Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Parallelarrhea: too much of a good thing?

If you get this reference you're awesome.
A couple weeks ago my first post on things I love about the hobby discussed how much I enjoyed the invention of the Refractor, an insert I still value today.  It led to the creation of one of the most popular types of parallel cards among collectors, not to mention a reason for Topps and other manufacturers to dive in headfirst to parallels as inserts.  In many ways this was a good thing for hobbyists like us because it's resulted in some very cool cards in our PCs, be they shiny, artistic, ultra-rare, or all of the above.  But as we get further into 2013, it's worth asking:  are we at a saturation point with parallels?
"R" is for "red" and "rare"

As someone who doesn't really chase complete insert sets and isn't the devoted team collector many of you are, this isn't an issue that was on my radar at all until recently.  Last year as I sought a new challenge more interesting than "Amass as many Michigan hits as possible," I took a look at the complete print runs of some of my favorite Michigan Baseball alumni and thought it would be fun to pursue a "supercollection" of each of them.  (For my purposes, that meant one each of every non-1/1 card (which would just be a bonus) since in my collecting world, more than one person is allowed to be a supercollector of a player.)  This isn't supposed to be an extremely easy project, even if I was only chasing one player, and I wouldn't want it any other way; one of the most interesting aspects of collecting is working on a specific collecting goal, making it public on a blog and/or message board, and enjoying meeting and trading with new collectors, some of whom have the same interests as you.  That makes the project and the hobby extremely enjoyable.

"Shiny":  I don't believe there's a power in the 'verse that can stop them

However, as I've pursued my player-collecting goals recently, especially when I've been able to buy large chunks of cards from COMC, I've noticed how many parallels each card has, and it really feels like things are getting out of hand.  On Monday over on TMM I showed off nine more new cards of pitcher Clayton Richard--six from 2011 Topps Chrome and three from 2011 Topps flagship--the third in a series of posts covering Richard rainbows I'm pursuing as part of his PC.  In posting those, I realized that his Topps Chrome base card has nine Refractor parallels--NINE!  Similarly, his 2011 Topps base card includes ANOTHER nine parallel versions.  Considering we're now dealing with just Topps as our only licensed card manufacturer, it's crazy that players could have this many different versions in any given set--and that's not taking into account that Topps does this in so many of their products; don't forget Bowman and Chrome, plus Topps Mini, just to name a few more.

Blue:  don't be sad--you just pulled a Refractor!

Don't get me wrong:  I'm a big fan of each player I collect, and I pull for them to appear in as many sets as possible, because that gives me more to collect, and more importantly, that generally signifies that each player is having enough success to be included.  The problem here, though, is overload.  Whereas a few years ago I might have needed to pick up as many as five parallels for my PC, if that, my work and money spent might be doubled.  I wouldn't take issue with this if, say, Topps flagship and Upper Deck each produced five parallels of their own, but that's clearly not the case here.  Would you like to see a list of each of the nine Refractors Clayton Richard has in 2011 Topps Chrome?:
  • Atomic Refractor (/225)
  • Blue Refractor (/99)
  • Gold Refractor (/50)
  • Orange Refractor
  • Purple Refractor (/499)
  • Red Refractor (/25)
  • Refractor
  • Sepia Refractor (/99)
  • X-Fractor
The first thing noticeable here is that there are two cards numbered to 99.  Why is that necessary?  Next, there's the existence of the "Atomic" and "X-Fractors," which are practically redundant:
Most of you probably already know that the X-Fractor is on the left and the Atomic version is to the right.  If you hadn't seen these before, though, and didn't know the difference, would you notice, and better yet, would you care?  And while we're at it, do we really need SIX different colors/styles (including Sepia) of Refractor parallels?  Red and Orange, for example, are redundant, but Topps has been inserting the Oranges as a "bonus" in rack packs.  Purple and blue are also fairly similar, and I wouldn't be shocked to learn that most people would favor Blue--which can really make for a stunning card--over purple.  Why not narrow things down to a regular Refractor, Blue, Gold, and maybe one other color or style that could change yearly?  I would argue that these excessive versions just don't bring anything to the table and in fact hurt the product by creating a glut of inserts.

Just as bad, if not worse, are the many versions found in the flagship set.  The base card parallels include:
  • Black (/60)
  • Cognac Diamond Anniversary
  • Diamond Anniversary
  • Diamond Anniversary Factory Set Limited Edition
  • Factory Set Red Border (/245)
  • Gold (/2011)
  • Hope Diamond Anniversary (/60)
  • Target
  • Wal Mart Black Border
Another nine, and another bunch of extraneous cards.  First and foremost, the retail-exclusive Target and Wal Mart cards need to go.  There's nothing good to say about them and there never will be, especially when you're forced to try to pull them yourself or pay a premium over the base version for a card that's barely different.  Besides that, while I understand the idea of doing something special for the Diamond giveaway, was it really necessary to insert barely different numbered versions in regular factory sets?  And while I understand Topps was rightfully celebrating 60 years of making cards, did we need three different "Diamond Anniversary" cards, two of which were unnumbered and one which has the same print run as the reasonable Black parallel?  I would stick with Gold, Black, the giveaway set, and ONE of the Diamond Anniversary versions, none of which should look awful like the Cognacs:

This is the obligatory part of the post where I want to remind you that I'm not specifically trying to pick on Topps, at least not this time.  While we're all stuck with the consequences of their monopoly today, they're far from the only offenders of parallelarrhea in card-production history.  In others' cases, it may not be an offense such as producing too many parallels with the same picture, but instead one or more extremely useless versions, such as Score's one-per-pack Glossy cards.  But how many times did you pull or pick up an Artist's Proof, Press Proof, Gold Press Proof, Museum Collection, Cooperstown Collection, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, etc., and not say to yourself "Jeez, ANOTHER one?"  I can't even open a Bowman product anymore because the one-per-pack Golds are such a stupid waste of a card (remember set-building?) that I'd rather not waste my money.

The Refractor:  can't go wrong with the classics

But I know Topps can get it right, because as far as I'm concerned, there was a point not long ago when they WERE doing it right.  They took what was generally a nice design with excellent photography, then enhanced it a few different ways--the fan-favorite Refractor (maybe even a blue one!), a Gold version numbered to the year it was produced, or maybe a rare Black--making for a card that was both nice to look at and significant to pull or purchase.  Learn from the lessons of the glut of card-production in the 1990s and get things back to reasonable levels and collectors will be much better for it, while continuing to spend their collecting money on your products.  Your move, Topps.

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