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April Article

Call me cynical, which truth be told, I am. But I’ve been around The Hobby long enough to be a bit skeptical whenever a trading card company teases a “big announcement.” I was there at the 2011 National when Topps hyped-up the following year’s flagship set as something we’ve never seen before. 2012 Topps was going to be, to directly quote Clay Luraschi, a “game changer.”

2012 Topps Baseball turned out to be the worst flagship set of the decade; bloated with gimmicks and “gold”-themed filler inserts.

(Seriously, just about every insert was “Gold” themed. Just gold for the sake of gold. Oh, and nice touch with the gimmicked-up Bryce Harper #661 “rookie.”)

So when Topps announced last month at their Industry Summit in Phoenix that they had a big announcement, and that they couldn’t wait to tell us, but that they’d wait until the end of the month to unveil it, I wasn’t exactly getting my hopes up.

On day one of this year’s Mint Collective Topps’ big announcement was …

One-of-one Rookie Debut patches.

Ummm … Yay?

The way this works is, beginning this season, each player making their Major League debut will have a patch on their uniform. After the game, this patch will then be clipped off and sent to Topps who will then slap it onto a card.

Can’t you just feel the excitement!

I’m sure some people at One Whitehall were genuinely excited about this. For the rest of The Hobby, the reaction went over like a fart in church.

I mean, I’m sure Topps/Fanatics (and we need to come up with a new portmanteau: ToppsNatics? FanaTopps?) though this was a good idea that would genuinely create excitement amongst collectors. And to be fair, there must be someone out there that cared. But for the rest of us, it’s awfully hard to get excited over cards we will never see, much less be able to realistically collect.

Speaking of the recently concluded Mint Collective, on a recent edition of Hobby Hotline I appeared with Dr. Jim Beckett and the subject of this convention came up. The Good Doctor attended last year’s Collective and I asked him to compare and contrast that event with the annual Industry Summit – which to my eyes appears almost duplicative. Can The Hobby support two seeming similar events, both in the same city (Las Vegas), in the same year?

The Good Doctor explained that the Summit was more for Hobby store owners; while The Collective was for the industry as a whole. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to spend four days in Vegas on the company AMEX card back-slapping with your friends and colleagues? Fair enough, but the more I think about it, the more I must question both the purpose and the long-run viability of The Mint Collective.

According to The Good Doctor, last year’s Collective lost money. And judging from the fact that in the weeks leading up to the event, my Facebook feed was loaded with Mint Collective ads, tickets for this year’s event mustn’t have been flying off the shelves – event with a significant discount over 2021.

Two of the organizers of The Collective are IMG and Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions. (And yes, before anyone asks, I understand Collectible.com is also involved.) IMG are not dummies. They pretty much created the modern sports marketing industry. But the Collective was the first time – at least that I’m aware of – that IMG dipped their toe in The Hobby, and I’m still not sure why they’re here. And despite the Aw Shucks country bumpkin façade, Peyton Manning is not a dummy either. And like with IMG, what else Hobby-related is Omaha Productions is involved in? (Other than Peyton Manning being on cards, of course.)

If The Mint Collective continues to be a money loser; how long before IMG and/or Omaha pull the plug? Do we really need two Hobby Las Vegas “summits?”

The other big piece of news coming out of The Mint Collective was yet another faux pas from Beckett Grading Services. You may recall at that last year’s National Sports Collectors Convention, BGS appeared to unveil a newly designed slab, a slab that was then immediately panned on social media, and almost immediately withdrawn.

Well, Beckett did it again, this time unveiling a new grading scale that would have seen three different levels of the “BGS 10” grade: Gem Mint 10, Pristine 10, and Black Label Pristine 10.

(Why BGS doesn’t go full Spinal Tap at this point and call its Black Label Pristine an “11” is beyond me.)

Like the new slab at last year’s NSCC, the new grading scale was immediately panned on social media, and almost immediately withdrawn.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I have to ask, does anyone at Beckett know what they’re doing? I’m not talking about the “card people” at Beckett, e.g. the data analysts, editorial, and grading people, I’m talking about upper management. About a year ago, Beckett got a new CEO who came from outside The Hobby and, from what I understand, Kunal Chopra is not one of us – a collector. From presentations he’s given, to articles written about him, Chopra thinks of Beckett more as a tech company that happens to grade, price, and write about cards, than the Hobby media company happens to grade, price, and catalog cards, that it actually is.

The perceived allure of having your cards grade out a “10” is strong, especially amongst the “New Money” that’s come into The Hobby recently. So why not change your grading scale? CSG changed their scale, but since they’re relatively new, The Hobby didn’t give them much heat for doing so. And I’m old enough to remember when SGC had a bizarre 100-point grading scale.

Where I think Beckett went wrong was not asking collectors if they even wanted a new rubric. For the longest time, a “BGS 9.5” was considered just as good, if not equivalent to any other grading services’ “10” grade.

UPDATE: As I was about to submit this article for publishing, Beckett posted on The Bird App a statement that they will be establishing focus groups to listen to collectors. Good for them, I guess.

The second Topps baseball product of 2023 (and what I mean by that is a “2023” product, and not a 2022 leftover) came out this week and I got to say I am intrigued by 2023 Topps Big League. Structurally, Big League is a throwback to the multi-tiered/multi-fractured base sets of the late 90s – think ’96 and ’97 Finest, and late 90s Flair Showcase.

Which is good. This shows to me that someone at FanaTopps (yeah, I’m going with that) is thinking differently, and Big League – a product that didn’t come out last year and is replacing Opening Day – is the perfect set to experiment on. The 310-card base set is broken-up into five tiers: The first 200 cards are the “commons” and, as the name suggests, will be the bulk of the cards in the product. You should get five or six of these in every eight-card pack. The next fifty are the “uncommons” and come one-per-pack. So far, so good. The next 25 are “rare” and are seeded at the rate of one-per-box.

OK, fair enough. The ‘96 and ‘97 Finest Golds were also box hits, and who doesn’t love a challenge, am I right?

(OBTW, if you happen to have any 1996 or 1997 Finest Gold cards, or any 1997-99 Flair Showcase Row 0s you want to get rid of, I might be of interest.)

The next 25 cards make up the “super rares” and are seeded at the rate of … one in every five boxes.

Cue the record scratch sound effect.

Naturally, all the superstar players and rookies (Harris, Carroll, Henderson, et al) are in the super rare tier -- because of course they are. And finally, the last ten cards in the set are part of the Legendary Tier and are seeded as case hits.

Now, Big League is supposed to be the designated “kiddie” product. The set that supposed to “bring kids back into The Hobby,” right? How the heck is a kid, much less an adult, supposed to collect this set? Why even bother trying if you need to open ten cases worth of product -- 200 Hobby boxes -- in order to even have a shot at completing the set?

Again, I want to reiterate that I have no problem with the concept of the tiered base set. I even have no problem with seeded cards at the box hit level. But making the upper tier cards this scarce is counterproductive.

Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the inserts, some of which are seeded at the rate of 1:1440 (Mascot Mania), 1:1215 (Game Day Drip) and 1:4871/packs (Let’s Go!). Gee thanks a lot Topps!

Last month I wrote about what is an early contender for worst product of 2023: 2022 Topps Chrome Sonic. I would like to take the opportunity to issue a correction.

The Topps Chrome and Topps Chrome Sonic base cards are NOT the same. You see, they may look the same on the surface, but if you compare and contrast a Topps Chrome base card with the same card from Sonic, you’ll notice …

The logo is on the opposite side.

That’s right, whereas if the Topps Chrome logo is on the upper-left corner on the standard Chrome base card, on the Sonic base card it will be on the upper-right.

And that’s it. That’s the difference between Topps Chrome and Sonic.

Oh, and, the "RC" icon is also on the opposite side of the card and is slightly larger on the Sonic cards. And you’ll have to break out the magnifying glass to read the production code on the back, as it is different.

I will repeat what I said about Sonic, what I said last month. It is a horrible product. It is a product designed to be broken rather than collected. It is a product that serves no other purpose than to hoover money out of the wallets of the perpetually gullible.

Hidden Gems Alert: No, despite what Clay Luraschi said at last month’s Topps Industry Summit, the Hidden Gems in 2023 Topps Series One have yet to emerge and probably do not exist. Someone noted on the Bird App that a Willie Mays card done in the style of the 1998 Topps Chrome Football Hidden Gems was listed on eBay. I doubt it is real.

Let’s use our noodles and think about this for a second. There have been millions of 2023 Topps Series One packs opened. Don’t you think that a 1:38,127/pack insert would have emerged by now? And if said card looked like that Willie Mays card, wouldn’t it be obvious? That Willie Mays card is about as real as that Michael Jordan KABOOM! card that’s also making the rounds. Collector beware.

I want to give a big shout out to long time Hobby blogger Bill “Thorzul” Boehm who finally completed his 1993 Topps Gold set. While a 30-year old one-per-pack parallel may not seem all that hard to complete, getting those final few commons, many of which have been buried into commons boxes that haven’t seen the light of day since 1993, can be a bear. Add to that, 1993 Topps Baseball is the largest Topps flagship set to date: a monstrous 825 cards! Big ups and a HEH-HEH, YEAH! to Thorzul.

Finally, just a reminder that I’m on Hobby Hotline once or twice a month – Saturdays at 11:00am ET available wherever better podcasts are sold. We recently reduced our weekly Tuesday night show, to monthly, because you weren’t watching it. I mentioned Chantilly last time; however, I had to miss it, as I had to babysit my mother who just got her knee replaced. (She’s doing well, thank you very much.) If you got any questions, you can follow me on The Bird App, or shoot me an e-mail. And be sure to use BaseballCardPedia for all your baseball card reference needs.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

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