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Letting Go of Topps Baseball

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

It’s been a little over a month, and I’m still unpacking and filing away all the cards I bought at this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention. If you’re a collector like me, you’re usually good for a couple 400-count boxes full of singles every NSCC. While going through my last box, I realized something that would have shocked the much younger me.

The NSCC is usually around the time I start collecting current year product; yet I did not purchase a single current year card. Neither did I buy a card from 2022. A couple of 2021 Topps filler inserts was about the most recent cards I took home from the NSCC.

I think I’m OK with that.

I never thought it would happen to me, but I’ve become that collector, the collector I didn’t want to grow up to become when I was younger. When I was a kid in the 90s, a lot of those collectors looked down upon people like me. Like many of my peers, I was into the new “shiny” cards and not the older “vintage” cards. To be fair, all those chrome-stock, etched-foil, Refractor, die-cut, and Dufex cards were, in fact, the shiznitz. Besides, who the hell was this Mickey Mantle guy anyway? Why should I collect cards of someone who retired before I was even born? I mean, have these guys even seen Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, or Barry Bonds! Have they seen them in Dufex?

But now, thanks in part to exclusive licensing, we no longer have cards that are interesting or creative – and no, don’t come at me with stupid gimmicks like the “TacoFractor.” Instead of cool, innovative, products that you can actually collect, we have bloated messes made not necessarily to be collected, per se, but broken.

To be fair, Topps has made it easy to stop collecting their products. Is there any Topps product that even worth the trouble of collecting? How on earth are you supposed to collect just the annual Topps flagship set? Set aside the 660-card base set, that’s easy enough. Then you have multiple 25-50-card insert sets that really aren’t anything all that special. There’s the annual 100-card+ “35th Anniversary” (who celebrates the 35th Anniversary of anyway?) reprint insert and corresponding 100+ card Silver Pack-exclusive, “#5th Anniversary” Chrome reprint – which for some reason borrows the same 1980s design as the pack-inserted 100-card set, but isn’t a straight parallel as it has its own separate 100-card checklist, all with that ugly ass “tire tread” Refractor (I refuse to call it a “Mojo Refractor”). Now add in the manufactured relics, which, let’s face it, no one really likes, and the gimmicked short-prints – which, thankfully, Topps made into a pseudo-parallel this year – and that’s a LOT to collect.

And that’s just for Series One. Now triple all that to account for Series Two and Update, and that’s just one product. Add in the three series of Bowman Baseball (Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and Bowman Draft). Add in Heritage and Heritage High-Number; Finest, Stadium Club, Allen & Ginter’s, and Bowman’s Best. How on earth are you supposed to collect all this? Is being able to collect these products that even the point anymore? Is that even part of the discussion when Topps develops these products?

The answer, of course, is no; hence, I’ve just stopped collecting anything new. And you know what? I’m not missing it. I think I’ll stick to trying to complete my run of early 90s Donruss Elite inserts, finally knocking-off my 2001 Donruss master set, and collecting some obscure early-2000s Fleer product that I never got around to collecting the first time – I was thinking either 2003 Fleer Box Score or 2005 Fleer Platinum.

I know I’m not the only collector who feels this way. (I ran into a lot of you at the NSCC). But here’s I question I have for the powers-that-be at Fanatics/Topps (Do we call them FanaTopps? or ToppNatics?): You’ve stated that you want to “Ten X” The Hobby. Personally, I think that’s a bit unrealistic, but growing The Hobby to include more collectors is a noble goal. If you’ve ever spent time in and around salesmen, or anyone in customer relationship management, there’s a maxim: It’s easier to retain the customers you have than it is to replace them.

How are you going to get to five X, or even two X, if you’re losing collectors like me?

If you’re not making products that appeal to collectors, who are you making them for?

Last month, I had the misfortune to attend what I think may be the worst card show I ever been to. Well, other than the time I drove five hours to a shopping mall in rural Virginia only to find three tables set up and no one selling anything I really wanted. To protect the promoters from hate mail and harassment, we’ll call the show I went to the “Nish Nown Card Show.”

The Nish Nown Card Show is at a casino ballroom in a major Northeastern city -- the greatest city in America, by the way. (Go Birds!) First off, it cost ten dollars to get into the door. Fine, I have no problem with a modest door fee, but a sawbuck seems a bit pricey for a non-NSCC/non-regional show (e.g. Chantilly, Westchester, The Philly Show, et al). I usually pay three bucks to get into the door at the monthly show down at the fire house, which I passed up attending to go to Nish Nown.

The ballroom was packed, with dealer tables overflowing into the walkways, with the crowd to match. You couldn’t take three steps without tripping over someone’s Pelican case or backpack.

Here’s the problem, though. Just about every dealer was selling, for all intents and purposes, the same cards. And just about every attendee was trying to off-load via sale or trade the same kind of cards. If you’re into slabbed basketball or slabbed football, especially from the last three-to-five years, you’ve come to the right place. Need an overpriced Hobby box of the latest product, or some off-brand Blasters from 2020-21 that some dude spent hours waiting in line at a Target to get, and is still trying to get a fifty to 100 percent mark-up because “I KNOW WHAT I HAVE!”? Well, come on down to the Fish Town, errr…, I mean, Nish Nown Card Show!

I think I counted one dealer selling vintage baseball, with a few vintage cards (slabbed and overpriced, because of course they are) mixed in at a couple of other tables. Yes, there was plenty of Junk Wax Era cards, and plenty of Pokémon – for some reason. (I thought this was a “sports card” show?) Looking for 1990s or 2000s inserts (other than high end basketball)? Forget it. I wound up spending more on the ten-dollar admission than I did on cards. I knew I should have gone to the monthly fire house show.

There was a lot going in the last 30 days that I could have easily written a novel about, but I want to keep these columns at around 1500 words. To review: The NFLPA pulled their license from Panini and gave it to Fanatics, with Panini continuing to solicit new fully-licensed football products; Brian Gray stepped down as CEO of Leaf, and was replaced by a former Topps executive who was hired by Beckett a month ago to lead Southern Hobby; Jasson Dominguez finally made his MLB debut, maybe Topps will be allowed to release his rookie card in 2027 (Spoiler alert: it was already released in 2021 Bowman’s Best); A Michael Jordan “game-used” jersey was pulled from an auction after it’s photo-matching was questioned. I appeared in Hobby Hotline last Saturday along with fellow HND columnist Horacio Ruiz and Adam Palmer of HND’s Morning Minute podcast to discuss these topics and more. Check it out.

Oh, and I’ll be on Hobby Hotline this Saturday (September 9th) with HND’s Danny Black and Brody the Kid. It should be fun. Listen live on the Bench Clear Media YouTube page, or later via the podcast app of your choice.

One last thing. I was reminded at the NSCC that August marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original iteration of my Stale Gum website. The first year of Stale Gum was an e-mailed samizdat newsletter that, unfortunately (or fortunately) has been lost to history. It later evolved into a monthly “webzine” until it took its current form as a Hobby blog sometime around 2008-ish which continued until around 2015-16. Ten year’s ago for SG’s fifteenth, I wrote something that reads like a rough draft on the history of Stale Gum. You can read up on that if you’re interested.

Got any questions, comments, trade offers, you can slip into my DMs, or shoot me an e-mail. All my wantlists (separated be year) are up on my website, where you can read fifteen year’s worth of rants, reviews, and other Hobby commentary.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.


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