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.