Monday, October 2, 2017

Minor league cards get it right

If you're a team collector, you have to ask yourself what the heck you're doing with modern cards.

Topps hasn't issued a legitimate team set since the Total days. Even their "team sets" that you can find in the card aisle or at the ballpark feature around 16 players. What team has just 16 players?

One brand after another gives a limited view of the makeup of each respective team. Some do a better job than others. Heritage might do it best, but even Heritage needs a "High Numbers set" to finish the task and it still remains incomplete.

Meanwhile, there are complete team sets sitting at ballpark souvenir stands (or at the online shop if you  insist) across the country. Minor league team sets provide a much more complete look at a team than Topps has offered for decades. Minor league team sets fit the spirit of team collecting.

I recently received two minor league team sets of the Dodgers' Triple A team, the Oklahoma City Dodgers, from my OKC Dodgers' source, Cardboard Catastrophes. Jeff does a good job and I appreciate it.

The sets were the OKC sets from the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The Cody Bellinger card you see up top is the pre-pre-rookie card of this year's NL Rookie of the Year.

Each set was 38 cards strong. Thirty-eight! That automatically makes any major league team set a joke. Choice Baseball Cards, which I believe manufactures most of the minor league sets these days, is eating Topps' lunch when it comes to team sets.

I'm not going to show every card from each set, but it's pretty clear that each set contains just about every player to put on an OKC Dodgers uniform the last two years.

The 2016 set, which I like better than the 2017 set because of its crisp white design and its familiar head shot-action shot combo, includes players who contributed quite a bit to this year's L.A. Dodgers 104-win team.

These guys from the 2017 OKC set, although not as valuable as Bellinger, also pitched in for L.A. this year.

Each set also contains fringe major leaguers that only a Dodger fan like me would know appeared for L.A. the last two seasons.

Each set also contains a player that gained the Dodgers a key part of the puzzle this season. Zach Lee landed the Dodgers Chris Taylor, probably L.A.'s most valuable player not named Kershaw, Bellinger, Turner or Jansen. And Calhoun was traded so the Dodgers could insert Yu Darvish into the starting rotation. There's also a Jose DeLeon card in the 2016 set, but I think some L.A. fans still may be too upset over Logan Forsythe's performance.

And each set features a card of Julio Urias. If he had stayed healthy the Dodgers may not have needed to obtain Darvish.

Minor league cards feature a great deal of fun, from big-time prospects like Alex Verdugo (I had no idea his arms were so tatted) to washed-up Mets like Ike Davis.

There is so much in these things that the best word I can come up for them is "thorough."

Take a look at the breakdown:

2016 set

15 pitchers
7 infielders
4 outfielders
4 catchers

2017 set

14 pitchers
7 infielders
5 outfielders
4 catchers

If I have a quibble, it's that the infield positions aren't broken down into 1B, 2B, SS, 3B.

But the sets make up for that by including:

Manager cards!

Every team set should have manager cards. He's part of the team!

Of course, OKC goes farther than that. Each set also contains a card for the pitching coach, hitting coach and a general "coach." Each set also has a card for the trainer, and the 2016 set has a card for the "strength coach" while the 2017 set has a card for the "performance coach."

But this has been the pattern for minor league cards for decades. While Topps has slowly pulled away from trying to include most of the players on each team, minor league sets have stayed the same. When I obtained a minor league set for the Niagara Falls Rapids in 1989 (the first baseball team I covered), it featured just about every player along with the manager, a coach, a trainer and the general manager.

Plus, because it's the minors, we get cards of mascots!

This is how you do a team set.

I would love for Topps to dedicate a similar amount of cards to each team in at least one of its sets. I don't need coach cards or mascot cards, but I also don't need multiple cards of the same player. Thirty-one cards (30 players and a manager) for each MLB team comes out to 930 cards. Throw in some league leaders and a couple extras and I wouldn't mind a 1,000-card set if it was built that way.

I'm sure nobody who matters is listening. Too focused on how to get 26 Cody Bellinger cards into next year's flagship set.

But that's OK.

The minor leagues are listening.


  1. I have to agree here.. I recently got two sets of Winnipeg Goldeyes from 2009 and 2010 and they're amazing.. I have a couple Lansing Lugnuts sets coming too.. Can't wait to see what they're like..

  2. That 2016 set looks almost like a high-end set - unusually slick for such a release! Minor league cards absolutely rock and I can't go to a minor league park without picking at least one set up.

  3. That prospector central note you sent me makes a lot more sense now. Welcome to the darkside NO.

  4. Minor league sets are fun. I picked up a few at MiLB parks in Texas over the past couple of years.

    I know you're not alone in wanting a more complete Flagship set but that might entail Topps cutting back on Heritage gum-stain-action-photo-missing-cyan-plate-blank-back variations so it ain't gonna happen.

  5. Yes! That is the way it should be done. I like how choice blatantly knocks off other's like they are doing Heritage sets on the sly. The 2016 set uses the design of 2003-04 Hoops Hot Prospects. I'm not sure if the design was used in baseball before this.

  6. My favorite thing about minor league sets are hands down the mascot cards. I look forward to picking up a San Jose Giants team set each and every year to see Señor Gigante.

  7. 38 cards???? The recent Choice sets I've picked up are 34-35 cards with one or two cards in each 36-card sheet being a special promo card printed up for the mascot to give away at appearances or friend of the team to have.