In August, I will once again be making the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, NY for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend. It's always a joy to see the motley of jerseys in the closed streets in the small Otsego Lake town, and every year, one of MLB's many cities will be well-represented.
Last year, it was Houston, Texas and Montreal, Quebec - the latter of which is no longer an MLB city.
I'm assuming we'll see plenty of Québécois again this season with the induction of the ultra-talented Vladimir Guerrero
While I plan to look at all of their lives through baseball cards in the coming months, I'll start with Big Jim Thome. Long known as one of the nicest guys in baseball, and worthy of enshrinement on that alone - Jim Thome also did one thing incredibly well:
Thome was a fast riser in the Cleveland farm system, spending just four seasons down there, hitting just 51 HR between Rookie Ball and AAA, before earning a full-time job in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Believe it or not, scouts thought early on that Thome was undersized - just 175 lbs. when he was drafted as a shortstop out of high school.
While Stadium Club may have peaked as a base set in 1992, Jim Thome sure didn't.
But seeing as he made it into the set in both 1992 and 1993, Topps probably knew he would be a mainstay for years to come. It's still strange to look back on his early career and see him A) fielding on the left side of the diamond as opposed to the right and B) fielding at all.
Seriously, Topps, there's taters to be mashed.
Still thin. Still playing a position other than 1B.
The card? Still one of TSC's top set designs, in all of its mid-1990's label maker glory.
The Cleveland uniforms really took off in 1995, as did Thome's career. He would go on to mash 25 HR in 1995 and drive in 73, slashing .314/.438/.558!
Sadly, Cleveland came up short to the Atlanta Barves superpitchers in the 1995 World Series.
TSC '96 is an underappreciated set. Topps stuck with the foil, but got a little bit more ambitious than in previous years.
Thirty-eight more taters found themselves mashed.
Let's just forget about '97 TSC.
Goddamn, though, look at those forearms.
Honestly, I don't remember 1998 TSC, but at least Thome has found his way to 1B at this point. He's also starting to thicken, growing plump off that 1997 World Series cut, perhaps, despite losing in seven games to the Florida Marlins in one of my favorite childhood World Series matchups.
Am I alone in my love of 1999 TSC? That's about as classy as you can make holofoil on the front of a card, and the semi-transparent logos in the top left corner were spectacular and surprisingly never matched by another copycat product.
By 2000, there were whispers of a future Hall of Famer in Jim Thome. He didn't slow down, either, blasting 37, 49 and 52 HRs from 2000-2003, his final years in Cleveland before his 2011 homecoming at age 40.
And another year I don't remember, 2002. Despite that, TSC found a real gem here with the alternate home uniform and pickoff play at first.
Now, you might be thinking: "Jim Thome played well after the 2003 season, in fact, he had 231 home runs after that season!"
And you would be right, but there's a very good reason this post stops at 2003.
Because Topps Stadium Club did, and that's a damn shame. I also didn't think this post out as much as I had hoped, and with the recent re-vamp of Stadium Club, I must have assumed there were some more to post. But there isn't. Forgive me.
And Jim, if you see this: come visit our campsite in Cooperstown in August. You can mash the ceremonial Taters.