I fell down a rabbit hole.
The white rabbit in this case was Night Owl's annual post on the best Dodgers card in the base set. I thought to myself: "Hey, I should do something like that for the Red Sox cards! But why limit myself to the base set? There's plenty of great sets and inserts out there. Maybe I'll do a Top 10 list!"
Night Owl knows better. Night Owl is smart. I am not smart.
I started going through all the sets. Well, not all of them. I decided to ignore the parallels and printing plates, the autographs and relics too. After browsing the online exclusives, I decided I probably wouldn't find many contenders there either. I dismissed non-licensed stuff, feeling they were behind the eight ball to begin with, and would have to really blow me away to crack the elite. As I began my search, I found myself favoring the retail products and bypassing the hobby exclusives.
So essentially, I focused on the base cards in the sets and the inserts. Short prints were fair game too. As I went through each set, I downloaded the image of any card I felt might make the list and kept it in a folder where I can see them all at once.
When all was said and done, my folder contained 40 cards! That's a lot of great cards, but what made the process of whittling down to a Top 10 list an exercise in insanity was how similar a lot of these cards were. It's obvious that any list of this year's best Red Sox cards would have to include cards depicting the prior season's World Series run. But I had 9 playoff caliber cards in my folder! I could have done a Top 10 on that subject alone! Let's take retired greats as another example. I had 12 cards that featured a Hall a Fame player on it! Heck, 5 of those cards were of Ted Williams, and 3 of those cards featured his involvement in the military! It's 2019 and I could have easily done a Top 3 cards of Ted Williams in the armed forces!
All I could do was break them down into smaller groups and make decisions. Which of the two Gatorade showers should I pick? Is this card of Fenway Park better than this one? How many Stadium Club cards should realistically make the list? Why am I debating between 2 Eduardo Nunez cards?
We're all mad here.
But I did it! I picked the 10 best Red Sox cards of the year. Then I looked at it and lamented the lack of variety. I swapped out a few cards, decided they weren't the best cards, and swapped them again. I settled on a final group, and still I feel many worthy cards were excluded. Here's an example of some cards that didn't make the cut:
Now, I present to you the Top 10 Greatest Red Sox cards of 2019:
#10. Gypsy Queen #263 David Price
David's smile is everything here. If you substituted a look of competitive concentration here, the image would resemble any number of other cards. With that big grin - it almost looks like he's skipping, doesn't it?
#9. Archives #247 Bobby Doerr
Sometimes the background is everything. This well colorized photo of the underappreciated Hall of Famer is enhanced by what you see behind him. The stands, the building, the old-time catching gear. You're practically transported back in time!
#8. Topps #579 Andrew Benintendi
The background is a factor here to, but more in the "you know you're at Wrigley by the ivy" sense. This photo is iconic around Boston, with Benny doing his best Air Jordan leap.
#7. Big Leagues #374 J.D. Martinez (Award Winners)
The card may say "J.D. Martinez" but we all know this is a Hank Aaron card. J.D. just makes a cameo standing beside the legend. I love it when players of yesteryear are shown with today's current stars.
#6. Stadium Club #76 Chris Sale
I had to try really hard to prevent Stadium Club from dominating this list. The pictures are usually magical, including this perfectly cropped shot of Sale during the National Anthem. As I stated before, the background really makes the card.
#5. Topps #160 Fenway Park
Speaking of Fenway Park, Topps really hit a home run with these stadium cards. Every one I've seen has been phenomenal. The Green Monster seems so far away, yet is unmistakable.
#4. Stadium Club #13 Ted Williams
It's still amazing that Williams fought in not one, but two wars! Can you imagine what kind of numbers he would have had if it wasn't for all that time in the service? This outside-of-baseball moment reminds us that he never hesitated to put his country first.
#3. Big League #331 Brock Holt
I enjoy celebration shots. The quality of the photos has improved so much that you can see the details in each droplet. The Brock-Star's smile, along with that tensed up pose of someone who has just been exposed to something wet and cold, really brings this card to life!
#2. Stadium Club #1 Mookie Betts
Disagree if you wish, but Mookie isn't the subject here. The sign and the ideal it represents is. Every player, from the minors to the Majors, holds on to this ideal. It's a team ideal, and the ultimate team goal.
#1. Topps #549 Sweet Victory
It's that goal that makes my choice for #1 easy. Two players hugging in jubilation while a horde of their fellow teammates rush towards the inevitable dog pile. It's tied to one of the greatest moments in franchise history, and there really wasn't any card that was going to beat it.
I could have just followed Night Owl's lead and picked the best card from the base set. It would have been the same result. I also find it funny that eventually, no inserts made the list despite some great contenders (There were some real gems in those 150th Anniversary sets!). Still, I'm pleased with this list for now. It showcases 5 different sets and 9 different players. I don't know if I'll have the energy to do this again next year. We'll see.