Just as I think that second year player cards tend to be underappreciated, it is my view that many second year brand releases likewise don’t receive their due respect. This is understandable on the surface. After all, a brand’s first effort is something fresh and exciting. Take for example 1991 Topps Stadium Club, 1993 Topps Finest, 1997 Bowman Chrome, 2001 Topps Heritage, and 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter – all of these sets are landmark first year releases of venerable brands. But are these sets really all that superior to their second year counterparts? In my opinion, 1992 Topps Stadium Club, 1994 Topps Finest, 1998 Bowman Chrome, 2002 Topps Heritage, and 2007 Topps Allen & Ginter are in aggregate equal to their first year counterparts. I find 2002 Topps Heritage to be particularly impressive, and this set serves as the foundation for today’s Insert Insight.
Back in its early days, Topps Heritage kept its parallel lineup very simple. 2002 Topps Heritage had a single Chrome partial-parallel set and (other than a few Nighttime variation cards) that was it. No refractor parallels. No mini parallels. Just a 100 card Chrome parallel set numbered to /553. The 1953 Topps design rivals the 1952 Topps design in aesthetic beauty and when given a Chrome finish, the end result is a true work of art. Take a look at today featured card: 2002 Topps Heritage Chrome*, THC18 Kevin Brown. It is a fine addition to my collection.
If you have some free time, I suggest you try a little experiment on eBay. Choose a player who has both 2001 and 2002 Heritage Chrome cards, and compare** prices between the two years. Here are the results for Kevin Brown. For the most part, 2001 Heritage Chrome cards are priced higher than their 2002 younger brothers. I conclude that the hobby market values 2001 Heritage Chrome over 2002 Heritage Chrome. I get that an initial release will garner more attention than a follow-up year, but in terms of quality, design, and rarity, 2001 Heritage Chrome and 2002 Heritage Chrome are equals. To be clear, it’s not that I think 2001 Heritage Chrome cards are overvalued, but rather that 2002 Heritage Chrome cards are undervalued. From a philosophical standpoint, I often wonder why collectors prefer the first of something.
Now, some thoughts on Kevin Brown. During his career, Mr. Brown created about the same amount of value as John Smoltz (68.3 bWAR for Brown; 69.5 bWAR for Smoltz). Despite this, Brown fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year of eligibility in 2011 while Smoltz entered Cooperstown in 2015. While the Kevin Brown / John Smoltz comparison is just one data point, I think how these two are remembered and evaluated shows how a favorable career narrative can help a player’s Hall of Fame case. Smoltz was actually a central figure in two great storylines that made his career memorable:
- he was a member of the vaunted Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz Big 3
- he changed from starter to reliever and back to starter during the latter portions of his career
There is no doubt that John Smoltz was a great pitcher. Kevin Brown was just as good. Working against Brown is that the peripatetic nature of his career makes it easy to remember him as a mercenary, especially given that he signed the first $100 million contract in baseball history in December 1998. In this way, Brown reminds me of Zack Greinke.
Also damaging to Brown’s reputation is that he was implicated for steroid-use in the Mitchell Report. I was never a huge Kevin Brown fan. And I don’t think his possible ties to performance enhancing drugs should be glossed over. That said, I do believe it is a disservice to Brown’s many achievements that he did not and has not received more HOF consideration and debate. We live in a complex world; that means we should examine people and their actions with commensurate rigor.
Unlike the man himself, Brown’s 2002 Topps Heritage Chrome card is perfection. And maybe that is why I like cards so much – they allow me to momentarily see flawed men as their best selves.
What is your favorite second year brand release of the past 25 years?
*I actually don’t consider parallel sets such as 2002 Heritage Chrome to be a true insert. At a high level, I place cards into three categories (base cards, parallel cards, and insert cards).
**As time has worn on, Topps has included more and more refractor parallels in Heritage, making comparisons with subsequent years increasingly difficult.
Word of the Day
veracity – truth or accuracy; we questioned the veracity of his statements