Much to the chagrin of many collectors, this year's edition of A&G didn't hit the shelves until last week.
Four or five years ago, such a delay would've been like cardboard torture to me. I was a huge A&G fanboy during the brand's early years. I clearly remember counting down the days until its release every year.
These days, it's a much different story.
When I heard the news that 2013 A&G wouldn't be out until August, I, well...didn't care. And I felt bad about that.
It would've been nice to care. I wanted to care. But, try as I might, I'm just not the avid fanboy I was in the past these days.
Taken on its own, A&G is still better than most other brands around. I'm not sure there's much doubting that. Still, in comparison to its earlier releases, the set seems to merely be a shadow of its former self. Sort of like a so-called "original" band with only one former member left.
While diminished, A&G does still have a bit of allure to me in 2013. That's why I walked into my local Target this past weekend.
And while I was planning to spend a bit of my own money on a couple packs of the stuff, my dad once again treated me to more retail goodness, graciously getting me five loose packs.
Yes, given the nice luck he's had with breaks so far this year (and the fact that he, you know, bought them for me), my dad hand-picked the packs himself.
Would his luck continue?
I sure think it did.
Given that he's a favorite of both my dad and I, this Lincecum was certainly a nice pull. "Timmy" hasn't pitched as well as of late, but I still vigorously collect him all the same.
I still don't think horizontal cards work very well with A&G, though.
Even if they do feature Tim Lincecum.
For examples your standard vertical cards, let's take a look at this pair of Redbirds here.
Since I recently decided to start collecting him, the short-printed Yadier Molina was a nice surprise. Had I picked out the packs, I doubt I would've pulled a single SP. And if I did, it wouldn't have been of anyone I collect.
Maybe I need some sort of wax "slumpbuster". Anyone have any spare packs of '89 Bowman lying around?
That aside, the designs of A&G can be tough to rank since they don't vary all that much from year to year. Still, this year's edition is nice, clean, and probably less busy then years prior.
I'd say it's the best A&G design since 2010.
Take that with a grain of salt, though, because I didn't like 2011 or '12 at all.
Let's get into the inserts.
In A&G's prime, inserts were pretty much subdued. The base set, after all, was (and still is) the main draw. And that's the way it should be.
Unfortunately, Topps has absolutely piled on the inserts in the last few years. I can't even keep track of them all.
For me, the 2013 brigade of insert series are easily the most underwhelming in the history of A&G.
Like 2011's "Hometown Heroes" and last year's "What's In a Name?" checklists, the big inserts in 2013 Allen and Ginter are these "Across the Years" singles.
The backs of each list events and other celebrities who share a birthday with the player featured on the front. Not a bad idea, except that Topps basically did the same thing with their "This Day in History" series in 2010.
I like birthdays as much as the next guy, but this is basically a recycled idea by the folks at Topps.
Although, admittedly, this Ryan Howard does earn a few bonus points for mentioning Frank Zappa on the back. (His famous album, Joe's Garage, was released on November 19th, 1979, the same exact day Howard was born.)
Like I said, they're not bad inserts. The design of the "Across the Years" series is actually pretty nice. It's just that we've seen it before.
I guess recycling is becoming a running theme for Topps this year.
These are a miss for me.
A&G has put out some fantastic non-baseball inserts in the past, but I'm not big on these. From what I can tell, the "Martial Mastery" series documents wartime tactics and figures from history. Or something.
I'm still not quite sure.
By default, this looks to be the insert set I'll be building in 2013 A&G.
While I'm not a set builder, there's a part of me that tries to complete an A&G insert series every year. I successfully built 2011's "Minds That Made the Future" checklist. (A 40-card set, by the way.)
My quest for last year's "Musical Masters" inserts failed miserably, as I only own three of the 15 total figures included in those.
I've had a minor interest in philosophy ever since I took a class on the subject a couple years ago, so I guess I'll be attempting to build this year's "Inquiring Minds" set.
The fact that I pulled two in my first five packs certainly helped ease the decision.
As usual, the minis are back in 2013 A&G.
While my feelings towards the rest of the brand may have changed, A&G's minis have always stayed near and dear to my heart. Minis are almost always cool.
That said, both of these are up for grabs if anyone wants 'em. The Scutaro is actually a short-printed mini, an especially tough get from a retail pack.
A&G has underwhelmed with their non-baseball subjects in recent years. It's apparent that the brand is a long ways from the days of the Pac-Man guy and revolving doors.
While still interesting, I can't say I was too excited to pull cards of guys like Mike Richter and some sumo wrestler. Oh, and despite what I first thought, that's Ziggy (not Bob) Marley on the black-bordered mini.
I'm not the biggest reggae fan.
We'll just leave it at that.
For a while, I thought my dad's magic touch was gone.
At first glance, one of my packs only held five cards. Those quality control screw-ups are typical of packs I've bought so far in 2013.
If you bust packs, you're going to have to take one for the team sometimes. So, despite the (supposed) production gaffe, I put the five-card pack out of my mind and gathered up my opened A&G pack wrappers.
And that's when Rickey fell out.
Somehow, this mini stayed in the pack when I first opened it. Hence, me thinking I'd been the victim of a quality control error.
In fact, Rickey here isn't just a black-bordered mini. He's a black-bordered short-print.
"Surely those can't be an easy pull", I thought.
A quick look at one of the wrappers told me that such cards were found in one out of every 130 retail packs. Even better is the fact that I just recently added Rickey to my brigade of player collections.
Yup. My dad still has the touch.
I'm sorry I ever doubted it.
Rickey included, there are a lot of past legends in this year's A&G checklist.
I counted a whopping 75 now-retired big leaguers, spanning everyone from Ty Cobb to Ken Griffey Jr. I pulled a couple nice ones with Feller and "Maz" above.
Even I'll admit that 75 is way too many, though. That's almost a quarter of the checklist right there. Pair that with all the non-baseball subjects, and I'll bet that's nearly half.
And having only half of a 2013 product feature current players just doesn't seem right to me.
I'll always support a product that includes the great Roberto Clemente in its checklist.
This was far and away my best pull from my five packs of A&G. No doubt about it. Clemente is, after all, my favorite player in baseball history.
It's just a suggestion, A&G, but you should probably think about toning it down a bit with the legends next year. It's just too much.
But keep Clemente in there.
As of right now, 2013 probably comes in at either fifth or sixth in my A&G rankings. I'm still deciding whether or not I like it better than the 2009 edition.
It's just such a far cry away from what the brand once was. A&G was once the cream of the crop. Now, I'm afraid it's almost becoming just another set.
Maybe that's the problem, though. Maybe I need to stop living in the past with A&G and accept that it'll probably never again be what it once was.
Perhaps its time to start thinking of it as a new era for the brand, rather than just a inferior model of its past successes.
One thing has stayed true, though.
A&G is always good for a bit of fun.