Box Break: 2001 Topps Baseball Series 1

Writer’s note: This is my first post on a box break. The goal is to do more throwback box breaks… but that will depend on my budget. Let me know if there’s anything else you would like to see me cover in the comments!

I was 10 when 2001 Topps Series 1 hit the market, and I can remember my reaction to seeing the design for the first time.

I didn’t like it.

I think I bought one or two packs of it at the time, then picked up the Bernie Williams card at a show (he was my favorite player), and was done with the product. For 15 years, anyway.

Get some 2001 Topps baseball cards here

Recently, I found a box of Series 1 on sale on eBay for about $25. For whatever reason, I decided to take the plunge and buy it, even though I was still not a fan of the design.

But a funny thing happened after buying it — I started to really look forward to cracking the box. Even the design of the base cards became appealing.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share what I got out of the box — there were 36 packs, with 10 cards in each pack — and highlight some of the neat features of the set.

The Basics:
Base set size: 406 cards (Checklist)
Different base cards I now have: 338
Base card doubles: 7
Inserts: 16

As you can tell, a majority of these cards are base. Most people don’t care too much about the base, but I really like the ratio. It makes the inserts more valuable, unlike the watered-down inserts that have become very prominent in recent years.

Related: My 5 favorite baseball card designs of the past 25 years

Also nice is the lack of doubles. Just out of the box, I got about 83 percent of the set done. Add in the few cards I have back in my childhood home (I’ll pick them up during Christmas) and I should have a majority of the set done. As a set collector, I really appreciate it.

The Design: 

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t a fan of the set design when I was younger. I had never seen a green border before (and have yet to see one since, for good reason) and I think that’s what threw me off. I also remember not liking the big, golden 50th anniversary stamp on every card but I’ve accepted that now.

Here’s what it looks like:

As you can probably guess, the cut of the cards was very hit or miss. Some of them looked good, others were a bit off:

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The side of the card is cut pretty close to the gold border.

…. while one was way off:

Good try, good effort on the cut.

Good try, good effort on the cut.

But the vast majority were pretty good. Overall, it makes you appreciate the improvements on that front that have been made in recent years.

And just for fun, I’m including a couple of photos of current (or recently retired) stars when they were much younger, just to show how much has changed since the set’s debut.

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And one more note on the base set. As a person who is a big fan of baseball (obviously) and The X-Files, I love this Mark Mulder card:

Once you get past the base cards of the players, you get to the managers. It’s a nice reminder to see who was managing back then — and that Mike Scioscia was entering his second season with the Angels — and served as a nice reminder that Terry Francona managed the Phillies.

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Coming after the managers are all the rookies/prospects. This was back in the day when players could have a few rookie/prospects cards, and it was tough to tell which were the real rookie cards. This set hit on some big names in this area, including Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright, Barry Zito, C.C. Sabathia, and Ben Sheets. But one name that really struck with me was Brian Cole, who, if you don’t know the story, was once a very talented prospect whose life was cut short. SI had a profile on him, and although it’s long, it’s definitely worth a read.

Still in the base set is a look back at some “Golden Moments” since it was the 50th anniversary celebration for Topps.

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Rounding out the base set are some foil season highlight cards. The first few are of individual feats like Cal Ripken Jr. reaching the 3,000-hit mark, while the backend goes over postseason highlights. The final card in the set, No. 406, is a team photo of the World Series-winning Yankees, a nice touch for me as a Yankees fan.

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The Inserts

Compared to recent years, this set is light on the inserts. But that’s quite OK in my book.

One thing you’ll notice with all the inserts is that a majority of them have an anniversary theme to them. Whether they’re reprints of some of the most sought-after Topps cards:

Two of the four reprints I got.

Two of the four reprints I got.

or predicted what was ahead for Topps:

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or planned what the future held for some players:

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or just highlighted some of the “golden” players from that time:

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a majority of them all based around the anniversary of Topps. Oh, and foil was also a big thing back then.

But the most enduring legacy of that set was the gold parallel cards. I don’t remember how well received they were at the time, but considering that they’ve become a staple of every set — and have come to include different variations — I would say it’s been a success.

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Looking past the anniversary inserts, we get to my favorite insert. I know I got the Vladimir GuerreroRoberto Clemente card when I was younger, and thought it was so cool. I still kept that outlook when I pulled a few more from my box. It’s one I will look into finishing one day.

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And now, we get to the big hit of the box. In an era where we get a majority of the cards with a sticker autograph, it was really nice to see an on-card auto of a card that would have been huge back when this set first came out:

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Autos aught to be on cards, not stickers. See how nice this one looks?

Pat Burrell was the Phillies’ top prospect, and was supposed to team up with Scott Rolen to bring the Phillies back into the spotlight. Of course, both of those players didn’t do that (the honors went to Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard) but both players carved out very good careers. So while that Burrell card may not be a huge-money card like it probably was in 2001 (eBay sold listings don’t go back that far), but it’s still a really cool pull.

While if I tried to sell these cards individually, I doubt I could recoup my money, that’s quite OK in my book. I’m in it to collect and only sell the doubles. And as a trip back in time, it was definitely money well spent.

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