Saturday, December 31, 2016

Still Alive

As we have come to end of 2016, there is no doubt that the past year will be remembered as the year that death reigned. We lost a number of cultural icons in the entertainment business; the U.S. political system as we know it seems to have died; Topps dropped the borders on its flagship product and many lamented the death of a once great company.

I won't address the first two 'deaths' but I will be addressing the final one because that's what we do here at Collating Cards; we collect-and talk about- Topps baseball.

The cries of a premature death actually began during the summer of 2015, when Topps first released images and details for 2016 flagship. It was a departure from the traditional bordered set and collectors did not like it. My initial response was that I wasn't happy that they dropped the borders but the design (name plate, diagonal bars with team logo) wasn't bad. The smoke effect was a little different, but I was reserving my opinion until I had the cards in hand. Once the set was released, my opinion slowly changed from 'meh' to 'it's really grown on me.' Needless to say, I felt like a voice in the wilderness for the better part of the year.

So, no, Topps has not died; the company is alive and kicking and, with the popularity of the Topps Now product, seems to be doing quite well. We're only a month away from the release of 2017 Topps Series 1 (a design which I really like) and I'm preparing myself for the onslaught of negative comments that will surely accompany its release. But we're here to talk about this past year, so let's review some of the best things to come out of 2016 products (and one stinker).

Favorite Card: (Tie) Topps #479b Marcus Stroman and Stadium Club #280 Mike Trout

 As much as I like these cards, they're ones that I do not own and (in regards to the Stroman) probably never will own, given the price it commands. Regardless, they're great shots of a young rising star holding a bobble head doll from what I'm presuming was the June 7, 2015 stadium giveaway and an established star next to a life-sized bobblehead. While I like action shots, portraits etc., the hobby needs more photos portraying the 'fun' side of the game, and these are two of the best.

Most Overrated Set of the Year: Topps Bunt

Once again, I find myself a voice in the wilderness on this one. I've seen a lot of collectors comment on this being the set of 2016, and I just don't get it. The common denominator in all of their comments is the low pack price and how it will bring the youth back into the Hobby, which leads me to believe many collectors are out of touch with today's kids. I think some- not all- of these collectors are still stuck in the late '80s, expecting to pay less than a buck for a pack of cards.

Besides the price point, the big-ass team logo in the background seems to be a popular aspect of the design. The logo appearance, to me, is a bigger distraction than the smoke on flagship. The design also includes a lack of borders; collectors complain about no borders on flagship and are convinced that it was designed to accommodate its digital brand, but they love this design. So, what's it going to be? Would you still love this product if it was flagship? As far as the inserts found in Bunt... I really see no difference between them and those found in Series 1, Series 2 and Update, which are often described as uninspired. Would I love to see lower price points across the board within the Hobby? Absolutely. Do inserts make or break my interest in a base set? No. Does a design determine if I will collect a product? In the case of flagship- no, because it's what I collect. (Although, I will say that my interest can wane because of a bad design)

In summary, I have found that many lauded the product for the same things they hated on in this year's flagship, leaving me scratching my head. I find it to be an inferior product and one that won't save the Hobby.

Set of the Year: Topps Marketside Pizza

I was tempted to name Stadium Club Baseball as my set of the year- beautiful photography, strong checklist and decent price are tough to beat. However, my pick of the year is for a product that marked the return of the food-issue. After all, any set that can compel me to drive to Wal-Mart and buy some of their nasty pizza (or even the decent breadsticks) has something going for it.

My initial reaction to the design of this set was mild at best, loathsome at worst. But like flagship, I eventually found it growing on me and decided to complete the 50-card set. Topps can be forgiven for not including any retired veterans (two or three would have been nice); the inclusion of the Phillie Phanatic and Mr. Met more than make up for that omission.

Biggest Surprise of the Year: 2016 Topps New Era 

Not only did cardboard return to the food aisle in 2016, but we also saw it return to retail outlets such as LIDS and LIDS Clubhouse stores. It was in these stores where my choice for Biggest Surprise  of the Year were available.

The announcement of this 9-card set (available in four-card packs) came unexpectedly and excitement was quickly dampened for those of us who didn't have any nearby participating stores. Never fear, as the cards began appearing on eBay as quickly as they had left the store shelves.

Insert Set of the Year: Tribute to the Kid

While not the prettiest insert set, nor the most rare, Tribute to the Kid, found in Topps Series 2, is my choice for Insert Set of the Year. After all, no player, save Mickey Mantle, has impacted the Hobby as much as the Kid. He's a Hobby Icon and this set chronicled his storied career in a 30-card set- and just in time for Junior's Hall of Fame induction this past summer. And for one summer, collectors were able to relive the joys of collecting the Kid during the 90s and early '00s.

Twenty-Sixteen gave us many reasons to be excited about this Hobby of ours. It resurrected some of those things we enjoyed during the Hobby's 'Golden-Age' and proved that not all of our cultural icons are dead. Yes, the Hobby is still very much alive and we can hope for more of the same in 2017. Happy New Years, everybody!

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