleeve patches, especially when so much of one is contained on one card.  Unfortunately, most of the Mets patches in circulation are tiny nondescript scraps from numbers or the team name.  Panini probably did it best this year with the patches in 2012 National Treasures.

Not only do these have nice big chunks of patch, but they also feature on-card autographs.  Since they’re dated 2012, they are also sort of rookie cards, though the jury’s still out on that one.  While not all of the 135 copies of each (99 + 25 + 10 + 1) have patch swatches, a significant number do, putting these at some of the most prolific patches of 2013.  And for Matt Harvey, some of the most valuable.

And then there’s Dickey.  Building on the pinstripe swatches first seen in last year’s Triple Threads, R.A. Dickey had Mets patches released in several products in 2013.  Above are pieces of the “NEW YORK” from the road gray jersey (left) and the “KID 8″ sleeve patch worn in honor of Gary Carter (right).  Dickey would also have a few pieces of Blue Jays patch (from a camouflage jersey) in 2013 Triple Threads.

Jeurys Familia and Zack Wheeler are the final Mets with their first Mets patches in 2013.  I’m still working on getting the Wheeler though…

Piping

One step down from a patch is a strip of piping.  For pants swatches (which are what the white Niuewenhuis swatches appear to be), this is about as exciting as things get.  R.A. Dickey, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Matt Harvey all had a few piping cards for the first time in 2013.  Nieuwenhuis’s are some of the largest strips I’ve seen in cards.

Multicolor Swatches

Matt Harvey’s jersey swatches in 2012 Panini National Treasures were from his 1989 throwback jersey, which means lots of multicolor swatches from the racing stripe on the sides and shoulders.  One more reason why National Treasures was such a big hit, shame about the smudged signature…

Stripes

Zack Wheeler is the latest test subject for the Curse of the Pinstripes.  Will he pitch in 2014?  Only time will tell.

The Blues

With the 2012 batting practice jersey now retired and a new version, similar to the 2013 AL All-Star workout jersey, due in 2014, we’ve gotten a few more swatches from these jerseys in 2013.  David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, and maybe Zack Wheeler joined Jordany Valdespin with this type of fabric.  Matt Harvey also had a few mesh variants in 2013 Topps Tier One.

Green

The big surprise in 2013 Topps Triple Threads was the first swatch of green fabric from a St. Patrick’s Day spring training jersey.  From Kirk Nieuwenhuis.  At least it’s from someone who’s still with the organization, I guess.

2013 World Baseball Classic

Interestingly, some of the most common patches in 2013 were from the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Seven Mets were featured in the 2013 Topps Tribute WBC patch set: David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jae Seo.

2013 All-Star Game

As usual, Topps Update featured swatches from the workout jerseys from the 2013 All-Star Game held at Citi Field.  The Mets were represented by David Wright and Matt Harvey, with Carlos Beltran and Marco Scutaro also on the NL team (Bartolo Colon will be the Mets representative from the AL team when he gets his first start with the team in 2014).  The jerseys prominently feature Mets colors with orange front panels, orange mesh back panels, and blue mesh side panels.  Swatches from all three types of fabric were included in the All-Star Stitches inserts in Topps Update and Topps Chrome update.

2012 Futures Game

Last year, only the primary fabrics from the 2012 Futures Game jerseys worn by Wilmer Flores (World) and Zack Wheeler (USA) were featured in the various memorabilia cards commemorating the event.  The secondary fabrics, gray/gray mesh for the World team and white/white mesh for the USA team, made their way into circulation in several products in 2013.  Unfortunately, being so generic makes identifying the plain white and gray swatches a bit difficult, especially for Wheeler, who had fabric from several different jerseys released in 2013.

2013 Futures Game

The 2013 Futures Game featured two Mets pitchers (Noah Syndergaard for the USA team and Rafael Montero for the World team) as the starters, which was perfect for a game at the Mets’ home stadium.  Outfielder Brandon Nimmo was elected by the fans as the final member of the USA team (before injury replacements were made).  Only Nimmo and Montero were featured in the Futures Game jersey cards in 2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects, and with only the primary fabric.  The status of Syndergaard’s jersey is unknown.

Other MLB Fabric

On the more boring side of things, several Mets had their first jersey cards featuring plain swatches from white or gray MLB jerseys this year.  R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Zack Wheeler all had a variety of white and gray fabric released in 2013.

Other Stuff

Several (well, two at least) players who were new to the Mets in 2013 and are now gone had memorabilia cards released in 2013 showing them as Mets.  None of the material is from a Mets jersey; Marcum’s is probably from Brewers jerseys and Byrd’s is from a Cubs jersey.

Bats

Rounding out the year’s significant memorabilia cards are a bunch of bat cards.  R.A. Dickey had his first bat cards in Topps Triple Threads, shown in a Blue Jays uniform.  2013 15th-round draft pick Colton Plaia had a Team USA bat card in Panini USA Baseball Champions.  And that’s a nice Darryl Strawberry bat card, so let’s close out this year’s memorabilia on that.

Five Must-Have Mets Cards

Cornerstones of any Mets collection

You know, I’m not doing enough fluff pieces on here.  While I continue to scan cards for some more significant pieces, here’s a quick look at a few nice Mets cards.  If you want to berate me for not including any cards from Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, David Wright, or Victor Zambrano, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions.  Maybe I’ll even throw another of these together to fill space sometime.

1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey Rey Ordonez GJ3

There are few more significant jersey cards in baseball card history than Ordonez’s 1997 Game Jersey insert.  Actually, there are two, number GJ1 and number GJ2 from this set.  Ordonez is the odd man out in the debut jersey card set behind Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Gwynn.  Still, this is the first piece of Mets jersey issued in a baseball card and helped to usher in a new era of collecting.

2000 Upper Deck Game Jersey Patch Mike Piazza P-MP

While Rey Ordonez has the distinction of having the first Mets jersey card, Mike Piazza became the first Met with a patch card in 2000 (let’s not talk about 1998 and 1999, at least not until I finish the next Mets Game-Used History segment).  Nearly impossible to pull at the time, this card still commands a decent price despite the multitude of Piazza patch cards on the market.  There’s only one first and this one is it.  Piazza has gone on to have countless patch cards released and more than 60 other Mets players have joined him.

2001 Upper Deck Signed Game Jersey Nolan Ryan Mets H-NRm

Nolan Ryan may be one of the biggest stars to come up through the Mets system, but he didn’t really do much as a Met. That doesn’t stop the card companies from celebrating Ryan’s time on the team though. Pieces of one of Ryan’s Mets jerseys (flannel pinstripes) began showing up in cards as early as 2000, typically depicting him in a Rangers uniform. Upper Deck gave all of Ryan’s teams their proper respect in 2001′s Game Jersey inserts. Between the base jersey, signed jersey, and dual jersey inserts, Ryan was featured in every uniform with pieces from the appropriate jersey. This Mets version includes a large (by today’s standards) swatch of pinstriped jersey with an on-card autograph. Short of an autographed Mets patch card (see 2011 Topps), this is about as good as it gets for Ryan memorabilia.

2010 Upper Deck A Piece of History 500 Club Gary Sheffield 500HR-GS

Gary Sheffield became the first player to hit his 500th home run as a Met in 2009 and Upper Deck commemorated it in 2010 with the final entry (so far) in the A Piece of History 500 Club bat card insert set. As with the other cards in this product, the card features barely cropped and/or obscured logos, which Upper Deck was not allowed to use. The product may have doomed Upper Deck, but this card remains a key piece of Mets history.

2011 Topps Marquee Titanic Threads Jumbo Relics Carlos Beltran TTJR-69

Released after Beltran had been traded to the Giants, this card might seem a bit out of place.  Its significance however cannot be overstated.  The included jersey swatch, big enough to feature three pinstripes on some versions, isn’t notable just because Carlos Beltran wore it.  The Beltran jersey cards in this product are in fact the only cards to feature a piece of Mets pinstripe jersey worn between about 2009 and 2011.  All others are either from before the recessed mesh style Cool Base jerseys were adopted or after the Cool Base formula changed to a more standard weave for the 2012 season.

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.

2012 Mets Baseball Card Year in Review

At long last, I have Dickey pants

If you were looking for Mets pinstripe jersey cards this year, your only options for the bulk of the season were pieces from Gary Carter and Dwight Gooden.  In fact, the last few years have been pretty barren for Mets pinstripes from active players, with just Carlos Beltran in 2011 and Johan Santana in 2010.  No pieces from the pinstripe jerseys worn in 2010 (cream) or 2011 (ivory) have been released in cards.  On that second point, nothing changed in 2012.  The good news is that R.A. Dickey is here to save the hobby.

Not content to merely conquer mountains, books, movies, and that whole pitching thing, Dickey provided Topps with the material to produce the first pinstriped memorabilia card of an active Mets player since Santana in 2010.  And this wasn’t just any old memorabilia, it was his pants from his second consecutive no-hitter, complete with distinctive dirt stains.  On top of that, he also signed a couple thousand autograph stickers to be put on these and future cards.  This is why everyone loves Dickey.

The Mets Have the Blues

Perhaps the biggest news in Port St. Lucie this spring wasn’t related to the players but instead what they were wearing.  The Mets had tried to get an alternate blue jersey added for 2012 but failed to get the design approved in time.  As a consolation, MLB waived its usual requirement that all batting practice jerseys must be some sort of two-tone abomination and let the Mets use an all-blue version of the new style batting practice jersey (first seen at the 2011 All-Star event).  Jordany Valdespin became the first Met to have one of these jerseys released one piece at a time in Topps Finest.

While Valdespin was alone with this year’s batting practice jersey, several other players had pieces of blue recessed mesh material from previous years’ batting practice jerseys or Los Mets jerseys released in 2012 products.  Jose Reyes and Dillon Gee made their blue debuts in Topps Museum Collection, Angel Pagan debuted in Topps Allen & Ginter’s, and Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole rounded out the group in Topps Triple Threads.

And the Black Came Back

2012 was a landmark year in black removal for the Mets with the banishment of drop shadows, hybrid blue/black hats, and black socks and undershirts.  One area they fell short in though was the elimination of the black alternate jersey.  This jersey made one appearance in 2012 as part of a tribute to John Franco, whose Mets tenure, it should be pointed out, long predates the sad day when someone thought that black would good on the Mets.  The black uniform just won’t die though (it has been confirmed to be in the mix for 2013) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis made his jersey debut with pieces from a black jersey which, if Topps is being honest, must be from the Franco game.  I feel the urge to burn these cards, but I’m not ready to part with some of the dozens of Nieuwenhuis autograph cards I got this year.  Tip for Kirk: learn to sign with your right hand.  At this rate, Topps will burn you out before the Mets get a chance to.

And a Touch of Gray

While this year’s gray road jerseys looked sharp, I doubt the pieces embedded in cards will be any more exciting than the usual boring gray swatches we’ve been seeing for years.  Like the blue and black before them, three players appeared in Mets gray for the first time: Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, and Daniel Murphy.  Duda’s was his first-ever game-used, Murphy’s was his first-ever jersey (likely pants though), and Tejada’s was, along with his blue jerseys, his first MLB-worn material (his previous game-used pieces are from a WBC jersey), though I only ever saw one card with a gray swatch (possible Topps mix-up?).

Patches

Rounding out this year’s game-used newcomers (nobody had their first bat cards this year) are Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, and Lucas Duda with their first Mets patch cards and Daniel Murphy with his first piping cards.

Back in April, I picked Ruben Tejada, R.A. Dickey, Lucas Duda, Chris Schwinden, Bobby Parnell, Mike Baxter, and Daniel Murphy to get some new memorabilia cards this year.  Tejada (jersey/patch), Dickey (pants), Duda (jersey/patch), and Murphy (jersey/piping) all delivered, Parnell and Baxter could be in the mix for next year, and Schwinden is probably off the radar after his waiver claim whirlwind tour of AAA that ended back where it began.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin exceeded expectations with jersey and patch cards released in their rookie years.  I have to give Topps credit, they turned out material from these guys much faster than I thought they would.

Stars Past, Present, and Future

The All-Star event is always a good source of new memorabilia and this year’s didn’t disappoint.  David Wright and R.A. Dickey were the only Mets on the NL All-Star team, with Beltran joining them as an ex-Met.  For the second year in a row, no former or (as of yet) future Mets were on the AL All-Star team.  Unlike last year, secondary colors were not mixed in with the primary color swatches (except in a couple of three-player cards), so we only got three blue jersey cards.  And a few outstanding jumbo patches.  With “few” meaning 6 of each player.  Sadly, this put them out of my price range (the authentic jerseys cost far less and have all of the patches, though not event-worn).  I miss the days of All-Star patch cards numbered to 100…

Over in Futures land, the Mets sent a pair of players to make their second appearance at the event.  Wilmer Flores (2009 World Team) and Zack Wheeler (2010 USA Team) went back for a second time as their days in the minors wind down.  Patch cards here were somewhat more plentiful, though Wheeler’s haven’t hit the secondary market in quantity yet (I’ve only seen two put up for sale out of the 35 total made).  As with the All-Star jersey cards, secondary colors have yet to appear.

Well, for the 2012 Futures Game at least.  2012 Topps Pro Debut featured cards with primary and secondary color swatches from 2011 Futures Game jerseys (Matt Harvey and Jefry Marte).  A few patch cards also appeared in a couple of products.  2011 All-Star jersey patch cards from David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran were released in 2012 Topps Series 1 and 2012 Topps Triple Threads, though all were numbered to 9 or 1.

Elsewhere in MLB

Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes suited up with new teams this year and both had new memorabilia from their post-Mets days released in 2012.  Beltran started the year with jumbo jersey cards from a Giants uniform in Topps Museum Collection and finished it with jersey and patch pieces from a Cardinals jersey in Topps Triple Threads.  Reyes’s Marlins spring training jersey made its way into Topps Triple Threads with black, black mesh, and orange mesh jersey pieces and a few patch cards.

Oh, and there was a massive scandal involving the sale of fake game-used memorabilia to all three major card manufacturers.  The manufacturers have been silent on this issue.

Heavy Metal

Let’s face it, game-used material in baseball cards is getting boring.  Other sports have things like lacing or material other than fabric and wood, but the best MLB can do is patches, tags, bat knobs, and bat name plates.  It doesn’t help that most of the jerseys in MLB are white, gray, or black; say what you will about Oakland’s yellow jerseys, but they’re certainly not boring.

With game-used material failing to excite the masses, Topps has turned to manufactured material to add some variety to its relic offerings.  Past offerings have brought us patches, hat logos, and poorly-received glove leather, but Topps went in a different direction in 2012.  This year, Topps introduced four types of metal manufactured material cards, all in its mainline product.  The pins and rings are missing the parts that would make them pins and rings (pointy bits and, um, rings, respectively), but the coins are complete double-sided medallions.  The Hall of Fame plaques turned out to be some of the best metal cards produced, even though they don’t look much like the actual plaques.  Tom Seaver is the Mets’ lone representative in most of these sets, with a Darryl Strawberry pin card being the only exception.

Topps brought logo patches to the minors in this year’s Pro Debut and Heritage Minor League.  The Mets had representatives from their four highest-level minor league teams, though the two from Heritage Minor League came as redemptions that didn’t get sent out until late December.  I guess it’s better than that 2011 Bowman Platinum Matt Harvey Autograph I’m still waiting for…

Speaking of autographs, Panini isn’t going to be left out of this.  2012 Panini Signature included three different manufactured material autographs from three Mets.  It’s not quite Sweet Spot, but it’s a promising start.

Partying Like It’s 1969

The return of Topps Archives was one of the high points of 2012 and it came with an outstanding autograph set.  In fact, a set of retired player on-card autographs like this hasn’t been seen since Archives last appeared in 2005.  While the 2012 product can’t rival 2005′s list of Mets, it still featured seven Mets and several more former Mets shown in other uniforms (most notably Jose Oquendo on nine different cards, one for each position he played in a single game).  Among those are 1969 Mets Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, and Ed Kranepool, back after an absence of several years.  Kranepool later appeared on more on-card autograph cards in Topps Tier One and sticker autograph cards in Topps Update.

Justin Turner Auto Time

Also appearing on a sticker autograph in Topps Update is Justin Turner.  Turner, best known for being the guy who pies people after walkoff wins, received his first game-used jersey card at the very end of 2011 in Bowman Sterling.  He follows that up in 2012 with his first certified autograph card.

Inked

Several other Mets had certified autograph cards for the first time in 2012.  Chris Schwinden started things off in 2011 Panini Donruss Elite Extra Edition alongside several 2011 draft picks.  Jordany Valdespin became the first Met with a 2012 Bowman autograph with a sticker autograph in Bowman retail packs (sadly, no Mets were featured in the chrome on-card autographs in Bowman and Bowman Chrome).  2012 draft picks Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki rounded out the meager Mets offerings in Bowman with chrome autographs in Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects and Bowman Sterling.

Topps Heritage, as usual, added autographs from several Mets from the 1960s: Craig Anderson, Chico Fernandez, Ed Bauta, and Hobie Landrith.

Topps Breaks the Ice with a New Wave of Refractors

I am so sorry for that.  With such a limited selection of parallels between the various colored borders, colored border refractors, atomic refractors, xfractors, and superfractors, Topps was in dire need of something new.  Enter the ice parallels (base Bowman) and wave refractors (Bowman Chrome), both with serial numbered color variants of their own.  Topps leads the way in making the same card as many times as possible.

Bonus!

Everybody loves free packs, so I was glad to see that all three major manufacturers found ways to deliver added value through extra packs (though only two of them featured baseball cards).

Upper Deck had the only true “free” offering with its National Hockey Card Day packs, now available south of the (Canadian) border.  It seems like not many people knew about it in the US, because I was the first person to ask about it in one shop and the second shop gave me four packs because of the amount they had left at the end of the day.  With a 15-card set, 5 5-card packs should have been enough to get close to completing the set.  If not for another colossal Upper Deck collation screw-up.  The 5 packs only had 8 different cards, with the same two cards on the top in each pack.  Upper Deck has acknowledged the problem and claims that it will be corrected when they bring the promotion back in 2013, which may happen before the 2012-2013 NHL season starts.

Panini continues to endear itself to collectors through frequent promotional giveaways, though none of them applied to baseball until their Black Friday promotion, which featured players from all four sports.  With a free pack of two Black Friday cards for every $10 spent on boxes of Panini products, it didn’t take much to get quite a haul.  The packs featured the biggest rookies and stars in each sport and mixed in cracked ice parallels, autographs, and memorabilia cards.  It was hard not to like what came out of these packs, even if you don’t follow the other sports.  I traded away my biggest pull, an Anthony Davis serial numbered rookie card, for a couple of Mike Trout rookies; my packs had no baseball cards but were loaded with basketball, so I traded with a basketball collector who opened his packs in the shop at the same time.  I can’t wait to see what Panini has in store for 2013, they made collecting fun again in 2012.

And then there’s Topps.  Topps had various promotions in 2012, but no real giveaways; everything was an exchange, either in-store card exchanges or wrapper redemptions.  Four products featured mail-in wrapper redemptions: Topps Series 1, Topps Series 2, Bowman, and Bowman Chrome.  For the Topps line, the redemptions were for packs of Gold Rush cards, which also included autographed (sticker) versions numbered to 100.  For Bowman, the redemptions were for packs of blue wave refractors, with autographed versions numbered to 50 and red wave parallels numbered to 50.  I skipped Topps Series 1 but sent in for the others, with mixed results.  The Topps Series 2 Gold Rush packs were a total bust, with only 6 different cards between two 5-card packs (the duplicates were even in the same order, indicating a fixed pack-out sequence and an offset of just one position between the two packs).  Bowman was the big winner, with four boxes bringing back four 5-card packs loaded with prospects, with one red wave refractor and one autograph.  Bowman Chrome had half the return with four boxes only bringing back two packs with a low value autograph being the only big card.  Overall, that’s a pretty good bonus, but I could do without the Gold Rush packs (should have just sold the packs…).

Farewells

Now the hard part.  Several Mets have turned in their pinstripes in 2012, though I expect it will take a few months for the cards to catch up.

After suffering a season-ending injury at the start of the 2012 season, Mike Pelfrey was non-tendered and signed with the Twins in the offseason.  Pelfrey hasn’t been relevant in cards for several years, but he was still a reliable starter and will be missed.

The same can’t be said for Jason Bay, who was released on a largely deferred buyout after his third disappointing season with the Mets.  He didn’t have any premium cards in 2012, but he was still inexplicably featured as a short print in Topps Heritage and one of only three Mets in the Topps Opening Day set.  He signed with the Mariners and we wish him the best.

With Bay gone, the Mets had an opening for a right-handed outfielder.  Their solution?  Trade Jefry Marte for Collin Cowgill.  Marte last played at the AA level as a third baseman, so he was expendable.  He signed a ball for me at a Binghamton Mets game, so I’m a little bit sad to see him go.

The Mets have been sorely lacking in offensive production at the catcher position, so changes needed to be made.  A late-season deal sent Rule 5 pickup Pedro Beato to the Red Sox for Kelly Shoppach.  Shoppach himself was then let go in free agency.  Mike Nickeas was lost and reacquired as a minor league free agent before being traded with Josh Thole to the Blue Jays for catchers John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud (among others).  Thole outperformed expectations with the Mets but lost all of his power after a collision at the plate left him with a concussion.  Mike Nickeas didn’t fare any better at the major league level but excelled in AAA.  You hate to see guys like this leave, but changes needed to be made.

Oh, right, the centerpiece of the above trade was none other than Mets ace and Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.  Dickey started 2012 a fan favorite and ended it a folk hero, outshining Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.  Unfortunately, his stellar performance and reasonable contract made him a prime trade chip, especially when the available pitching dried up and the Blue Jays needed an ace to have a chance at the suddenly wide-open AL East.  With the best catching prospect in baseball and an overpaid Marlins castoff among their ranks, they had what it took to make a Dickey deal inevitable.  And they also threw in a top pitching prospect and a young promising outfielder.  Losing Dickey is tough, but you can’t not make that deal.  Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.  I won’t be upset if Topps takes a few months to update Dickey’s team affiliation.

A few other faces from 2012 won’t be back in 2013, though it might take a while for the offseason to shake things out.  Andres Torres has moved on and Kelly Shoppach probably won’t be back.  Update: Looks like I left Omar Quintanilla out, but he’s now back with the Mets so that one’s moot.  I also forgot about Miguel Batista, but we all forgot about Miguel Batista (or at least we try to).

Hails

After losing 88 games, the Mets needed to make some serious changes.  As of the end of 2012 though, they’re really no better off going into 2013 than they were a year earlier.  Beyond that though, the farm system is looking better, so that’s something.  It’s going to be a long 2013.

Travis d’Arnaud was the centerpiece of the Toronto side of the Dickey trade, but his card history is nothing special, just a jersey card in 2011 Topps Heritage Minor League Edition and some autographs.  He was selected to appear in the 2012 Futures Game but did not attend due to injury, so there’s no memorabilia from that.

Noah Syndergaard adds yet another interesting pitcher to a single A level that is loaded with pitching.  Even though he’s still a few years out, he already has a couple of autograph cards.

John Buck was the big haul in the Dickey trade, from a card perspective at least.  Despite not having a superstar pedigree, he hits on pretty much every type of memorabilia: autograph, Futures Game (2002 USA Team), All-Star (2010 AL), colored jersey (blue Royals), pinstripe jersey (Astros), patch (Astros), bat, fielding glove, catcher’s equipment, etc.  Interestingly, much of his memorabilia is from the Astros even though he never appeared in an official Astros game (spring training?).  At a total value of 7.25 GU, Buck rates as the best acquisition since Gary Sheffield, who came in at more than double Buck’s mark.

Needing a big righty bat in the outfield, the Mets dealt surplus third base prospect Jefry Marte to Oakland for outfielder Collin Cowgill.  Don’t everyone get excited at once.  It’s an upgrade, but the outfield looked terrible beforehand.  Sadly, I pulled one of his autographs from 2012 Topps Chrome and sold it on eBay for $0.99.  Crap.  I really need to hang on to more of these worthless autographs.

In Memorium

Several former Mets passed on in 2012, but one has been a major fixture in the hobby for many years.  As I covered previously, Gary Carter has been one of the most prominent Mets in game-used and autograph cards since 1999.  He will undoubtedly be remembered in cards for many years to come.