Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blog Bat Around: In Ten Years...It Will Be All About Albert and Ichiro

The ladies at Dinged Corners are hosting the fourth edition of the Hobby Blog phenomenon known as the Blog Bat Around. For those who are new and/or don't know what I'm talking about, by all means, click here, here, and here to see the first three editions. I'll wait until you come back...but don't take too long!!!

The question for this round, although brief, was really a challenge for me to answer. I may have been around the Hobby for 22 years, meaning I've seen enough ten year periods, but to come up with products now that actually might be valuable in ten years??? I'm no prognosticator. Heck, I'd make a terrible prospector. I couldn't tell you what prospect is going to make an impact in the upcoming season, let alone ten years from now. And I still have my old Topps Magazines from 1990-1993, and looking back almost twenty years later, even the Topps company swung and missed at what players were going to do well in the big leagues.

The topic for the fourth Blog Bat Around is this:

Which baseball card or set do you believe will be valuable in ten years? In other words, no matter what happens with the player(s) or industry going forward--injury, steroid accusations, drugs, gambling charges, the demise or ascendancy of Topps, Donruss and Upper Deck--what single card or set from baseball cards past or present do you believe is an absolute BUY and HOLD?

Now, as a set collector, the most vogue pick right now would be the 1992 Bowman set. So many rookie cards in this set. From Manny, to Mike Piazza to Mariano, and on and on...many who've made their mark in the majors who will get to Cooperstown when their time comes. But I don't have this set, so this is not my answer.

Nor would vintage cards be it (anything produced before the 1950's). Why? Because we already know that these cards, from the T206 Wagner, to the DeLong Gehrig, to the Bowman Mantle, and every card in between will always command high prices, and even the commons are in constant demand. Whether it be ten years from now, or a fifty years from now, these cards will always hold their value, if not increase. So this is not my answer either.

The Bowman Albert Pujols Gold Refractor Autograph card? The reason why prospecting is the biggest trend in the Hobby presently? Well, yeah. But even that card has had it's share of controversy. Specifically the fact that for some unknown reason, there has been sightings of at least three of these cards numbered 5/whatever the print run is. Because Pujols' number is five, that seemed to be the most valuable card from its entire print run. But it seems that some jokers were able to wipe off the number and change it to a five. Thus, increasing it's value. I don't even have this card I'm not going to use it as my answer.

If I were to pick one set that I feel will hold or increase it's value ten years from now, it would have to be the 2001 Topps set.

I'm sorry...WHAT??! Did this guy just say 2001 Topps? That green bordered set?

Yes, that one. If you really want me to be precise, it would be this and it's Traded and Rookies counter part. And perhaps the Chrome set as well.

Now why would I pick this set out of all the other ones? I'll give you two players...and these two guys carried the Hobby in 2001. Period. End of sentence.

Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols. It is these two guys that made collecting popular in 2001. Not a day during the 2001 season went by without a story about how Pujols just seemed to come from nowhere to become this bonafide power hitter, or how Ichiro was silencing all the critics who said that a Japanese player couldn't make it as a hitter.

Topps was able to add Ichiro to their series II product,

but for some reason, they were not able to sign him to a contract to appear in a number of their other sets. In fact, after 2001 Topps, Ichiro didn't appear in any other product until Topps Gallery (in both an English and Japanese version no less). So he was left out of Heritage, Bowman, Bowman Chrome, Finest, Stadium Club, and Topps Chrome products.

Nobody expected Albert Pujols to make the team out of spring training. He had only played A ball the year before, so it was understandable. Still, because he did make the 25 man roster in St. Louis, Pujols appeared in many of the products that Ichiro did not, and they were all considered his true rookie cards. But Topps still left him out of the base set.

They both made their respective All-Star teams that year (in Seattle, no less). Ichiro helped spark the Mariners to the best record in baseball. While in St. Louis, the Cardinals were kept in contention thanks to the offensive firepower the future "Phat Albert" brought to the plate. And after the dust settled, and the Diamondbacks won the World Series, there was no doubt who would be named Rookie of the Year in either league.

I mentioned earlier that Pujols was left off the eponymous set. But Topps somehow made up for this slight. Because they had not signed Ichiro to a contract, he was left out of a number of other products, including Topps Chrome. Guess who was added to the set as a Late Addition?

And then, when the time came for the Topps Company to put out it's Topps Traded and Rookies set, they decided not only to distribute these in pack form (compared to the last two years where it came in a factory set), but also add two Topps Chrome Traded cards in every pack. Every card in the traded set, even the 45 card reprint set (the Traded version of the 50 Card Topps Through the Years set), would have a Chrome version. What a great idea.

Sure enough, Pujols made his regular Topps card debut:

But wait, he already had a Chrome card. Does that mean he would also get a Topps Chrome Traded card too? Well, yes he did (sorry, I don't have that one. Just pretend that the card above looks a lot darker...darn scanner...and has a Topps Chrome logo on it).

Because they were now including a Chrome version of the Topps Traded set, Topps decided that because Ichiro did not make the regular Chrome set, that he would be included in the Traded set. So he was added to the Traded set, as a Chrome card only, #T266. The regular Traded set ended at #T265, so there was no base Traded card for Ichiro.

Now that's not to say that there is nothing else to talk about with 2001 Topps or Topps Traded and Rookies. Let's go over the rest of the set. It was the last year that Topps made cards of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mark McGwire as players. As fans and collectors, we were on a first name basis with many of our heroes Sammy, Derek, Barry, Nomar, Randy, Vladimir, Pedro, and Chipper. Or if you had to use last names, you had Bagwell, Biggio, Piazza, Griffey, Maddux, etc. All names screaming superstar. All-Stars from 2008 like Grady Sizemore, Joe Crede, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with CC Sabathia, Barry Zito, Hee Seop Choi, were among the prospects or draft picks that had cards in the big set. You even had the first card of a certain 100 Million Dollar man in his new Rangers uniform, as well as a superstar Tribesman appearing for the first time in Beantown's colors. Guys like Jake Peavy, Jose Reyes, Austin Kearns, Justin Morneau, Hank Blalock, and Travis Hafner were prospects that made it into the Traded set.

And think of all those perfectly timed insert sets that were included in either Topps or Topps Traded. The Topps Company found ways to honor their past (the 2001 set was their 50th anniversary set), celebrate their present, and look forward to the future in many of these beautifully done inserts. From the 50-card 2001 Topps Through the Years retrospective (and the subsequent 45 card Traded subset), to the Golden Anniversary set (five 10-card subsets featuring players from the past 50 years). From Topps Noteworthy (featuring 25 current and legendary players), to A Continuing Tradition. From Before there was Topps (10 legends who played before Topps entered the Hobby), to What Could Have Been (10 Negro Leaguers who could have played in the majors leagues at their peak). From A Look Ahead (predicting the futures of 10 young superstars) to Who Would Have Thought (the 20 card Traded insert set). Heck, even the autograph cards (Golden Anniversary Autographs) and relic cards (King of Kings, the Bo Jackson/Deion Sanders cards), looked great. All very hard to find individually now, and impossible to find sold in set form.

But the 2001 Topps and Topps Traded sets are still all about Ichiro and Pujols. Think about this...ever since these two guys, many collectors have been looking for the next big thing. The next players who are going to give the Hobby, and the Game, a boost in popularity. While this is not a new concept in the Hobby, the Prospecting niche seemed to kick into high gear after 2001, because everyone was in search for the next big superstar. And right now, we have so many players to choose from. But in ten years, who knows what may happen to those guys. In ten years, both Ichiro and Pujols will either be retired from the game, or winding down their respective careers. They both are, unless something incredibly bizarre happens to either man, going into the Hall of Fame as soon as they are eligible.

To review (you mean you're not done yet???), I would pick 2001 Topps to hold its value, if not increase, ten years from now (that's 2019 right?). Sure there may be other sets, other cards, other players that could surpass this one. And it might not be the best pick I've ever made. But I assure you, the way we see collecting now changed the day that Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols made their Rookie Card Debut (and I mean First Year on a Card playing in the Majors.) We have yet to, though we may never, see someone the likes of either man since. And they both showed up for the first time in 2001 Topps.


JayBee Anama


night owl said...

This might explain why I have such trouble getting Dodgers from this particular set. No one seems to want to part with them.

Bay Rat North West said...

This is a great post and so true.
I remember opening two boxes of Traded and winding up with 4 chromes of Ichiro, 2 refractors and a chrome and refractor of the two.
The extra chromes bought me a 2000 and 1999 Traded set at the time.
These days you can't find any boxes of 2001 products near the price level of 2000 or 2002 because of Pujols and Suzuki. I've been looking.

TDLindgren said...

Great post JayBee! I do believe that 2009 Topps could rank up there 10 years from now with the 2001 set. There might not be any rookie cards like Pujols and Suzuki (of course we might not know for a couple years), but with the SP Legends variations and the current group of superstars along with the superb photography, in my opinion it's one of the best sets Topps has produced in the last 10 years.