When Topps first secured the exclusive license to create and sell Major League Baseball cards, reactions were mixed. Some people were expecting Topps to essentially sit on their laurels and crank out unimaginative product without really caring what collectors wanted, as long as their bottom line was satisfied. Others believed what Topps said, which is that they would continue to innovate and bring out creative products.
So, with the first year in the can and the ramp up for 2011 Topps Series One baseball (due apparently within the next week now), how did Topps do in their first year?
First off, there was a large amount of confusion as far as the release dates for 2010 Series One baseball, which saw the retail release a week before normal hobby boxes, which was a week before HTA boxes. Then, there was the snafu involving the launch of the Million Card Giveaway. Admittedly, once that settled down, the Giveaway has done quite a bit to stir some mainstream interest. Topps kept the pot stirred in both Series One and Two with repeated use of short-printed legends replacing current players (repeated from 2009), the pie in the face cards (also repeated from 2009) and the Abraham Lincoln cards (which was admittedly new).
Opening Day and Finest both then hit, which brought with it the redemption cards. As everyone was getting ramped up for Stephen Strasburg, sales of the redemptions were going briskly as people tried to guess which one he would be. Then, 2010 Bowman hit.
Admittedly, 2010 Bowman was lightning in a bottle for Topps. It was arguably the biggest baseball card release in the past 21 years, since 1989 Upper Deck and the Ken Griffey Jr. r0okie card. It was so bad at one point that HTA boxes were going for $300 and up and retail blasters or jumbos were going for $40 and $20 each respectively before Bowman all but disappeared from store shelves within a few weeks of release. Base prospect cards of Strasburg went for as much as $30 and Chromes were going for $50 and higher. Even inserts were going for $8-10 on eBay, which was astounding. Topps heavily promoted a number of other products with the Nationals pitcher, including Topps 206 and Allen & Ginter.
Pro Debut Series One, the first officially-licensed minor league product from Topps came out to little fanfare, and the prices almost fell off the table, especially when fans realized that the checklist wasn’t even up to date to the end of the 2009 minor league season, much less being close to being current overall. There were players on Class A teams that were on AAA teams, AA players which were already in the majors, and then the mistake involving the game-used Futures cards, which were marketed on the box to being numbered to 99, but were actually numbered to 125.
The National Chicle release was much improved over the 2009 football product, although there were still a number of questionable cards in the set (Ryne Sandburg in a Phillies uniform, anyone?), and marked the second of four retro products from Topps through the year, which personally I believe is at least two too many. And then came Allen & Ginter. As I said earlier, Topps heavily promoted autographs of Stephen Strasburg, as well as mini cards of the player as late additions to the set. However, early on it seemed that Strasburg simply wasn’t found. Beckett reported on the situation with one seller in Arkansas reporting that he had opened 25 cases and another dealer 13, finding a sum total of zero cards. Topps responded that the card wasn’t short-printed at all, although some major case breakers, including eBay power-seller Brent and Becca, still did not find any Strasburg autographs at all. Soon after, Stephen Strasburg would have Tommy John surgery, which would push his baseball return back to 2012 and seriously put a crimp in Topps plans for the rest of 2010.
A number of the remaining products in 2010 were mixed bags to products which took a nose dive once they hit shelves, including Topps 206 and Pro Debut Series 2 (a minor league product released after the end of the Minor League season). Topps Chrome was notable simply because Topps chose a different printer for this product, and the quality was in the toilet with cards bending noticeably after even a few moments exposed to the open air. Cards left in the box for a few weeks were almost C-shaped. This, combined with an overall-poor level of autographs (with few exceptions) and Strasburg autos being extremely short-printed (as much as 1/10th as many as Jason Heyward) caused the prices on it to tumble nearly to $30 per box within a month of the release.
The shining areas of 2010 for Topps baseball were Bowman and anything releated to Stephen Strasburg, the inclusion of Team USA (Bryce Harper), and recently with the release of Bowman Sterling and Bowman Platinum. Triple Threads was the same that it always is, Tribute was (if possible) almost worse than the 2009 version with the inclusion of the ‘rivalries’ cards, and Topps Sterling was recently called out for including 2008 or later relics on cards of Honus Wagner. It was definitely an up and down year for Topps as far as baseball went, with little actual innovation other than the use of the Topps Million Card Giveaway and the milking of Stephen Strasburg (which is only fitting for a client of Scott Boras), and Topps taking a number of shots to the chin on products.
2011 is looking to be a lot of the same stuff at first glance, although Topps is adding a few wrinkles with 2011 Topps Series One, including the return of the Million Card Giveaway, this time titled 2011 Topps Diamond Giveaway, which will include online-only diamond parallels of each card of the set as well as one of one cards with actual diamond chips on them. This is at least somewhat cool, and will give people more to chase with the 2011 parallels instead of tons of 1980s and 1990s junk cards that the Million Card Giveaway brought us. The inclusion of Sandy Koufax (who is apparently very hard to get to sign any deal) to the 2011 lineup was a definite boost, although there are already mis-steps including the insane concept of a giveaway of a diamond engagement ring on Valentine’s (seriously, what does this have to do with baseball cards? The idea someone had of showing a commercial during the Super Bowl, or using the money to hire better quality control, or … anything else, really, makes much more sense to me) and now the news that Topps is going to have another wrapper redemption program (used previously for Topps and Bowman Chrome in 2010 means that Topps is definitely ramping up the marketing.
With 2011 Topps, if you send in 36 wrappers from 2011 Topps hobby or 10 HTA wrappers (essentially, a box full), you’ll receive a 5-card pack in the 1952 design with ‘black diamond’ edges. From the release, the cards look extremely nice, and there’s a chance to receive on-card autographs of one of 34 players from the 1952 Topps Set, each numbered to 60. Why Topps would restrict retail packs from this I honestly don’t know, since while it may boost hobby sales, it also negatively impacts retail.
The checklist from the redemption includes a number of solid players although the only person I’m going to care about is going to be Roy Oswalt. I like how the Phillies have four players in the set while the Astros have none. Oh well, I guess that means I don’t have to really worry about this then, right?
At any rate, not everything Topps is doing is bad, but they definitely need to step up their game to show everyone that they are the exclusive baseball card company in the United States for a reason other than ‘We have money, fools’. We’ll be watching.