Sunday, September 2, 2012

Too many Topps

Although other manufacturers have tried to wriggle around the limitations, let's be honest--Topps has the baseball card monopoly and that's our current reality.  Fortunately, for all my railing against what I consider their declining quality (giveashitness, if you will), they do produce some cool stuff that can appeal to a wide group of collectors, and I think many of your posts bear that out.

So while I think it's overall a negative for the hobby, one that should be righted before long, I've essentially made my peace with Topps' stranglehold on the baseball card market.  Something they CAN do to make things better for someone like me, though, is to consolidate their vast array of products to the point where they can maintain a good level of choice while still trying to provide good value (and not drive collectors insane with 200 cards of their favorite player every year).

While flipping through Beckett's OPG list of Topps sets from the last two years (yes, Beckett still sucks ass), I put together this quick list of Topps Brands (hopefully I didn't miss any):
  • A&G
  • Archives
  • Bowman + Chrome
  • Bowman Draft + Chrome
  • Bowman Platinum
  • Bowman Sterling
  • Finest
  • Flagship
  • Gypsy Queen
  • Heritage
  • Lineage
  • Marquee
  • Mini
  • Museum Collection
  • Opening Day
  • Pro Debut
  • Tier One
  • Topps Chrome
  • Topps Update
  • Tribute
  • Triple Threads
Well that's certainly a lot to choose from, especially when you consider that each is littered with endless inserts, parallels, and in some cases, extraneous non-sports cards (I'm looking at you, A&G, Gypsy Queen, et al).  Like I said, I think choice is great, but there comes a point where giving Topps the monopoly because of collector confusion over too many products looks stupid.  Add to that the fact that Topps produces a lot of cookie-cutter sets, plus way too many high-risk/low-reward offerings (such as anything with "Platinum" or "Sterling" at the end) and in some ways things look WORSE for collectors compared to pre-monopoly times.

But this isn't one of those posts where I bitch about Topps and move on to something else--I'm finally doing what many of you have already done well:  offering my opinion on which sets Topps should produce each year.
1.  A&G + Gypsy Queen:
I think I've made it pretty clear that I'm no fan of either of these sets, but I certainly respect other collectors' excitement for A&G to arrive each year, and as such, I definitely think it belongs.  Actually, I almost think it would be cool if Topps got involved in Gint-a-cuffs as a tip of the cap to one of the cooler innovations of the card blogging world.

Since I don't collect either, I supposed my arguments don't carry as much weight, but I'd respectfully request that A&G limit the non-sports subjects to inserts instead of muddying up the base set with F-listers like Wee Man. I'd also like to see the insert explosion culled a little bit so people don't need to buy eight boxes to get 70% of the set.  And while we're at it, can we ditch GQ's lame non-sport-in-fact-not-really-anything "relics"?

Other than that, this is a good spot for some of Topps' more unorthodox ideas, like the Ginter Code contest.  So combine those two sets into one, with the above modifications, and of course keep the minis in play.

2.  Bowman Chrome:
Notice I didn't say just "Bowman," and why should I?  Everybody knows the Chrome RC is the RC to get when it comes to anyone.  Topps experimented a few times with inserting a couple Chrome cards into base packs, and now it's become the norm, making it more difficult to collect either, and forcing one or the other on collectors that only prefer one.  Well, there's obviously no reason to continue non-Chrome Bowman anymore, so let's ditch it and keep what the people prefer.

The biggest difference here would be making this an entirely rookie and prospect set.  There are other brands that can offer the Chrome-type look for the veterans, and this is a rookie-centric set anyway, so why even maintain the pretense?

In a way, this could even be combined a bit with the Minor League Rookie Debut set, so Topps can stay true to the stupid "RC" rules that now exist.  That or spring training shots, I suppose, since it doesn't really matter to me.  The point is, this is where the high-end RCs should end up, plus potential hidden gems in the form of lesser-known rookies.  That and color--lots and lots of color!

3.  Finest:
Just because I'm keeping Bowman Chrome in the mix doesn't mean we have to kill off Finest!  However, Finest should live up to its name and be a much smaller set that only includes the biggest stars and a very select few rookies, which can then be supplemented by the rookie redemption program.  I'm thinking around 100 cards in the base set including the inserted rookies/prospects, and then a few redemptions that are decided during the season, as is the case right now.

As with Bowman Chrome, we should get a lot of color here, and a few different inserts (with Refractor versions, of course!) to boot.  There's no need to go overboard with hits, but if any relics are included, they should all be Refractor versions and none of them should include plain, white swatches--Finest's design can really make color swatches pop and this set should take advantage of that.  I also like the idea of continuing to insert hits of legends and HOFers because those have resulted in some very cool cards.

4.  Flagship:
Of course I wouldn't do away with many people's favorite release of the year.  This isn't a set that's broken, exactly, but it could definitely use some improvements.

For one thing, it should remain split into three series:  I, II and III (a.k.a. Rookie/Traded).  However, I think we need to cut down on some of the increasingly extraneous subsets, especially anything of the "Classic Combinations" ilk.  Give me one card of each player that deserves one, All-Stars (but not Home Run Derby, etc.) in Series II, then traded players (in updated uniforms) and prospects that didn't get cards in I and II in the Rookie/Traded version (but that's IT!).  The latter should be much smaller than either of the first two as it doesn't need any embellishment.

Price-wise, this needs to get back to reality at closer to $1/pack, with 36-pack boxes running under $45.  No guaranteed hits are necessary, and inserts shouldn't outnumber base cards in packs, meaning you should be given a realistic chance at pulling a base set in each box.  That should be doable as Topps should enforce a minimum five-year moratorium on reprint inserts!  It's time to make this set much more attractive to casual and young collectors who don't want to throw down $75 for 20 triples and a scrub sticker auto--get them hooked on a fun-but-subtle design every year as they look forward to chasing everybody's favorite base set!

5.  Heritage:
Heritage has some good things going for it and should definitely stick around.  Lots of people seem to like to collect a set that celebrates the design of a favorite Topps set of days past.  Considering how nice these usually end up looking, I can't really blame them.  I've always stayed away because the money it takes to build one of these sets is too much for me, especially thanks to the many short prints.  I certainly don't think they should be dropped, though, because that seems to be a favorite aspect of this set as well.

However, Heritage is one of those Topps sets that seems to inspire some imitators...from Topps.  Besides Heritage, you can see some of the same design features in Topps Archives, which is also a great set whose characteristics I do enjoy quite a bit.  Therefore, I think I'd like to see those two combined into one release where a few different classic designs are used for the base set, kind of like Archives is doing now.  I'd leave it up to Topps if they wanted to SP some of the better current stars, legends, or both.  It should then continue inserting hits of current players, some fan favorites, and of course, legends.  All of that could turn this into a set that I would conceivably actually try to collect if the value appeared to be there.

6.  Stadium Club:
As the 90s started turning towards the 2000s, Stadium Club became a set I would look forward to collecting.  While the flagship set was always on my calendar, Stadium Club was a nice treat with its outstanding photography (in my opinion the best Topps had to offer), borderless cards (hooray!), and premium design.  It was also usually a reasonable size, maybe 200 at the most, which meant it largely featured players I actually liked.

Eventually the set bought into the hit craze of the 2000s, especially the final version in 2008, which included autographed base RCs.  For whatever reason, Topps decided to kill it off then, and fans of some of the best shots in the hobby were left hanging.

Well I say it's time to give those collectors what they want.  Bring this gem back in the form of a set in the neighborhood of 150 cards.  Packs should include around eight cards and cost no more than $2.  The set should include a few inserts and the hits should come in the form of autographs only.  The base set can include some rookies, but as with some of the other sets above, just a select few to keep the bust factor to a minimum.  I don't know about other collectors, but if Stadium Club were to rise from the ashes, I'd be willing to throw down good money to once again complete one of my favorite base sets.

7.  Total:
Although I admittedly only worked on the 2002 and 2003 versions, this is a set I think should be resurrected after its untimely demise after the 2005 release, especially in today's economy.  More than flagship Topps, this set is a great way to appeal to young collectors and set-builders alike.

For kids it's a cool way to grab a very cheap pack or two, get a couple guys from your favorite team, and even just end up with a team set through packs or trading.

And set collectors have a blast working on something that totals around 1000 cards but doesn't include ridiculous SPs or variations, plus has a configuration that makes for easy trading with other collectors instead of requiring you to buy 10+ boxes of the product.

First and foremost I'd keep the price of this set as cheap as possible, with as many cards per pack as Topps can manage, because I think this is the set you use to get kids hooked on collecting.  To keep the price down, a couple inserts are fine, but I don't think hits are necessary at all here--that shouldn't be the means you use to introduce a young person or n00b into collecting.  Get them to appreciate the fun of collecting a set and they're more likely to stick around for your other sets.

Also, definitely make this a binder-friendly set with a card count that's a multiple of nine.  I hadn't ever been much of a binder person but now have both of my issues of this collection in a couple albums, where they're perfectly displayed.

8.  Triple Threads:
I'm cool with having one high-risk/??? reward set like this each year, and the one that produces the cards I like the most (once someone else has paid the ridiculous admission fee and usually come out disappointed) is Triple Threads.  Honestly, if Topps needs something akin to a cash grab like this to keep going, as long as we limit it to one, I can deal with it. And really, the high price does result in a small handful of jaw-dropping cards such as huge patch/nameplate autographs and ridiculous booklet cards.

Just a few modifications here.  Mainly, due to the high price (which, again, I wouldn't change because this, more than any other Topps set, is really a lottery) I'd prevent all hits from having both plain relic swatches and a sticker autograph; at most a card could have one of the two.  I mean the Porcello above looks nice, but if you're spending $150+ and ending up with Chris Getz (woo!) and Angel Pagan (d'oh!), would you really be all that happy pulling something like that?  This set shouldn't just be a sticker dump, and neither should buyers be punished with cards that'll bring peanuts in return.  Even crappier players can sell at a small premium when the jersey pieces feature an extra color or two.  There has to be a way to accommodate that and still keep costs reasonable considering the return Topps gets per box.  Make this one pay off just a bit more for collectors and watch more of them throw down a chunk of change for a shot at the jackpot.

In case you weren't counting, that comes to ten different releases (including flagship Series II and III/Update).  I'd have to imagine that's enough choice and variety--especially incorporating many features of duplicate/similar sets--for today's collectors.  Over the course of twelve months that just leaves two without any Topps release, which wouldn't be the end of the world (or could be supplemented by either adding a couple other minor sets or splitting a couple of the above into multiple series).  I'd argue that flagship Series I should kick off the collecting year, with II a few months later (but definitely during the season) and III available after the World Series.  Topps could then mix in the other releases throughout the year to maintain collectors' interest without overwhelming them.  This would hopefully result in an optimal amount of choice without a ridiculous number of useless, valueless sets.

Well, what say you, fellow collectors?  Are there any sets I missed, any you would axe, or is there anything you would change about my proposed release schedule?  Every collector is different and I anticipate a good amount of dissent and debate, which is ideal here since I'm just one collector.  And ultimately, how would YOU change things for the better?


  1. I pretty much agree with your sentiments. The only thing I might substitute is Topps Chrome instead of Finest, only because I've never been much of a Finest fan.

    I'm 100 percent with you with a possible resurrection of Stadium Club and especially Topps Total. I think a set like Total could thrive in today's hobby, given the popularity of set building these days.

    Another reason I always loved Total is that it featured players that other sets (like flagship) might have missed. Middle relievers, bench players, etc., just guys who don't generally get a lot of respect in the hobby.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment. The reason I went with Finest is that I've never loved the fact that Chrome is itself just a parallel of base Topps, but since I don't really collect either, I'd be fine with your substitution since either way you'd get some cool color inserts.

      Yeah, I totally agree with your assessment of Total--THAT's the set where Topps should be putting the guys who don't otherwise get cards, NOT in the premium sets!

  2. I agree with most of what you are saying here. Total needs to come back and replace Opening Day for sure. The only thing I would dd is a Combination of the Tier One/ Museum/ Marquee releases. I liked them all except for the price. Combine the three into one set and cut the price in half and I think it's a winner. Just my 2 cents.

    1. Honestly, if there's enough people willing to buy that combo and/or Triple Threads, then it couldn't hurt, but yeah, it definitely has to be one combined release. And I totally second the price cut idea!

  3. Good post, I am fairly well aligned with you. I would also prefer Topps Chrome instead of Finest - it would be better if they made about 30-50% of the cards with different photos - mainly due to my preference of the colored borders vs. the colored backgrounds in Finest.

    I never built a Topps Total set but would love to, including players deeper on the roster would be cool for a set and also as a team collector.

    I am working on a post for a new set suggestion that improves on a concept UD tried and failed on. Stay tuned.

    1. You guys are starting to convince me on the Chrome vs. Finest topic.

      Total is a lot of fun for as cheap as it can be. I didn't care for the '04 and '05 designs as much--I really liked the inaugural 2002 set--but either way it's cool.

      I'm looking forward to seeing what you go with. I'm also considering a post where I talk about sets I'd love to see if the other manufacturers ever came back.

  4. I'm think the two of us might have been separated at birth or something. I agree with most of your selections. I think Finest is a shell of it's former self and should be shit canned or just make it an insert in flagship. That way we could keep Topps Chrome! Topps could use the flagship design but use new pictures.

    I like Bowman but it has gotten a bit stale. Get rid of regular Bowman and only do a Chrome set. I think to simplify it for the set builders, it should release as one set after the season with ALL of the rookies that make their MLB Debuts. I'm ok with a prospect set in Bowman but they should be in their minor league uniforms, not photoshopped into MLB duds.

    Instead of having just 3 series of flagship, there should be 6 or 7 smaller series released during the year like they used to do in the 60's and 70's. Topps could actually use real shots instead of some of the laughable photoshop jobs on players switching teams.

    1. This has been great because there's been a good deal of agreement on a lot of things, even if it means disagreeing with me!

      I definitely love your idea of having Bowman Chrome come out at the end of the year so you don't have to deal with the RC vs. (RC) crap.

      And a few smaller Topps releases would be fun as long as the cost didn't get out of hand. It would be kind of fun looking forward to a series of Flagship every other month, maybe!

  5. I say Finest instead of Chrome, but only if they bring backgrounds back to finest. The nice thing about chrome is you get to see the stadiums/fields/fans/etc. chromed up. Finest has gotten to be boring because of the player-only shots.

    1. Thanks, Adam--as I was writing that I was picturing some of the really cool Finest sets from the mid-to-late 90s, the ones that really looked awesome in Refractor form. Maybe there could be room for both as long as Chrome really keeps it to a much smaller set.

  6. But isn't that still 10 sets a year, counting each version of flagship Topps as a separate set. Looking back at the height of the baseball card boom, there were six basic sets with the arrival of Bowman, Upper Deck and Score and we weren't filled with multiple sets per company (perhaps with the exception of Topps Big or Topps/Panini stickers).

    I think part of the problem with collecting today is the overspecialization designed to make up for the shortfall of collectors. If you can't pry 20 dollars from 100,000 people, you end up needing to pry 20 dollars from 10,000 people to make the same money. To do so, companies have devalued base cards, while making it difficult to collect complete sets and put forth a seemingly endless number of products to collect. Until multiple companies create competition in the baseball card realm, I would continue to expect Topps to find ways to create and push even more sets upon us, as no restraint is needed without competition.

    1. That's definitely a good point, and it makes it obvious I should have been clearer about the goal of my post--narrowing down an already dizzying array of sets so there's still a good amount of choice (and few dead periods throughout the year), but in a world where Topps is the only licensed manufacturer. In a perfect world I think we'd go back to having something like Donruss, Fleer, Topps and UD again, but with each releasing far, far fewer sets. Thanks for bringing this up.

  7. I don't care for the Bowman's, Finest, A&G and the high dollar stuff but I understand why you keep them because there are a lot of collector's who love them.

    To agree with stuff mentioned above, I like the Chrome with different pictures idea and the combining the high dollar stuff into one. I definitely want Stadium Club back and I had forgotten about Total. I could definitely get on board with Total since Trevor is collecting now that would be a great set to collect together.

    Great post.

    1. Yeah, some consolidation would really help, and I think the consensus is that Stadium Club and Total should definitely come back. I bet Trevor would have a blast trying to get all 30-ish Cubs, or maybe even the whole set.