In case you haven't noticed, I've been somewhat down on the hobby lately.
I've just kinda had it up to here with the people milling around Targets/Walmarts, waiting for the vendor to show up so they can clear out the inventory. I've had it with people treating cards as a capitalistic venture. I've had it with people acting like Billy Badass because they pulled a card of some rookie no one'll know in three years. And sure, these misguided souls have always been out there, but it seems to me that they're coming in bigger droves now. I've long been an advocate of the collect-how-you-wanna-collect theory, but I can only take so much greed and idiocy (and let's face it, none of those people are collectors).
But what I've really had it with, perhaps most of all, is Topps pandering to these people who see cards as nothing but profit modes. All the online-only exclusives and high-end products are clear evidence of that. And yet somewhere, way out in the distance, I saw a glimmer of hope through the storm of dollar signs. I saw it earlier in this year when Topps released their planned product lines for the 2020 card season, and that light has gotten closer and closer and closer with each passing day until, finally, last week, it arrived, and blinded us with its power.
That jewel in the sky, of course, was Topps Big League.
I fell in love with Big League months before it ever actually existed, back when it was nothing more than mock-ups on a virtual sheet.
I loved it so much that I pre-ordered a box of it way back in March, back before this whole pandemic thing put a halt on most new card product. I'd also like to make a special note of the fact that I paid exactly $30 for an 18-pack box of Big League, which is a price point I think way more sets should have. And while it took three long months of waiting, I was absolutely thrilled when it finally, against all odds, showed up yesterday.
I suppose a small part of me was worried that Big League wouldn't live up to my massive expectations, that the glow in the sky I'd seen long ago would turn out to be an illusion -- but I'm happy to report no such thing happened, because, and I'll say this forever, OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SET.
Perhaps the only thing I don't like about Big League is that it shines a big gigantic light on all the things Topps could be doing, but most of the time, just doesn't, whether out of scorn for the low-end collector or pure apathy (or both).
Topps can, for instance, make an absolutely fantastic card back when they put their minds to it -- because this, my friends, is what the back of a baseball card should look like.
Big League also reminded me how much I miss sets with borders, mostly evidenced by how well these parallels pop.
Even inserts, which are designed to be somewhat of a jolt from base cards, have gotten kind of bland lately.
Not so with Big League, which features insert sets that range from bat flips and cartoons -- the big background logos give those "Star Caricatures" a bit of a '90s Studio feel to them, which I like.
Those "Roll Call" cards don't grab me much, but they're certainly distinct, which is basically all I can ask out of an insert set.
And it's weird: I don't read comic books, and I find superhero movies dull, but I really like when companies add a little superhuman flair to their baseball cards (see: Metal Universe).
But let's be honest here: you're here for the base cards, and so am I.
The 2020 Big League design alone is enough to win my heart -- it reminds me a lot of the excellent 2009 Upper Deck OPC layout, with a little '81 Fleer mixed in for good measure. It's the best design I've seen from Topps in longer than I can remember, and right now I'd have to call it my favorite of all three Big League sets thus far (and I know that's not just the new-release rose-colored glasses speaking).
But along with the design comes absolutely stunning photography, with a few Dudes on New Teams mixed in for good measure!
And the subsets are just as good as the base design.
Perhaps I'm a little biased since cards featuring awards are a mini-collection of mine, but even though it's somewhat jarring to see ballplayers in suits and ties, it's kinda nice seeing some cards with the actual hardware displayed on the front.
Baseball in 2020 is gonna be weird, but hopefully 2019's cornucopia of memorable moments will make up for whatever's lacking this year.
I guess what I like most about Big League is that every single card feels like the end result of real, actual effort.
Over and over again, I've gotten the opposite feeling in today's hobby, the feeling that cards are absentmindedly churned out on an assembly line. Too many times, I've even asked the question: do the people at Topps even LIKE baseball? I still often wonder about that, but the fact that something like Big League exists, with designs and photos that appear to be selected by people who do like baseball (and baseball cards!), gives me hope. It sounds simple, but I mean every word of it: this is what baseball cards should look like. This thrill, the excitement I've tried to communicate in this post, is what I should feel about baseball cards all the time.
Even with all the casualties and imperfections of the current hobby, a set like Big League makes me proud to collect baseball cards, plain and simple.
So go ahead and take a bow, Topps Big League.
You're gonna save us all.
(Also, on a more somber note, we had to put our oldest cat, Latte, to sleep this afternoon. If you have a pet in your life, please give him/her an extra hug for me tonight.)