Product Spotlight: 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic

A clear winner?

After being threatened with multiple iterations of Topps Archives Signature Series in 2017, it was a surprise to see the first $50/card autograph product turn out to be Clearly Authentic. Topps borrowed the Archives Signature Series format for what amounts to a Tek-style acetate autograph parallel of base 2017 Topps with reprint autographs like those previously seen in Tier One released under a name used in 2015 and 2016 for authenticated memorabilia cards in Strata. It’s a mishmash of elements from other products, but the end result is surprisingly coherent and straightforward. But is it enough to carry an entire product?

Card Design

The basics here are all familiar. The design of the cards themselves is straight out of base Topps. Unlike Tek, Clearly Authentic uses a black and white reverse negative photo for the back image. The background and the front player photo are subtly whitened in the autograph area, ensuring that the signature pops. The photos on the back are not similarly whitened and tend to bleed through in scans. The scans do not do these cards justice.

As with Archives Signature Series, all cards are encased in magnetic holders with foil sticker seals. The magnetic holders themselves are different from the BCW magnetics previously used for Archives Signature Series; these have no brand logo and are slightly larger in all three dimensions. Another change is that the magnets are all aligned to the same polarity so the enclosures can be stacked without pushing themselves apart. That really bugged me about Archives Signature Series, so it’s a nice little touch. The stickers are silver and are placed either over the magnetic clasp or to the right; there appears to be no pattern to the placement.

As with any encased card, the tradeoff for having a pristine card inside is damage to the case outside. The cards are placed directly into each box without a bag or sleeve for protection and most are scratched straight from the factory (note the marks on and around deGrom’s right arm above). It only gets worse when less thoughtful sellers mail the cards without putting them in a proper team bag first or use abrasive or adhesive materials for packaging. Redemptions are all packed in the same kind of holder without the seal. Presumably, the redeemed card will be encased, leaving you with a bonus magnetic holder for your trouble (plus a likely worthless bonus autograph card like Topps has been sending with redemptions lately).

Mets Selection

If you were hoping for anyone new or notable here, you haven’t been paying attention to premium Topps releases lately. It’s a small checklist, so only five Mets made the cut for the base set, all familiar signers: stars Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Rookies Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and Steven Matz. Matz’s cards were issued as redemptions and only include Red, Blue, and Gold parallels, no base or Green parallels. Nothing to get excited about, but nothing terrible either.

Parallels

Each base card has four parallels: Green (numbered to 99), Red (numbered to 50), Blue (numbered to 25), and Gold (numbered 1/1). Coloring is done the same way as in base Topps, with the color in the area under the nameplate and in one or two bands placed behind the photo.

Inserts

Each case of 20 single-card boxes includes two reprint autographs, typically of rookie cards or other notable cards. Three Mets are featured here: Nolan Ryan (1969 Topps), Jacob deGrom (2014 Topps Update RC), and Noah Syndergaard (2015 Topps Update RC). (Another Nolan Ryan card was issued as a redemption, but that one is listed as a California Angels card in the checklist). The deGrom and Syndergaard are numbered to 135, while the Ryan is numbered to 45. All of them have a Gold parallel numbered 1/1.

The Verdict

Let’s face it, you’re never going to get your money’s worth out of a $50/pack (closer to $60/pack when bought individually) autograph product unless you get really lucky. Case in point, I took a chance on a couple of these when Brent Williams broke three cases and offered random hits for $50 each. In the first case, I got this guy:

Can’t complain about that, so I will. This was probably my favorite card in the case, but I was hoping for someone I didn’t already have an autograph from (and there are a lot of nice names on the reprint checklist). Still, it is an iconic card from a great player, even if the name isn’t missing from the front of the card… It was also one of the rare cards worth more than the price of admission. Round 2 was not as kind to me, all I can say is blach. I sat out the third case, which of course hit the Nolan Ryan reprint.

By the case or by singles on the secondary market, you can get some pretty nice cards out of 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic at a reasonable price. Single boxes, on the other hand, are very hit-and-miss and are bound to disappoint eventually. And while the autograph subjects are more of the same, the cards themselves are something different and are executed well, case scratches aside. I’m just not sure where we go from here. It seems like Topps Strata is no more, which is a shame, and it’s not clear (no pun intended) what’s going on with Tek. That could leave Clearly Authentic positioned well to expand next year. But Topps isn’t exactly known for stopping at “quaint novelty,” so I’m worried that they’ll find a way to ruin it by trying to do too much. Clearly Authentic demonstrates the power of clean simplicity. But this hobby is rarely satisfied with that.

2017 Mets Debut Autographs

The kids are all that’s left

So this is how the 2017 season ends, not with a playoff appearance, but with Travis Taijeron in the starting lineup… With the Mets effectively (if not mathematically) eliminated by the All-Star Game, a selloff was inevitable. After a slow July, August saw the departure of just about every healthy veteran on a seven figure contract without a no-trade clause. Except for Asdrubal “Trade Me” Cabrera. Irony is alive and well in the Mets’ clubhouse, if nothing else. Meanwhile, the remaining veterans saw their numbers thinned out by a rash of improbable injuries worthy of Homer at the Bat. Michael Conforto swung his arm out of its socket (shoulder surgery, 6 month recovery minimum), Wilmer Flores fouled a ball off his face (broken nose, out for the rest of the season), and Yoenis Cespedes, oh who the hell can keep track of it all? Let’s just go with the Springfield mystery spot.

On the plus side, the departures cleared room for top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. And basically the rest of the 40-man roster or anyone due to be a minor league free agent. And Norichika Aoki? Eh, sure, why not? At least we can take comfort in the fact that the front office will make the necessary moves to bring the team back into contention in 2018. You can stop laughing now. Seriously, it wasn’t that funny. Watch out, you’re going to… Well, enjoy your time on the DL. You’ll have plenty of company.

Paul Sewald* Adam Wilk Tommy Milone Neil Ramirez
8 April 2017 7 May 2017 10 May 2017 20 May 2017
Tyler Pill* Chasen Bradford* Chris Flexen* AJ Ramos
27 May 2017 25 June 2017 27 July 2017 30 July 2017
Amed Rosario* Dominic Smith* Kevin McGowan* Travis Taijeron*
1 August 2017 11 August 2017 22 August 2017 26 August 2017
Jacob Rhame* Jamie Callahan* Norichika Aoki Phillip Evans*
2 September 2017 2 September 2017 2 September 2017 8 September 2017
Tomas Nido*
13 September 2017

*MLB Debut
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2017 Mets Draft Class Autographs

Easy as 1-2-3

Full list of 2017 Mets draft picks

When you don’t pick until late in the first round, most of the intriguing names will be off the board by the time it’s your turn. Despite several forfeited picks ahead of them, the Mets had to wait to the 20th pick to start their 2017 draft due to a strong 2016. That probably won’t be a problem next year… And so I know nothing about first round pick David Peterson other than his assortment of autographs and memorabilia in various Panini products. Mark Vientos followed in round 2 with autographs and memorabilia from Panini and Leaf and then Quinn Brodey went in round 3 with autographs from Leaf (from 4 years ago). And that’s about it for this draft class. The Mets would go on to sign all three plus 29 of their other 37 picks, but that didn’t include the only other two picks with autographs at the time of the draft, CJ Van Eyk and Jake Eder.

1 David Peterson 2 Mark Vientos 3 Quinn Brodey 4 Tony DiBrell
5 Matt Winaker 6 Marcel Renteria 19 CJ Van Eyk (DNS) 34 Jake Eder (DNS)

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2016 Biggest Pulls

End of the Line?

2016 will go down as they year when I just couldn’t take it anymore. Ever-diminishing returns (even with the annual Kris Bryant autograph) already had me cutting back on hobby boxes. The proliferation of the same things in every product and the lack of anything new (Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz autographs in everything and no new prospect autographs until December) certainly gave me plenty of reasons to pass even on old favorites. And with the focus on the high end more than ever ($22,000 for one box?), nothing new was drawing my interest. And that’s just on the input side of the equation.

On the output side, rising postage rates and eBay fees (and new requirements pushing Top Rated Seller status beyond the reach of most mere mortals) made the prospect of selling unwanted cards something to dread. Why pay for a box that guarantees a hit when the hit will either be worthless or require dealing with eBay? I listed 12 items in 2016. 6 sold. And one of those got sent back, despite my listings clearly stating that returns are not accepted. That was the last straw.

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1967 Mets Draft Class Autographs

If at first you do succeed, the rest really doesn’t matter

Full list of 1967 Mets draft picks

1 Jon Matlack 2 Dan Carey 11 Jesse Hudson 38 Dave Schneck

In the third year of the amateur draft, the Mets had their least eventful group of selections yet. After getting lucky on Nolan Ryan in 1965 and infamously passing on Reggie Jackson with the first overall pick in 1966, the Mets took Jon Matlack with the fourth overall pick in 1967. Matlack would go on to be named Rookie of the Year in 1972 and put together one of the best pitching seasons to not get a single Cy Young vote in 1974. After a trade to the Rangers, he eventually began to break down as players tended to do in those days and opted for an early retirement at age 33. He has no certified autograph cards, so I leave this non-certified autograph here in the hopes of someday being able to replace it with something more official. And because without it, there would be nothing to see here. Because the rest of the draft was a bust.

The Mets actually did a pretty good job picking Matlack, who was one of only four star players to be taken in the first round. After that though, it got ugly; their next four picks failed to make the majors while other teams walked away with Vida Blue, Jerry Reuss, and Don Baylor in the second round and a handful of useful players in rounds 3-5. But that’s really where the 1967 draft ended. The Mets can’t be faulted too much for the rest of the draft, in which they signed only four players who would reach the majors, worth a total of -2.0 bWAR.

After the top 100 picks, the 1967 draft was an exercise in futility. 875 more players would be picked over 72 rounds, but many would fail to sign. Of those who did, only 25 made it to the majors, so the Mets’ four was better than most. And of the 21 others, only Rick Dempsey, Gary Lavelle, and Dusty Baker had any real success, plus Jim Willoughby, Mike Paul, Jack Brohamer, and John Wockenfuss if you lower your standard to a career total of 1 bWAR. That’s one even marginally useful player for every 125 picks. That the Mets failed to land even one with their remaining 55 picks is hardly surprising.

Looking at the Mets side of the 1967 draft alone paints a bleak picture of a franchise struggling at every aspect of the game. But a look at other teams’ results puts a positive spin on an organization that was building for a run at sustained contention. Only six of the 20 teams managed to sign multiple players who would rack up at least 1 bWAR over their career. And of those, only the Cardinals (Ted Simmons in round 1 and Jerry Reuss in round 2), Braves (Ralph Garr and Dusty Baker), Twins (Steve Brye in round 1, Dave Goltz, and Rick Dempsey), and Orioles (Bobby Grich in round 1 and Don Baylor in round 2) signed picks worth more than Matlack alone. The Mets did well in acquiring one of the top five players taken in the draft.

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Product Spotlight: 2017 Bowman

Too much of a good thing or just too much?

The base Bowman franchise is one of the cornerstones of the Topps product line. As such, it is a rock, always there, yet always changing in subtle ways. It’s frustrating sometimes, refreshing sometimes, but always there. 2017 Bowman is no exception – it’s there, there’s a lot to like, and there’s a lot that just makes no sense.

In 2015, Topps seemed to be headed in the right direction. 2014’s excess of confusing and unnecessary parallels yielded to the order of 2015 Bowman’s sensible parallel structure. 2016 Bowman did away with the ice parallels and wave refractors introduced in 2012, which was probably due, but it introduced full-size shimmer parallels in green and gold, numbered the same as their non-shimmer counterparts. 2016 Bowman Draft turned this concept into blue and gold wave refractor autographs. And 2017 Bowman combined both ideas and cranked it up to 10 – 10 shimmer refractor parallels, 5 base and 5 autographed. Double the autographs, double the fun?

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