2011 Topps USA Baseball CardsBrand: USA Baseball
2011 Topps USA Product Review
Reviewed by Paul Lesko
Good: USA Baseball is always a fun, niche product, lots of autographs and memorabilia cards per box, a rare product where you can learn from the cards (like, “Who are these guys?").
Bad: Pretty much keeps 2010's boring design, an overkill on studio shots weighs the product down.
The Bottom Line: Simply put, 2011 Topps USA Baseball is a fun product to break, I just wish more effort went into the cards.
Card Design: 3.2/5.0
First, the good. All the autographs excepted for the signed relics are on-card. This should make these cards more desirable than the USA autograph inserts from the various 2011 Bowman products, which have been stickers.
Although you are unlikely to pull one, last year's one-of-one autograph cards were ridiculously ugly with thick, silver signatures. For 2011, Topps eliminated the ugly signatures on the now green one-of-one autograph cards. It's good to see Topps is listening to consumer input.
Also, while I enjoyed the look of player-hand numbered cards from 2010, the 2011 cards are machine-numbered (Red #/99, Gold #/25 and Green 1/1). While this may make the cards look less authentic, machine-numbering is a better deterrent for fraud.
Now, time for the bad. This product relies far too heavily on studio shots. These boring, repetitive images really hurt the product. Case in point, for the autographs, there are basically four flavors of cards: 1) player holding ball in left hand, 2) player holding ball in right hand, 3) player resting bat on left shoulder and 4) player resting bat on right shoulder. I mean, in a two-minute eBay search I compiled the following, non-exhaustive, list:
Conyers (ball left), Ciuffo (bat left), Poteet (ball right), Virant (ball left), DeJong (ball right), Vogel (Ball right), Clifton (ball right), Collins (bat left), Martinez (bat right), Fontana (bat left), Elander (bat right), Lyong (bat left), Reynolds (bat right), Karvis (ball right), Sands (ball left), Rodriguez (bat right), Gallo (bat left), Appel (ball right), Knebel (ball right), Lorenzen (bat right), Lyon (bat left), Marrero (bat right), Milner (ball left), Mitchell (ball right), Murphy (bat left), Nasquin (bat left), Rodgers (ball right), Baxendale (Ball right), Wacha (ball right), Almora (bat right), Gausman (ball right) and Marrero (bat right).
What makes these auto shots worse is they are not even good studio shots. They look more like class photos or a Little League team's picture day.
I hope next year Topps allows the players to be, well, players. Add some action shots to the autos. Or if they are going to be studio shots, add more variety. At least take the pictures outside on a baseball diamond. Let the kids swing a bat, or throw a ball, and take pictures of that. Anything other than 61 pictures of, “Now, smile for the birdie!"
The set also includes Cap Patches, which, look sharp, but upon reading the disclaimer (“You have just received a manufactured patch card which features a replica hat patch from Team USA Baseball caps") are disappointing. This goes more to a continuing complaint consumers have about the inability of manufacturers to give authenticated relic and patch cards. But when a product is so focused on a niche area like USA Baseball, it would be nice for relic and patch cards to actually say what they are, if not identify the actual games the uniforms were worn.
The market now is over-saturated with USA cards. They appeared in every 2011 Bowman product, and in other Topps products like Topps Chrome. For the last few years, big names like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper helped carry the USA cards, and Cole, Starling and Rendon did their job last year too (even though Rendon did not have an autograph). The problem with this year is that there are not as many recognizable names in the set. Given the proliferation of USA cards, I think it's time for some contraction.
The more desirable names from 2011 are Appel (ball right), Gausman (ball right), and Marrero (bat right). I also like Nelson Rodriguez (bat right) for his power. Other than that, most of the players are unknowns to the average collector. While this makes the product a learning tool to get to know future stars, it also means the checklist is weak.
Finally, the best cards from any USA set are from the players that will enter the draft that year. Because of this, the 16U cards are probably most collected by family members of the players. I think the product could be improved by eliminating the 16U players, and concentrating more on players closer to draft age.
In every box you receive five autographs, two autographed relics and three triple relic cards. That's value for your money, especially with the chance of pulling the first on-card auto from potential first round draft picks, if not the first draft pick. Oh yeah, and you also receive 51 base cards that will go into your closet, likely never to emerge again.
Obviously, time will relegate most of these cards to the back of the collection, but at least for the near future, there is value in these players' potential.
The Fun Factor: 3.5/5.0
This is a product I enjoy breaking into every year. It forces me to research the players I've pulled, and brings me back to watching college baseball. Because of this, even though I think the overall card design is disappointing this year, I still found a lot to enjoy with the product. And with multiple autographs and relic cards per box, each box has built-in excitement. Even when you pull a “dud," you cannot be entirely sure there's no hope for the card because the future of these kids is so far away, you never know what's going to happen with them.
Although they are seen be some collectors as more of an oddball release than a major set, national team sets frequently offer the first cardboard of many of baseball's future stars. In recent years, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper both debuted in the stars and stripes before both their major and minor league threads. 2011 Topps USA Baseball continues the trend, promising a set that includes every player on the collegiate, 18U and 16U teams and a ton of hits. Each box set has a 61-card base set, five on-card autographs, two autographed game-used triple relics and three unsigned triple relics. The hits also have several limited parallels. Traditionally, these sets offer a solid launching point for would-be prospectors.
Estimated Release Date: 12/14/11
Product Configuration: box set
Price Point: Mid-End Baseball Card
Target Audience: Prospectors, National Team Collectors, Baseball Collectors, Autograph Collectors, Memorabilia Card Collectors, Hit Seekers
2011 Topps USA Baseball Set Break
- Five Autographs
- Two Autographed Triple Relic Cards
- Three Triple Relic Cards
- 61-Card Base Set
- 71 Total Cards
2011 Topps USA Baseball Product Highlights:
- 2011 Topps USA Baseball combines every player from the national team's collegiate, 18U and 16U squads.
- Base set consists of 61 cards.
- Printing Plate base set parallels.
- Autographs inserted five per set. All are signed on-card.
- Autograph parallels are signed with colored pens: Red (/99), Gold (/25), Green (/1).
- Three Triple Relics come with every set. Each has three game-used jersey swatches from the featured player. Parallels: Red Foil (/25), Gold Foil (/10), Green Foil (/1).
- Autographed Triple Relics inserted three per set featuring three game-used jersey swatches. Parallels: Red Foil (/25), Gold Foil (/10), Green Foil (/1).
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2011 Topps USA Baseball Cards,