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Tag Archives: Topps

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.

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.

After breaking three hobby boxes of 09 Heritage, this is what I ended up with:

Base set: 337 of 425 (79%)
Short print set: 24 of 75 (32%)

Insert sets:
New Age Performers: 4 of 15 (27%)
News Flashbacks: 4 of 10 (40%)
Baseball Flashbacks: 6 of 10 (60%)
Then and Now: 5 of 10 (50%)

Base duplicates: 200
Non-base duplicates: 1

Duplicates (box 1): 0
Duplicates (box 2): 49
Duplicates (box 3): 152

The increasing number of duplicates by box three is no surprise, although you still wish that three boxes would produce a base set at least. Alas, this is Heritage, and collectors will get no such thing. Thankfully, I again purchased these boxes at MSRP ($65) rather than the bloated prices they’re going for at DACW, Blowout, and Charm City.

It’ll take some effort and postage, but 200 doubles should be enough (I hope!) to round out the base set, and hopefully make headway towards the SP set.

As we all know, Heritage isn’t about the “hits,” but I will say these two are far better than the Kevin Millwood GU that came out of the first box.

wieand

samford

And I can never complain about extra cards for the Dodger binder. Especially when they’re SHINY cards!

martin

ramirez

Eight cards per pack/24 packs per box
Base set completion: 244 of 500 (48%)

Insert set completion
New Age Performers: 2 of 15 (13%)
Baseball Flashbacks: 2 of 10 (20%)
News Flashbacks: 1 of 10 (10%)
Then and Now: 2 of 10 (20%)
Chrome Parallels: 5 of 100 (5%)

Short Print set completion (426-500): 8 of 75 (11%)

Hits”

millwood

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Impressions

It’s the end of February, so we all know that means it’s time again for Topps Heritage. This year, the very colorful 1960 design is resurrected. I can’t complaing about the design — it stays true to the original.

What I will complain about is the return of lazy Topps photography. Just when you thought Topps had done away with all of their lovely spring training photos, they come back with a vengeance in this year’s iteration of Heritage.

Take a look at card number 5, Andre Ethier

ethier

Clearly a spring training shot, and probably taken at the former Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Does the photo look familiar? It should!

ethier2

Here’s Andre in 2008 Heritage, looking the other direction, but likely standing in the same spot (and with the older version of his signature as well).

ethier3

And here’s his card from the 2008 All-Rookie subset, but with a bat this time. Really Topps, would’ve it been that hard to find good headshots of these guys? I mean, you did it for THIS guy!

laroche

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect example of a good photo to use on a trading card. Happy Andy, enjoying his freedom, and making me think “2009 Heritage is awesome, really.”

This particular box delivered all the advertised insertion (SPs, inserts) ratios, and included the essentially worthless Kevin Millwood gamer. Given that the hits out of this set are essentially pointless, you’d think DACW/Blowout/Charm City would all be selling at MSRP, but no. As of today, their 09 Heritage prices are $15 above MSRP at $80. So unless you can find someone to sell these boxes at MSRP, it’s going to be a pricy go to finish this year’s set.

So other than the usual Topps photography issues, Heritage once again is what Heritage has always been — a set collector’s trammel (STUPID SHORT PRINTS) and treasure all rolled into one.

20 cards per pack/16 packs per box

Base set completion: 290 of 500 (58%)

“Hits”

udscans

Impressions

As usual, UD’s photography is excellent. Unfortunately, that’s where the accolades end.

2009 Upper Deck is in many ways far from being an ideal set. The first problem: a 1000-card base set. That’s just way too many, and UD ends up filling out the checklist with players who are probably better suited for a Bowman Draft release.

My biggest issue with a 1000-card base set? A single hobby box, even at UD’s bloated MSRP of $70, doesn’t come close to finishing the set. This box was produced just a shade more than half of series 1. A 1000 card base set forces the collector to buy more than one box (or spend that money in trades)  if they want to finish the set. I feel that a 1000-card base set is nothing more than hubris from UD — we can make a base set this big, so we will!

The second problem: lackluster design. While 08 UD was simple (although somewhat derivative of 95 UD), 09 UD lacks that simplicity. The gold bar across the bottom of the card is distracting. And then there’s the team logos superimposed over a non-matching color. What’s up with that?

When juxtaposed with 09 Topps, there simply isn’t any comparison. Topps’ photography is on par with UD’s this year, and their design is exponentially better. After looking at these cards, you get the feeling UD simply rested on its laurels and mailed it in this year.

And then there’s the insert cards. Topps tapped into its CMG deal andthe popularity of retro sets and gave collectors Turkey Red, Legends of the Game, and Ring of Honor. And while UD wisely brought back the USA National Team subset, the rest of the inserts are essentially an epic fail. I didn’t care for Documentary or Yankee Stadium Legacy last year, and I certainly didn’t want to see them again this year. And what a waste of space the 20th anniversary subset is.

udscans2

Topps is often derided for their creativity, or as others put it “gimmicks.” Whether it’s gimmicks or creativity, or a little of both, their 09 set shines, and UD’s offering pales in comparison.

Eight cards per pack/24 packs per box

Base set completion: 125 of 125 (100%)
Short print set completion: 6 of 25 (24%)

“Hits”

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Impressions

As a self-professed history geek, I had a feeling this set would be all manner of awesome even before I managed to rip a pack. Now that I’ve managed to bust an entire box, my statement still stands.

Topps Heritage fans can definitely appreciate the revisit of several of Topps’ more noteworthy designs from the past. What makes this set nice is an extension of the many Presidential-themed inserts in last year’s sets. While the 08 Presidential cards were either humorous (UD’s Presidential Predictors) merely informative (Topps’ Campaign series) or historical (First Ladies, Campaign Match-Ups), American Heritage takes this idea and stretches out further into American history, and highlights several dozen key figures.

My only quip is the relative lack of inclusion of American figures of Asian heritage such as I.M Pei, or even someone such as Masanori Murakami. There’s also a relative lack of mention of the nation’s Indian heritage from a non-frontier explorer viewpoint. But as you do with textbooks covering the same subject, rarely do you get a complete picture of American heritage.

Even with its faults, I do believe American Heritage can be a valuable teaching tool, though how effective it may be depends on how relevant youth of today consider trading cards.

As far as the box itself — SO nice to pull an entire base set out of just one hobby box. I also ended up with 36 doubles, so the insert card collation rate obviously could’ve been better.

Not too pleased with the inserts I pulled — Keith Olbermann? BLECH. I had enough of him in the 04 Cracker Jack set! I do like using one of my favorite designs — 1952 Topps — as the format for the 43 President cards, however.

And the “hits!” Duke Ellington, authentic Griffith Stadium seat piece? Because one of the (arguably) greatest Jazz performers in history ocne sold peanuts at Griffith, therefore this relic is connected to him somehow? And the May-Walsh redemption … a little creepy don’t you think? Given the brevity of their “uniforms,” there’s not a whole lot of real estate from which to harvest these relics, is there? But whatever — this product, once again, isn’t about the hits.

What is nice is knowing only 25 short prints make up the subset . It would’ve been nicer had there been more inserted into the box, but I guess you can’t ask for everything.

As for the Chromes — I’m generally not a big fan of these cards, but I will say the Chrome cards that came in this set are generally rather nice looking.

All in all a pretty good idea, and great execution from Topps. I do hope that this isn’t a yearly thing from them. I like the idea of using the myriad Presidential Campaign inserts during the election year, and using American Heritage to tie a ribbon on them, so to speak.

50 cards per pack/10 packs per box

Base set completion: 330 of 330 (100%)
Total base duplicates: 105

Insert Sets:
Turkey Red: 10 of 50 (20%)
Legends of the Game: 10 of 25 (40%)
Ring of Honor: 10 of 50 (20%)

“Hits”

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09scans3

09scans4

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Impressions

Not that I bought this box for the “hits,” but let’s see if Topps delivered on what they advertised.

One auto: Sean Rodriguez
Two relics: Ted Williams and Josh Anderson
10 each Turkey Red, Legends of the Game, Ring of  Honor, Gold parallels and Topps Town: Check
One WBC redemption: Present

So it looks like the Sketch Card redemption and the Silk Card were bonuses in my HTA box. Topps delivered in this box what they promised they would.

Disappointments? Well, the fact that the letter patch counts as a relic, since it’s only technically a relic, but whatever. I’m also disappointed that of all the possible players I could’ve ended up with from the Career Best series, I end up with two essentially career minor leaguers. Honestly, whatever — I’m not chasing these stupid hits.

I won’t comment much on the design — that’s already been covered extensively both here and other places — other than I absolutely agree this is what Topps needed to do after last year’s lackluster looking set. And although I’m already predisposed to Topps, I will say objectively that 09 Topps is better than 09 Upper Deck. For starters — Topps is a 660 card base set and Upper Deck’s is 1000. That alone means a jumbo box will produce an entire series set, and a hobby box will come very close. I haven’t yet sorted the results of my 09 UD break, but I’m expecting to be only 2/3 of the way through the set.

As has been noted in many places now, the photography on this year’s cards is exponentially better than it has been in years past. I saw several action shots, and a lot less of the “pull a player out of spring camp and throw him in front of the camera” type pictures. There also appears to be a lot less of the Photoshop wizardry. There is this card, though.

maddux

I’m not entirely sure it is (or isn’t) a real, untouched photo. What strikes me as odd is Topps used what looked like a current Dodger photo of Maddux in Stadium Club, so why couldn’t they, months later, use another one for 09 Topps?

Photoshop questions aside, I’ll reiterate it — this is Topps’ best design in a few years, and it’s leaps and bounds better than UD’s 09 offering. I haven’t seen all of the 09 UD inserts yet, but I have no quibbles about Topps’ choice of inserts this year.