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Category Archives: Baseball Cards

2009 UD Goodwin Champions

Base set completion: 74 of 150 (49%)
Short print set completion: 16 of 40 (40%)
Super short print set completion: 4 of 20 (20%)

Goodwin Champions was the only other 2009 UD release  — aside from the flagship — that I had been looking forward to. It’s hard to not to be enamored with the modern reincarnations of the early 20th-century tobacco inserts.

Having seen the previews, it looked as though for once, UD had chosen to actually exercise some creativity sorely lacking in their baseball releases. Interestingly enough, it’s been pointed out that there doesn’t appear to be any lack of creativity in UD’s basketball or hockey releases.

I should’ve known better. In a year in which UD has shown just miserable effort in baseball, UD once again failed to deliver the goods. A rhalladay150-card base set is nice, but a 40-card short print set and a 20-card “super” short-print set should’ve been warning enough that this would be yet another epic fail from UD.

Sure, 150 base cards is a good number, but when packs come with only five cards, it makes it that much more difficult to complete a set. It gets even more difficult when those five-card packs would often come with more than one mini-card. It gets frustrating when every other one of those five-card packs came with those absolutely pointless 20th anniversary cards.

And that hasn’t even touched on the awful collation. Two hobby boxes produced a pathetic 74 cards out of the base set. Not even half.

It’s amusing how this was being touted, pre-release, as being UD’s answer to Allen & Ginter. What a pathetic failure it instead turned out to be. If this was the answer to A & G, I’d hate to think of what the question was.

All of these issues hinder what really could’ve been a fantastic release from UD. There’s no doubt about it — these are some wonderfully beautiful cards. After striking Masterpieces from their lineup, and with Goudey being yet another epic fail, Goodwin Champions really had the potential to make a statement for UD. It did, but sadly, I doubt it’s the one UD wanted to make.

As I’ve mentioned before — I’m looking forward to the day UD ceases to produce baseball cards. Their 2009 releases may very well serve to be their epitaph. It’s sad to think that a company that was once on the edge of innovation has become so stale and lifeless.

2009 Topps Ticket to Stardom

Base set completion: 198 of 200 (99%)

Imagine this idea: buy a single hobby box, complete (or come pretty close to) the base set. Mind you, I’m not accusing Topps of somehow jreyesunderstanding the type of consumer I am — the sort that wants a little more bang for my buck. Nonetheless, Topps delivers in this regard, with an $84 hobby box packed with 12-card packs (who does that anymore?) yielding just about the entire base set.

The base cards themselves are nothing out of the ordinary. They obviously bring to mind the old Fleer Authentix sets. I also think they look a little derivative of this year’s Finest base cards as well. That said, TTS’s design, while it borrows elements from those two sets, doesn’t appear to be a carbon copy either.

cjonesBut what really sets TTS apart are its relic cards. Typically, I don’t care much for relic cards. But after pulling the ones I did, I actually contemplated keeping them rather than sending them straight to the trading block as I normally do. How often do you see boring, generic relic card designs these days? More often than not — which as an aside, makes it all the more confusing to me why anyone even bothers packsearching most non-premium product — relic cards are really just throwaway cards. But TTS shows a lot more effort on the part of Topps’ designers, I feel, than I’ve seen in recent releases. It’s no Donruss Prime Patches, but for a mid-range product? I’ll take it.

Topps has really done well this year with its products. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not they can carry that momentum into next year’s dramatically different landscape. While UD will still have its brand recognition, let’s face it — non-MLB-licensed cards is Donruss territory. And other than 08’s Threads, all of Donruss’ non-MLB-licensed card releases were mediocre, to put it gently.

You know, I believe in the economic idea that competition between companies means a better product for the consumer. However, given the recent slate of releases from Upper Deck, combined with the swings and misses from Donruss, it’s safe to say that there is no real competition for Topps.

When you have beyond-mediocre releases such as A Piece of History, Goudey, First Edition, Icons, X, SPx, Elite Extra Edition,  not to mention the barely-even-worth-mentioning TriStar releases, is it even fair to say anyone competes with Topps? Did any of these releases even close to registering even a footstep, a faint zephyr of a breath against Heritage and Allen & Ginter?

Even Topps’ problematic recent products, such as Stadium Club, were far better than the best of what Upper Deck released in 2008-09. That said, I find it difficult to even raise an eyebrow at Major League Baseball’s decision to award Topps an exclusive license. Upper Deck has not only failed to compete against Topps, they’re flooding the market with one mediocre release after another — which is precisely what moved MLB to rescind Donruss’ license for 2006 and beyond. griffey

Competition is a great thing when there’s actual competition. Sadly, it’s clear that Upper Deck rested on its laurels, and has been in cruise control for some time now. Their designs seem so boring, if not outright recycled. And when a company doesn’t have the same sort of archival history that Topps does, recycling designs is a doomed idea from the start. Heritage makes sense from a historical standpoint, but there’s nothing particularly historic about 1995 SP Authentic.

Out of duty, it seems, I’m compiling this year’s (and apparently final) Upper Deck base set. I’m also still looking forward to Goodwin Champions. But given the mistakes and miscues rampant in everything Upper Deck lately, I have strong doubts that it’ll be the sort of knock-it-out-of-the-park success that Upper Deck so badly needs. It’s sad really, that the same company that produced one of the hobby’s most iconic cards would go on to produce such garbage in the future — drawing parallels with other dying breeds, i.e. Detroit’s Big Three.

I think the comparison to Chrysler and GM is appropriate — one-time king of the hill. Now, just a second-rate, barely-even-there competitor. Many of the same mistakes were made — hubris that came about from early successes clouded their innovative streak — which in turn left us with a sad shadow of what once was.

While it’ll certainly be odd to see just Topps wax on the pegboards next year, I know that I won’t be missing Upper Deck’s presence. When it comes to economics, I’ve never been a big fan of consolidation. It limits consumer choice, and inevitably causes the consolidated company to get lazy. We’ll see if Topps can avoid that — then again, Upper Deck appears to be doing fine with its hockey exclusive, and by all appearances Donruss is doing fine with its football exclusive. But in the world of baseball cards, Upper Deck has so badly mismanaged its franchise, it amounts to a virtual consolidation. There is no real choice — UD’s product is so feeble, the consumer has no real choice but Topps.

I was somewhat interested in UD’s baseball Icons release. I saw a lot to like — small (100) base set, the option to totally disregard the numbered, short-printed rookie set, and design that hearkened back to 2005-era UD designs. There’s also plenty to dislike, such as the ridiculous hobby price point ($80-ish; 10 packs/6 cards per pack) and ridiculous lettermen checklists (Jeremy Piven? Seriously?).

After seeing a blaster review over at Crackin’ Wax, I get the feeling that UD is beyond mailing 2009 in. There’s absolutely nothing 2009-Upper-Deck-MLB-Icons-box redeeming about any 2009 UD release to date. Boring design — turns out the 2005-era references are pretty mild — and more of the seemingly ubiquitous printing defects guarantees Icons is DOA before it reaches wide distribution.

Furthermore, what’s up with the box configurations? Hobby ($80-90) and retail ($20) both have 10 pack/six cards per pack configurations? While I can appreciate making the retail configuration more attractive, doesn’t this pretty much eliminate the need to buy a hobby box — unless of course you absolutely NEED that Jeremy Piven letterman?

UD had a great mid-summer product in 2008’s Baseball Heroes. They didn’t bother this year. While I haven’t seen any Icons in person, this looks like a complete dud of a mid-summer product. And while I imagine they’re putting most of their eggs in the Goodwin Champions basket, I have to wonder — are they going to eliminate the hobby box incentive there too? Comparing it to last year’s Masterpices, the retail and hobby configurations were different enough. But aside from the ridiculously-seeded short prints, there wasn’t any incentive to waste money on a hobby box when a blaster would result in far more productive experience for set-builders.

I don’t mean to go off on a Goodwin tangent — but for as much as I’m looking forward to that release, the effort UD put into Icons concerns me. I get the feeling that UD has a chance to finally make a statement in 2009, and they could very well fail again. We’ll see in September, but given their track record so far this year, is anyone expecting anything different from Upper Deck?

Topps has been absolutely killing it, so to speak, with their releases this year. And with Allen & Ginter overshadowing a mediocre Icons, will the much-ballyhooed Goodwin Champions pull enough attention away from Chrome and Ticket to Stardom?

8 cards per pack/24 packs per box

By the box:

Box 1:
Short Prints: 12
National Pride: 24
Highlight Sketches: 4
Ginter Code parallels: 2
Relics: 3
Minis: 12
Allen & Ginter back minis: 5
Black-bordered minis: 3
National Heroes: 2
World’s Greatest Hoaxes: 2

Box 2:
Short Prints: 11
National Pride: 24
Highlight Sketches: 3
Ginter Code parallels: 2
Relics: 4
Minis: 11
Allen & Ginter back minis: 5
Black-bordered minis: 3
National Heroes: 2
World’s Greatest Hoaxes: 2
Non-printed number, hand-numbered minis: 1

Box 3:
Short Prints: 13
National Pride: 24
Highlight Sketches: 4
Ginter Code parallels: 2
Relics: 3
Minis: 13
Allen & Ginter back minis: 4
Black-bordered minis: 2
National Heroes: 2
World’s Greatest Hoaxes: 2
Bazooka back, hand-numbered minis: 1

Base set (1-300) completion: 233 of 300 (78%)
Short-print set (301-350) completion: 21 of 50 (42%)

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Impressions

That is some remarkably bad collation. I still can’t quite comprehend how three hobby boxes, all of which yielding 120+ base cards each, somehow failed to produce an entire base set of 300. With last year’s product, I was only two base cards short of a full set with only two hobby boxes. To make matters worse, look at the SP collation. My three boxes yielded 36 short prints. A whopping 15 of them were doubles. FIFTEEN short print doubles. So instead of being nearly 2/3 of the way complete with the SPs, I’m only halfway through. Fortunately, trading the extras will make easy work of completing the remainder.

But the trouble lies in how much extra work it’ll take to complete the set this year. Bad collation has guaranteed a much larger number of trades to complete the 09 set. With the 08 set, I was able to finish shortly after acquiring my boxes. This year, much more effort will go into it. Is this intentional on the part of Topps? Make collation purposefully bad, thus forcing consumers to buy more product? I don’t know, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised either.

As for the positives, well, it’s Allen & Ginter, so we all know why everyone fawns over this product. A nice touch this year was the elimination of the thick decoy cards that had been used as Dick Perez sketches in the past and the USA set last year. Should make for easier storage in boxes and binders. I also like the selection of mini subsets this year. The National Heroes, I feel, is a much more thoughtful subset than the National Pride subset. Likewise with the World’s Greatest Hoaxes. As a self-professed history buff, I absolutely love inserts such as these.

It was unfortunate, however, that bad collation not only ruined the set-building progress, but also failed to yield any of the Future Inventions or Extinct Animals minis.

Equally frustrating are the rising prices for hobby boxes. I assume they are, anyway. My usual source, starting with Heritage, increased his selling prices well above previous norms — Heritage was $80 a box, up from $65 a year before, and now Ginter was $92 a box, up from $85 a year before. I assume this means Topps is increasing their wholesale prices, which again, squeezes the consumer further.

My source also received his stock late, meaning I could’ve taken advantage of Blowout Cards’ lower online prices and had boxes delivered earlier. As much as I prefer to support local business, if local business can’t beat online business both in price and in and timeliness, what choice do I have but to go online?

I can’t complain about the cards themselves. It’s A & G, so we all know what we’re getting. And as always, Topps stays faithful to the original. No one does retro better than Topps, and I say this even as I eagerly await Upper Deck’s Goodwin Champions.

21 packs per box:
17 regular packs/7 cards per pack
4 jumbo packs/20 cards per pack

Base set completion: 138 of 178 (78%)
Short print set completion:10 of 22 (45%)
Base doubles: 45

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Impressions

This seemed like a reasonable enough deal — Charm City does these hobby boxes for $55. With that many cards coming in a hobby box, it seemed pretty feasible that a single box would yield the entire set. Well, it came close. A shame, since better collation would’ve easily taken care of the base set. Maybe not the SPs, but there were clearly enough doubles (45 altogether) to come a lot closer to finishing the remaining 40 I need now.

As far as all the shiny baubles, it comes with the requisite game-used cards. The Schilling card is nice enough, although I have a lot of trouble referring to a square-inch or so-sized swatch of jersey as a patch. I don’t know, but when I say “patch,” I’m thinking something a little bigger than what you normally get. It would’ve been nice had I owned these two game-used cards in, say, I don’t know, 2004. But hey, I’m sure there’re still plenty of Giambi and Schilling fans out there.

I wasn’t around in 2004 to know whether this was intended as a retro set to compete with Heritage, but it clearly pays homage to 1984 Fleer. I also can’t recall if 1984 was a particularly important one for Fleer, or why, if they did, want to commemorate the occasion 20 years later.

mattinglyWhile I’m clearly a sucker for the obvious retro-themed sets (i.e. Heritage, Masterpieces, etc.), it does seem a little odd to look to the overproduction era for inspiration. Then again, I dove in and went after both 08 Timeline and 07 SP Rookie Edition, so perhaps even the 80s/90s era has untapped potential.

I can’t imagine, however, that time will ever produce a yearning for 2039 Topps Heritage, which would bring back the ever-popular 1990 design out from the dustbin.

Overproduction era or not, mid-80s Fleer does have that nice, clean look that translates well to a modern card, as evidenced by 2004 Platinum. And just like the old days, card numbers are randomly assigned — that is, the set isn’t ordered alphabetically by teams, like any modern Upper Deck set. Different teams are scattered about the checklist as they have been in the past — at least for Upper Deck/Fleer, anyway.

plat4Speaking of hearkening back to the past, I found the “Unsung Heroes” subset particularly interesting in that it reminded me so much, visually, of all of those late-80s drugstore issues. I remember those cards well — every time we’d drop by a Sav-On Drug or Woolworths, I’d beg forever and ever for a pack. Mom and dad rarely relented, but I did manage to save at least two sets — 1988 Topps Woolworth and 1988 Topps Kmart.

I remember loving those cards so much — so glossy! They had to be “worth more” sabothan those cheap cardboard 50-cents-a-pack regular issues. Two decades later, I came to the sad realization that they weren’t worth much in dollars, but they were certainly worth the childhood nostalgia. Their lack of value, however, hasn’t stopped some folks from locking them up in PSA holders,  however.

Anyway, enough nostalgia. Although there were some obvious collation issues, this was not a bad box to break overall. It’s not a massively oversized set, and the short prints aren’t a hideous task to compile either. A single box could conceivably knock out an entire base set, and that’s always added value. As far as completing the set, I don’t know that there’re too many doubles of these cards floating around on the Bench, but we’ll see.

On my way home Sunday, I decided to drop into a market that frequently has deeply discounted wax. This time, I found 2005 Fleer Patchworks packs going for a $1. If I recall correctly, they also had full hobby boxes available as wellpatchworks

When I made it home, I browsed through Beckett and saw that 05 Patchworks is only a 100-card set, which should make this one a pretty easy build.

Not so fast! Turns out the base set consists of 70 cards, and the final 30 of 100 are short prints. Short prints seeded one-in-eight per hobby box. In other words, if I paid the $80-100 going price for a hobby box of 05 Patchworks (18 packs/5 cards per pack), I’d end up with almost all of the base set, and only two out of the 30 short-printed cards. TWO.

I understand card companies want and obviously need to turn a profit. This, however, is beyond asinine. If I bought a 12-box case of Patchworks (or just about any other short-printed set, for that matter), and allowing for near-perfect collation, I’d still be short six cards out the short-printed set. Even with the better seeding ratios in products such as Allen & Ginter (1:2) and Heritage (1:3), it still takes a minumum of two hobby boxes to complete a set. And after all is said and done, I’ll end up with a ton of mostly-useless doubles.

Of course, it’d be tremendously simpler to buy a complete base set to begin with. But doing so kills the fun of putting together a hand-collated set.

Rather than continuing to pour money into essentially worthless extras such as game-used jersey cards, why not focus on making sets that are cost-efficient to build? And I’m not talking about de-fanged derivatives such as Opening Day and First Edition, either. I’m talking about 100-card sets, without massive amounts of ridiculously-seeded short prints, at a reasonable price? This year’s UD Icons Baseball seemed like it was a step back in that direction — until you see its pricepoint. $11-12 MSRP per pack (10 packs per box/5 cards per pack)? Who can afford that?

Short prints (ridiculously seeded ones at that) kill the fun of completing a set by hand. You’d have to buy so much product and count and miraculously perfect collation to get where you want to be. Short prints are added value for the manafacturers, not the collector.

Rather than giving each box its own post, I figured I’d condense by compiling everything into one post.

First up, Upper Deck. Most of us already know what the base cards look like. A pretty easy task considering many players had double issues in this set — among the Dodgers, Ramirez, Blake, Billingsley, Martin, Kemp, Loney, Furcal, Broxton, Kuroda, and Ethier were all repeats in series II. UD could’ve easily made this set considerably easier to finish (and a lot less boring and repetitive) had they not insisted on going with a 1000 card base set.

So did the inserts get any more interesting this time around? From left to right, a 1989 UD buyback, an O-Pee-Chee preview, and a USA National Team card.

I imagine there are more than a few collectors out there with piles and piles of worthless early 90s Upper Deck cards. Sure, 1989 was UD’s “rookie year,” but a foil stamp isn’t going to make me want those old cards any more than I already do (which is not at all).

All legal issues aside with O-Pee-Chee, I almost wish the base set looked like these rather than the design they went with.

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“Hits”

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The Ordonez jersey was a box-topper “buyback.” I don’t quite understand the meaning of the term buyback in sports cards vernacular. I do imagine it’s along the same lines as an investment “buyback,” which is an effort to re-acquire outstanding shares in order to reduce the available quantity. So in that sense, vintage “buybacks” such as Heritage, Play Ball, Goudey, etc. make sense in that they’re reacquiring old cards — though not specifically to reduce available quantity, but to include as purchase incentives.

But do cards from 2006 (such as the Ordonez) and the production glut of the 90s really fit the definition? Isn’t it fair to say that UD probably already had these on hand to begin with, thus negating the need to buy back anything?

As entertaining as it is to open a pack and find an auto/gamer in it, I really would rather it didn’t, especially if it meant box prices would be that much lower. A huge consideration since this particular box produced only 300 cards of the 500-card base set.

And now, Topps. The base set continues where series I left off, with much of the same stellar photography. Predictably, lots more spring training photos had to be used in order to accomodate many of the rookies/free agent signings who were unavailable the first time around. Given that, wouldn’t it make more sense — and add value to series II — to wait to depict the big free agent signings?

“Hits”

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Nothing really too exciting here, although the Pedroia silk should command a nice trade/sell premium. The insert sets are continuations from series I, with Legends of the Game (10 in this box), Ring of Honor (10), and Turkey Red (10) returning. New for series II are Career Best Legends (two in this box) and WBC stars (five). Returning from 2008 are the Red Hot Rookie redemptions (two).

This jumbo box produced the entire base set (331-660) and 96 base doubles. Although the insert ratios are better for the jumbos, ending up with nearly 100 doubles and the increased MSRP for jumbos in 2009 ($95) will force me to reconsider if this is the path I’ll take for 2010.

I’ve been opening all sorts of UDS2 packs, and found these two cards:

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Two versions of the #855 card, Ken Griffey Jr. A quick and dirty eBay search turns up quite a few more. I’m assuming these are going to be mega-super-duper short prints, a la “Jon” Smoltz.

All I want to know is which is the base #855, so I can ignore all of the other variations of the card. Beckett currently only lists one version of #855. Then again, ignoring the ultra-SP’d version hasn’t brought me any closer to acquiring David Price’s #401 in series I.

I guess I also want to know if the Topps variation police are going to throw a fit over this unnecessarily short-printed card like they do for every other Topps ultra-short-print.

5 cards per pack/18 packs per box

Base set completion: 75 of 84 (89%)

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Inserts

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Hits

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Impressions

Can’t complain when a hobby box is 1. available at deep discount, and 2. produces nearly the entire base set.

I look so fondly on 2004-2006. It just seems that small, fun sets such as this one were bountiful. And now, just a few years later, it seems that so many sets are the antithesis of sets such as 06 Ovation.

I am beyond stoked to see an 84-card base set, and that a single hobby box landed most of it. I’m also stoked to see a fairly clean, crisp design. Such things seem like such a distant memory in UD’s past.

I love the embossed feel of the Ovation sets, and I would be interested in finding more.

Even the inserts aren’t obnoxious, and don’t take over the entire box. This is clearly a set with set-builders in mind — of course, that also entails disregarding the ridiculously short-printed RC subset (85-120). So in that sense, the box isn’t without it’s flaws. Assuming perfect collation, someone would have to buy an additional 40 boxes given the advertised 1:18 insertion ratio. Given those odds, I’m not even bothering.

Another 2009 UD release, another lackluster design.

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If the only difference between this year’s cards and last year’s is Derek Jeter’s and Ken Griffey Jr.’s disconnected visage, was it really necessary to bring this back again?

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Someone thought it a good decision to drop Masterpieces, but do 09 Goudey instead, replete with the usual amount of stupid short prints?

I really want to enjoy Upper Deck releases. Considering how strong their product was as recently as 2006, it’s a shame to see how far it’s gone down the drain since then. Forethought just seems to be absent from so many of their recent releases.

As an aside, doesn’t it almost feel pathological to keep buying cards even when you know what awaits inside those wrappers is lame? Here I am, waiting for Series II to come out, and yet I’m still buying A Piece of History and Goudey as though I weren’t already aware of how terrible these sets are.