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2003 Finest Baseball Review

The second box I opened on my birthday, this box of 2003 Topps Finest was originally videotaped, but due to the horrible overall quality (lots of lag, audio distortion), the video was never published. As you’ll see, it was a pretty darn good break.

Box Details: 6 packs of 5 cards each per mini box, 3 mini boxes per master box, $75

From:Dave and Adam’s Card World

Uncirculated Box Topper (numbered to 199, 1: box): Each master box is accompanied by a silver pack holding an uncirculated Gold X-Fractor. Numbered to just 199, these gold parallels mirror the entire set, autographed rookies included. It just so happens that my Gold X-Fractor was a signed rookie card of J.D. Durbin (030/199). Durbin was a prized possession of the Minnesota Twins’ Minor League organization, and even received their Pitcher of the Year Award in 2002. He is currently a free agent.



Base set:
The base set is comprised of 100 short set cards, followed by 10 short-printed, autographed rookies. As was the norm with that era of Finest, each base card has a unique color background, influenced by the depicted player’s team. My box yielded 85 out of 100 short set cards (85%) and no duplicates.


Refractors (1: mini box): One of the key differences between 2003 Finest and say, 2009 Finest lies in the refractors. 2003 Finest does not have the bevy of colorful refractors that collectors have become accustomed to in recent years (red, green blue, gold, black, etc.) Instead, only basic Refractor and X-Fractor parallels exist (box toppers aside). The basic Refractors are seeded at a rate of 1 per mini box (SP’s 1 in 34) while the X-Fractors are seeded at a rate of 1 in every 7 mini boxes (SP’s 1 in 68). I did not pull any X-Fractors in this box, but I did pull basic Refractors of Tim Hudson, Larry Walker, and Barry Zito. I’m sure I will be sending the Zito out to New Mexico sometime. As for the Walker, it came out of the pack with significant damage to its back (a giant scrape). Why did it have to happen to a Refractor??


Finest Relics (1: mini box): Inserted into each mini box is a game-used bat or uniform relic. Each relic is designated to a certain “group” based on rarity. The odds of finding a particular relic from each group are as follows:

Bats:
Group A: 1:104 mini boxes
Group B: 1:32 mini boxes
Group C: 1:29 mini boxes
Group D: 1:42 mini boxes
Group E: 1:40 mini boxes
Group F: 1:23 mini boxes
Group G: 1:18 mini boxes
Group H: 1:24 mini boxes
Group I: 1:12 mini boxes
Group J: 1:22 mini boxes
Group K: 1:21 mini boxes

Uniforms:
Group A: 1:28 mini boxes
Group B: 1:11 mini boxes
Group C: 1:11 mini boxes
Group D: 1:10 mini boxes
Group E: 1:19 mini boxes
Group F: 1:12 mini boxes
Group G: 1:34 mini boxes
Group H: 1:17 mini boxes

I pulled bat cards of Nomar Garciaparra (Group A) and Rickey Henderson (Group J) as well as a uniform card of Eric Chavez (Group B).

Team Topps Legends Autographs (10 cards, randomly inserted)
: And now, here are those Hall of Fame autographs I mentioned in my last post. 10 Team Topps Legends signed cards for this special set, and just like the relic cards, each autograph belongs to its own specific group. The complete checklist is below, pulls highlighted in bold.

Group A: 1:168 mini boxes
Brooks Robinson
Goose Gossage

Group B: 1:68 mini boxes
Al Kaline
Stan Musial

Group C: 1:32 mini boxes
Lou Brock
Luis Aparicio
Duke Snider

Group D: 1:23 mini boxes
Gaylord Perry
Paul Blair
Vernon Law

Overall, autographs (rookies, Finest Moments (link), and Team Topps Legends) fall at a rate of 2 per master box.

Final Thoughts/Grades:

Collation: A+

For the second straight break, the box delivered the inserts and “hits” perfectly, all without a single duplicate. Very nice.

Condition: B
Condition was the only issue I had in this box. In fact, if it weren’t for this category, this box would get straight A’s across the board. Only 2 cards from this box came out of the pack with noticeable damage, but considering that both of those were chase cards (Walker Refractor, Gossage autograph – look at the blemish on the front, towards the bottom), I had to drop this down a grade.

Pulls: A
I think it’s pretty obvious that I got lucky with this box. The 2 autographs I was supposed to pull were both Team Topps Legends (as opposed to failed prospects) and I even got a bonus autograph with the box topper! Not to mention that I also pulled the rarest bat relic available in Nomar…

Value: A
Regardless of where you purchase this box, you should be able to find it for less than $80. For that price, you should find a nice little box containing 5 hits (3 relics, 2 autos), 3 Refractors, a Gold X-Fractor, and possibly one more X-Fractor if you’re lucky. I’d say go for it.

Overall Grade: A

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1999 Finest Series 2 Baseball Review

99finestser2Those of you who have been following this blog since the beginning may recall seeing this product busted in one of my earliest breaks. If you need a reminder, check out the Series 1 Jumbo box I opened last April. For Series 2, I decided to try a regular hobby box as opposed to the jumbos. Would I pull as many inserts as last time? Or perhaps more? Here are the results:

Box Details: 24 packs of 6 cards each (Hobby) or 12 packs of 13 cards each (Jumbo)

Base Set: As was the case with Series 1, the base set in Series 2 is comprised of 100 short set cards, followed by 50 shortprints that are seeded one per pack (two per for Jumbos). The SP’s in this series are called Sterling, Gamers, and then of course, Rookies. Of course, not every “rookie” is a true rookie card (Chavez, Beltran, etc.), but there are a handful of decent actual rookies in Series 2, which include the likes of Alfonso Soriano, C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. In this box, I pulled 96 short set base cards and 24 different shortprints, for 120 total cards (out of 150). There were 10 duplicates. Also, I should note that the Aaron/McGwire card in the scan happens to be one of the 50 shortprints, a very special card number 300 to finish off the set.

Refractors (1:12 Hobby, 1:5 HTA): Regardless of which box you choose, refractors are going to fall at roughly two per box, though you may pull an extra or two (like I did here) from a Jumbo box if you’re lucky. Remember, there were only regular refractors and gold refractors (/100) at the time, providing a much simpler “rainbow” for collectors. I didn’t hit any golds in this box, but my regular refractors were of Jay Buhner and Mark Kotsay.

Aaron Award Contenders (9 cards, varied seeding): In 1999, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th career home run, an award was created in his namesake. There would be one winner in each league based on a point system. Each player’s point total would depend on the number of hits, home runs, and RBI they recorded during 1999. The following season, the system was changed to a ballot system and has remained that way since. The inaugural winners of the award were Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa.

This insert set featured nine players who were deemed odds-on favorites for the awards. The odds of pulling each particular player all differ. In most cases, there will be 2-3 of these cards per box, most likely of Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, and Ken Griffey, Jr. I pulled the latter two. The hardest player from this set to pull (by far) is Juan Gonzalez (1:216 Hobby, 1:108 HTA). As for Topps’ predictions, they scored a 50%. Sammy Sosa is a part of this set while Manny Ramirez is not. A rare refractor version mirrors this set.

Milestones (40 cards, varied numbering): In Series 1, there was an insert set called Prominent Figures in which they took five statistical categories (HR, RBI, SLG, TB, AVG), selected ten players who could potentially challenge the single-season record for each stat (some players were in multiple categories), and numbered each card according to what the record number was. In Series 2, there was an insert set with a similar concept called Milestones. This time, they took four statistical categories (Hits, Home Runs, RBI, and Doubles) and numbered them to the following “milestone” numbers:

Hits (3,000 of each) (1:29 Hobby, 1:13 HTA)
RBI (1,400 of each) (1:61 Hobby, 1:28 HTA)
HR (500 of each) (1:171 Hobby, 1:79 HTA)
Doubles (500 of each) (same odds as HR)

Again, there were ten players for each milestone. With that said, you’re probably going to find a Hits Milestone card in your box like I did. My card was of Barry Bonds, (of course! This guy haunts me, though it’s not always bad) numbered 2039/3000.

Double Feature (7 cards, 1:56 Hobby, 1:27 HTA): Here’s yet another insert that borrows a concept from Series 1. Similar to the Split Screen inserts from the previous series, the Double Feature inserts feature a pair of players on each card on opposite sides of a blue boundary going down the center. On each card, one of the player’s side of the boundary will have a refractor finish while the other will not. There are also variations in which both sides refract. They are a much tougher pull (1:168 Hobby, 1:81 HTA). The difference between this set and the Split Screen set is that the checklist here is exactly half of what Split Screen’s is (14 to 7) and the fact that ALL of the pairings in this set feature teammates, ideal for the team collectors out there.

I pulled two Double Feature cards in this box. The first combination was of Chipper and Andruw Jones, with Andruw refracting on the right. The second combination was of Darin Erstad and Mo Vaughn, with Erstad refracting on the left.

Future’s Finest (numbered to 500, 1:171 Hobby, 1:79 HTA): In this prospect-themed set, I pulled a 6’10” fireballing lefty from Seattle. No, not Randy Johnson! Ryan Anderson! A story about the former top pitching prospect in baseball, whose injuries and attitude had him out of baseball before age 26, can be found here. It’s still a very nice looking card, but I’ll have to find a Mariners fan to dump it off to.

Team Finest: At the time that I wrote the Series 1 review, I did not include my now-regular “What WASN’T Pulled?” feature, which describes other inserts/parallels found in the product, just not in my particular box. Therefore, I did not talk about the Team Finest inserts. Team Finest was a 20-card set (10 cards inserted into each series) featuring the game’s biggest stars and young stars. Each card was blue and limited to 1,500 copies and came with five parallels. Here’s a breakdown of this set:

Blue (numbered to 1,500, 1:57 Hobby, 1:26 HTA)
Blue Refractor (numbered to 150, 1:571 Hobby, 1:263 HTA)

Red (numbered to 500, 1:18 HTA)
Red Refractor (numbered to 50, 1:184 HTA)

Gold (numbered to 250, 1:37 HTA)
Gold Refractor (numbered to 25, 1:369 HTA)

Despite having the same number of cards in each series, the blue cards in Series 2 actually have a little more generous odds than those in Series 1. Given the fact that I opened a regular hobby box, I didn’t have a chance to pull any of the Jumbo-exclusive Red and Gold parallels, but I did pull one very sweet Blue Refractor of Tony Gwynn, numbered 034/150! Just look at the insertion ratio on those if you will.

What WASN’T Pulled: There wasn’t a lot I didn’t pull in this box! Like I previously mentioned, there were no Gold Refractors (/100), Aaron Award Refractors, or Double Feature dual refractors. First, there is the 7-card Complements set, which is just like the Double Feature set exactly in terms of both concept and odds. The only difference is that the combinations do not feature teammates (examples: Piazza/Pudge, Gwynn/Boggs, Jeter/Garciaparra). The last set would be the 10-card Franchise Records insert set which are tough pulls at (1:129 Hobby, 1:64 HTA) and also come with a refractor version.

Final Thoughts: This box was LOADED! Whether it be hobby or jumbo (HTA), a box of 1999 Finest Series 2 will cost you less than $40 and will be a total blast to open! As is the case with Series 1, there are some really great, attractive, and unique inserts that are sure to please so go ahead and bust one!

As always, thanks for reading and good luck with your own breaks!
-John

1998 Finest Series 1 (Jumbo) Baseball Review

In 1996 and 1997, Topps experimented with a multi-tiered set for their Finest product. Each card was designated as either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold card with the latter two being shortprints. In 1998, this idea was scrapped and Finest was turned into a “normal” set once again. As was the norm with Finest at the time, 1998 featured a dual-series set with Series 1 being comprised of cards 1-150 and Series 2 being comprised of cards 151-275. Some of you may remember an earlier Topps Finest Jumbo break I had. Well, the same rules apply here as they did in that earlier break: 24 6-card packs for Hobby Boxes, 12 13-card packs for HTA (Jumbo) Boxes, Low $30 range for both boxes. With that said, let’s see what we got…

Base cards: The base cards look decent, but one thing that’s always bugged me is the presence of that big mass of little chrome squiggly lines in the center. I suppose it makes for a cool effect on the card, but just what the hell is it supposed to be? To me, it looks like the players are standing in a big colony of bacteria, but whatever. Anyway, each player has a colored ribbon for a nameplate which hovers over one of five baseball symbols placed on the card: a pair of bats which form an “X,” a ball, a batting helmet, a fielding glove, or a catcher’s mask. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Anyway, I received 103 different base cards, 35 duplicates, and 1 triplicate.

No-Protector Parallel (1:1 HTA, 1:2 Hobby): Nothing says 1990’s like protective coating! For some reason, Topps decided to throw in a parallel in which the cards simply had no coating. Besides the lack of protector, there is one key difference between these parallels and regular base cards. The backs of each no-protector parallel have the chrome finish whereas the regular card backs do not. There are found one per pack for the Jumbos and in every other pack for regular Hobby. I received 12 in my box. Some notables included Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, and Mike Sweeney. Personally, I think this is the single dumbest parallel I have ever heard of.

Refractors (1:5 HTA, 1:12 Hobby): Just what would Topps Finest be without refractors? Unlike present-day Finest which features 395780 versions, 1998 Finest has two. The basic refractors can be found approximately two per box on average. Again, that’s on average. My box yielded not one, two, nor three, but FOUR refractors. These refractors were of Andruw Jones, Chad Curtis, Jeff Montgomery, and Troy O’Leary.

No-Protector Refractors (1:10 HTA, 1:24 Hobby): The second type of refractor found in ’98 Finest is the No-Protector Refractor parallel. Yes, it’s a parallel of a crappy parallel. These cards have a refractor finish on both sides of the card. They’re seeded approximately one per box and this time, the box was right on with the odds. My refractor was of Jeffrey Hammonds. I wasn’t terribly disappointed with this pull as he’s a local guy to me (He was born in Plainfield, NJ while I grew up in South Plainfield, NJ).

There is a bit of controversy with these “unprotected” refractors, however. Most (if not all) refractors made by Topps at that time had the word “refractor” or the letter “R” on the back of the card, indicating a true refractor. This applies for the regular refractors in this product, but not for the unprotected refractors, or at least not all of them. Despite the fact that I’ve had minimal exposure to them, every unprotected refractor I had come across had the refractor finish on both sides, but no “R” on the back. However, I have also seen unprotected cards with an “R” on the back, but with no refractor finish on either side. For further help with these “refractors,” I decided to ask the man who I (along with many) consider the king of parallels, Mr. James Nevans. Nevans is an expert in real estate and sports cards and owns more parallels than most people do cards. He has had a lot of experience dealing with the No-Protector cards and has put together TWO complete sets of them! Here is what he had to say about this issue:

“All 14 of my 1st Series NP Refractors in my possesion fail to have an R (500+ packs worth), it may be too small of a sample to determine if this is an uncorrected error in the entire 1st Series line or if there exists rare corrected specimen. Some of my cards from the 1st Series that have an R are just regular No Protectors as I’ve had over 2000 pass through my hands (4000 packs worth), these are errors that are at least 10x as rare and quite possible 30x as rare. I currently have six 1st Series Refractors which have the R, none without. Topps, Beckett, other card magazines have never adressed this issue as far as I know, I just simply have had much more experience having built two of the NP sets to have noticed, I was not as attentive with the Refractor versions.”

Well, there you have it. I’m not sure what else to say about these refractors. You can check out Mr. Nevans’ site here.

What WASN’T Pulled: ACTUAL INSERTS!!! There are several inserts that can be found in this product that I did not receive any of. First off, there are randomly inserted jumbo box toppers that can be found in every 3 boxes. With these, comes a refractor parallel that can be found in every 6 boxes. Second, are the Mystery Finest inserts. These inserts contain a protective coating that must be peeled off to reveal the players on the card. Each card has a combination of either two veterans or two young stars. In some cases, the same player is on both sides. The insert ratios are as follows: 1:36 (Hobby) and 1:15(HTA) and Refractors: 1:144 (Hobby) and 1:64 (HTA). Upon further inspection, there are error refractors in this set too! See for yourself (note the R in the corner).

Power Zone is a 20-card set highlighting some of the game’s best sluggers. These cards look like the result of Zorro slicing through a big, ugly blue mural. They are found in every 72 Hobby packs and every 32 HTA packs.

Centurions is a 20-card set with a classy look. They are serially numbered to 500 and the refractor version is numbered to just 75! The odds of pulling one of these are as follows: Regular: 1:153 (Hobby), 1:71 (HTA) and Refractor: 1:1020 (Hobby), 1:471 (HTA).

Final Thoughts: Well, there were a lot of refractors, but that’s about it. Overall, this box was a dud. Hitting four refractors was nice even if three of them were commons (but I didn’t mind the Yankee). I was hoping a Mystery Finest or decent box topper would salvage the box, but it was not to be. The duplicates were a bit much as well. In fact, I noticed that several times during my break, I received the same players clumped together in different packs. You have to love that collation machine! Anyway, if you’re looking to bust some old Topps Finest, I’d say try a different year…

As always, thanks for the read and good luck with your own breaks!
-John

1999 Finest Series 1 (Jumbo) Baseball Review

Long before the days of mini-boxes and “Rip-Master” autographs (seriously, WTF?), Topps Finest was a pretty formidable product. Not long ago, I opened a box of 1999 Finest Series 1 Baseball. 1999 Finest was a dual-series product with Series 1 being comprised of cards 1-150 and Series 2 being comprised of cards 151-300. In addition, 2 types of boxes were available. Regular hobby boxes were comprised of 24 6-card packs while HTA “Jumbo” boxes were comprised of 12 13-card packs. I went with the jumbo on this one as there wasn’t much of a difference in price and the odds of hitting inserts were more favorable. Both varieties of boxes can be had for around $35-45 or so. And on to the results…..

Base Set: As I stated earlier, the Series 1 base set is comprised of 150 cards. The first 100 are your standard base cards. The last 50 make up a bunch of subsets that feature a mixture of stars, young stars, and rookies. The stars are highlighted in a subset called “Gems.” You’ll find guys like Frank Thomas, Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Bonds, and so forth. The young stars are highlighted in a subset called “Sensations.” Here you’ll find players such as Todd Helton, Kerry Wood, Adrian Beltre, etc. Then, you have your rookies in a subset called………wait for it……..”Rookies.” Yes, it’s true. Despite the fact that the cards say “rookies,” I only got 1 true rookie, Austin Kearns. The rest were guys who had RC’s in 1997 products, like Roy Halladay and Lance Berkman. The last 50 cards are also shortprinted. You’ll find these seeded 1 per pack in a Hobby pack and 2 per pack in a Jumbo pack. In this box I received 89 of the first 100 cards and 21 of the last 50. Duplicates and even triplicates(!) were a problem in my box. Altogether, I received 33 duplicates and 2 triples, and I didn’t even complete the first 100 cards! Ugh. That was the only negative thing I could say about this box though.

Refractors: Ah, yes, the stuff that makes Finest the brand it is. Back then, there were only refractors and gold refractors. There was not one refractor (and X-fractor for that matter) for every color of the rainbow like now. In this product, refractors fell 2 per box on average while gold refractors were a much tougher pull, falling in every 2.5 boxes or so, and were limited to just 100. The 2 I got in this box were the refractor version of the “Sensations” subset cards of Troy Glaus and Ben Grieve (pictured above). I did not receive any gold refractors.

Peel & Reveal: This insert is very similar to the Mystery Finest sets found in basic Topps and other Topps Finest issues. You received a card covered by a black sheet that you had to peel off. It was a little remeniscent of Fleer Mystique except these were WAY harder to peel off. There were 3 versions of this insert. The most common, the one that I got, was called Sparkle (use your imagination). It was of Roger Clemens. The Sparkle cards come roughly 1 per box. The second parallel is called Hyperplaid and is a little harder to find. These have the perpendicular lines on them that Atomic Refractors do. These fall roughly 1 in every 2.5 boxes. The final parallel, and the most rare, is called Stadium Stars. I’m not even sure what these look like to be honest, but they are found roughly 1 in every 5 boxes or so. There are 20 total players in this set.

Leading Indicators: This is an interesting 10 card set. The player is featured with a background of a baseball field behind him. When you press down on a certain part of the “field,” a stat is shown. It shows the breakdown of how many of the player’s 1998 home runs went to each particular field. For example, on my Andres Galarraga card, I see that he hit 15 home runs to left field, 22 home runs to center field, and 7 home runs to right field in 1998. Pretty unique card, you don’t see this kind of originality anymore, and that’s sad.

Prominent Figures: This is a huge insert set of 50 cards. It’s called Prominent Figures because they take 5 statistical categories and number the cards according to what the (then) single-season record was for each. For example, Home Runs cards were limited to 70, RBI cards were limited to 190, Slugging % cards were limited to 847, Batting Average cards were limited to 424, and Total Bases cards were limited to 457. There were 10 players for each of these categories. Some were in more than one category. The concept was that the 10 players selected were all deemed capable of challenging the record for that particular stat. In McGwire’s case, he set the record so the Home Runs were limited to 70. I got a Slugging Percentage card of Barry Bonds. It is numbered 443/847. For a Bonds card, it’s really nice, I have to admit.

Split Screen: The final type of insert I pulled from my box was the Split Screen insert. These cards featured 2 players who seemed to have some sort of common bond between them. Some played for the same team (Ken Griffey, Jr./Alex Rodriguez), some were longtime vets who played their entire career for one team (Cal Ripken, Jr./Tony Gwynn), and some were deemed the Wave of the Future (Travis Lee/Pat Burrell). Every Split Screen card had a refractor-type finish on at least one half of the card. These cards fell about 1 per box. There was a parallel version of this though, in which BOTH halves of the card had the refractor finish. Those were seeded in every third box or so. I got very lucky with this insert. I pulled a Ken Griffey, Jr/Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds/Albert Belle single refractor card AND a DUAL refractor of Travis Lee/Pat Burrell. As I recall, I had 2 of these 3 Split Screen Cards in the same pack!. It’s always nice to beat the odds. 😉

Overall, 1999 was one of my favorite years for Topps Finest. It wasn’t just a set of veterans and refractors like the early issues. It also wasn’t a gimmicky assortment of mini-boxes, rookie autographs, and an insane amount of refractors like the later issues. It was a nice medium, filled with veterans, rookies, young stars, parallels, and great looking inserts with some unique and innovative ideas. If you’re a fan of inserts, you’ll like this product. There’s some great looking stuff in here, and for around $40 or so, how could you go wrong? It sure beats the $8 jersey card you’ll get from that pack of Playoff Absolute Memorabilia of the same MSRP.

As always, thanks for the read!
-John