Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Nothing new

This is one of those posts I've been wanting to write for a while now, and I figure the mysterious teaser for oh my god ANOTHER '52-related set from Topps the other day is as good of an excuse as ever to finally do it.

It's no secret that the current hobby is bogged down by a regurgitation of old designs. The dead horse has long been beaten, and the remains are scattered about the countryside. Tipping your cap to vintage cardboard is completely fine in my book - I still get a kick out of seeing modern dudes on designs from before they were born. I still collect Heritage and the like.

The real problem, to me, is that these "reprint" sets are used in lieu of producing anything new. Still, a claim like that tends to get lost in abstraction. I've always wanted to know exactly how rampant this phenomenon has been. I wanted to see how much of this was my imagination, and how much of it proved me right. I wanted to put a number to it.

So I decided to take to my binders and collect the data - gathering a percentage of how many of a given player's cards show original designs, and how many harken back to the golden oldies.

In choosing players for this, I tried to come up with a few names who've had time to accumulate a fair amount of cards from a number of different brands over the years - I also chose guys who've only played for one team so I didn't have to scramble through a bunch of different binders (see: laziness).

The first ballplayer to pop into my head was Joey Votto - which is good because he's long been a Dime Boxedonia favorite who rarely gets mentioned on the blog for some reason. His rookies are from way back in 2002, which means he's had cards in both the pre- and post-Topps monopoly. It seemed like as good of a place as any to start.

To lay some ground rules: any card, whether base or insert, that falls under a rehashed brand name (A&G, Gypsy Queen, Heritage, etc.) counts as an "old design" card. Straight reprints and the like also count as "oldies." A few cards and brands blur the line a bit, but for the most part, anything else qualifies as falling on a "new design."

So, for starters - I own a grand total of 362 different Joey Votto cards - of that number, 109 (30 percent) feature him on old designs.

The remaining 253 cards (70 percent) in my collection show him on original designs.

The "oldies" number wasn't quite as big as I thought it'd be, but digging deeper, I remembered a few qualifiers. "Vintage" sets like A&G & Heritage tend not to have as many obtainable inserts and parallels as modern brands like Flagship - I own 6 different variations of this 2013 Topps Votto alone - I might own a A&G or GQ Votto mini here and there, but the rainbows are much more flushed out with Topps's basic brands.

And heck, 30 percent is still a pretty big number when you stop and think about it - using my collection as a sample size, three out of every 10 Votto cards are outsourced.

Clayton Kershaw seemed like another promising candidate - like Votto, he's had cards both before and after the Topps Monopoly era, which is important because you won't find as many rehashings in the archives of Upper Deck or Fleer.

The numbers show that I own 374 different Kershaws - 130 of which (35%) use old designs.

The other 244 (65%) feature modern stuff.

With a little wiggle room, the numbers between Votto and Kershaw just about line up - so I figured it was time to shift the focus a bit.

And who better to look to than the overwhelming hobby darling Mike Trout?

Trout's cards, unlike Votto and Kershaw, have almost all come post-Topps monopoly. I also remembered that, while they're not nearly as guilty as Topps, Donruss has a brief history of co-opting old designs as well, which added to the numbers a bit.

The stats: I own 243 Trouts, and 71 of those (29%) use old designs.

The other 172 (71%) are fresh looks - like this wonderful Stadium Club card that always makes me smile.

The numbers here didn't quite add up to what I believed - I thought a newer guy like Trout would have way more of a "vintage percentage" than Votto or Kershaw who caught the tail end of the UD/Fleer era - but 71 cards is still an ample amount of recycled designs.

From there, I decided to look at the true legends - the guys who played when parallels weren't a glimmer in anyone's eye.

Mr. Cub seemed like a viable candidate, and I never need an excuse to show more of his cards around here - of my 235 total Ernie Banks cards, 75 of them (32%) use old designs.

Which leaves the remaining 166 cards (68%) on original looks.

Some of this can be accounted for by the number of reprints I own (way more than I probably should), but the numbers here pretty much match what we've already seen.

And to finally try and prove my point, I opened my Padres binder to the calming hub of Tony Gwynn cards I own.

Gwynn, unlike the players we've already looked at, played smack dab in the middle of an era where there was a proliferation of brands on the market - a clutter of cards that didn't end well, but at least forced companies to be as original as humanly possible. He's also received a fair amount of cards as a legend in current sets as well. I knew he wouldn't have as much "vintage" stuff out there, but I wanted to get the exact totals.

Counting the totals, I was shocked to discover I own 747 different Gwynns(!), only 60 of which (8%) show him on old designs - including this neat Baseball Card Magazine insert that was among the first to do it.

The remaining 687 cards (92 percent!) show Mr. Padre on original looks.

I had a feeling the numbers would bear me out, but I didn't think it'd be such a monumental difference. I'm interested to look at other players of Gwynn's ilk - Ryne Sandberg, George Brett, etc. - though I have a feeling they'd all show similar results.

What does any of this prove? I don't know. Maybe, if nothing else, it shows I wasn't just imagining things. There's no denying that old designs are more prevalent in today's hobby - and I don't even have a problem with the use of most of those designs - but I think it's just the rewrapping of the already-reprinted-to-death '52 Topps package with the hey look, here's something NEW! branding that bothers me.

I'd hate to see Topps make us sick of what is a prominent and admirable history.


night owl said...

I'm cool with a third of a player's cards coming on vintage designs. Like you, I enjoy them and although I realize it's an easy way out for Topps, I'll never scream that it's a sign of laziness (although it is). But when I see a player appear on the same regurgitated design more than once, that's too much.

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

I am one that would be just fine with only 1 brand reprinting a given product/year once.....just once. Then put it to bed. Get creative so I can be inspired. Eh, they don't listen me.

Mike said...

Cool concept... I've seen your binders,the 25-30% seems about right to me....

The Diamond King said...

I basically agree with Johnny. Old designs have a place in the hobby, but I would prefer to see a LOT fewer of them.

Crocodile said...

I like your "scientific" method here. It sure seems like I see way more than 30% of a player using old designs, but maybe its because those are everywhere. I do think it gets tiring seeing those old designs rehashed.

Mark Zentkovich said...


Laurens said...

While new designs don't have to be radically different, but I think the team that creates the cards each year aims for something conservative and familiar - it's easier for them to recycle an old-school card design, rather than taking a risk and making a set of cards that looks something like 1995 Fleer, where collectors didn't know what to make of it.

I think it's come to a point where retro designs are part of the 'here and now' with cards - while cutesy and still fun - I wonder if the team that creates the cards have just run out of ideas.

GCA said...

Recalling old designs, esp. for new guys is fine. And Topps has had that outlet since 2001 - Heritage. But that wasn't enough, so they made Archives. Now three or four designs on top of the one Heritage is on. That was a lot. Now, of course, they've run it into the ground with the tribute inserts in flagship. Totally unnecessary and redundant.

The '52 design is only surpassed by '87 in its overkill. It would be different if they had gone through all the 70's and 80's designs completely and are now starting over, but they ignore some completely and repeat others that have already been done. It's beyond laziness, or maybe it's just naive marketing. "This design sold well the first time, so people must want more of it."

Fuji said...

First off... great job on this post. Always admired bloggers like you and Night Owl for taking the extra time to do some collection research for your readers.

As for "old" versus "new" designs... I've accepted that card companies are gonna rely on rehashing "old" stuff. That being said... I do enjoy seeing a really nice "new" card design.

Ironically... one of my favorite products released this year was the 2021 Topps Chrome Platinum. Love that product.

Chris said...

Yep, this is why I've become disenchanted with the hobby. After this year is over I'm sticking to strictly vintage (or trying to, anyway)

That Ernie Banks card is fantastic, like most cards of Mr. Cub.

Jafronius said...

Fun post! I figured 25% would be on old designs, so I wasn't too far off. Thanks for the research!

Xavier Higgins said...

Give Me Cosmic Chrome, High Tek and Ben Baller Chrome over the glut of reprint design products. While I appreciate paying homage to the past in moderation, I've reached my limit on the amount of '87 Topps that one man can stomach.