The Blog Bat Around was started by Gellman as a way to unite the Hobby Bloggers into writing about a common topic. It proved wildly successful. So successful in fact that he also hosted the second one. The baton was passed to Dave of Fielder's Choice for Fiesta #3, Patricia of Dinged Corners took the next turn for #4 (welcome back Patricia, we missed you!!!), and dayf the Cardboard Junkie grabbed the reins for #5. The sixth one was came back home to Gellman, the seventh bat around was hosted by Thorzul Will Rule, but there weren't too many takers who responded to it (or so it seemed). In fear that the BBA was left for dead, Gellman brought it home once again, and while participation rebounded, there hasn't been once since (that I'm aware of anyway. Please take this time to click on all the links and then remember to come back here to see what I actually wrote).
So back to the new topic at hand. The ever cynical, always entertaining Mr. Harris (yes, I did vote in the Gummies) posted this query on his site:
Michael Eisner has just fired the entire Topps Product Development staff and chose to hire you to take their place. Mr. Eisner has given you carté blánche to do whatever you want with Topps Baseball -- as long as you keep it under $2/pack.
If you were in charge of Topps, and based upon what you've seen of 2011 Topps Baseball Series One, what (if anything) would you have done differently?
Now why doesn't it surprise me that he'd chose this as a topic? Especially since he's been railing against Topps gimmicks and efforts for the last few years. And while I probably will be the LEAST CREDIBLE of the bloggers responding (uh, didn't you check the name of this blog???), there are some things I would have loved to kill off this year's product, and probably other things I would have added. While I'm not going to go into the extremes that someone else wrote (which was pretty much bring back everything and party like it's 1991...nothing wrong with that of course), after ripping the 20 packs or so that I purchased last week, and while waiting for my series 1 master set to arrive (yes, I sent the payment out...please let me know when you get it), I have a lot of things to say about this set. Let's just call this my set review.
Yes, Mr. Eisner, I'd love the job. Let's start with what I would have gotten rid off in series 1.
First, I have to agree that over the last two years, there have been way to many insert sets. You did a Topps retrospective last year (with your wildly successful Cards Your Mother Threw Out set), why do it again? And come to think of it, why the heck are there two different versions of this set (one with a background that featured Leaf and Ultra cards by the way) and the regular card back? If you're going to do a reprint set, reprint the cards with the regular backs as well (see my favorite insert set 2001 Topps Through the Years. Yes each card had the "50 Years" logo on them, and there were a few errors (Ted William...really??!), but you showed what the card backs looked like. I would have loved to see the card backs instead of a boring blurb about the card or the set. The writing on the back of many of the cards appeared forced and uninspiring. And shortprinting the cards with the actual backs not nice. To see it done this year now makes it seem like it's been done to death. So, as much as I love insert sets utilizing Topps catalog of designs, I'm cutting it off to one series, with the original card backs reprinted. No more blurbs.
While we're on the subject, I like the "Lost Cards" concept. But again, did we really need the two different sets (one with a blurb and one with the imagined card back)??? I could have done without the blurbs again. Especially since I think a majority of the cards within said set are of Stan Musial (nothing wrong with that of course, but there had to be other subjects you could have used here...right)?
As I mentioned before, there are way too many insert sets being included in 2011. So many in fact, that I highly doubt that a person can complete a basic 330 card set by opening a box of jumbos (10 packs, 50 cards). Not including the Reprints and the Lost Cards, here are the rest of the inserts and whether or not I think they should have been left off or could be kept:
- Topps 60. Keep as there should be a theme to your insert sets. Sixty years is a milestone to celebrate. So cards of players from the last 60 Years (the Topps Era) should be utilized.
- Before there Was Topps. Gone. Now don't get me wrong, I like the concept of retro cards (pre-Bowman). And I know we have to use that CMG licensees somehow. But if we're going to honor ourselves, why are we featuring cards that we didn't create? Are we trying to gauge the market or test which cards we can easily produce for our next retro product? And do we really have to expose our base set collectors to these cards? These should have been saved for the Hobby Store giveaway.
- The Topps Story. Love it. What better way to show our history by including a 10-card set about us?
- Kimball Champions. I understand the reasoning (Turkey Red the last two years, the Trading Card History the year before), but mini cards? We probably were better off making a Kimball Champions set separately as a retro product instead of making this a continuity insert.
- Diamond Duos. Gone. Didn't we just do a dual-player insert set last year?
- ToppsTown. Keep. Yes, we want to bring in the kids. This has proven to be a big hit. Topps Attax cards were great too.
As I stated in last year's Round Table Discussion, as much as I understand and appreciate how much he meant to Topps, now that I'm running things around here, I am hereby removing Mickey Mantle off our base product. Card #7 will now be of an active player. It's bad enough that we are limiting the number of cards in our eponymous product to 660, but to waste one card on a player who hasn't played since 1968, and hasn't been relevant to baseball since 1996, the Mick no longer deserves to have a base card in our modern day sets. He just takes up space that a present-day player could occupy. ENOUGH WITH THE MICKEY MANTLE LOVEFEST!!!
Also, I love the short-printed variations of the legends. And I'm not writing this because I'm so far behind with my hunt for the SP legends. But if we're going to utilize our CMG license, and also use modern day legends in cards as well, we will just have to create a separate set for them. Just like Topps Retired in 2003-2005 (remember those???), we could save ourselves the hassle and confusion and just create a box set of these legends in our present year's design...AND THEY WON'T COUNT AGAINST OUR CARD PRODUCT QUOTA. So no more short printed legends mixed in with our regular set.
I always believed that baseball cards were like yearbook pictures. They reviewed how the particular player did the previous year. They also served as the Baseball preview magazines before they even were developed. So I don't understand why we have this need of trying to put these players who switched teams with their new uniforms right away? The fiasco of the Albert Soriano/Daryle Ward should have taught us that we shouldn't jump the gun until we can get actual pictures of the players in their new uniforms. Isn't that why we have a traded/rookies/update set in the first place??? If a player was a Padre last year and now plays for the Red Sox, I want to see him in his Padres uniform, and we don't need to stop the presses just because the Red Sox sign his paychecks. Same with the Yankees. Whatever rule we have that dictates that every Yankee and Red Sox player gets a card, even if it means that we only have 9 Pirates cards or 7 Astros cards in our 330 card set total, should stop...NOW!!!
I understand the need for parallels in our product. The Gold cards have served us well over the last decade and should continue. The black borders too. And yes, the seeding the platinum diamond cards is great. But isn't three parallel sets enough? It should. None of this canary diamond stuff, orange borders, or whatever other rainbow bordered parallel sets. These take up space in the packs that could be better utilized for regular cards to help those people TRYING TO COMPLETE THEIR BASE SET. And if we do need to create special parallel sets for our two main retail customers (Walmart and Target), let's go back to how successful 2009 was by creating blasters specifically and exclusively including these parallel sets. They have been wildly successful and set collectors would appreciate these more if they were sold in our 10-pack blaster boxes instead of being two-pack throw-ins. For the exclusive inserts, I'd like to package them in rack packs only, just like in the 80's (and as recently as 2007). So that we can see what they look like on the outside and can easily determine what packs collectors need to complete these store-exclusive sets.
Finally, as I mentioned at last year's roundtable, I will increase the number of cards of our base brand 792, or if we must have 110 cards per sheet, 880. Let's keep the series format at two series per year, so we have 440 cards per series. There are now 30 MLB teams, meaning that there are at least 750 players on MLB rosters on any given day (not including those on the DL) during the season. Even the team's third string catcher and the mop up reliever deserve a card if they played that year. When I started collecting, it was fun sorting the cards by team, knowing that you had enough to build an actual 25 man roster, and still have room for the manager, a few key rookies and prospects, the All-Stars, league leaders, and any other random subsets. I got to know the players on EVERY team that way. There are 28 other teams out there than the Yankees and Red Sox; and it seems that unless a middle relief pitcher or benchwarmer plays for either of these two teams, they're not getting a card. The cards were the precursor to the annual baseball preview magazines, the rotoplayer's guides, etc. They should continue to serve that purpose.
I'd like to re-brand our Update Series and rename it Topps Traded and Rookies. The name itself is to-the-point, and our customer will know exactly what will be included in our end-of-the-year product. The product can be kept at 330 cards, but subsets like the Home Run Derby participants and the All-Star Game players (which has been steady at 60 cards, even though there are more players being chosen now) have to go. If we do need an All-Star subset, let's keep the starting lineups, the MVP, and two team cards with the rosters of both teams, as well as their corresponding card numbers within the base set (or traded set) so those who like to collect the All-Stars of that year can do so with the correct teams they represented.
As we're only focusing on the base brand (the products that are sold under $2.00/pack), I would keep the Opening Day line, but use new pictures instead of the same ones we use for our base set.
Mr. Eisner, the above is what I would have done differently for our eponymous brand. I understand that the logistics and the costs to implement all of these recommendations could be too much change in one fell swoop. But I'm sure if we can take these changes and gradually add them to our product line going forward, that the product will only become more of a hit with our customers; and in turn, our product will become a hit with their customers, the collectors who drive the popularity of our product.