by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

2002 is another 2000’s year I’m not super excessively familiar with. Again, I was a hockey guy first and foremost through those years. Almost strictly hockey, but still checked out some baseball here and there. Plus, it was my senior year of high school going into my first year of college. And the Indians were dismantling their 90’s dynasty. And I was in a bowling league, and traveling a lot. So baseball cards weren’t exactly on my mind in a major way.

Pretty nifty design, really.

Which is kind of a shame really. Looking back, I actually like the 2002 set design. The gold borders, while getting repetitive, were done well. The brighter gold color (brighter than 1998, at least) worked pretty well, and was far better than the other six years of colored borders. The curved ribbons for the player name and supporting the team logo work well too. Slight minus points for leaving the player’s position off. One thing I like that’s a bit overlooked is that the front doesn’t just have the Topps name/logo. But in this case says “2002 TOPPS” at the top. It helps when sorting cards by year. Now granted, I have every set design from 1975 to 2008 stuffed into the ol’ memory bank, but it’s good to have it there because I know I’ll forget half of them as I get older. I used to have players’ batting averages memorized when I was in first grade. If you named a team and a position, I could tell you who the player was. Now I can’t even do that with the Indians.

So the design was done well. The player crop though is another affected by the Bowman Effect. Topps did at least hit the major home run of the year with a Draft Pick card, and thus rookie card, of Joe Mauer. I mentioned in my last article that I don’t like the phrase “sure-fire Hall of Famer” because of Strawberry and Mattingly, but Joe Mauer is a sure-fire Hall of Famer at this point in his career. And I’m not saying that to jinx him as an Indians fan. I legitimately like Joe Mauer as a baseball player. I’d love to see where Bill James ranks him among catchers once his career is over. James ranks Yogi Berra first and Johnny Bench second. Frankly, I’d put Bench ahead of Berra but that’s just me. Mauer, if he keeps his pace of the first seven seasons of his career, will be a Top Fiver with relative ease. In the guy’s “bad” years he still hit .293 and .294!

One of these players is not like the other…

But aside from Mauer, the 2002 Topps set was lacking in rookies. Aside from Mauer, Jason Bay, Jose Bautista, and Freddy Sanchez were the only decent ones. Thank you, Bowman Effect. Though really, even if the Bowman effect didn’t exist, 2002 still wasn’t a good year for new players. Eric Hinske and Jason Jennings were the Rookie of the Year winners. Of those who received votes, only Carlos Pena and Austin Kearns could be viewed as anything significant in the present day.

On the plus side, they had a salute to Barry Bonds for hitting a new record of 73 homers. On the negative side, they had a salute to Barry Bonds for hitting 73 likely steroid infused homers. Plus, they magically turned that one card into 73 cards, one for each home run he hit that year. And they all had the exact same photo, like those lame Magic Moments cards from 2000. At least Topps had 718 cards in 2002, unlike the under-500 of 2000.

Jason Bay will go down as the second best rookie in this set. Which is sad.

Topps actually catered to the big-set collector for the first time in a long time in 2002. While the regular base set was “only” 718 cards (with about 50-60 fillers), they created Topps Total, an idea I absolutely love. The Topps Total sets had a lower production value but still looked good. With no glossy coating, it was a good set for autograph collectors. 990 cards, no filler. So you’re looking at an average of an eye-popping 33 cards per team. You can fit the entire 25-man roster plus 8 prospects for each team. And sometimes, more than 33. In a few Topps Total releases, at least with football, they had cards with multiple players on them, so you might get a team’s entire 40-man roster in the set. And best of all, Topps used the idea in football and hockey too. I’m still trying to get the entire hockey set (440 players) signed. I’m about 75% of the way there.

With 2002’s set, we’re getting into the sets where the positives outweigh (or at least balance out) the negatives. It mostly gets better from here.

About the Author: Drew Pelto found himself in eleven states and two Canadian provinces in the year 2002 alone (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Ontario, and Quebec, for the record). He has now visited 29 states, 2 Canadian Provinces, and 3 Australian states and lives in Texas.