March 05, 2007

Topps 2007: Card Critic Weighs In

I went out to the Babylon Sports Memorabilia Show on Saturday in Babylon, New York. And while I ended up with really great steals (more on those later), I spent my twenty bucks and made the rite the passage into spring—4 packs of Topps and 3 packs of Heritage. And I have to say that I’m both under- and overwhelmed. I guess the most accurate term is ‘whelmed’. I’m whelmed by 2007 Topps products (so far). Let’s get right to it.

Because of the Jeter error card (and can it really be called an ‘error’? Because from the sound of all the reports, it really sounds like it was done on purpose to drum up interest in a ho-hum product line. The more I think about it, the less conspiracy my theory sounds, you know? I mean, Topps really can’t do the whole error before launching the new product thing in 2008, or too many collectors will start noticing patterns. At least the Alex Gordon thing was based on the misunderstanding of a new technicality with rookie cards, right? But Jeter? And with Mantle and Bush? It seems really obvious and opportunistic), you can’t find packs or boxes literally anywhere in New York City. Not the shops (of which there are few), not Target—not even Toys ‘R’ Us, my secret stash of unopened blaster boxes for 2006; everyone’s sold out. So while I guess that’s a good thing for the hobby, it’s horrible for someone who just wants to buy one pack. Just one lousy pack! I really dislike buying online because there’s nothing like visiting a hobby shop and agonizing which pack or box to buy, but now it looks like online will be my only choice for this set.

Distribution aside, the cards themselves aren’t as ugly as I’d thought they’d be. Sure, they made some bad decisions, but Topps did plenty right. For one thing, I’m very, very happy that there’s no gold or gold foil anywhere on the regular cards. There are also fun facsimile signatures on the player cards. There are also plenty of ‘Airbrushing 101’ bad Photoshop jobs and weird backgrounds to break up the Spring Training poses. The photos themselves feature strong color (as do the photos used in this year’s Heritage set, unlike last year’s Heritage set that seemed to use horrible batch after horrible batch of washed-out photography).

As for the backs, it looks like the meritocracy checklisting system that I’ve lobbied for long and hard on this blog is in full effect. Minor league stats are shown, and some cards have blurbs (always gotta love blurbs, like the one on the back of the card of Cory Sullivan, outfielder for the Rockies: Rockies reliever Scott Dohmann says, “He just scares us a little bit, because he’s always [laying out].” Does that mean Scott’s scared Cory will get some kind of STD? Or that he knows how to have a good time? Or he spends above his means?). One last good thing about the backs: they’re readable. I bought a lot of 1959 minor stars at the show, one of the last great years for Topps in terms of back-of-card design. After that it seems like they went to one-color jobs on whatever color cardboard they were using that year. I consider 1982 to be the bottom of the barrel in terms of readability. Just awful. As much as I love cheap cardboard, readability was a real problem with that set. Anyway, no problem with readability when you use the glossy new stock, and no problem with this set, thanks to the colors chosen and the glossy stock.

Here’s what they got wrong. Where to begin? The black borders are a nice touch, but black is a bitch on corners, so this will be one of those sets that will be hard to find hand-collated in mint or near-mint condition. Black borders also work well with large photos and bright, solid colors. Apparently no one told the designers, as those little boxes in the corners are utterly lost in the design. It’s a poorly-executed front; nothing seems to fit with each other. It would’ve been better had they got rid of the little boxes, or maybe just done something around the name with them if they were really hell bent on using colored boxes. But I just don’t see the point. As I said before, the photography (when the designers weren’t Photoshopping the hell out of it) is nice and the colors are bold and sharp. So then if this year’s crop of photos was so strong, why is Topps scrimping on their design budget and cropping down the front photo into a blocky headshot on the back? It’s all out of whack. I don’t get it.

Take a look at the front and back of this Francisco Cordero card (my first card of the season). Besides the fact that his Rangers uniform is now magically a Brewers jersey a lá the Apple iPod Shuffle TV ads, and that he doesn’t seem to know how to spell his own name (‘Francico Cordero’ = signature), notice how on the back there’s that awkward black bar taking up the left fourth of the card. There’s Coco’s little block of a headshot. OK, now, that black bar provides enough room for a much larger photo, framed in an oblong rectangle, or maybe an artistic take on the team logo, or at least a series of blocky shots, like frames from a filmstrip or something. The way they’ve got it now, it’s just wasted space. Plus, it’s black, so unless Sharpie invents a white marker, kids aren’t going to use that back bar as an autograph panel.

Here’s my first pack. Hobby, from a box of 36 packs. I got hell from the dealer because I asked what the difference was between the regular wax box (36 packs/10 cards a pack) and the HTA jumbo box (10 packs/50 cards a pack). The difference came to about $50, which is shocking. It really is all about relic and autograph cards. Right…

Francisco Cordero I really like that they give his nickname on the back in quotations, like it’s hearsay, and not accepted, like Doc Gooden or Rock Raines. Hello, my name is Francisco, but you can call me “Coco”.

Cory Sullivan

Daryle Ward In the 1987 set, Dion James was shown in his Yankees uniform but his team logo was Toronto. So, given Topps’ history of trying to stay on top of things, that one was understandable, even if his stats never reflected the change in teams. So explain to me how—or maybe why is the better question—did Topps think it would be a good idea to put Ward in a Cubs uniform, actually swinging a bat, supposedly in live game play? His stats don’t suggest he even played one game for the Cubs, and he played for two teams in 2006: the Nationals and the Braves…fun fact, Daryle Ward is from the same town in California as Weird Al Yankovic.

Manny Ramirez This is one of the least inspiring cards I’ve ever seen. Even the signature is lousy, like a kindergartner signing a fingerpaint. I’m even a little suspicious of the autograph provided on the front…now I know why: it’s not his. See my previous post about this.

Mickey Mantle HR# 253 Are all of these cards in the 1955 design? If that’s true, that’s kind of a bummer. It would’ve been a lot cooler if the design reflected the year in which he hit the homer. Oh well. It’s not a bad design, just boring if there are really 100 of them, all with the exact same design.

David Ross Just what this pack needed: catcher pack filler. Also, the letters of his name on the back are in red.

Frank Thomas He is obviously wearing an A’s uniform in this photo. I mean, er, the Blue Jays. He too has a red-lettered back.

Checklist 2 of 3

Mike Redmond Man, that’s two back-up catchers. In one pack.

Jeff Francis Did you know he’s one of baseball’s more flexible pitchers? Me neither.

Jack Wilson I always get him confused with Craig Wilson.

Pack success rate: a not very good 40%, with just Mantle, Cordero, Ramirez and Thomas the bright spots in a pretty average pack. But spring is still young, and if I’m not mistaken, I still got three other packs to go through. So if you’ll excuse me…

No comments: