Friday, March 21, 2014

Time Travel

I spent a couple of hours on Sunday attempting to get a handle on some unorganized cards stacked on the desk, stuck in boxes, stacked on boxes... you get the idea.  I sort my cards by brand.  I'm not sure if this what naybody else does, but it seems to work for me.  I still have about 1,000 Topps cards to get sorted but all the other brands got put either into their respective sets, or into one of my many "doubles" boxes.  Well, except for a stack of oddballs.  I think that's where my system fails me.

In going through my cards I kinda noticed something...well.... I think something became clearer to me.  Let's take a trip back in time.

Okay, not that far.  Way too far actually.  But that is a good looking piece of cardboard, no?

Yeah, there.  Let's go back to the late 70's.  What do these cards all have in common?  They're all made by Topps.  And they're rather unimaginative.  Maybe even boring depending on your point of view.  Don't get me wrong, I like these sets, but still. 

Fast forward a few years.

What do these cards have in common?  Still both made by Topps.  But much better looking cards.  Better design.  Better color.  Better.  At least I think so.  So what happened?

Those happened. 

To be clear, there are definitely some misses here too.  But there are some hits, and more importantly, there's a little competition.  Topps couldn't rest on its laurels.  Had to work a little bit.  Had to compete.  Had to deliver a better product.

Let's fast forward a couple more years.


More competition.  If I'm not mistaken Score was the first company to use those hermetically sealed packages for their "wax" packs.  I remember being frustrated by those things.  And they put a full color picture on the back.  And they used whiter card stock.  Score may not have the huge footprint in the hobby of some other brands, but they actually came up with a couple innovations that would become standard practice. 


Upper Deck took the next step from Score and introduced "premium" cards.  Their hermetically sealed packages were foil.  Their cardstock was even better.  Photos were probably better too.

But of course, they had to go and beat the dead horse.  And the dead donkey next to it.  The few brands started putting out more and more sets, and under more names too.

And eventually we end up here.  Too much competition.  Too many brands.  Each putting out too many sets.  I wasn't collecting by the early to mid 90's.  And I'm glad.  Who can keep up with all of this? 

In the span of less than 20 years, we went from 1 company putting out 1 set, to 15 companies putting out 15 sets each (or so it seems).

Fast forward to 2013.

That is probably not all of the sets put out by Topps in 2013.  And it doesn't include any of the Update versions.  Or any of the 30 inserts that were included in each set.  Or the 30 parallel versions of each set.  So we've now got the worst of both ends of the spectrum.  1 company putting out 45 sets every year.

Back in the day I could binder my PCs 1 year to a row.   It really worked for my OCD.   That's actually the binder page as it sits today.  You know how many Tony Gwynn cards were produced in the three years shown above?  41.  That includes oddballs like Mother's Cookies and Fun food pins.  41 is an attainable number.  You know how many Mike Trout cards were produced in 2013 alone?  540.  540 is not an attainable number.

Here's my rant, you can skip ahead if you want.

Hey MLB, you've got it wrong.  Again.  Since the day the National Association was formed in 1871, you baseball owners have been trying your darnedest to screw up the game.  Cross ownership of teams, Artificial supression of salaries, refusing to employ a large chunk of the population, failing to realize that revenue sharing is the only way to save the game, stubbornly sticking to the reserve clause, ignoring the impending age of Free Agency, allowing the NL and AL to have a major rule difference for 40 years, electing wimpy commissioners, failing to have a commissioner at all, etc. etc. blah, blah.  I know baseball cards aren't necessarily on the same plane of importance as the governance of the game, but you're screwing this up too.  I don't know what you think Topps is holding over your head, but I guarantee you that they need you more than you need them.  Issue another license to a company like Panini!  And another if there's a qualified company out there.  Sooner rather than later.  And follow that up by limiting every company with a license to a reasonable amount of product every year.  Let's see some competition in the marketplace!  Why should Topps showcase your business in a way that is best for you, when there's no competition for that dollar??  They showcase it in a way that is best for them, because there's no competition to stop them.

end of rant.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Topps.  I was always a Topps guy back in the day (despite my devotion to 1982 Fleer).  I just think Topps has run amuck.  Anyway, I think if we look over our history as a hobby, there's a couple lessons back there. 

Baseball cards are supposed to be fun, right?


  1. Wow! Can hardly remember a blog post I agree with more. When MLB first cut down on the licensees, they limited the amount of sets each could produce. Then I think it was 3 or 4 licensees and 6 products each. But when they gave the exclusive to Topps, it was like "do whatever the hell you want". I'm amazed at the number of sets Topps is putting out...and by the lack of creativity and quality of most of them. What's especially maddening is the number of high-end products Topps has these days. It is doing nothing for MLB to have hobby shop shelves filled with products that sell for anywhere from $50 to $1500 a pack. Any kid who might otherwise become a loyal fan of collecting and of baseball is just going to see that and decide to spend his time on something else. Heck, I feel that way as an adult.

    It's simple, really. Optimum is 3 licensees (start with Panini; I think their recent products like Hometown Heroes have earned them one, then maybe bring back Upper Deck, but not without some competition for that final license). Each company needs a base brand, a mid-range brand, and a high dollar brand--one of each. Allow two special focus brands each (for Topps, that would be Bowman and Heritage...Draft Picks and Prospects and Archives if you prefer, but NOT all 4). And then allow one more brand of their choice. Topps, you want Chrome AND Bowman Chrome? You're going to have to package them as one set or as inserts of existing sets. That's 6 brands each for 3 companies. 18 products total. Toss in Pro Debut and Heritage Minors, since the MLB license doesn't apply to either. 20. Nice round number. Something for everybody. More than enough for player and team collectors who will no longer have to mortgage the house to get every Bryce Harper (or whomever) out there.

    1. Good to know I'm not out in left field in my thinking on the subject.