Sunday, March 18, 2012

1997 Topps Phillies

1997 Topps #268, #56, #64 and #302
I graduated from college in 1997 and spent my last, true career-free summer working at a t-shirt store on the Promenade in Sea Isle City.  I made just enough money to pay for food, sunscreen and a few books, but not enough money to buy many baseball cards.  The 1997 season for the Phillies was another disappointment, but I was thrilled to be able to watch or listen to the games again on a nightly basis after being away from home for the past few summers.

1997 Topps #368 (Back)
The Set
Number of cards in the set:  We got 55 more cards than the prior year in the 1997 Topps set, as the complete set included 495 cards - 275 from the first series and 220 in a second series.  (Note this was the first year Topps "retired" card #7 for Mickey Mantle, so while the set is numbered to 496, there are only 495 cards.)  For the second year in a row, there was no traded set.  I would imagine baseball card sales were still down as a result of the 1994 strike, and it would take a steroid-fueled home run barrage in 1998 to start to bring the collectors back.
My very brief thoughts on the set:  I first mentioned the concept of adding color to borders a few posts back when I was discussing the design of the 2012 Topps cards, and this concept holds true for the 1997 Topps set.  Like the 1996 set, the design is very simplistic - name in block letters across the bottom and a team logo.  How much better would the cards look had Topps color coded the cards based on team colors?  Topps assigned green to all National League base cards and red to all American League base cards and they stopped there.  (Why not blue for all National League base cards?  I think that simple change would have vastly improved the design as well.  Everyone knows that the color blue is associated with the National League.  Right Night Owl?)
Notable competition:  Flipping through my 1997 Phillies binder, I definitely get the sense that the card manufacturers were grasping for any way to possibly connect with their consumers.  There's a lot of foil and gloss and some on-card autographs, but there's no set from 1997 that really distances itself from the herd.  Honestly, my favorite cards from that year were the reprints of older cards which were inserted into packs of Topps Stars.  Topps must have realized that collectors were yearning for more "classic" cards - be they reprints or otherwise - as they would soon start experimenting with various releases featuring vintage designs and themes.  The first Topps Heritage set was only four years away at this point.

1997 Topps #384, #289 and #229
1997 Phillies
Record and finish:  New manager Terry Francona guided his team to one more win than the previous year, as the Phils finished with a 68-94 record and in last place (again).
Key players:  This was the first year of the Scott Rolen Era, as the eventual National League Rookie of the Year hit .283 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs.  Mike Lieberthal became the team's every day backstop and while his average was low (.246) he managed 20 home runs and 77 RBIs.  New first baseman Rico Brogna also had a decent year (.252, 20 home runs, 81 RBIs) as did Mickey Morandini (.295).  Brogna also provided stellar defense at first.  Curt Schilling re-established himself as a premier pitcher, going 17-11 with 319 strikeouts (a new club record) and a 2.97 ERA.  He'd finish fourth in the National League Cy Young voting.  Other than Schilling's fine performance, the pitching was a complete debacle.  Only Ricky Bottalico's 34 saves merits mention, although he blew 7 saves. And if I recall correctly, a few of those blown saves were recorded in spectacular self-imploding fashion.
Key events:  The Phils drafted J.D. Drew in June, but they were unable to come to terms with the Scott Boras client and Drew eventually signed with the Cardinals.  (Booo!)  Darren Daulton was the team's regular right fielder until a July trade sent him to Florida for Billy McMillon.  Daulton would earn a World Series ring wearing the teal and black of the Marlins.  Interleague play began and the Phillies swept a thrilling three-game series against the Yankees at the Vet in early September.  And sadly, long-time Phillies player and announcer Richie Ashburn passed away on September 9th.

1997 Phillies in 1997 Topps
Cards needed for a complete team set:  There are 18 Phillies cards needed for a complete 1997 Topps team set.  That matches the low tally from 1996, meaning that the 1996 and 1997 Topps sets have the least amount of Phillies cards since 1955.
Who’s in:
  • Cards of the eight starting position players - 5 cards
#56 Mike Lieberthal (c), #64 Mickey Morandini (2b), #384 Kevin Stocker (ss), #268 Scott Rolen (3b), #229 Gregg Jefferies (lf)

Regular first baseman Brogna is featured in the set with the Mets.  Center fielder Midre Cummings and right fielder Daulton were omitted from the set completely.  What a quick descent for Dutch.  Daulton was a baseball card force in 1994, and just four short years later he finds himself completely left out of the Topps set.
  • Cards of the starting pitching rotation - 1 card
#368 Curt Schilling

This is probably an all-time low as well.  The Phillies used 15 different starting pitchers in 1997.  Schilling is the only one of the top five on that list to merit a card.  Mark Leiter, Matt Beech, Garrett Stephenson and Tyler Green were all left out, although Leiter does appear on a card with the Expos.  Have I mentioned lately how much I truly appreciate the current Phillies starting pitching rotation?

1997 Topps #368, #327, #14 and #242
  • Base cards of players who played with the Phillies in 1997 - 5 cards
#14 Ricky Bottalico, #106 Ricky Otero, #144 Ken Ryan, #242 Mike Grace, #302 Wendell Magee, Jr. 
  • Base cards of players who didn't play with the Phillies in 1997 - 4 cards (with new teams listed)
#82 Benito Santiago (Blue Jays), #161 Jim Eisenreich (Marlins), #299 Sid Fernandez (Astros), #413 Lenny Dykstra (injured)

This would be Dykstra's last Topps baseball card as an active player.  Following his wonderful 1993 season, the Phils extended Dykstra's contract, paying him $24.4 million for the 1995 through 1998 seasons.  (The team held a club option for 1999.)  The oft-injured Dude played in 84 games in 1994, 62 games in 1995, 40 games in 1996, and then he was done.  Unfortunately, it's been downhill ever since for Dykstra.
  • Phillies appearing on multi-player Prospects cards - 2 cards
#205 Bobby Estallela, #492 Ron Blazier

Both actually appeared with the Phillies during the 1997 season, so I have no problem with their selection for these cards.
  • Phillies appearing on multi-player Draft Picks cards - 1 card
#479 Adam Eaton

Spoiler alert - This is going to be my pick for the "What's he doing here" segment of this post.  

1997 Topps #106, #492 and #413
Who’s out:  The entire bench, save Otero and Magee got left out.  Outfielder Ruben Amaro, Jr. appeared in 117 games.  Infielders Kevin Jordan (84 games) and Kevin Sefcik (61 games) saw significant playing time, as did outfielders Derrick May (83 games) and Tony Barron (57 games).  I mentioned above how four-fifths of the pitching rotation didn't receive Phillies cards, but the bullpen wasn't well represented either.  Jerry Spradlin (76 games), Reggie Harris (50 games) and Wayne Gomes (37 games) went without Topps cards.
1997 Topps #78
Phillies on other teams:  There are six members of the 1997 squad featured in the Topps sets on their former teams - #33 Mark Portugal (Reds), #78 Danny Tartabull (White Sox), #206 Billy McMillon (Marlins, on a multi-player Prospects card), #254 Rex Hudler (Angels), #289 Rico Brogna (Mets) and #327 Mark Leiter (Expos)
What’s he doing here:  Adam Eaton.  I feel this needs no explanation.
Cards that never were candidates:  There were no manager cards in the set, but I'd come up with something for Francona's first year.  I came up with nine players from 1996 who should have cards, so I'll do the same for 1997 - Brogna, Cummings, Daulton, Leiter, Beech, Stephenson, Spradlin, Amaro and Jordan.
Favorite Phillies card:  It's Rolen's card.  Philly fans were absolutely in love with Rolen and his style of play back in 1997.  A few short years later, we learned that Rolen was actually a fairly grumpy guy who would rather play elsewhere.

Other Stuff
Recycled:  As far as I know, Topps hasn't re-used its 1997 design for any recent releases.
Blogs/Websites:  A little over a year ago, Capewood ran a nice post featuring a few of his favorite cards from the set on his Capewood's Collections blog.
Did You Know?:  Perhaps as a cost cutting measure, the Phillies released their 1997 Yearbook as an insert within its Phillies Magazine publication.  This really bothered me back in 1997 and it still bothers me today.  I have a nice collection of Phillies Yearbooks dating back to 1969, and the 1997 "Yearbook" throws off the whole feng shui of the collection.


night owl said...

Yes, the N.L. should be blue! But I don't mind the green. It's still on the "cool" side of the color spectrum.

I like the 1997 set. It's just too bad there are so few cards in it.

Section 36 said...

It's quite a statement that only one member of the rotation was good enough for a base set.

Steve F. said...

Quick comment on Topps' "retiring" Card #7--which, BTW, always reminded me of John McCain "suspending" his campaign in 2008 to deal with the financial crisis in that it sounded better than it turned out....

Whatever year it was that Topps issued chase cards of #7 for each of the "retired" years, I made sure I got an extra one of each and plugged them into the sets for those missing years. Fortunately they were in boxes and not binders so I didn't have to shift every card down one slot!

I did the same with the 2010 "Cards Your Mom Threw Out" version of the 2006 Alex Gordon rookie.

Steve F. said...

...and a quick comment on the 1997 yearbook. I just bought an extra copy, so I store one copy in with my 1997 Programs and another in with my yearbooks. I agree, it does bother me a bit. But what really bothers me is the size of the 1996 yearbook, which won't fit anywhere. It's an 11" x 11" square! As a result, my copy is dog-eared compared to the rest because I just can't easily store it.

I collect Reading Phillies yearbooks/programs as well, and they made two years (1997 and 1998, perhaps) oversized and printed essentially on newsprint, so that they also suffer from the same hard-to-store-so-are-dog-eared problem.

Anonymous said...

I always loved the front of the 1997 set, great photos and simple design, but the backs are a disaster. Small fonts on the back with the red or green backgrounds are impossible to read!!

Jim said...

Agreed on the backs. I still wish Topps had color coded the cards based on each player's team colors.