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Topps Traded & Rookie Sets for 2004 on the Way

by Paul Angilly
August 17, 2004

Back when I was a young collector of baseball cards, there weren’t many sources of information about the hobby.

Unlike these days, when we’ll probably be seeing pictures of next year’s 2005 baseball cards by next month or maybe October at the latest, young collectors in the early 1980s usually didn’t know what was coming until it appeared on the shelves of the local drug store.

But even back then there were a few hobby magazines, and it was in one of those magazines during the summer of 1981 that I first saw an advertisement for what was described as Topps’ "second series" for the year, a 132-card set with cards numbered 727-858.

I was a bit skeptical at first. After all, Topps had not issued a second series of cards since 1973 -- the last year the company issued its annual set in multiple series, as had been its practice since 1952. But as someone who had collected complete sets of Topps cards every year since 1976, I didn’t want to miss out on having a complete 1981 series, so I ordered the cards.

Turns out that the "second series" advertised in that magazine was actually the first in what became a long-running line of Topps Traded boxed sets, which were issued exclusively through hobby dealers.

Topps recently announced plans for the 2004 version of Topps Traded & Rookies, which will be issued in packs along with the Topps Chrome version (8 regular and 2 Chrome cards per pack). The cards are due for an Oct. 18 release with a $3 suggested retail price per pack.

Among the "traded" portion of this year’s set, which will include 65 veteran players, are cards of Nomar Garciaparra with the Chicago Cubs and Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees. Also included in the 220-card base set (down from 275 cards the past two years) will be 20 top picks from the 2004 amateur draft, plus 20 prospects, 110 rookies and five managers.

Each 24-pack box will include one autographed or relic card. Autographed inserts will include three different 1-of-1 "Signature Cuts" cards with cut signatures from Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Johnny Mize.

Other interesting inserts include "Transactions Dual" relic cards, featuring players such as Alex Rodriguez and Curt Schilling along with pieces of game-worn jerseys from both their old and new teams; plus Hall of Fame relic cards that include a card picturing both Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley with relic pieces from both.

"Traded" cards actually have a very long history -- dating back to the earliest tobacco cards, which were often updated with new team information when necessary.

In 1972, Topps included a seven-card subset of traded players (with the "Traded" designation prominent across the front of the card) as part of its final series of the year. Players in that first "Traded" subset included Steve Carlton and Joe Morgan.

When Topps switched to printing its entire 660-card set at once in 1974, rather than in series like in previous years, the company added in a 44-card series of Traded cards with late-season packs. The 44 cards mirrored the numbering of the players’ regular cards, but with a "T" after the number. For instance, Juan Marichal is card number 330 in the regular set, but 330T in the Traded set.

The Traded cards were not very attractive -- with many airbrushed photos (crudely hand-painted team logos over the actual photo), the word "TRADED" printed far too boldly across the fronts and faux newspaper-style backs.

Another 44-card late-season Traded series in much the same style appeared in 1976, but that would prove to be the last Traded series until Topps remade the concept in 1981 with its 132-card boxed set -- which was indeed numbered as a continuation of its regular set that year and included rookies along with the traded players.

Topps continued to issue 132-card boxed Traded sets through 1994, but after 1981 the cards were numbered as a separate set, 1T-132T. The 1994 set also included an eight-card Topps Finest insert series.

Since the series started, the rookie players have been the real driving force behind the Topps Traded sets.

The 1981 set got the ball rolling with cards of rookies Danny Ainge (who played Major League Baseball with the Blue Jays before joining the NBA with the Celtics), Tim Raines and Fernando Valenzuela. Other key rookie cards from Topps Traded sets over the years have included: Cal Ripken Jr. in 1982, Darryl Strawberry in 1983, Dwight Gooden in 1984, Barry Bonds in 1986, Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989, Jeff Bagwell and Jason Giambi in 1991, Nomar Garciaparra in 1992 and Todd Helton in 1993.

While Topps issued its Traded sets from 1990 and 1991 in wax pack form in addition to the factory sets (cards from packs are printed on gray stock while cards from boxed sets are on white stock), the company issued the Traded set exclusively in packs for the first time in 1995.

That would prove to be the last Topps Traded set until it returned as a boxed set again in 1999 and 2000. Those two sets each included one random autographed card per set, with some of those autographs now becoming very much in demand as the players begin to excel at the Major League level.

Over the years, "Traded," "Update" or "Rookies" sets have been used by most major manufacturers. Fleer issued Update sets in various forms from 1984 (with Roger Clemens’ rookie card) through 1996, Donruss had Rookies sets from 1986 through 1992 (plus a separate Traded set in 1989) and Score issued Rookie/Traded sets from its first year in 1988 through 1992.

Even Sportflics got into the act when it issued a 50-card Rookies set to complement its premiere issue in 1986. The company’s second "Rookies" update set in 1987 marked the first -- and will likely remain the only -- time that an update set was issued in two series, as Sportflics offered 25 cards each in its Rookies series 1 and Rookies series 2 sets that year.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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