Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's time to play..."Gimmick or no gimmick?"

With your host, Kevin Mench!

Card companies have done some crazy things to cardboard over the years. Even baseball cards themselves were "gimmicks" at one point, the main purpose being to sell more cigarettes.

Everything was a gimmick at one point, flung against the wall to see what stuck. As I went on the hunt to find as many of these odd cards as possible, I began to realize something.

Some of these "gimmicks" weren't around for too long, but that doesn't mean they weren't good. The reverse is true as well, as some new additions have been around for a while, but haven't really helped the hobby at all.

But I'll let you be the judge.

Below are a few of the "gimmicks" I found. Some have been around for a while, and some were only around for a year or two. I'm sure I'm missing some, but I'll give my opinion on each of the ones I thought of.

It would be great to hear what other people think as well.

So without further ado, let's play "Gimmick or No Gimmick?"!

Let's start with one I bet we'll almost all agree on.

Short prints.

I've mentioned how great it feels to find SPs in a dime box before.

However, I'm not a huge fan of them. For instance, I'm glad that one of my favorite players, Casey Kotchman, found his way into the 2012 Heritage set. But I'm not happy with the fact that he's a short-print. It won't be easy to track down his card, which I desperately want.

If I find it at all.

True, most vintage sets have their share of SPs. Most of those, however, were the result of printing mishaps. I'm not exactly sure when it started, but recent short-prints are intentionally printed in smaller quantities.

I can't imagine how much set builders despise SPs. Part of the fun of building a set is tracking down all the cards you need. But I'd imagine the quest for short-prints would just get annoying after a while.

The verdict:


Next, we have "steel" cards.

The above card is a 1996 Leaf Steel Wade Boggs. It's the only one of these that I own.

I can tell you without a doubt that it's the heaviest card I own. I'm pretty sure they were made of actual steel.

I'm not sure if these were ever printed before or after 1996. Either way, steel just doesn't belong on baseball cards, in my opinion.

The verdict:


Now to the wonderful world of 3-D.

3-D cardboard was in its heyday in the late '80s and early '90s with the famous "Sportflics" issues (seen above). Outside of that, they're few and far between.

However, it looks like a comeback may be in the works for 3-D. The "Topps 2020" set from 2010 was a hit with me. I still don't own one of the 3-D Topps Lineage cards from last year, although I'd like to pick one up in the future.

Although they don't scan too well, I've always enjoyed how these look in my binders.

The verdict:

No gimmick!

Let's move on to another mid '90s innovation, laser-etched cards.

The most famous of these come from the Topps Laser sets of the mid 1990's. This was one of the first instances of cardboard integrating with new technologies that were being introduced at the time.

One the one hand, they are certainly different. We've never quite seen anything like them since. But on the other hand, they're a hassle to sort and store, especially in binders.

Seeing these Topps Laser cards were what prompted this entire post, and it was probably the toughest for me to decide.

The verdict:

No gimmick!

Next, we'll look at just oddly-shaped cards in general, which I've previously discussed on the blog.

In general, I prefer card companies stick with the standard baseball card size. There's a few exceptions (minis!), but as much as I applaud the effort of card companies trying something different, I just can't bring myself to fully enjoy these.

The verdict:


Ah, transparent cards.

I believe Studio was the only set to experiment with these, although I could be wrong.

I've never heard much about these. I don't know whether that's because they've just gone under the radar or if people just don't like them.

They maintain the standard card size and give the collector a way different look at the concept of the baseball card. The design is nothing to sneeze at, either.

The verdict:

No gimmick!

Moving on to probably the most famous "gimmick" ever, we have memorabilia cards.

First introduced in 1997 by Upper Deck, the original intention was to bring collectors closer to the game with actual pieces of a player's jersey. And boost sales.

They've been wildly popular ever since, and as a result, massed produced. I remember reading an article in one of my old Beckett magazines that detailed just how many swatches companies could get out of a single jersey or bat. I don't remember the exact numbers, but you can use your imagination.

While it was a nice idea at first, it wore out its welcome after a year or two. Thanks to the gross overproduction of these in recent years, I have virtually no incentive to want these nowadays, which was the opposite of card companies' original intentions.

The verdict:


Next, we move on to the "baby brother" of memorabilia cards.


One of my favorite childhood memories was actually being able to go on the field at a local minor league game and get autographs from a few of the players in between games of a doubleheader.

While getting an autograph could never top something like that, the cards are the next best thing.

Let's face it, it's tough to get an autograph of your favorite player unless you go to the "Fanfests" or are lucky enough to catch them signing before a game. Putting them on pieces of cardboard made obtaining a Bo Hart autograph an attainable feat for me. (Although his success was short-lived, Hart is still one of my favorite players.)

While they've gotten a bit pricey these days (I haven't bought one in a while), their original purpose is still generally the same. They really do bring you closer to the game.

The verdict:

No gimmick!

Printing plates.

Talk about something getting too out of control.

I'm not sure when these were first inserted into packs. Probably around 1998 or so. While they may say "1/1" on the back, they're not all that rare anymore. I nabbed this Marlon Byrd printing plate for five bucks last year.

Something that "rare" should go for more than that. There's magenta plates. Yellow plates. Purple plates. The list goes on and on.

Like memorabilia cards, companies have really overdone it with these in recent years. Unlike memorabilia cards, I don't think these were ever that "cool". They have their moments, but companies had nothing but dollar signs in their mind when they first introduced these.

The verdict:


The last two I'll showcase are two "gimmicks" that have been around for a while in the hobby.

Firstly, we have chrome pieces of cardboard.

These popped up in the early '90s when Finest first came around. Topps Chrome was first issued in 1996, and has been an annual release ever since.

Although they're a bit pricey, I've always liked the feel of the set. Although I'd like to see the pictures differ from Topps' flagship shots, it's still generally enjoyable.

However, I can't say the same about chrome being utilized for sets like Topps Heritage and Topps National Chicle. Those were specifically designed to pay homage to past sets, a time when chrome wasn't even a glint in anyone's eye when it came to cardboard. It doesn't fit at all.

As a result, this gets a two-part answer from me.

The verdict:

When used for sets like Topps Chrome, Bowman Chrome, etc... No gimmick!

When used for "throwback" sets... Gimmick.

Lastly, we have serial numbered cards.

I'm not sure when these first popped up in the hobby, but they've been pretty popular ever since.

Numbered cards are everywhere nowadays. Most, if not all, recent sets have some sort of numbered subset.

However, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, I'm a big fan of these. In fact, they're my favorite "gimmick" on this list.

It's just something about knowing that I have copy #750 of the above Ernie Banks card that I love. Also, you know how many copies of that certain card are out there, unlike the short-prints I mentioned earlier. (I've seen cases of there six or seven copies of a card numbered to five, but those are pretty rare.)

Although I know many people didn't like them to begin with, I was sad to see the departure of the numbered Topps Gold parallels in 2012. They were one of my favorite things about the flagship set.

Anyways...the verdict:

No gimmick!

Let's take a look at my final count.

"Gimmicks": 5 1/2 (due to the split on the "Chrome" topic)

"No gimmicks": 5 1/2

An exact split. I promise I didn't do that on purpose.

Card companies will always be introducing new "gimmicks" to the hobby, which is a good thing. They've done it in the past, and I'm sure they'll continue to do it in the future.

We'll just have to see what sticks.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I'll disagree about one thing...I love oddly shaped cards like minis and oversized brings variety to the collection...

Also, for the printing plates, it was more of a cash grab than anything ever when they first came out. In '97, Pinnacle offered anyone around $25K if they could get all 4 printing plates of one player within in a year for 1997 New Pinnacle....I don't think anyone succeeded...