Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013: The set countdown

It looks like the countdown time of the year has come.

Seeing as how I'm a self-labeled list making nut, I couldn't be happier. There's just something about ranking baseball card-related topics that I seem to enjoy.

At the moment, I have three separate countdowns planned for this blog. One is a brand-new list that I'll probably reveal sometime after Christmas. Another you'll see in the near future is a "Top Ten Cards of 2013" list, much like I did last year.

Tonight, though, we'll start the countdown extravaganza with my ranking of all the sets that were released during the course of 2013. (It's another carryover topic from last year.)

Obviously, I haven't sampled everything that hit the market this year. So, on par with last year's rules, a set must meet one of two qualifications to qualify for this countdown.

I either have to have bought at least one pack of a product sometime during 2013, or have otherwise obtained an ample amount of singles from the brand elsewhere. (There's one exception to these rules, which you'll see in a bit.)

Just ten sets qualified for this list last year. In 2013, however, a total of fifteen different releases made their way into this countdown. That probably has a lot to do with Panini's surprising surge into the baseball card industry.

For better or worse, that's where we begin tonight's countdown.

#15 -- Prizm

As you'll soon see, I was a big fan of what Panini did in 2013.

Prizm, however, was a rare miss on their part.

Yes, I know the design you see above is technically from 2012 Panini Prizm. Still, these were released in early 2013, so I'm including them on this list. (Also, I haven't bothered to pick anything up from the real 2013 Prizm yet.)

I know other bloggers might say otherwise, but I didn't like Prizm at all. It just felt too much like a "chrome for chrome's sake" set. I didn't buy a single pack of the stuff in 2013, but I dime boxed them in droves throughout the course of the year.

Perhaps the one redeeming quality of Prizm was its inclusion of rarely-seen guys like Fernando Valenzuela and Deion Sanders in the checklist.

Even that wasn't enough to get it out of the bottom slot on this list, though.

#14 -- Bowman Platinum

If Prizm is a "chrome for chrome's sake" set, then Bowman Platinum is a "shiny for shiny's sake" release.

I've never bought a single pack of Platinum, but, like Prizm, I've had no problem finding them in dime boxes throughout the brand's three-year run. (I'm sensing a trend here.)

Platinum isn't that bad of a set, but it's one that doesn't seem to try and distinguish itself from the rest in any way.

The set's sheer shininess probably saved it from occupying the bottom slot.

#13 -- Archives

I think the "Biggest Disappointment of 2013" award has to go to Topps Archives.

It ranked fifth out of ten sets in last year's countdown. I was lukewarm on it in 2012, but I figured it was just a precursor to bigger and better things in 2013.

I was wrong.

What we got was a horribly bland set, complete with uninspired and often repeat photography from earlier Topps releases.

Three of the designs Topps chose to honor in the base set this year (1982, 1985, and 1990) are three of my least favorite sets in their history. The other (1972) is one of my all-time favorites, but I'd already gotten my fill of it with the '72 mini inserts in Flagship.

Honestly, a retirement of this new Archives brand wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

#12 -- Topps Chrome

I haven't bought a single pack of Topps Chrome yet this year.

Nor have I found an ample amount of other singles from the brand. As of right now, the Cain you see above is the only Chrome card I own right now.

Still, I decided to include the brand in this countdown for a couple of reasons.

For one, Chrome has been a Topps staple for a couple decades now. Whether that's for better or worse is up to you.

Also, I kind of have a "seen one, seen 'em all" attitude with Chrome. You can own one card from the set and still have a pretty good idea of what it's all about.

All in all, I've never been that big of a Chrome fan.

That didn't change in 2013.

#11 -- Pinnacle

I applauded Panini's effort to bring Pinnacle back to the collecting world this year.

As I've often said, Pinnacle is the most underappreciated brand in the history of baseball cards.

While that's all fine and good, something about Panini's revival of the set was lacking. I think some of it was the lack of logos. While it definitely draws on Pinnacle's designs from the early '90s, I wasn't that big on the look of the 2013 edition.

That said, I wouldn't mind Panini giving Pinnacle another shot next year.

While I didn't much enjoy it this year, I do think there's potential here.

#10 -- Bowman

Bowman ended up coming in at number 10 on last year's list.

As I mentioned, the 2012 countdown only featured ten sets. Bowman came in dead last.

This time, though, Bowman ranks tenth out of fifteen sets. I guess that's an improvement. Or maybe there were just a few more subpar brands on the shelves in 2013.

For the first time in years, I didn't instantly bash a Bowman design. That still didn't get me to buy a pack of it or anything, but they were a tad more fun to find in dime boxes this year than in years past.

It's obvious that Topps still has the prospect-minded collector in mind with Bowman, but at least they made a little more effort with the non-rookie checklist in 2013.

That's all I want.

#9 -- Gypsy Queen

If you read this blog at all, you might already know that I'm not a Gypsy Queen fan.

Like Prizm and Bowman, these proved to be insanely easy dime box finds here in 2013. I think I ended up getting a grand total of two retail packs of GQ from my local Target this year.

I'll admit, I did enjoy the 2013 design a bit more than last year's, but I'm not sure how much that's actually saying.

It's still a rather boring set, if you ask me.

#8 -- Triple Play

This was probably the toughest set for me to rank.

I wanted to put Triple Play higher on this list, but I just couldn't do it. The brand was one of the better surprises of 2012 for me, and I wanted the magic to continue in 2013.

I'm not so sure it did, though. They're still good for a chuckle, but I'm left wondering if Panini should move on to a different idea next year. You can only do the whole "cartoon" thing for a certain amount of time until the fun starts to fade.

Even so, Triple Play is still obviously geared towards the younger audience in this hobby.

I'll always appreciate it for that.

#7 -- Allen & Ginter

A&G is starting to become that over-the-hill ballplayer that doesn't quite know when to hang up the spikes.

I understand that there are still tons of devotees to the product around these days, but Allen and Ginter is starting to become a nonentity in my collecting world.

There was a time when I'd count down the days to the set's release, marching down to Target on that fateful day when they were supposed to hit the shelves. Now, A&G is barely a blip on my radar.

I'll still buy a few packs, sure. But the days of getting excited over it are gone. This year's edition was a bit better than both 2012 and 2011, and I did enjoy the inclusion of rarely-seen heroes like Hal Newhouser and Jim Abbott in the base checklist.

Still, it's going to take a lot more than that to get me to start passionately caring about A&G again.

More revolving door-like cards would be a start.

#6 -- Opening Day

With Prizm and Archives, we started in the "ick" stage.

With Pinnacle and A&G, we moved on to the "meh" stage.

Now, thankfully, we're getting into the "like" stage.

I can definitively say that I enjoyed the top six sets on this countdown. The reason for Opening Day's high placement on this list is a bit different than the other five, though.

Standard protocol for these posts are that I show a base card from each of the sets. Hence, the rather devilish-looking Jered Weaver you see above. (A shot that, I should note, differed from his standard Flagship issue.)

However, the real reason behind Opening Day's success was the brand's insert collection. The "Superstar Celebrations" series remains one of my favorites in today's hobby. The awesome "Play Hard" inserts featured some fantastic in-action photography.

To me, though, Opening Day's "Ballpark Fun" offering is my underdog nominee for the best insert set of 2013.

If Opening Day could be a bit more innovative with their base cards, then they might be a "Top 3" set in the future.

#5 -- Hometown Heroes

If Triple Play was the most surprising brand of 2012, then Hometown Heroes should earn the same honor here in 2013.

I didn't even know these were going to be carried by retail outlets until I recently found them on display at my local Target. Now, every time I walk into that place, I feel myself gravitating towards the card aisle.

All I seem to want to do is bust more and more packs of Hometown Heroes.

The brand provides an excellent mix of new and old. I've pulled everyone from Matt Harvey to Johnny Damon to Rick Monday to Denny McLain in my packs so far. Every pack is a surprise.

While Panini isn't able to use MLB logos on their products, that doesn't hurt the Hometown Heroes brand in the slightest. I'm also quite partial to the design, one that was obviously inspired by the '65 Topps set, which just so happens to be my personal favorite release ever.

The possibilities are endless for Panini and their Hometown Heroes set.

I'm praying it returns in 2014.

#4 -- Heritage

When Topps Heritage originally hit the shelves, I wasn't all that big on it.

I was quick to note my disappointment of the boring and sometimes terrifying headshots Topps used in the product. But, after looking back on it, I realized that such photos were pretty much on par with the original '64 checklist.

In that regard, Heritage accomplished its original goal of being a true "throwback" set. That's all I can ask for from the brand.

I've greatly warmed up to this year's Heritage in recent months. (Heck, it's even made me appreciate the original '64 design a little more, which is a huge accomplishment in itself.)

I think some of that is due to the fact that Topps didn't really produce any other worthwhile offshoot sets this year.

If I were a betting man, I'd wager that Heritage will be a bit higher than #4 on the 2014 list. After all, Topps will be honoring their 1965 design in next year's edition.

As I've already noted, that happens to be my all-time favorite Topps set.

#3 -- Cooperstown

Panini picked up right where they left off with their Cooperstown release here in 2013.

Even though the four-dollar-a-pack retail price tag is a little high, that didn't stop me from busting quite a bit of the product this year.

Collecting Hall of Famers has long been one of my prime focuses in this hobby. In that regard, Cooperstown is like a dream come true.

Yes, other sets in the past have featured HOF-exclusive checklists. But, thanks to the current Topps licensing agreement, we haven't seen one of those in a long, long time. That's what makes Panini's non-licensed status sort of a blessing in disguise when it comes to sets like these.

Panini is the only place where I can find cards of Zack Wheat and Burleigh Grimes these days. And, as if that weren't enough, the brand does indeed feature a beautiful design.

Like Hometown Heroes, I hope to see Cooperstown back in 2014.

#2 -- Golden Age

I didn't buy a single pack of Golden Age in 2013.

That's not due to a lack of interest, though. Far from it, actually. Golden Age is a hobby-only product, and...well, I don't have place to find that kind of stuff around here.

Luckily, the brand made quite a few dime box appearances throughout the course of the year. I instantly fell in love with it.

Golden Age simply hits on so many levels with me. With people like "The Fonz" and John Belushi, it includes quite a few spectacular non-baseball subjects. On top of that, many of the insert sets are second-to-none.

Plus, the base design is a knockout beauty. I enjoyed 2013 Golden Age more than last year's, which is a rarity for me.

In reality, I came very close to putting the brand at the very top of this list.

#1 -- Flagship

For the second year in a row, though, Flagship earns "Set of the Year" honors.

Topps ended up facing much stiffer competition in 2013 than last year. Panini's great efforts gave them a run for their money.

In hindsight, then, Topps chose the right time to unleash the greatest design they've had in a while onto the market. I'd personally rank it as their best release since probably 2003.

With the exception of the 1971/1972 minis, none of the insert sets were that notable. But, then again, that's not why I continue to buy Flagship on a year-to-year basis.

The base cards are what keep me coming back. And Topps did a heckuva job with those in 2013.

If the above "celebration" shot of Mr. Martin is any indication, Flagship still reigns supreme in the photography aspect of this hobby. Their base checklist produced quite a few memorable cards.

After all was said and done, I'd have to rank 2013 as a more exciting year for cardboard than 2012. The efforts of Flagship and Panini certainly contributed to that.

I'm already looking forward to seeing what 2014 has in store.

I can't wait.


Zayden said...

Nice ranking Nick!!

Marcus said...

I'll need to check out some of the "Golden Age" cards, those look pretty good.

I have to agree that this year's flagship design is GREAT. I haven't been impressed by the previews of the '14 set, so I've been savoring the design from this year.

Heritage is probably my favorite set of the year, with the #2 spot going to Pinnacle. I LOVE Pinnacle, even though there weren't many (or ANY) "standout" cards, the inserts were cool, and even though there weren't any logos, I love the black.