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What is the Point of Topps Update?

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

If you know me, I’m the kind of guy who likes asking questions. Why do people drive on a parkway, but park in a driveway? Why do the buttons on a drive-thru ATM have Braille? If flying is so safe, why is the airport divided into terminals? And what, in this Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Twenty-Three, is the purpose of Topps Update?


I mean, every October for the last decade and a half Topps has released an Update product. But why? Why does this product exist in its current form?


I’m old enough to remember when this set was known as Topps Traded, and with Traded, you knew what you were getting. You got all the players who changed teams before and during the season, all in their new uniforms. You also got a handful of rookies who made their debut during the season. And it all came packaged in a neat 132-card boxed set. Over the years, this formula was tweaked, expanded, evolved, and renamed – they even added a Chrome edition. But even so, whether it was Topps Traded, Topps Traded & Rookies, or Topps Updates & Highlights you can rely on the same consistent product.


Over the last few years though, Topps Update has lost its way. Most of the high-profile free agents and those players who got traded before the season are now in Series Two. If you’re looking for Trea Turner’s first card as a Phillie, Dansby Swanson’s first as a Cub, or Xander Boagerts’s as a Padre, they were all in Series Two.


Update has all the leftovers. Marginal players who switched before the season the caliber of Jayson Heyward, Noah Syndergaard, and Tommy Pham -- Although Syndergaard and Pham switched teams again midseason, but they’re still depicted in Update with the clubs they started 2023 with – are what you get with Update now. And if you’re looking for those August 1st deadline acquisitions like Justin Verlander as an Astro or Max Scherzer as a Ranger, forget it. Too late for a mid-October release.


(Which begs the question as to why Topps releases Update in October, and not until after the World Series is over.)


But there are more than a few players in Update that were neither traded nor are rookies. One such example is card #US278 of Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez. 2023 was his fifth season with the Phightins, and yet, he’s here in Update for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a card of Dominguez, just not in Update.


(This, of course, would not be a problem if Topps’ flagship were larger than 660 cards.)


And then there are the rookies. Yes, there are a lot of rookies in Update (and no, I’m counting the “Rookie Debut” subset cards which are unnecessary and redundant), but most are marginal at best. Some are of guys that shouldn’t even be in a 2023 product.


Take card #US262 (Cody Sedlock/Michael Papierski) which depicts two “Detroit Tigers” rookies. Sedlock pitched one game for Baltimore in May 2022. Papierski played 39 games for the Giants and Reds, also in 2022. Neither played in inning of Major League Baseball in 2023, for the Tigers or anyone else. Papierski spent the entire 2023 season at Triple-A Toledo. Sedlock, on the other hand, was purchased by the Tigers organization in July and spent the remainder of 2022 in Triple-A Toledo, before getting released after the season. Sedlock does not have an entry on baseball-reference.com for the 2023 season and may very well be retired for all we know.


Another example is Wynton Bernard. Bernard played a dozen games as a 32-year-old rookie for the Rockies last year, before signing with Toronto in the off season. He played 60 games for the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo before getting released in June and signed back with the Rockies’ Triple-A team in Albuquerque. And yet, there he is on card #US293: Wynton Bernard depicted as a member of a team he’d never actually play for.


Now I’m not saying the Sedlock’s, Papierski’s, and Bernard’s of the world shouldn’t have at least one Topps card. After all, they’ve all played at least one more MLB game than me. It’s just that, they should have had them in last year’s Update.


Meanwhile, most of the high-profile RCs – the kind that used to be staples in Topps Traded -- are nowhere to be seen in Update. To be fair, many already had a card in flagship (Series One or Two). But where are the rookies of midseason call ups like Elly de la Cruz, Jasson Dominguez, Jordan Lawlar, or Henry Davis?


Now, I’ve heard conflicting reports as to why this is, and that rookie card selection may be out of Topps’ hands entirely, and 2023 is not the first year many high-profile rookies have been left out of Update (and Heritage High Number, and other late-season products) only to be held back for the following year. Both of last year’s Rookies of the Year (Adley Rutchsman and Michael Harris II) could have had, and should have had RCs in last year’s Update, but didn’t. We had to wait until this year. Wander Franco should have had an RC in 2021 but didn’t. Even going back a few years, 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez didn’t have his RCs issued until 2020.


So, if we’re not getting the first cards of free agents Trea Turner or Dansby Swanson, or cards of midseason trades like Verlander and Scherzer, but getting the Seranthony Dominguez’s of the world instead; and if we’re not getting rookies of Elly de la Cruz or Jasson Dominguez, but getting “rookies” of Cody Sedlock and Mike Paperski instead; what then is the point of Topps Update? What is it “updating?”


Why does Topps continue to issue this product?



 

It’s nice to see that Topps has finally gotten around to releasing 2023 Topps MLS. I mean, it’s not as if the season is almost over or anything. Oh well, better late than never, I suppose?


As most of you know, I am a season ticket holder for an MLS club, which just so happens to be the greatest soccer team in the known universe and beyond, the Philadelphia Union. I have been a season ticket holder since the Union’s first season in 2010. Last season, when the Union made the MLS Cup for the first time, I spent thousands of dollars to fly across country (on six day’s notice, no less) to attend, and get my heart broken, in person. In short, I am an MLS die hard. An MLS die hard who happens to collect cards – the perfect demographic for a product such as this. I mention all this because I realize that most of you reading this are not soccer fans, and if you are, you probably only watch the big European leagues or Liga MX. (Your loss, I suppose, because MLS is not that bad of a league.)


But if you are reading this, chances are, I can assume that you collect sports cards. You probably collect only one sport, or maybe you dabble in multiple sports. But at the end of the day, you probably understand that just about every card company issues an annual “flagship” product for each sport they have a license to. And usually, said annual flagship (or at least the first series) is released on or around the opening day of that sport’s season. Also, these annual flagship base sets are large and comprehensive enough to include the typical starting lineups for each team, a few bench players, all the coaches/managers, team cards that double as team checklists, and a few other subsets (e.g., league leaders, record breakers, season highlights, and the like).


And for most annual flagship sets in the other four major North American sports leagues, this is the case. Just not with Topps MLS. Oh no. I’ve already mentioned that this product is being released at the conclusion of the MLS season – more specifically the playoffs. And as for a comprehensive base set?


Ever since Topps took over the MLS license in 2013, each year’s MLS flagship set has hovered around a measly 200 base cards. There are currently 29 MLS clubs. If you wanted to include the starting elevens for each club, throw in a handful of reserves, add in team cards, and some “league leader” style subsets, you’d be looking at a 350-400 card base set. But no, Topps only gives us half that.


And because the base set is so small, many, many worthy players get the short-shrift. For example, I’ll use my club the Union. Andre Blake has been the starting goalkeeper for the Union since 2016. It is fair to say that Blake is, without question, the greatest goalkeeper in the history of MLS, as he is the only player to win the Goalkeeper of the Year Award three times, and he is the only goalkeeper since 2000 to receive MLS MVP votes. And yet, Blake has not had a base card in the annual Topps MLS set since 2019! Yes, Blake has had inserts and relics, and was included in 2022 Topps Chrome MLS. But still, not having a base card of a three-time Goalkeeper of the Year is like not having a base card of a three-time Cy Young winner in Topps Baseball.


Looking at the 2023 Topps MLS checklist, as a Union fan, I think I should feel fortunate as we have seven players represented in the base set – still no Blake, though. I feel sorry for all you Minnesota United and Nashville SC fans. You guys only have two! Oh, and the set this year is bigger than 200 cards.

It’s 201 cards!


(Even if you don’t follow MLS, you’ve probably figured out whom card #201 is. Yep, it’s Florida Man himself. He shops at Publix, apparently.)



 

And now few random thoughts …


  • The Topps Chrome MVP Buyback program is back, for some reason. It’s not as if Topps needed to bring it back for a second year. To their credit, they actually did put all the cards in the packs this year. Great job, Topps! I bring this up because, The Venerable Sooz (and from now on, you are all required to refer to Her as such) Tweeted a story about someone loading up a wheelbarrow filled to the rim with 2023 Topps Chrome Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna, Jr. cards. Cards with a buyback value of over $56,000. I mean, Topps’ P&L statement for Chrome must be taking a beating with all these buybacks. This also begs the question: How much 2023 Topps Chrome wax do you need to rip in order to get $56k in buyback value of Ohtani and Acuna cards? What kind of a degenerate does this? (Oh wait, I think I just answered my own rhetorical question.)


  • Speaking of the Topps Chrome MVP Buyback program: Did you know Topps has a blog? It’s not a very good blog and not worth your while, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, Topps recently blogged about all the wonderful Shohei Ohtani Refractors that you, yes you the “consumer,” can get a whopping $200 worth of store credit at your local Hobby store! Of course, all five Refractors listed have a market value of over $200 each, and you would be stupid to take Topps up on their offer. Articles like this kind of make me wonder who is writing this drivel and do they know anything about cards? Maybe the Topps “Ripped” blog is AI generated?


  • Topps finally released those much-ballyhooed one-of-one Autographed Rookie Debut Patches in 2023 Topps Chrome Update. And then, The Hobby just moved on. I’ve never seen such a hyped concept, a concept that judging by their social-media feeds Topps thought would be something revolutionary, go over like a fart in church. But what I can’t comprehend is someone paying $2000 for the patch of a 29-year old rookie who pitched one game for the Rays, got released, pitched two more for the Tigers, got released again, and is currently a free agent. Some people just have money to burn.


  • While we’re on the subject on money to burn, 2023 Topps Rip Baseball just came out! You might as well take a $100 bill and rip that up. Same thing.


  • Remember NFTs? I read an article a few months ago that stated that ninety-five percent of all NFTs that have ever been created are, for all intents and purposes, worthless. And who could have possibly saw that coming? I mean, so many (Many!) smart people said that buying and selling digital receipts for bad, eight-bit monkey “art” was going to be the Next Big Thing! So, naturally, the NHL just launched an NFT platform. “NHL Breakaway” is essentially the hockey version of “NBA Top Shot.” (Remember when people buying and selling glorified YouTube clips was a thing?) Is it any wonder why this league is now fifth in the US Pro Sports pecking order?


 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Toronto Expo. This is the fifth or sixth TO Expo I’ve been to, and while I was only able to go for one day, I was able to pickup some great Griffey inserts and a dozen of 2011 Topps Diamond Die-Cuts – the best cards Topps has made this century. (Yeah, I said something good about Topps.) I now have two-thirds of the 155-card set. If you’ve never been to the TO Expo, you need to go. Sure, it’s 80-90% hockey cards, but despite this, you should go anyway. You should go, if only to see “Meat Guy,” a French-Canadian guy who sets-up, and sells pepperoni sticks, hard salamis, summer sausages, and the like. (Meat Guy apparently, makes a killing.) Besides, we Americans all need a little Canada in our lives. And I especially need a Tim Hortons double-double with a honey cruller.


With all that said, if you 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. Maybe you can help me finish off my 2011 Topps Diamond Die-Cut set?


The Philly Show is the first weekend in December, and the North Carolina State Fair show is the following weekend. If you see me at either one, feel free to say “Hi!” In addition, I will be appearing on a special Tuesday night edition of Hobby Hotline on December 5th at 9:00pm Eastern (10:30 in Newfoundland).


Look for it on YouTube if you want to listen live.


Keep on rockin’ in the free world.


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