I read something interesting yesterday in Sooz's card collecting newsletter.
Sooz's better half, a Texas Rangers fan, was discussing the 2020 Topps Series 1 disaster in which a single Rangers card appeared in the base set. He was updating that misfortune now that Series 2 is out and noting the number of Rangers in Series 2 (and that they all weirdly feature a new stadium logo).
He doesn't buy that Topps was saving the Rangers for Series 2 to get the stadium logo on the cards and neither do I. He believes instead that Topps simply forgot to add the Rangers into Series 1.
Apparently -- and this is the interesting part that I never knew -- when Topps begins to fill its flagship set, it starts with a checklist of each team. It then fills the checklist, starting first with the rookies. Then, it adds veterans and newly signed players. The rookies come BEFORE the veterans. And this may be why only Rangers rookie Nick Solak showed up in Series 1. Topps began with the requisite rookie then dropped the ball with the rest of the team.
I've always known that Topps favors rookies and has for years, so this system makes sense, and confirms my belief that card sets are nothing more than a hype machine intended to prop up the latest and greatest while ignoring many other deserving players.
Topps and other card companies' emphasis on "rookies and stars" is probably how the player collector emerged. There weren't player collectors when I was a kid collecting cards in the '70s, at least not among all the kids I knew over those years.
I have a way to illustrate Topps' emphasis on individual players with a little research.
I was recording another 2002 Kaz Ishii card in my collection (I love this card, I will take all your copies). I've always known that Ishii has a lot of cards from 2002, that's the year he became a rookie sensation.
But did he have the most cards in my collection for that year? And how about the other years? Who has been the card darling in my collection each year? Who's had the most cards each year?
I started counting.
I began with 1981 because as far as I'm concerned that's when all of this business started. In 1981, it blew my mind to have three different products to collect that year and the idea of collecting multiple cards of an individual player took a long time for me to wrap my head around.
I have multiple card for players from the '70s, but it's not a lot, because there just wasn't a lot to collect. I have six different cards of Ron Cey in 1975 for the most that year. I have seven each of Cey and Steve Garvey for 1976. I have six of Garvey in '77. These are pitiful totals compared with what was to come. But it was a different era.
I like this review because other than the fact that every player that I'm about to show was a Dodger during that particular year, my collection doesn't influence the totals much. I'm not a player collector, so except for maybe some of the Clayton Kershaw years, my collecting doesn't skew the totals, providing a somewhat decent look on what's been going on each year.
All right, enough words, here are some numbers for the Card Darling of my collection for each year since 1981:
Steve Garvey - 11 cards
Thanks to the influence of two new sets to collect -- Donruss and Fleer -- the Card Darling hits double digits for the first time.
Fernando Valenzuela - 10 cards
This is the first example of what I noticed to be a running theme with this exercise. A player, if they are a star rookie like Valenzuela, will generate the most cards the year following his rookie year. Makes sense. Card companies don't have time to react to the player while he's putting together the rookie year (at least before Topps Now anyway), so they pile cards of the player on collectors the following year.
1983 and 1984
Pedro Guerrero - 7 cards
Pedro Guerrero - 9 cards
Just the kind of player that card companies (and collectors, I guess) like. If it can't be a rookie, hype the young stud with only a couple years under his belt.
Fernando Valenzuela and Pedro Guerrero - 7 cards
The first of two ties on this list.
Fernando Valenzuela - 24
The first significant jump in the timeline. Thank you, Fleer box sets and food issues.
Steve Sax - 22 cards
A bit of a surprise, although Sax was definitely hyped as a young superstar at this time. He'd been in the majors about five years.
1988, 1989 and 1990
Orel Hershiser - 40 cards
Orel Hershiser - 50 cards
Orel Hershiser - 26 cards
The first extended Card Darling run in my collection. Hershiser was the beneficiary of the Star sets from this period (well, also he had a pretty damn good World Series). The Star sets are the first player-driven sets, a harbinger of the weirdness to come, and Star gets a player to 50 cards in one year in my collection.
We will go higher. A lot higher.
Ramon Martinez - 25 cards
Ramon Martinez is the ideal specimen for this study. In 1991, Martinez was 22 years old. The year before he went 20-9, struck out 18 batters in a game and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting for the National League. Card companies didn't have to be told twice: make MOAR cards!
Darryl Strawberry - 38 cards
The Dodgers' big signing the prior offseason. I recall as a young teenager desperate to pull the first Dodger card of Jerry Reuss in 1980. That's all I wanted, just one card of the guy. In 1992, you got 38 cards of the guy.
Eric Karros - 51 cards
Eric Karros kicked off a string of five straight NL Rookies of the Year for the Dodgers in 1992 and card companies responded the next year with oodles of Karros cards. Funny, when Rick Sutcliffe started a string of four straight NL Rookies of the Year for the Dodgers in 1980, I was able to collect a whopping three Sutcliffe cards in 1981.
Mike Piazza - 102
One hundred, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 100!!
I don't think anything illustrates the difference between 1993 and 1994 in the card world as well as two Dodgers Rookies of the Year that are 50 cards apart.
Raul Mondesi and Mike Piazza - 82 cards
Mondesi catches Piazza and I'm sure that's because Mondesi won the Rookie of the Year the previous year and Piazza did not.
Hideo Nomo - 122 cards
The record total for a Card Darling, it will not be broken for the rest of this list. Nomo, of course, was a rookie sensation the previous year on the scale of Valenzuela. But Nomo had the fortune to show up in the '90s, a decade of cardboard excess. This is the only year that Nomo has the most cards in my collection, which shows you how much rookie clout means.
1997 and 1998
Mike Piazza - 93 cards
Mike Piazza - 94 cards
Piazza returns to the top. Player collecting was in full force by now and Piazza was one of the primary players collected. He has an absolute embarrassment of cards. There are still plenty of collectors who collect Piazza, but I think people like Trout, Griffey Jr., Ichiro, Pujols and maybe Gwynn and Maddux have surpassed him.
Raul Mondesi - 57 cards
Mondesi edges out another rookie sensation, Adrian Beltre, by a single card. If I update this list, I expect Beltre to move to the front.
2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Shawn Green - 65 cards
Shawn Green - 54 cards
Shawn Green - 100 cards
Shawn Green - 86 cards
Shawn Green - 60 cards
Shawn Green didn't arrive with the Dodgers until 2000. In previous years, that would dampen his totals because card companies didn't react to a new acquisition as quickly. But with so many card sets available as the 2000s started, there were plenty of companies waiting to pounce on new Green Dodger cards. He still has the longest Card Darling streak in my collection.
Eric Gagne - 61 cards
Gagne couldn't overtake Shawn Green in 2004, even after winning the Cy Young Award the previous year. But Gagne did continue his 84-game save streak into the 2004 season and that's why he's the only Card Darling relief pitcher in my collection.
Jeff Kent - 45 cards
We're hitting some lean times in Dodgers history. The Card Darling totals dip for the next couple of years before increasing again.
Rafael Furcal - 34 cards
I never would've guessed I owned more Furcal cards than anyone else this year -- or any other year.
Russell Martin - 58 cards
Martin's rookie year was 2006 but his breakout year was 2007. Card companies responded with some of the finest cards of a player in a single year that I've ever seen.
Manny Ramirez - 72 cards
Was there any bigger baseball hype than Manny Ramirez hype in 2008-09? His appearance on this list is a natural.
2010 and 2011
Clayton Kershaw - 52 cards
Clayton Kershaw - 72 cards
The beginning of the Kershaw era. I found in going through my cards that pitchers don't get their due as far as card totals. You really have to be something special as a pitcher to get a crap-ton of cards made of you.
Matt Kemp - 59 cards
No surprise. Kemp's best season was 2011. He beat Kershaw by two cards.
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
Clayton Kershaw - 57 cards
Clayton Kershaw - 56 cards
Clayton Kershaw - 58 cards
Clayton Kershaw - 56 cards
Kershaw has the most Card Darling Years total and he established that in 2016.
Corey Seager - 60 cards
Topps has been sticking with the formula that was in force in Valenzuela's day. Seager won Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 so in 2017 GET READY FOR SOME COREY SEAGER CARDS!
Cody Bellinger - 91 cards
The highest total since Shawn Green in 2002. Since I didn't collect during the height of the '90s glut or in the early 2000s, this was my first experience with "did they really need to make this card? And this one? And that one?" Even at 91 cards, I'm still way behind in the number of 2018 Bellingers available. I'm almost certain there are more Bellinger cards in 2018 than of any other Dodger in a given year.
Clayton Kershaw - 59 cards
Kershaw restores some order. ... Oh, and I didn't collect a whole lot of modern stuff this year, too.
Here is a quick-and-easy (i.e. "free") graph to illustrate the path, although I started at 1989 because that's all I could fit:
I didn't include the 2020 totals because it's still in progress, but the totals so far already fall within the pattern:
1. Bellinger - 15
2. Dustin May - 10
3. Kershaw - 9
4. Gavin Lux - 9
5. Walker Buehler - 6
Bellinger is the defending MVP and May and Lux are rookies.
The industry really is ruled by rookies and stars and has been since the 1980s.
That doesn't really agree with the way I collect but as a team collector I have to take what I get. Nobody besides me would be happy if the player with the most cards in a given year was Austin Barnes.
Oh, and regarding my wondering about Kaz Ishii in 2002, you probably noticed already that he didn't have the most cards in my collection that year.
In fact he was FIFTH.
Shawn Green - 100
Paul LoDuca - 63
Kevin Brown - 54
Adrian Beltre - 45
Kaz Ishii - 39
So rookies don't rule exactly.
But they do get into the set first.