By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

The 2004 set was a turnaround of sorts, both in my life in general and in Topps’ yearly sets. After a 2003 that I’d rather forget for a number of reasons (see Set #54), 2004 was a nice rebound. I had a job, a pretty nice apartment in Boston’s North End, and I got to spend my free time playing street hockey out in Roslindale, jamming with my band in Quincy, and hounding various baseball teams for autographs. And as a Red Sox fan at the time (2007 ruined that organization for me, but 2004 was an amazing time), obviously the 2004 ALCS and World Series were incredible moments, and to see it all unfold in the city I was living in was one of the greatest moments I’ve gotten to see in sports.

Cliff Lee, pre-Cy Young, and even pre-decent career

And 2004 was the beginning of a comeback of sorts for Topps. I mentioned in my intro piece that Topps has had 40 years (give or take) of quality cards with gum, 15 years of trying to compete with Upper Deck with glitz and glamour instead of substance, and five years of “Okay, we’ll start taking this seriously again.” to me, 2004 was the beginning of taking it seriously again. First off, a return to the crisp white borders that we all know and love.

Like I’ve said, I’m not prejudiced against colored borders. However, after doing them every year from 1998-2003, it was getting old. And besides, colored borders tend to chip and show wear a lot more easily than white borders do. So a return to the whites was a great place to start. Second, all the info is on the front. Player’s name, team name, position, even jersey number. I love the addition of the jersey number to the front. As an autograph collector, the fewer extra items you have to carry with you or have memorized, the better things will go. If you’re hounding at a ballpark and don’t know the player by appearance, you can easily get them by jersey number from the card. Of course, with names on the back of jerseys now it’s kind of moot, but it’s still an addition I like.

Tons of info on the front. Excellent!

However, the cards are a bit too foil-riddled for me. I do like that it’s silver instead of the overdone gold. But the lines linking the box with a small outline image of the player and his jersey number across the bottom and around the position is a bit much. I’d rather just see that in a regular colored ink instead of the foil.  I like the player image though– it’s grown on me. Instead of having a generic “this position looks like this” image like on the 1973 and 1976 cards, it’s actually a small outline of the player’s photo on the card. I kind of like it, but it’s also a little repetitive as it’s just an outline of the front photo.

The autograph on mine looks 500 times better than this one.

2004 was one of the last years affected by the Bowman Effect. But, the set still was able to snag some significant rookie cards in this set like Yadier Molina, Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Lastings Milledge, Dioner Navarro, and Zach Duke. What’s with the rookies in this set besides Molina having such high hopes and a good 2008 or 2009 season, before turning into inconsistent fringe players? If those latter five can turn it around and become legitimate major leaguers, this set has some possibilities for upward movement. That’s why I don’t like ranking sets from the last 10-15 years. There are so many wild cards out there. For all we know, those five could turn into perennial all-stars. Likewise, the Flying Molina Brothers could all get sucked up by an alien spaceship hell-bent on doing evil experiments on Latin American catchers thus ruining any potential value for his (and Bengie’s and Jose’s and Izzy’s) rookie card. I know Izzy isn’t related, I just like lumping them all together. And the sound of the “Flying Molina Brothers” is good; kind of like the Flying Valdez Brothers of the early 90’s Indians and Padres (pitchers Efrain, Sergio, and Rafael), who were actually cousins rather than brothers. But Flying Valdez Cousins just doesn’t sound as cool; nor does “Flying Molina Brothers and One Unrelated Guy With the Same Last Name.” Getting back to my point, we just don’t know what the future holds, it’s all speculation.

While 2004 isn’t a great set to me, it was the start of the turnaround that Topps needed. None of Topps’ 2000’s offerings got into my top 30, but a turnaround has to start somewhere and this was as good a place to start as any. There is hope for the present, recent past, and future sets to move up in the rankings down the road.

About the Author: Drew Pelto spent much of 2004 hanging out in Quincy, the North End, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale, the latter three of which really are not that stabby after dark. Or at the very least, he survived them. On October 17 of that year, Joe Torre signed a ball for him and he credits that act as being the downfall of the Yankees in the ALCS. Drew currently lives in Texas where he is sweating his rather callipygian backside off in the summer heat.