Friday, February 12, 2021

The end of the beginning (or, finding 2021 Topps)

A minor miracle happened the other day: I actually found 2021 Topps at Target.

Somehow, deep in the flipper-filled forest, I saw six blasters of the stuff staring up at me from those metallic card shelves a couple nights ago. A strange sight, considering those blasters were the only signs 2021 Topps had been there -- I didn't see any other loose packs, rack packs, hanger boxes, etc. I calmly reached past the backwards-hat-wearing male also stalking the card aisle, grabbed two of the blasters, sped into the empty self-checkout line, and made my merry way home.

Given the ritual joy of the new card season, and the general surprise of stumbling upon cards when I really wasn't expecting to find any, you would've been hard-pressed to find a happier soul in that moment than yours truly.

And then I opened the packs.

Look: the first cards of any new card season are always exciting, I don't care who you are. Topps could make a set with dark-brown borders and Comic Sans font and I'd still be smiling when I crack open that first wrapper. That'll never change. Those two blasters were fun to open, and I spent that entire night sorting through what I needed and didn't need, what I liked and didn't like.

But now that I've had a couple days to process everything, and now that the rose-colored glasses are safely tucked away, I can definitively say that 2021 Topps is...not good, just generally a swing and a miss by almost every stretch of the imagination.

I can really only find one positive thing to say about this year's design, but it's admittedly a major point in its favor, and needs but a single word: BORDERS!

A Flagship design without borders -- like everything we've seen since 2016 -- just doesn't feel like a baseball card to me. It seems somehow unfinished, a random photograph just lying there without a frame. I'm thrilled that Topps decided enough was enough and brought borders back in 2021. It's about time.

Other than that, well...there's just not much here. I don't like anything else about this design. I've heard people say it's very Bowman-y, and I agree with that claim. The random slashes and diagonals interrupt most of the pictures and make everyone look like they're being attacked by swordsmen. The photography is okay, but not brilliant by any means. And even for someone like myself who has generally good eyesight, those tiny italicized names are a strain on my eyes. (If card collectors are mostly of the elder generation, then why are we making the fonts smaller?)

Maybe it's too early to start doing this, but I've already started preparing for a whole year's worth of this design, and that feeling is already filling me with loathing.

I continue to be perfectly apathetic about Topps's card backs.

(It's gonna take me a while to get used to all the abbreviated 2020 stats.)

Not sure if it was just the luck of the draw or what, but I seemed to pull considerably less horizontal cards from my packs of 2021 Topps than in years past.

There's a World Series subset in 2021 Topps, but you'd never know it because they look exactly like every other card in the set.

That is, except for Corey Seager, who is the easy favorite of this group.

Mask cards -- thanks, 2020.

New year, new mini-collection hits!

Even a stumbling set like 2021 Topps is gonna produce a few cool cards, and it's weirdly comforting to know a dull design can still spit out stuff I like -- isn't that one of the joys of collecting baseball cards?

(Still can't decide if that Austin Riley is a terrible baseball card, or an awesome baseball card.)

Parallels appear to be way scarcer this year, which, of course, means Topps is upping the production rates -- more cards in an expanding bubble, yahoo.

Those Independence Day parallels don't work too well with this year's borders, but they do fall something like 1:700 packs, so that's a decent pull I guess.

I don't care about manupatch gimmicks, so blasters are probably the lowest on my list of retail purchases -- but as I mentioned, it was either blasters or nothing at my Target.

Technically that George Brett was my first card of 2021, but it was more of a let's-get-this-over-with thing (the first card in the first real pack of the year was the Yadier Molina at the top of this post).

Flagship inserts continue to be somewhat welcome distractions from the base cards -- the '86 tributes continue Topps's slow crawl through their '80s designs.

That Ichiro is a kinda cool "Double Header" insert that shows the featured player's first and last cards front-and-back -- I'm showing the back here because you've probably seen his 2001 Topps rookie enough for several lifetimes by now.

I'm not even sure what these are -- is anyone really crying for more '52 Topps stuff at this point? -- but I pulled one in darn near every pack I opened from my two blasters.

Parallel inserts are a thing, for some reason.

Topps patting itself on the back is not a good look.

It's hard to figure out where our hobby is headed right now, but I get the feeling 2021 is gonna be the breaking point where the bubble either pops or flies away.

For better or worse, seeing 2021 Topps on the shelves a couple nights ago marked the glimpse of that train starting to chug out of the station. I'm on that train, and I'll continue to be that hopeful soul searching the card aisles this year. I've made a pact with myself this year to not get as angry as I sometimes did over repeatedly finding empty shelves in 2020. It's not worth it. I do, however, think it's a good sign that someone like myself, immensely low on the spending-power food chain, was actually able to find 2021 Topps on the day it came out. I wasn't expecting that to happen.

But if cards are going to keep looking like...well, this, then maybe it's time to finally put some effort into my repeatedly unfulfilled goal of spending less on retail and more on cherry-picking what I need from these off-putting Graphic Design 101 final projects. I like to think the passionate collector will eventually win over the money-first culture that's willing to buy anything and everything if it makes them a buck, and that we'll actually start seeing card companies cater to people who collect for how the cards look. We'll see, I guess.

For now I don't know if 2021 Topps is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, but it certainly feels like it's gonna be one of the two.


hiflew said...

I agree with just about everything you said about the design based on what I have seen online. I do reserve the right to change my mind when I see the set in person though. But I seriously doubt it'll happen.

BTW, I am collecting the 86 inserts from this year, so if you have any thoughts of moving the Eloy and the Ohtani, keep me in mind.

Doc Samson said...

Congrats on scoring some 2021 Topps, Nick. You pretty much echoed what I wanted to say about these cards (but in a much nicer way.) I think now Topps is officially at a crossroads.

Do they keep cranking out an uninspired, copycat base set where the insert and parallel card is king? Or do they put their energies into creating a base set that's well thought out, well produced and above all, well designed that will please the true collector, not these "gamblers" who infest the card aisles these day? I pray it's the latter.

night owl said...

The flippers can have them. They're awful.

I saw the Austin Riley card earlier. Lousy cropping job. The '52ishes are retail exclusives.

I tell myself every year that I will buy the first cards of the year with a smile on my face. But I can't even do that this year. Even the ever-present urge to check out Target on a whim is gone.

Elliptical Man said...

Topps backs were a lot worse during the overproduction era.

But yeah - if you don't like the set, no need to buy it. You already got a few of the stars.

Adam Kaningher said...

They seem more Donruss-y than Bowman-y to me. Neither is great.

Also not a fan of the mask cards. That's the absolute last thing I'm going to want to remember when I look at this set years from now.

Marcus said...

as a black border aficionado, i kinda dig the '86 throwback inserts, and that Tatis insert looks awesome (still getting used to having a Padre player i collect that other people want also), but yeah, lots of issues w/the flagship, again. as far as team sets, I only collect Heritage now, and just pick and choose the flagship cards I want.

Shlabotnik Report said...

I don't want to be negative, I just can't go there right now.... so I'll say that I'm looking forward to 2021 Heritage.

Nick Vossbrink said...

The photo cropping this year is pissing me off more than the overdone design. Everything is way too tight, especially given how much crap is being overlaid on the image. Three of the cards here have the 70 Years stamp on top of the player's throwing hand. Others, such as the Riley, lose all the action behind the slashies and border.

madding said...

Is Fred Durst into cards now?!

I’m definitely interested in the Yadi parallel if it doesn’t have a home already.

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

Are any of us really surprised? I think not.

gcrl said...

I've picked up a few singles online for a couple of mini collections but that's been it. I guess they are saving the real world series subset for heritage.

Jafronius said...

Glad you found blasters in the wild and thanks for showing off the cards. It's too bad flagship seems to be off to a rocky start.

Fuji said...

Thanks for taking one for the team. I doubt I'd even grab a box if I saw one at Target, but that's completely hypothetical... because I know that won't ever happen.

GTT said...

I miss 2019 Topps.

P-town Tom said...

"Slow crawl through the 80's"... love that line you used in reference to the '86 insert set. It's been so slow because we saw '87 inserts in 2017 Topps with a 30th anniversary foil stamp. Then we shot back to '83 in 2018 with a 35th anniversary stamp. We've been counting back up to '87 ever since and now we're knocking on the doorstep of '87 again. I'm curious which direction they go in 2022. I'm starting to feel like there is no long term plan.
It's taken me a little bit to come to a decision, but I'm out on the Riley card. I'm with Night Owl on this one. If they cropped it better it would have been a much better card. I want to see more of the action on this unique photo opportunity and Topps just isn't allowing for it.
Thanks for sharing your blaster. It's been 8 months since I opened a pack of cards and it's going to be at least a little bit longer now!

Mike said...

Good - the horizontals
Really bad - can't read the names!

Swing And A Pop-up said...

Congrats on finding cards at Target...I found some hanger packs at my Target. There was a limit of 3 per person. I must have got there just as it was stocked.

Jeff B - Wax Pack Wonders said...

I didn't even realize 2021 was out! I'm behind the curve apparently. Agree with your assessments as usual.

Josh Mack said...

Good summary of the design. This is one of my least favorite ones in quite some time (although 2017 looks worse and worse each time I see it). I've even tried to convince myself that MAYBE the design could have worked with only the corner slashes by the team logo. It's the middle of the card slashes that ruins it for me, as I believe it is also the underlying reason for oddly cropped photos. Also, the color scheme looks particularly odd on cards from teams without any blue in their uniform/logo colors. Between 2021 Topps Baseball and 2020-21 Upper Deck Hockey, this has been quite the design disappointment for sets I look forward to each year.

acrackedbat said...

The Motor Mashers cards isn't terrible I guess. I kinda like the stars but...didn't Donruss just do that? This design screams Donruss to me. Likely just being picky to pick but white borders mean white borders. No pixels and slashes...all planned for fancy refractors later perhaps. The only 2021 Topps cards I'll own this year will be from my trade pals. No series one, two or update dollars from me.