Over the past decade, it’s been a ritual baseball card collectors have come to anticipate and dread: the release of the first series of Topps’ annual flagship baseball card set. Yes, the turn of the calendar to February means Winter coming to an end, the start of Spring Training, and for us collectors a new Topps set to chase after. But over the last dozen years that expectation has come with a bit of foreboding trepidation.
What dumb gimmick will Clay Luraschi, Jeremy Fullerton, and the rest of the Topps product development team come up with this year?
Will it be a card of a squirrel like we saw in 2015? Or Pete Alonso as a polar bear (2020)? Will they Photoshop the head of the Phillie Phanatic on Bryce Harper’s body like they did last year? How about something equally inane such as hiding a “twinkle” on various player’s hat brims (2014)? Or sneaking Abraham Lincoln in the crowd at a Cubs game (2011)? What depths of stupidity will Topps come up with for 2023? What lowest-common denominators will be appealed to? What barrel-bottom will be scraped this year?
And then 2023 Topps Series One came out and the gimmicks were … nowhere to be seen! No wild animals, no mascot heads, no twinks. No former mayors of New York celebrating a World Series victory with the Astros (that Rudy Giuliani gimmick from 2008 Topps hasn’t exactly aged well, has it?). No nothing. No having to turn over each and every base card, break out a magnifying glass, and deciphering a cryptic code in order to figure out what card you just pulled. (Imagine that. A Topps base set that doesn’t have to rely on insulting your intelligence in order to get you to collect it.)
Granted, this is something that should have happened a decade ago. But better late than never, I suppose. And I suppose the new for 2023 “Golden Mirror Image Variations” are just an evolution of the same Gimmick concept. This may be what Topps was going for, but I would argue otherwise.
For one thing, Topps had the common courtesy to tell collectors in advance the Golden Mirror checklist – that it would be a full parallel of the 330-card base set – and that each card would be clearly stamped in gold foil on both sides. Also, unlike in every Topps product over the past decade where the Gimmicks were tiered (e.g. A Tier 1 of 50 “SPs” that came one-per-box, a Tier 2 with 25 “SSPs” at the case hit level, and five Tier 3’s “Ultra SPs” which were damn-near impossible to find), all 330 Golden Mirrors were produced in the same quantities. This is the reason why we at BaseballCardPedia is treating this as a parallel.
Again, this is something that should have happened years ago. But its great that Luraschi and Co. are finally listening to collectors and giving them a flagship set that doesn’t rely on rank gimmickry.
There’s one other thing that’s been bugging me about 2023 Topps: Why is it only 660 cards? (I’m assuming that 2023 Series Two will also be 330 cards.)
One thing we Gen-X kids could rely on, year in and year out, was Topps putting out a comprehensive 792 card annual base set. So why is it smaller now than it was then? There are four more MLB teams now than there were in the 80s, and the way clubs shuttle players from the Majors to their Triple-A affiliates, shouldn’t Topps document at least some of these players? According to baseball-reference.com, 790 different players had at least one at bat and 871 threw at least one pitch in the Majors in 2022. Now, obviously, a 1500+ card base set would be a bit excessive. (Although I wouldn’t complain if Topps wants to bring back Topps Total. Hint-hint.) With the MLBPA having partial ownership of Topps you’d think the PA would want as many of their members to have at least one baseball card. Upper Deck put out a 1250-card monster in 2006 and followed that up with a 1020-card set a year later. A 1000+ card Topps flagship set, spread out over two or even three series, can be done and would work. There are still plenty of team set collectors who would want a card of the backup catcher, the long reliever, and the utility infielder. But is Topps up to it? Do they even want to?
There was plenty of news coming out of Topps’ annual Industry Summit in Phoenix. (For the record, I’m still waiting for my invite. It must have gotten lost in the mail.) The big news being a bunch of off-brands will not be returning, and Big League is replacing Opening Day as the “buck-a-pack” sub-base product. I’m sure most collectors won’t shed a tear over the loss of Fire, Gallery, Bowman Chrome X, Gold Label, or Clearly Authentic. In fact, you can probably still find Blasters of Gallery collecting dust at your local Walmart. Get ‘em while you can! Speaking of Opening Day, about a decade ago I referred to Opening Day as the “Richard Nixon of Baseball Cards,” and a decade later, I still don’t understand this product. I literally just bought these cards in Series One, and now you want me to buy them again a month later just because they have an “Opening Day” logo on them? Really?
I know why Opening Day exists. 25 years ago, someone at MLB wanted there to be a baseball card set “for the children,” and so, with about as little effort as humanly possible Topps cranked out the first edition of Opening Day. As the years wore on, to their credit, Topps began adding inserts and at least put some effort into those. But even those got repetitive. Did we really need to see the same two dozen or so team mascots every year?
Hopefully, the new iteration of Big League will be that sub-base product that The Hobby needs and will be a product worth collecting.
In other news coming out of the Topps Industry Summit, some jabroni the Expos drafted in the 90s is finally getting his first Bowman baseball card. Yee-hah. Oh, and some rich kid whose dad plays in the NBA is getting an autograph. Yay?
Finally, we may have an early contender for the worst product of 2023: 2022 Topps Chrome Sonic.
What the hell is this? Who is this for? Did we really need more Chrome? At least with the (many) other iterations of Topps Chrome, there’s at least something that differentiates it from the standard Topps Chrome base set. Not with Sonic.
It’s literally the same 225-card base set Topps released six months ago. There’s no “tire-tread” Refractor pattern like there is in the Mega Box edition. No sublimated MLB Logo like in Logofractor. It’s not blue like Sapphire Chrome, and it doesn’t have a chain like the Ben Baller Edition. And because Sonic is
nothing more than a rehash of standard Chrome, it, like standard Chrome still depicts players in their 2021 uniforms!
That’s right, even though Spring Training 2023 is in full swing, if you pick up a pack of 2022 Topps Chrome Sonic you’ll still find: Kris Bryant as a Giant, Nick Castellanos as a Red, and Albert Pujols still in Dodger blue. Kyle Schwarber, the 2022 National League leader in home runs is still shown as a Boston Red Sox.
Buster Posey and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom retired after the 2021 season, are both in Chrome Sonic.
It seems to me the only purpose of Chrome Sonic is to pump out more and more junk Refractors; because, God forbid, there aren’t enough of those already. It’s a product designed to be broken rather than collected. “Breaker Bait” if you will. But if you look up the phrase “Cynical Money Grab” in the dictionary, you find a picture of a Chrome Sonic Hobby box.
Anyway, this is the first of what I hope are many contributions to Hobby News Daily. For those of you that remember me from my blogging days, I’ll try to be as frequent here as I was there. For those of you that don’t remember me from my blogging days, I’ll try to crank out 800-1200 words every couple of weeks, or so. It’s been a while since I’ve written regularly, and I need to knock-off some of the rust. For those of you that just can’t get enough of me, and you know who you are, I’m on Hobby Hotline once or twice a month – Tuesdays at 9:00pm ET and Saturdays at 11:00am ET available wherever better podcasts are sold. If you got any questions, you can follow me on The Bird App, or shoot me an e-mail. The spring Chantilly and Philly shows are coming up, and if you see me (probably nose-deep into a dollar box), feel free to say hi. And be sure to use BaseballCardPedia for all your baseball card reference needs.
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.