Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2017 Topps: Technical difficulties

Yesterday, during a bit of slow time at work, I reread a few random chapters from Josh Wilker's excellent baseball card-themed book, Cardboard Gods.

One thing that particularly grabbed me this time around was the way Wilker detailed the excitement of discovering the shiny new designs Topps pulled out with each passing year. This triggered a new -- yet painfully obvious -- observation on my part: thanks to the Internet, I've never gone into a new year of Topps without already knowing what the design was going to look like months in advance.

Case in point: I knew what 2017 Topps was going to look like five months ago, despite the fact that the set was released just last week. I'm always excited for the dawn of a new card season, but the fact that I already know what to expect with each passing year does diminish the element of surprise a bit.

Sometimes I wonder if Topps would be better served in taking a page from Wilker's day and not revealing their new Flagship design until the actual release date.

I will say, however, that the blogs always inject a great amount joy into the beginning of the card calendar with the numerous different takes on the new year's Topps design.

All the posts made me even more excited to get my own hands on some 2017 Topps, which finally happened this past Saturday. My dad grabbed me a few rack packs, and I myself shot the retail works by buying a blaster, a hanger box, a rack pack, and a loose pack.

I usually stay away from blasters -- why spend $20 on 100 cards when a hanger box gets you 72 for $10? -- but the promise of five exclusive Jackie Robinson Day inserts was enough to get me to pull the trigger since the "42" jerseys happen to be a mini-collection of mine. I did pull the expected amount of five, but the Sano and Betts are underwhelming since you can't, you know, see the actual 42 jerseys.

Kind of defeats the purpose there, Topps.

As usual, 2017 Topps features an overload of insert sets.

The "Salutes" are separate from the JRD inserts, yet the design is exactly the same, which is a tad confusing. The '87s are well-done and have a nice glossy finish to them, but I think I've seen enough of the '87 design for a lifetime by now. The awards inserts are retail-exclusive, and I pulled a particularly sad one with the 2016's NL Comeback Player of the Year: Jose Fernandez (RIP).

The "Five Tool" series resembles the "Fire" checklist we saw in last year's Update and is just as hideous.

I feel obligated to show of the "hits" I pulled, which are both up for grabs if anyone wants them.

The Springer came from one of my dad's rack packs, and the Machado was the blaster-exclusive bonus card which, despite its theme, doesn't feature a photo with an actual 42-themed jersey visible.

Here's something Topps wants me to believe is a "hit" but is actually just a card you can find in a landfill near you, only this one has an ugly gold stamp on it.

Is it wrong that I find it kind of hilarious that a few Donruss cards apparently managed to slip into this "Rediscover Topps" promo?

The Jackie reprint contains nothing but ads on the back and is little more than a shill for the whole aforementioned "Rediscover Topps" business.

I like the meta baseball-card-on-a-baseball-card concept of the Then & Now inserts, though the design is a bit Bowmany (is that a word?) for my tastes.

Now these I like, and I'll probably be chasing the set.

I don't watch much TV these days, but when I do, it's usually MLB Network.

The popular "First Pitch" series is back in business for 2017 Topps, and I was lucky enough to pull a couple notable names.

Jon Lovitz is an SNL legend, and Freaks and Geeks ranks only behind Seinfeld as my my all-time favorite TV show and featured Apatow's first major behind-the-scenes role.

Parallels are difficult to pull off without borders, and I missed that the deGrom was a gold parallel until the second viewing.

And finally we've arrived at the main attraction of 2017 Topps: the base cards.

By now, you've probably already seen what these look like and have heard many different opinions on them. I don't have much to add to the discussion at this point, so I'll just say this: I like the design much better than last year's, but it's still a little too TV-graphicy for me and I can't say I'm much more than lukewarm about the look.

I worry that Topps is trying too hard to make their cards look "modern." Modernity can very easily lead to apathy if forced. I thought 2016 Topps was forcibly "modern" and look how forgettable that set turned out to be.

I see something like this and I wonder: twenty, thirty years from now, will I be able to instantly call up the 2017 Topps design in my mind, the way I can with, say, 1980 Topps? Or 1991 Topps?

Much has been made by people like myself about the lack of career stats on the back, and having them in hand has done nothing to lessen my disappointment about that.

I will say, however, that the different-colored backs certainly grab the eye and strike me as having an aquatic feel to them for some reason.

While still far from perfect, the photos in 2017 Topps are a bit more zoomed-out than last year's and, on the whole, much better.

These were some of my personal favorites of the vertical variety...

...though the horizontals were not to be outshadowed.

The stunted stat lines robbed us of complete year-by-year totals on the back of Big Papi's sunset card, but Topps still managed to grant him a fine farewell.

And here's a moment I'll never tire of seeing on my baseball cards.

This year's design shows that 2016 was no fluke: the looks of today's cards are definitely being influenced by current technology, whether that technology be TV graphics, Twitter handles, or whatever else. I think 2017 does it in a way that's a bit more accessible, but the presence is still overwhelmingly apparent.

I don't consider myself anti-tech (though I'm no staunch supporter, either), but I'm left to wonder if such a tech influx does more harm than good in some cases. Maybe, as I've thought about in the time removed from my partial rereading of Cardboard Gods, people would be more receptive to the year's cards if they didn't know what they looked like so far in advance.

There's no way to "Rediscover Topps" when that discovery doesn't exist in the first place.


Shane Katz said...

Couldn't agree more. These cards (although having these in hand, I do like the design) look more like FOX Baseball TV graphics — fronts and backs.

P-town Tom said...

You don't like the "Five Tool" insert, huh? I liked the Fire cards from last year and think the "Five Tool" are pretty neat. I'm still trying to figure out how pitchers were included in the insert set though. I thought the five tools were all offensively oriented.
The Ellsbury lighting butt card is my favorite of the year so far. Someone at Topps has a sense of humor!
We knew what the base design was months ago, but many of the inserts were a surprise to me. Maybe I'm just lucky that I didn't accidentally run into them while on the internet.

Fuji said...

I'm totally with you on the whole "Freaks & Geeks" thing. Amazing show. On the flipside... I think the Five Tool insert set is one of the best things about this product.

Need More Cardboard said...

I really don't get the Then and Now insert. It's basically a Bowman insert so why is it in Topps flagship?

Anonymous said...

I remember keeping an eye out for cards back in the 1970's. You didn't know the release date, you didn't know what they'd look like, you just made sure to keep an eye out for unfamiliar packs in the retail stores that carried baseball cards... and "retail stores" is a bit unnecessary, because there were no hobby stores, not in my neck of the woods, anyway.

The other thing about knowing the design up front is that all too often it comes down to "I'm not sure, I need to see what these will look like in my hand". Maybe it would be better to just have "Boom! There they are." like it used to be. Oh, well... Never gonna happen.

That "5 Tool" insert is certainly polarizing. I'm also in the "hideous" camp, but there are plenty of people who love them.

Tony Lehman said...

I'm with "Need More Cardboard" -- I don't get the "Then & Now" insert. Many of the players included in the subset have been in the league for like three years. What's the point of a "Then & Now" card for Corey Seager? And it is entirely a Bowman insert and should be in Bowman.

There are enough inserts already without the T&N -- why do it?

Matthew Scott said...

The only aspect of 2017 Topps that I didn't like was the Then and Now inserts. Guys like Cory Seager have a card in that set. When "Then" is only a couple of years I would say the idea lacks substance.

defgav said...

Yeah, that'd be so awesome if the design was kept unknown until release day like back in the day. Always seems dumb when Topps spills the beans so early. I guess they feel they have to do it for pre-orders by distributors.

I have no desire to buy any 2017 Topps. Maybe I'll pluck a few from a nickelbox one day, but until then I'll passively rely on traders to hook me up with dudes I collect. (To that end, if no one has called dibs on that Machado manurelic yet, you could definitely set it aside for me.)

Oh, and it really bugs me that not only has Topps ignored the death of Jose Fernandez, they don't even mention in the writeup on the back of his Comeback Plays of the Year card that he died during the season. WTF?!