Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: The set countdown

I've developed yet another card-related habit within the past few years.

Whether it consists of a single pack from Target or an entire hobby box worth, I find myself saving at least one pack wrapper from every product I open these days.

I guess it's my little way of keeping "mementos" from my past cardboard travels.

A few days ago, I found myself browsing through all the different wrappers I'd saved up during 2012, the contents of which you see at the top of this post.

Heritage, Triple Play, even...ugh...Topps Chrome.

And that's when my list-making urges got the better of me once again.

For whatever reason, I've always enjoyed making lists. The countdown-type posts I've written over the past year have been amongst my favorite to showcase on this blog.

They keep things fresh around here. Plus, they're easy to write.

As a result, you'll be getting another one of those here tonight.

I'll be ranking all the products I've opened during this past year.

Although I'm more of a player collector than a set builder, I do try and take the time to analyze each release, noting what I felt worked and what didn't.

It's always been one of my favorite aspects of this hobby.

Before I start, I should note the unofficial "qualifications".

1) I must have busted at least one pack of the product during the course of 2012.

2) A set can also qualify if I otherwise found a good number of the base cards throughout the year without the benefit of opening a pack.

3) For clarity purposes, I've combined Topps Series 1, 2, and Update under the umbrella term, "Flagship".

Because of that, you won't see sets like Bowman Platinum, Finest, and Bowman Chrome on this list. I never opened a pack of any of those, and I own a grand total of two cards from the three sets combined.

In the end, ten different sets qualified for the "countdown".

Let's see how many you agree with.

We start at number 10.


#10 -- Bowman

At no point in 2012 did I ever actually open a pack of Bowman.

Through trades and dime boxes, however, I've managed to find a good amount of them for my various player collections.

It's more out of habit than anything else.

When it comes to guys I collect, I don't discriminate between good and bad designs. I want them all, no matter what.

But if I did, Bowman would probably be the first to go.

It became obvious long ago that Topps doesn't really put much effort into the actual Bowman base set. It's all about the "prospects" these days.

Although it has basically been that way throughout Bowman's history, it's been worse than ever lately.

Even though I ranked it last, this year's design was actually an improvement on their past efforts.

However, that's more of a testament to how awful Bowman had been in the last few years.

I don't know about you, but I've never heard of anyone trying to build a Bowman base set in all my years of collecting.

That should say something.

#9 -- Gypsy Queen

I know a lot of collectors out there are head over heels for Gypsy Queen.

That's fine by me.

But I just don't see it.

Although I believed it was vastly overrated, I honestly enjoyed last year's GQ release. Just not to the extent that most others did.

This year was a different story.

Even though it again carried a lot of hype, I felt that Topps took a huge step back with 2012 Gypsy Queen.

The borders are too distracting. And, although I enjoyed it at first, I'm inclined to think that the whole "retro tobacco design" thing has been overused in this hobby lately.

To me, this year's Gypsy Queen was mediocre.

At best.

#8 -- Topps Chrome

The biggest gripe I have with Topps Chrome is the price.

Three bucks for a four-card pack is highway robbery for any set. Much less one that's basically a fancier reproduction of something else.

Taking the price out of it, Topps Chrome is an okay set.

I'm on board with chromatized cardboard. They look nice in binders. Plus, they're always a hoot to find in dime boxes.

But it's not very original.

Most of the cards are purely shinier reproductions of Flagship offerings.

Which is why it comes in at number eight here.

#7 -- Opening Day

Opening Day is basically a cheaper version of Topps Chrome.

And while I do appreciate the budget-friendly pack price, nearly all the base cards utilize the exact same shots as their Flagship comrades.

Again, while the different "variations" may look nice in a binder, Opening Day is widely lacking of originality.

I've always felt that Topps has wasted an insane amount of potential with this set over the years.

The inserts are actually a lot better than people may think. The incredible "Superstar Celebrations" series is among my favorite in the hobby these days.

If only they'd put a little variety into the base cards.

Then they'd really have something.

Until then, Opening Day isn't going anywhere.

#6 -- Allen and Ginter

Three years ago, I never would've dreamed about saying this, but...

I think A&G is on its way out.

It just doesn't have that special "feel" to it anymore.

While the base cards are still fairly spiffy, I feel that 2012 was the worst design in A&G's history.

And although I enjoyed the non-baseball "Musical Masters" and "Historical Turning Points" series, most of the inserts weren't much to look at, either.

Plus, there's simply no reason to create a 100-card insert set. Yet A&G did just that with their "What's In A Name?" series this time around.

I'm still trying to track those down.

If I would've made a list like this from 2006 to '08, A&G might've occupied the top slot all three years. I still rate '08 A&G as one of the greatest sets of my lifetime.

But, four years later, good ol' Allen and Ginter is starting to feel like old hat.

It's a shame.

#5 -- Topps Archives

If this year's Archives release was at all similar to the Archives from a decade ago, it most likely would've been at the top of this list.

2001 Topps Archives might well be my favorite "modern" set.

But, licensing restrictions and a changing hobby forced Topps into modifying the original Archives concept.

As a result, I had a negative mindset going into this year's release. I knew nothing Topps could do would top Archives from back in the day.

However, a blaster of this year's product left me pleasantly surprised.

It actually wasn't all that bad.

Even though it's a far cry from the original Archives, this year's version had a lot going for it.

Sure, the big trademarks and the glossy-like finish of the base cards didn't really give off the "old-time" feel that I had intended.

But, as I've already admitted, I'm simply a sucker for anything that pays an homage to classic cardboard.

Plus, the "Deckle Edge" and "Cloth Sticker" inserts were among my favorites of the year.

And, although they were short-prints, the inclusion of names like Gamble and Kranepool in the checklist is a gigantic plus for me.

Nice job, Topps.

I hope to see Archives back again next year.

#4 -- Panini Triple Play

Before this year, I'd only heard vague references to Panini over the years.

Their releases were mostly confined to football and basketball. And I didn't much care for the few baseball-related Panini designs I'd seen.

Before this year, the word "panini" simply meant a delicious Italian sandwich to me.

As I speak here on December 30, 2012, though, a different thought pops into my head whenever I hear that word.

"Baseball cards."

That dramatic shift in meaning came thanks to their Triple Play release back in August, a set that featured one of the greatest concepts in cardboard history.

I didn't always have that train of thought, though.

If I would've made this list right after I busted open my first Triple Play packs, I'd probably have ranked it at number 10.

I didn't like them at all. Given the wacky cartoonish images, I wasn't even sure if they were "binder-worthy".

However, after some deeper analysis and the passage of time, I came to see these in a whole new light.

I still see them as "quirky". But, these days, that's what I love most about Triple Play.

Plus, ninety-nine cents gets you a pack of seven of these things!

How cool is that?

Unsurprisingly, I never heard a peep about these on my trading forum. Thankfully, they got a bit of recognition around the blogosphere.

They've already started to gain "cult" status around the collecting world.

We'd never quite seen anything like them before.

And I'm not sure we'll ever see anything like them again.

#3 -- Topps Heritage

The last couple years of Heritage had been a bit of a disappointment for me.

Although I love anything vintage, I'm not the biggest fan of Topps' 1961 and '62 designs. They just aren't that high in my book.

As a result, I was pleased to see Heritage revert back to one of my all-time favorite designs.

1963 Topps.

I've always had a deep admiration for the colorful bars at the bottom. Not to mention the awesome dual-image design.

In that regard, Topps absolutely knocked it out of the park.

Although it may play a role in my ranking of other sets, the inserts in Heritage don't really factor into it all that much.

Topps has done a nice job of sticking with the same insert sets over the years, such as the "New Age Performers" and "Baseball Flashbacks" series.

Given that the focus of Heritage is (and should be) on the base cards, I've always liked that maneuver on Topps' part.

As a result, every pack of Heritage I opened in 2012 was an absolute blast.

#2 -- Panini Cooperstown

If you would've told me Panini would occupy two of the top four slots on this countdown back in January, I doubt I would've believed you.

I probably would've called you crazy, too.

But, to my amazement, Panini does indeed take both the fourth and second slots on this list.

As humans, we have a tendency to cast a better eye upon recent events. The "recency effect", as it's called.

It's basic psychology.

Now, I'm sure some of you might think that's what's going on here with Cooperstown in the second slot. After all, my initial pack-busting experience with this set came just five days ago on Christmas.

But I can assure you that this is a legitimate ranking.

It's not just because of the whole "recency" thing.

Panini Cooperstown allowed me to recapture a long-lost feeling. The feeling of opening an affordable legend-based set.

Fan Favorites was really the last of its kind, and its death rattle was way back in 2005.

That is, until Panini came around.

Adding new cards of guys like Nap Lajoie and Burleigh Grimes to my binders is something I haven't been able to do for a long time.

Thank you, Panini.

I hope to see you back around these parks in 2013.

#1 -- Topps Flagship

In the end, nothing bettered trusty ol' Flagship in 2012.

Without a Topps Total-like set around, Flagship is often the last chance for some lesser-known players to receive cards in a given year.

And even though I give Topps some flack for not reviving the Total brand (or introducing another similar type set), Flagship does a pretty good job with the player selection from year to year.

After all, I wouldn't have been able to add cards of Tony Campana or Ryan Theriot to my binders without it.

As far as Flagship goes, the inserts were basically average. Except for the outstanding '87 Topps Minis, I didn't find a whole lot to get excited about.

In the end, though, all I really care about with Flagship are the base cards.

As far as I'm concerned, Topps definitely succeeded in that department this year.

Although others may not have enjoyed it, I got a lot of pleasure out of the so-called "surfboard" design. It's gave a nice touch to everything without being all that intrusive.

Where Flagship really earned its paycheck, though, was with the photography.

I cannot remember seeing a better photo-oriented set in my lifetime. Between "Reed Johnson and the Birds", a leaping Tom Gorzelanny, or simply a celebratory Mike Trout, there were tons of classic cards to be found within this year's Flagship checklist.

All in all, 2012 was a pretty good year for cardboard. Even though it had its ups and downs, it more than kept me interested in this hobby.

But, in the end, Flagship proved to be the best of the best in this household.

I know some others will probably disagree with me on this one. And probably some of my other rankings as well.

But that's the beauty of a countdown, isn't it?


night owl said...

Can't say I really liked ANY of the 2012 products. A few were OK, but that's as far as I'll go. If I had to pick, Heritage would be the best.

Nachos Grande said...

1. Topps Archives
2. Allen & Ginter
3. I didn't buy anything else - nothing else seemed purchase worthy to me. I think the Panini sets could be cool, but I couldn't force myself to spend the coin on them to find out.

JediJeff said...

I have to disagree with the lot of you - I thought Archives and Heritage sucked. But take that with a grain of salt, considering the other things I like.

Unknown said...

Topps Heritage was #1 for me this year, mainly because the 1963s are my favorite set design of all-time. Flagship would be #2, and Bowman would be #3. I am one of the rare collectors who collects the set (base, prospects, and chrome prospects) each year.

Marcus said...

Archives had the best inserts, but I kept on wanting to like the base set more. The '71 cards were awesome, but the rest didn't really do it for me. Not sure how much I'm going to like next year's Archives either. Heritage got me really excited to collect again, though, so it's probably #1 in my book.