Saturday, June 28, 2008

All Chromed Out

Today at Target, I spied what looked to be two recently opened boxes of 2008 Topps Chrome. What the heck I thought, so I fished around in the boxes and selected 2 packs from each. Here's what I came up with.

Pack 1
177 Daniel Cabrera
TCHC2 Joba Chamberlain Trading Card History '55 Bowman

194 Adam Jones Copper Refractor
126 Rocco Baldelli
checklist 1 of 2

Pack 2
107 Alex Gordon
TCHC4 Prince Fielder Trading Card History 1934 Diamond Stars

92 Adam Dunn XFractor
10 Cole Hamels
checklist 1 of 2

Pack 3
91 Derrek Lee
TCHC7 Ryan Braun Trading Card History 1960 Topps

96 Jered Weaver XFractor
110 Aaron Harang
checklist 2 of 2

Pack 4
115 Joe Blanton
67 Roy Halladay

80 Jorge Posada XFractor
145 Franciso Liriano

4 Packs. 4 refractors with one being numbered to 599. as well as 3 trading card history cards. Not a bad haul. Lots and lots of shiny cards for me today!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Going, going...gone.

I'm there's not going to be any posts for the next week or so probably.  Don't worry, I'm not pulling a Mario or a Ben Henry, but more of a Chris Harris.  There's a little get-together in Tennessee that I'm attending, so that's the main reason there won't be any posts.  However, since this is one of my favorite long weekends of the year, I'm going leave you for the next few days with a picture of probably my favorite item of memorabilia I own. 

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How to Build a Better Set

In the midst of all this uproar about gimmick cards and not enough value for the money, there have been many suggestions on how to change this, about the collectors boycotting certain products and the blogs refusing to cover certain brands. However, I don't think anyone has given a true break down on how to change things. Ben Henry has given the suggestion that I feel is probably the suggestion that the majority of collectors would agree upon: make your base set better. His his blog post, Mr. Henry doesn't answer how we do that, but says to make every card fun. Okay, that's great but how do the manufacturers accomplish this? What do they need to do in order to make every card fun? I believe this can be accomplished with five things. I have taken a look at my favorite set of the past 20 years that's a flagship set (A flagship set is defined as a company's base set that is often put out in two or more series and is often only called by the company name and then the series number) for the manufacturer and based my reasoning on what makes this set different from the ones today. The set I am basing my rationale on is 1993 Upper Deck. Not only is this probably my favorite modern card set, but it is a favorite of many collectors.

1. Card Design
Card companies now seem to think more is more when in actuality, most collectors probably would agree that often times less is more. The base card in 1993 Upper Deck (93UD) was clean, simplistic and stylish. The Upper Deck logo appeared nowhere on the front of the card although the words "Upper Deck" did appear horizontally across the top of the card. Often times, the words were relegated to the background of the photo and often having the player(s) in the foreground covering part of the words "Upper Deck". This subtle move focused the collector on the photograph and not on the trademark. The white borders framed the photographs well. The player's name was written in an elegant gold script that was not foil, but had a shimmer to it. The band behind the player's name was in team colors and was unobtrusive. The team name was simple and sublime, yet was easily noticeable. The back was also a standout in terms of design. There was another photograph that took up about 2/3 of the card and was different from the front photograph. The player's name and position were repeated in block lettering under the photograph. There were amended stats for only the five previous seasons, but the photograph more than made up for it. Today, there are big, gaudy team names across the top of cards, gratuitous uses of foil or foil that can't be read. There's often more border than photograph and the company logo often draws attention to itself an d away from the photograph. In this year's Topps design, I find my eyes immediately going to the team name or to the Topps logo which is smack in the middle of the photo. The backs are uninteresting and are plainer than white bread. The companies need to see that less IS more and that a design that focuses the collectors eyes on the
photograph is more appealing than all the foil in the world.

2. Photographs
Even when there weren't thirty sets a year being produced by each company, you could see a different photograph for a particular player in every set. Now, photographs are often used multiple times by the manufacturer and are often from the year before the set came out. To me, this just says that the manufacturers are lazy. Okay, I take that back, Topps is lazy. Their photographs are boring. There's no action and they don't draw me in. There's no photos of turning a double play or sliding into home, trying to beat a throw. They're mostly posed photos and those taken in the game seem to be of players waiting on a pitch or standing on base during a time out by the opposing team. While there are a few exceptions to this, this seems to be the norm for Topps. Upper Deck has and does have superior photography on its cards. The photos draw you in, there's action and even when there's not action you like looking at the card. In 93UD, every card was full of action. Even the portrait shots drew you in. Some of this, I believe, has to do with whatever filter they put the photographs through to make the colors pop like they did, but even without the color filters, the shots were impressive. And having two different photos on each card gave you twice the action. Now many cards have only one photo or if there is more than one, it's usually a reproduction of the same photo that is on the front. The reuse of photos bugs the heck out of me. Surely the photographers didn't only take one photo of some of the biggest stars of the game. Everything is computerized today and I'm sure the companies have a database of photos. It shouldn't be that hard to open up a new file and stick that photo on the card instead of the same photo that was used for your 5 previous sets. UD has always used great photography on their cards. Topps HAD great photography (look at Stadium Club) and they need to get it back.

3. Subsets
The manufacturers need to make subsets exciting again. Today, subsets are often created by having slight tweaks to the base design using different wording or logos. In 93UD, every subset looked completely different. And they were all exciting. The Team Stars subset (maybe the greatest subset ever created), paired together the big stars of each team, gave them a nickname and had them in great poses even sometimes with props. The Peter Gammons subset, I mean really anything done by Gammons dealing with baseball has to be good.
The Star Rookie subset which had a sleek design and great info on the back. The Community Heroes subset which gave another look at what some of the heroes of baseball do outside of the game. Each subset was unique, fun and exciting. Every time I got one of these sub
set cards, I felt like I was getting an insert, even though it was part of the base set. They made me say "Wow! This is a cool card!" and not because it was limited to 100 copies or was a refractor. It was cool because it featured great players, it helped me learn about new ones and showed that baseball players cared about people. The subsets of today are often award winners and season highlights and that's it. If I wanted to know that stuff, I can go to Wikipedia or whatever an look it up. Give me something inside, something that makes me go "Wow!" Show me players having fun together, in goofy poses, something out of the ordinary. Make them so different from the base set that there's no guessing if it's a subset or not and make the collector be as excited to get these cards as they would be to get any insert.

4. Inserts
If you're going to have inserts, make them quality inserts. 1993 Upper Deck had a lot of inserts, but they focused on the player or the photography and not the gimmick or a swatch or autograph. Sure there was the Baseball Heroes autograph of Willie Mays you could potentially pull, but it was so hard to pull one out of a pack due to low numbers of cards and high quantity of product. But the Iooss Collection focused on the photography. Future Heroes focused on what young stars could potentially become while Then and Now showed where some of the older stars had been and introduced young collectors to some of their favorite players in a way they might not have seen before when they were young stars. Then and Now also used one of the most tasteful applications of a hologram maybe ever. On Deck allowed the collector to get to know the players a bit better with personal questions answered on the back of the card. I know that every box can't contain an A-Rod autograph, but if I'm spending $80 for a box of flagship set cards, I want some value out of that. If I pay for a box of Topps Sterling, I know I'm at least getting a card of a star. The box of flagship set could contain a swatch of jersey from someone who's out of MLB or an autograph of a nobody. How do you remedy this?
Do you go back to the early days of inserts to where there were very few inserts and the chance to get a big one was almost non-existent or do you make tons of sets and dilute the quality of inserts but make sure that everyone gets inserts at a decent ratio? Personally, I think you do away with inserts like the Generation Now or others like that which are often filler. Keep certain historical ones like the World War II or Presidential Elections. Have other certain inserts which are cool and have the "Wow!" factor much like the mini All-Star jerseys in 2008 Topps Series 1. As for the Autos and Game-Used inserts, what I'd like to see is more quality of the player selection and maybe insert ratios which make them harder to get. Maybe one every other box instead of every box. Maybe put out an ultra low-end product where you can put all the autos of rookies and game-used swatches of relief pitchers and utility infielders. This, out of all of the issues, will be the hardest to remedy.

5. Price
When I have to pay $60-$80 for a box of the flagship set and not get a complete set, I feel something is wrong. $1.50-$2.00 per pack should be right in the wheelhouse for this kind of set. And it also says something about the hobby when the stores have to mark product up so much to keep themselves in business.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, I feel that it is a step that is in the right direction of what a set should be and what it could be if both Upper Deck and Topps got their act together. Especially Topps.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Next Big Thing

Well the MLB Draft is today and once again, the Tampa Bay Rays have the first pick.  Last year, they selected David Price from Vanderbildt.  This year, withe the draft set to start at any moment as I type this, they are selecting Beckham.  No, not that Beckham, Tim Beckham, the high school shortstop from Griffin, Georgia.  He's 6'2", 190 and was MVP of the Aflac All-American Classic.  There are people who are even comparing him, right now, to Barry Larkin.  If that's true, get used to seeing this face.  TriStar, start your engines....

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My trash IS my treasure

I recently traded in my old car as I was having issues with it that were going to cost me money that I didn't have to fix.  So I traded it in and got a new one.  In this process I had to clean out the car.  I put everything in a trash bag so I could go through it.  I finally got around to going through the trash bag and sorting what was trash and what was not.  I knew that I would have some cards in there as I do occasionally open a pack in the car and they find their way to the center console or glove box.  So going through the menagerie of objects today I came across a card that I don't even remember pulling.
It's a 2007 Topps Chrome XFractor of Brandon Phillips.  Brandon is having quite a good year this year with the Reds and could come close to a 30/30 season with him already hitting 11 HRs and stolen 9 bases.  The scan doesn't do justice to how wonderfully shiny this thing is.  So remember kids, go through all your stuff.  You never know what you'll find there.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Viva La Vida or Death and All Its Friends

The title of this essay comes from the title of the upcoming Coldplay album, but thinking about it, I thought it applied to what once was the lifeblood of this hobby.  I'm talking about the Hobby Shops.  Card Stores.  Whatever you call them, once they were the heartbeat of the collector.  Hobby stores offered that personal touch.  There was camaraderie and often more emotions were shown in a hobby store than in a Hollywood movie.  If you had a great pull from a pack, the owner and whoever else was present, would be excited with you and the reverse was true.   If you had a pack or box that had crap in it, the owner sympathized with you and sometimes would even throw in a freebie just to make sure you got your money's worth.  However, today these occurrences are rare if they happen at all.  So what happened?  It can be summed up in one word: Technology.

Driving home from the store today, my path takes me by a card store located on a major road that I had been in a few times.  For the past few weeks, I had noticed that there had been no lights on and there were no cars in front of the section of the strip mall where the storefront is located.  Today, my fears were confirmed.  A body art shop, hawking piercing and tattoos instead of game-used patches and autographs, had taken the place of the card shop.  The lone remnant that allowed you to have any idea that a card store was once there was the sign that had not yet been taken down that was among all the other proprietors of the strip mall.  Hanging as if it was left by a criminal trying to flee town, knowing he was being chased, the sign gives one look at the fate of the hobby shop.  Why did it close?  What did the owner go and do after he closed?  I don't know.  I do know that when I went in there, there weren't many people coming in and out.  He also didn't have much new product.  But the exact reason for closure remains a mystery.

By contrast, the card shop I frequent now is located just off a main road, obscured by a building.  If you didn't know where the store was, you might not see it.  However, their business is thriving.  They are always full of new product as well as old product.  The owners are cheerful and talkative and I have never left there, even without a purchase, feeling disappointed.  They've also been in business for decades. How are they doing it?  While they do have higher prices on their boxes and packs, even within the first few days of release, they're making most of their money on the internet.  They have a website where you can search a database of millions of cards from previous years as well as see what new products in stock.  Every time I have visited the store, they have been busy stuffing bubble mailers and packages full of product to be shipped anywhere in the country.  Instead of fighting the beast that is the Internet, they have embraced it and seem to have done well for themselves for it.  The technology allows the product to get to the masses, but what happens when the masses don't want the product?

Technology has changed baseball cards in ways other than eBay sales and ordering cards online.  The technology of cards has changed the way companies market their cards.  It all started with gloss and foil and then came holograms, embossment, die-cuts, chrome, refractors, mirrors, plastic cards, phone cards, pop-ups, puzzles and the biggest change with game-used memorobilia.  Once these technological advances started hitting the shelves, many collectors quit caring about base sets and only cared about inserts.  No more ooh-ing and aah-ing over that base rookie card or superstar.  Only if it's a maroon refraXion die-cut chrome numbered to 10 is it worth anything.  Now that's not saying that all companies are doing is putting out bad product.  Topps' Allen and Ginter has been a hit with set collectors and insert chasers for a few years, although this might be the year that A&G jumps the shark.  Upper Deck puts out enough different sets that everyone should be able to find one set of theirs they enjoy for whatever reason.  

But that's not to say that everything the companies do is in the best interest of the hobby.  With the recent surge in gimmick cards being put out by both Topps and UD, it feels like they both take collectors for sheep being led to the slaughter to hand over their hard earned cash for cards that they'll likely never find in a pack.  In this economy, it's hard for any regular person to spend hundreds of dollars on cards looking for one card or trying to complete a set.  But it seems, at least online, that the collectors have taken off their blinders.  They see that the Emperor has no clothes on.

So where does that leave us now?  The card collecting community is closer than ever thanks to blogs, message boards and other useful tools of the internet.  However, I personally don't think posting a pull or box break on a blog is as exciting as making the big pull live in front of people you have a personal relationship with.  That being said, it's an exciting time to be a collector.  With so many blogs being in the spotlight and being read by people who run the industry, it feels like it might be time for another revolution in the card industry.  And this brings me back to Coldplay.  For the album cover, the band chose to use a painting by EugĂ©ne Delacroix titled Liberty Leading The People (La LibertĂ© guidant le peuple) which commemorates the July Revolution of 1830.  Viva La Vida.  It means "Live the Life" or "Live Long Life".  Viva La vida or death and all its friends.  The card industry will have a long life.  If it can get through the strike year in 1994, it can hold itself up now.  However for a revolution to occur, there will be deaths.  Hobby shops will close, brands and certain card imprints will go by the wayside.  But hopefully it won't all be for naught.  I hope that we see changes that are aimed at what the consumer wants and not what the manufactures THINK the consumer wants.  In this day and age of user-generated content it shouldn't be hard.  Viva la vida.  Viva la revolucion.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I don't have anything to write about really

So here's a Chipper Patch card.  This is actually my first patch card I've ever owned as well as my only piece of game-worn/used memorabilia from Chipper.  Who has been tearing it up lately and it's finally getting people to notice him.  He's probably been one of the top five players in the National League for years now, but hasn't got as much attention as some other players who have done less than he has.  Even when he won the MVP, there wasn't the media outpouring that one would expect and I feel that his MVP year was similar to the same fanfare that Justin Morneau received for his in 2006.  Now Morneau has a few more years to prove that he's in the same league as Chipper, but I think that their MVP years are comparable.  Of course, Chipper is getting to the end of his career and is starting to be mentioned in the same statistical circles as Mantle and the like.  And when all is said and done, he'll probably be, arguably, the greatest switch-hitter ever.  That's right.  I said it.