Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Looking into the crystal ball

For better or worse, I don't consider myself one of the more vocal bloggers around here.

I've found that writing about the "smaller" aspects of the hobby has better fit my writing abilities and overall feelings towards the hobby. Silly things like "pitchers at the plate" or bat barrels are more my speed.

While I absolutely love reading all the "bigger" topics out there, I haven't written about them too often. For the most part, I've been comfortable with letting other fellow bloggers take the lead on those.

The infamous "Topps monopoly" is a good example of that.

While I doubt many collectors have actually supported the one-sided tactics of today's hobby, some have been more vocal about it than others.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to shed my usual silence on the matter and actually write a "Topps monopoly" post tonight.


By now, you may have heard the news that Topps's exclusive license with the MLB has been extended to the year 2020.

So, in other words, Topps will still be the only major brand on the market by the time I'm 28. That's a bit staggering to think about right now.

From the looks of it, we may be sinking into yet another long, Topps-dominated era of the hobby. The first, of course, came after Bowman's demise in 1955 up until the "monopoly breakers" of Fleer and Donruss in '81.

That first era is seen as a magical part of card collecting history. Some of my most beautiful pieces, such as this '57 Bobby Thomson, came from those years.

Now, if we were to look into the crystal ball, is another monopoly really that bad for the hobby these days?

Tonight, I'll be taking a look at both the positives and the negatives of the second coming of the "Topps monopoly".

We'll start on the brighter side of things.

Monopoly "Pro" #1 -- Less filler.

While others might disagree, most sets on the shelves these days are at least passable in my book.

That sure wasn't the case before this whole "Topps monopoly" thing came to fruition.

Sure, Topps produced their fair share of duds before 2010. I mean, who the heck remembers Ticket to Stardom or Co-Signers these days?

Still, that was nothing compared to what Upper Deck produced during their dying years. Other than their base flagship release and Masterpieces, I can't think of any other great UD sets from the 2005-09 period.

Upper Deck X is one of my personal least-favorite sets. Even a good-idea-at-first release like UD Goudey became filler during its later years.

And I've often said that the twenty-dollar blaster of '09 UD Spectrum I bought was the absolute worst money I've ever spent on cardboard. Awful, awful stuff.

I may not enjoy everything that Topps puts out these days.

But at least I've never had buyer's remorse after purchasing any of it.

Pro #2 -- Topps has actually done a decent job so far.

While people have a right to voice their concerns over the Topps brand, I think we've started to let the whole "monopoly" label get to us.

If you take a step back and really look at their efforts since 2010, their "hit to miss" ratio actually hasn't been all that bad. At least as far as I'm concerned, anyways.

None of the first four monopoly-era Flagship sets have been dreadful. I've actually liked all four quite a bit. Ninety-five percent of collectors seem to be enjoying 2013 Topps, including myself.

I can't say I'm happy with the Topps's refusal to bring back a Total-like set (more on that later), but at least they've continued to put at least semi-interesting releases out there.

While I wouldn't consider myself to be a Topps "fanboy" by any means, I'll give them credit where credit is due.

They've kept the hobby interesting lately.

Pro #3 -- More time to "process" sets.

This one can also be called the "less money" aspect of today's era.

I'm the type of collector who likes to at least sample a little of everything. I may not plan on buying much A&G or Opening Day this year, but I'll probably pick up a few packs here and there.

Of course, the more sets that become available, the more I have to "sample". Which means more money being spent on my part.

With the "Topps monopoly", collectors like myself haven't had to cough up as much cash. There simply aren't as many new products on the shelves.

In a way, I kind of like that. Back when Fleer, UD, and Donruss were in the market, it seemed like a new set came out every five minutes.

I'm also the type of collector who likes to give each release a good look-over after the fact. Although it's been out for over two weeks, I'm still nailing down what I like and dislike about Heritage. I'm still "absorbing" the set, if you will.

With four card companies at play, I didn't have much time to process every individual set. That's why I often find myself saying, "Huh, [insert random 2004 set here] was actually pretty neat, wasn't it?"

Still, this particular "pro" of the monopoly is sort of a paradox, because...

Monopoly "Con" #1 -- Less variety/Less power for the "everyday" collector.

One minute, I'm happy with a lesser amount of new product on the shelves.

The next, I often find myself wishing for a little more.

It goes both ways.

While I can't say it was a world-shattering set at the time, I kind of miss seeing "offshoot" releases like 2005 Fleer Tradition on the market.

On the rare occasion where I actually have a little extra cash to spend, I don't have as much "buying power" as I did during my earlier collecting days.

That, I think, is one of the more criminal parts of this whole monopoly schtick.

Despite the hopeful voice in my head that says, "Keep the faith, Nick. Topps is going to revive the Total brand soon!", deep down I know we'll never see anything like that again.

Not as long as this monopoly is around, anyways.

I wish I were one of those uber-rich hobbyists that can throw money at whatever they please. But I'm not. And neither are 99 percent of collectors out there.

Unfortunately, it's those deep-pocketed "one percenters" that seem to reign supreme in today's hobby. 

I won't go as far as to say that Topps "doesn't care" about us, but they've made it clear that we're not their main concern right now.

That's probably my biggest gripe at the moment.

Please, Topps. Help me restore my faith in you.

Bring back Topps Total!

I'll say it 'till I'm blue in the face.

Con #2 -- Binder monotony.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with my first "con".

In case you're new to this blog, I'm a self-professed "binder guy". Almost all of my favorite cards are stored in nine-pocket pages.

As a result, displays like this one from my Angels binder give me a tremendous amount of joy. Look at that variety.

Leaf. Fleer Box Score. Bazooka mini. Upper Deck. Topps 205.

It's all there.

Guys like David Eckstein were the lucky ones.

From the looks of it, my future Bryce Harper and Will Middlebrooks pages aren't going to have a lot of variety to them.

All it'll be is Topps, Topps, and more Topps.

While I'll never fall out of love with binders, something tells me that my organizational future might get a bit monotonous.

I sure hope I'm wrong, though.

Con #3 -- Less influx of new bloggers.

Other, more tenured bloggers might be able to speak to this one more than I could.

This is just an educated guess on my part.

I'm not sure how large or eventful the blogosphere was during 2008. (I'm not exactly sure when the card blogosphere started, now that I think of it.)

In '08, the blogosphere wasn't even a glimmer in my eye. I was in the prime of my "forum career" at the time. Oy.

For the bloggers that were around, though, I'd imagine that it was a whole lot of fun in the aftermath of each coming set. Topps and Upper Deck were still in prime competition at the time.

In short, most people start blogs because they want to share their thoughts and opinions on our beloved hobby.

Well, a steady stream of new sets on the shelves gave bloggers the chance to do exactly that.

I've heard a few of the blogosphere "old-timers" say that things were a lot different a few years ago. Many once-supreme blogs have simply dropped off the face of the Earth. Membership is probably down a bit these days as well, I'd guess.

I'm sure some of that has to do with the "Topps monopoly".

As a blogger, this current monopolized era is all I've ever known. To those who lived through the blogosphere shift during 2010, though, I'd imagine that it was quite the downer.

Not as many people were posting about new sets. Not as many opinions were being heard. I can see why that would have an effect on their posting and/or reading habits over time.

Blogging is still a boatload of fun. No doubt about it.

Still, I would've liked to have seen what this place was like back in '08.

I wish I could know what Topps is plotting for the next seven years. I wish I could know how it'll effect our hobby. I wish I had a crystal ball.

But I don't.

Just like any other era of the hobby, I'm sure it'll go through highs and lows. We'll just have to wait and see.

As one of the more interesting topics in today's era, I felt compelled to address it in some way, shape, or form on the blog. Personally, I can see both sides of the coin when it comes to this whole monopoly business.

I'm sure you'll hear a lot more on it during the next few weeks. I look forward to reading about everything all of you have to say about the Topps "monopoly".

But this is probably all you'll get from me.

Tomorrow, we're back to bat barrels and throwbacks.


Brendan Taylor said...

While it's great from a buisness persepctive for Topps it's horrible for the common collector. Binders are going to be a lot thiner these days and some people just appreciate different designs and outlines on Cards. As much as i like Topps i hate the Monopoly that they have on the Card game right now. I guess we just got to wait and see how this all plays out in the Long run.

Spiegel83 said...

I agree that there are pros and cons to the Topps monopoly. I don't mind it as much as some other collectors. One of the reasons I quit collecting in the late 90s to 2010 was because there were too many sets. The shelves were filled with products and I didn't know what they all were. It was harder to buy cards because you weren't sure what it was that you were looking at.

I like your point on con #3. When a new set gets released now, you will see a million Topps Heritage reviews on blogs for example. I am sure that when new sets were released by several card companies the blog world saw more variety of set reviews.

Swing And A Pop-up said...

For someone like me who feels the need to collect everything, I like the fact that there are less sets now. The late 90's were brutal. Every time I buy a repack I discover another set I did not know existed.

I'll always buy Topps base first because that's what I grew up with. Regardless of how awesome/horrid the design is.

beefman said...

It is a bit of a 'torn' feeling when it comes to the monopoly of Topps. I'll just say this, and I'm sure you will agree, Nick.

Bring Back Topps Total! And all will be good in the world...

Nick J

Ana Lu said...

I've always heard about baseball cards all my life and finally when I get to finally buy some (thanks internet! thanks eBay!) I discover that is right in the beginning of a new era: Topps monopoly.

Here in Portugal there is the same thing about stickers. There is Panini and stop. There were a couple of other brands like Merlin or Impala, but they simply disappeared. Panini is the biggest sticker company around so they have the majority of licenses to produce stickers.

And because of that we get collections like football championships where year-after-year the albums are the same and the stickers are the same. With same photos and same design.

I need to catch up with all the baseball cards' history so I try to get what I can. Mainly older sets. And that brings the variety of sets that existed in the past.

Nowadays and until 2020 we will get only the same sets. Change the design a bit. But the same sets: flagship (series 1 and 2 and update), A&G's, GQ and Heritage. That's it? It will be ok for these first years..in a few more years it will be not enough.

Just an other great post Nick.

GCA said...

Ana Lu hit it right on ~ What they put out is OK, but it's going to be exactly the same year after year. The corporate committess have decided that Flagship, A&G, GQ and Heritage, along with Bowman, are what sells. That's what they're going to stick with. No retired player sets, no Top ## All-time sets, no over-the-top-artsy-shiny sets, no players-in-street-clothes sets. Nothing new or different for seven more years.
I'd draw the line at around 2007 for Upper Deck's downswing. 2005 All-Star Classics is one of the best looking sets ever. '05 HOF was nice. 2007 Sweet Spot Classic was excellent (though the autos have really faded). After that, we were left with three or four sets with "X" themes and other lousy ideas and ugly designs.

Metallattorney said...

I second beefman. Bring back Topps Total.