Time for Topps to Bring Basics Back to Base Sets
I just had the pleasure of a pair of great new Topps box breaks -- 2012 Topps Heritage and 2012 Topps Archives.
If you've dabbled in such products before, you know the blend of new and old that makes them work.
The concept is simple: Today's players, yesterday's designs. If you're into nostalgia -- and let's face it, if you're into cards, you're into nostalgia – the dream match-ups pour out of the packs. You've got Albert Pujols in a Sandy Koufax-era 1963 design and Stephen Strasburg on a Don Mattingly-esque 1984-style Topps card.
It works because the card designs are classic, even timeless.
And it can never, ever be replicated with today's new product. That's one of the problems with where the hobby stands today.
Veteran collectors -- quick, conjure an image of a 2010 Topps design. Anything spring to mind? 2007? Heck, 2012?
OK, now think 1975. 1956. 1987. If you know cardboard, you know what I'm talking about. You know those designs by heart.
How is it that decades of technological advances have taken us backward in terms of memorable card designs?
You can blame our instinct for nostalgia, or blame the genius of Sy Berger and his early Topps design teams in setting unparalleled standards.
You can also blame the proliferation of card sets. The old base Topps sets are memorable because they were the year, not one of dozens of new product lines churned out.
I have a slightly different culprit in mind. There's nothing basic about base sets anymore.
For all of baseball card history, until the 1990s, the star cards were the chase cards. You pulled a Willie Mays, a Nolan Ryan, a George Brett, a Ken Griffey Jr., and that was the value in your pack. They made the pack or the box worthwhile.
Now, when a collector, or just a kid dabbling in cards, tears into a pack, the base cards often go to the side. They are ignored or even discarded. Those piles grow, unsorted, unloved, unnecessary. For many, they are valuable primarily as cheap cardboard backing to pack eBay shipments of the good stuff.
This is not our fault. You cannot blame us for not being excited about a Justin Verlander base card, since it's not the Gold parallel, or the Black parallel, or the Cognac Sparkle. And, of course, it's not the dual signed relic or the 1/1 printing plate or the card with an actual diamond embedded in it.
I love the chase as much as the next collector. I realize there's no going back. The market has evolved to the point where a case without some key signatures and a few cut-up jerseys just doesn't sell with the collectors who drive the economics of cards these days.
But I have a humble proposal to Topps: bring back the base set, stripped down to its core.
One set, one series. Bring back 792 cards. No parallels, no autographs, no relics, no minis. The only thing other than cards allowed is gum.
Keep all manner of inserts and parallels and signatures into the very many others sets -- medium-end to high-end to ultra-high-end. Keep them, invest in them, but empower the base set by going retro and just plain basic.
Bring the price down along with the frills -- a box for $25 or $30. This isn't a kids' product -- keep selling the stickers, if you must. But it should be affordable to them.
Topps is in the perfect position to pull this off, as the only company to hold both an MLB and MLBPA license. It's more than an investment. Think of it as a responsibility for a company entrusted as stewards of the hobby.
The only thing we need more than new collectors is memories -- and the latter drives the former. Let's start printing them again.
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