Category Archives: Autographs

Baseball Ink Test Preliminary Results

A starting point for the big test

I started this line of testing almost a year ago with the goal of developing a better understanding of the factors that go into the degradation of signatures on baseballs.  This is a subject with lots of anecdotes but little in the way of scientific research.  I started with a simple question: what causes such drastic differences in how signatures age as can be seen in these baseballs signed more than 20 years ago?

Ed Kranepool Willie Randolph Mike Torrez Lee Mazzilli

The Kranepool looks like it was signed just a few months ago, but the Randolph has faded away to almost nothing.  The Torrez shows quite a bit of bleeding, but the Mazzilli is a complete disaster.  All four are on the same kind of baseball, so the only variables are the ink, exposure to light, and the pressure and movement used to make the signature.  I can’t do much with that last one, but the others are easy enough to test.  The first rounds of testing provided the following results that shaped the test that is just now starting.

1. Leaving a ball open to air appears to result in damage to the ball’s surface when placed in direct sunlight

Test Ball #1

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

The exact reason for this is not known and it isn’t clear from the preliminary tests whether the material of the enclosure or just the presence of an enclosure is what prevents it, but this type of damage only appeared in the unprotected ball. Surface damage is not the focus of our testing, so all future tests will include the use of a ball cube (or the box from the ball cube in the case of control balls not exposed to light). Preliminary testing has shown that a ball cube provides sufficient protection to prevent surface damage even in full direct sunlight, allowing for maximum sunlight exposure while limiting the damage to just the ink.

2. Most ink types will bleed on synthetic leather when not exposed to light even when no bleeding is seen in the light-exposed counterparts

Test Ball #3

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

Test Ball #3 was kept in the dark for the duration of this test and exhibited signaficant bleeding of even the blue ballpoint at the 7+ month mark.  The second test hasn’t been going for long enough to reach that level, but the no-name ink is already showing some bleeding.  This would seem to make the ideal storage solution a bit more complicated.  We could just say “use a blue ballpoint and keep the signature away from all light” and be done with it, but then bleeding would come into play. Based on preliminary testing, it takes several months for bleeding to become apparent. As confirmation of this phenomena, here are three baseballs of the same material signed in the same ink on the same day (July 23, 2013):

Gavin Cecchini L.J. Mazzilli Ricky Knapp

The difference was that the Cecchini and Mazzilli were on display in an area exposed to indirect natural light and artificial light while the Knapp was in a dark corner a few feet away. After about 4 to 6 months, bleeding was apparent. We’ll need to keep an eye on this (especially for the natural vs. synthetic leather comparison), but a separate test (not currently planned) will be required to identify the exact mechanisms at work.

3. Blue Sharpie, Black Bic, and Red Sharpie are not suitable for use on synthetic leather baseballs

7+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

The amount of degradation seen with black Bic and red Sharpie was so severe that there does not seem to be any reason to include them in additional testing at this time. Blue Sharpie also seems to be a bad choice, but there will be a blue Sharpie Pen in this test (the previous tests used a Sharpie CD/DVD marker which may have used a different ink with different durability properties). The addition of natural leather balls will also be a factor here.

4. Ink brand matters

2+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

It seems obvious, but the last preliminary test clearly demonstrated a difference in fading pattern between ink from different manufacturers. Most notable is Leeds ink, which faded into a darker blue and remained darker than any of the other ballpoint inks. The Parker also seemed to change very little, starting out lighter than the others and fading somewhat less. This validates the need for a wider test of ink brands.

5. Fine point does not seem to offer an advantage

If anything, the fine point pens appear to be less suitable than medium point because they do not put as much ink on the surface. Fine vs. medium vs. bold may still be a factor in the legibility of signatures, but that is beyond the scope of this test (and isn’t much of a factor with largely illegible signatures these days).

6. Gel ink is not suitable for autographs

The good news is that the gel inks tested resisted fading better than any of the ballpoints. The bad news is that this appears to be due to putting more ink onto the ball, which means longer drying times and pooling of the ink. The increased risk of smudging makes this type of pen unsuitable for our purposes. This may also apply to rollerballs but has not been tested.

7. The “UV Protected” Ultra PRO ball cube does not appear to offer any more protection than other Ultra PRO ball cubes

Lab testing in a controlled environment would be needed to confirm this, but the two models appear to be equivalent except for the hologram on the bottom of the UV protected model. I would show the side-by-side of the balls in each enclosure, but…

8. Dog slobber is the universal solvent

Test Ball #4

Before Dog After Dog

Just as I was wrapping this test up (and shortly after I had compared the two balls in ball cubes to check for any differences), the ball from the UV protected cube showed up in the condition shown on the right. Almost all of the markings are gone, including the gel ink and metallic Sharpie. The lesson: keep your autographs away from dogs. Incidentally, I found this ball while I was constructing enclosures to keep stray indoor light and prying noses out of the test area. It was too late to save Test Ball #4 though. It will be missed.

Inside the Lines at the White Plains Card Show

Back in the game a decade later

Last month, I shared my story of my trip to the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention.  After 7 hours at the event and another 4 hours spent in transit, that should have been enough for any weekend, especially when you consider that it included appearances (with autographs) from Ron Darling and Ed Kranepool plus a surprise appearance by Art Shamsky.  At least, that was the plan.

Backing up to Friday, January 17, a tweet from Matt den Dekker announced that he would be at the White Plains Card Show on January 18, the same day as the Queens Baseball Convention.

The timing was unfortunate, to say the least.  Former Mets Rusty Staub and Jason Isringhausen were among that day’s other guests, with autograph prices starting at $20 for den Dekker and going up from there (the full list of signers is unfortunately lost to history because the event promoter took all show information offline immediately following the event and nobody seems to have copied it down anywhere).  The show, however would go on.  For one more day at least.  It had been a decade since I had been to a card show, I was within driving distance, and there were two Mets on the autograph list for the final day.  Might as well stop by.

Read more »

Synthetic Leather Baseball Ink Test Phase 2

Bleeding blue and fading it too

It’s been a long, cold (and occasionally warm) winter, but spring training is almost here. For those of you lucky enough to attend, it’s a great time to get autographs from your favorite players. If you can manage to pick up a stray baseball, that would be a great thing to get autographed. But what kind of pen to use? It sure would be helpful if someone had a long-running experiment to see how different types of ink hold up over time in different conditions. You might think you’re in luck if you read ahead, but there’s just one small problem: official MLB baseballs are made with natural leather and the cheap $2 versions I use have synthetic leather covers. Since I don’t feel like spending $64 or more on this test, you’ll just have to settle for results that may not apply to your situation.  (Update: So it turns out that you can get natural leather balls for about $3 now. We’ll add them in for the next round.)

Review of Test Configuration

Full details can be found here. Back at the beginning of June in 2013, I took some baseballs and some writing implements and put together a little test to see how the various inks would hold up on synthetic leather. Test Ball #1 was placed on a windowsill with no protection from the sun other than the window and the fact that the window only got direct sunlight in the morning. Test Ball #2 was placed in the same location in an Ultra Pro ball cube, but one that didn’t advertise UV protection. Test Ball #3 was locked away in a dark closet. Two months later, all three balls were photographed to document the initial results.

31 July 2013 Results
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #3

Long-Term Results

Two months wasn’t long enough to see the full effect of sunlight exposure, so I left the experiment going for another five and a half months. It should be noted that as the experiment progressed, the balls were exposed to less direct sunlight each day with a lower angle of incidence. Still, the results aren’t pretty.

16 January 2014 Results
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #3

Let’s break down the results by ball to catalog the damage.

Test Ball #1

Test Ball #1 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Poor Test Ball #1. After 7.5 months in the sun, the surface of the ball itself is showing severe damage. The yellowing is uneven, possibly the result of interactions with oil transferred by fingers. Whatever the cause, it was something not seen in either of the other test cases. There’s your ball cube selling point right there. As for the ink, it was a mixed bag. That extra 5.5 months almost completely destroyed the black Bic, blue Sharpie, and red Sharpie. The black Sharpie faded out a little bit more and the blue Bic remained solid but slightly lighter. Most surprising was the green Sharpie, which showed no change over the last 5.5 months, indicating that it might have reached a stable state.

Test Ball #2

Test Ball #2 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Other than the lack of yellowing, the results are about the same here. The fading is slightly less severe, but the relative strength of each ink is the same. Black Sharpie was looking pretty good after 2 months, but I’m not as confident in it after 7.5 months. Green Sharpie was a surprise, but the uneven coverage from changes in stroke direction leaves behind dark dots after the initial fading. That leaves the blue Bic as the most durable ink in both sun-exposed cases.

Test Ball #3

Test Ball #3 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Meanwhile, the closet held some interesting results. Not much changed for the black and green Sharpies, which both seemed to reach their stable states after 2 months. The red and blue Sharpies on the other hand continued to bleed. The blue and black Bics, which didn’t show any bleeding on the other test balls, bled considerably in darkness. This concerns me.

Bleeding in the Dark

You would think that the ideal storage location for autographed items would be in total darkness. These initial results would seem to contradict that conventional wisdom. Why would bleeding be present in darkness but not in sunlight? One possibility is that the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.) in the closet played a part. To account for this in the future, the control ball would need to be relocated to the same windowsill as the other balls.

But I don’t think that will change the results any. On July 23, 2013, I got autographs from Gavin Cecchini, L.J. Mazzilli, and Ricky Knapp. Cecchini and Mazzilli received prominent display locations (with no direct sunlight) while Knapp was banished to the shadowy recesses of the next shelf over (without even direct artificial light). Six months later, the Cecchini and Mazzilli autographs still look sharp, but the Knapp has started to bleed. That would seem to indicate that some amount of UV exposure might help the ink to set. How much exposure is required isn’t something I would be able to nail down without a bucket of balls, so unless Rawlings decides to help me out, this will remain a mystery.

Go for the, um, bronze

You might have noticed that I’ve been using metallic markers to identify each test. The first test, now concluded after 7.5 months, was denoted by silver. The next test was going to be gold, but the cap on my gold marker didn’t quite seal right and it dried out. My previous gold marker was lost in a car and never recovered. After all that, Staples finally sells metallic Sharpies individually, but that didn’t help me when I was setting up Test Number 2. So next up is the bronze test.

Blue ball-points FTW

Test Number 1 answered a few questions and raised a few more, but one point we can conclude is that the blue ball-point is the best type of pen to use on a synthetic leather baseball. But which blue ball-point is best? For the second round, I have assembled a vast array of seven different pens in three categories: medium point (MP), fine point (FP), and gel fine point (Gel FP). Two samples of each with name-brand inks were applied to our now four test balls, plus a generic medium point sample from a random pen I had lying around. This should also give us an idea of whether the location of the ink on the ball is a factor, because I haven’t been accounting for that and it could completely invalidate everything if it turns out to be significant.

Second Test Day 0
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #4 Test Ball #3

And here we have our freshly-marked test subjects. Like before, Test Ball #1 gets no protection beyond the window, Test Ball #2 gets an Ultra Pro ball cube (without claims of UV protection), and Test Ball #3 gets total darkness (provided by two nested cardboard boxes). New Test Ball #4 gets a fancier Ultra Pro ball cube that advertises UV protection and has a hologram on the bottom, though the instructions do say to keep it out of direct sunlight. Forget that, we’re roasting these suckers. All four balls have been relocated to a south side window for maximum sun exposure. I even cleaned all of the dog nose marks off the window first. It may be winter, but there’s still a few hours of sunlight each day. And now the 2014 baseball ink test begins.

Best Mets Cards of 2013

Pitching dominates this year’s awards

It’s 2014, which means I’m running a bit behind on my 2013 wrap-up articles. The last few posts have covered most of the interesting cards from the last year, so now it’s time to narrow things down to just the best of the best so you don’t have to dig through 5,000 words for just the few things you’re interested in. Only 1,800 words…

Best Manufactured Material

2013 Topps Series 2 Tom Seaver Proven Mettle Coin

Not much has improved in this category since last year, so this award goes to a Seaver coin again. At least there was more player diversity this year and it wasn’t just all Seaver all the time.

Worst Manufactured Material

2013 Topps Pro Debut Travis d’Arnaud Hat Logo Patch

So many things are going on here, all of them wrong. Wrong team, wrong logo, wrong, wrong, wrong. I don’t know what Topps was going for with this one, but it sure wasn’t anything that made sense.

Best Parallel Insert Set

2013 Topps Archives Orange Parallel

Last year, I went with the Archives gold parallel here. This year, Topps changed the formula and the gold parallel just didn’t look that good. The orange parallel on the other hand was something unique among the multitudes of parallels released in 2013. Available only one per pack in 25 cent Archives packs at participating hobby shops, these cards fluoresce in UV light. Unfortunately, I didn’t pull a single Met out of more than 100 packs and had to go to eBay for these…

Best Base Insert

2013 Bowman Inception Jose Reyes Sapphire Reprint

With parallels, autographs, game-used, and manufactured material accounting for most of the inserts out there, it can be hard to find contenders for this category. I found three: the Jose Reyes sapphire rookie reprint from Bowman Inception, the Tom Seaver Cut to the Chase die-cut chrome insert from Topps Series 2, and the Matt Harvey Prodigies die-cut refractor from Topps Finest. I’ll give Reyes the edge here, though it should be noted that a David Wright version could be found in Bowman Sterling (the Reyes looks better).

Best Rookie Card

2013 Panini Prizm Scott Rice

Five Mets had Rookie Cards in 2013: Jeurys Familia, Collin McHugh, Zack Wheeler, Scott Rice, and Juan Lagares. All of them had at least a Rookie Card (and all of the standard parallels) in base Topps except for Scott Rice. After 14 years in professional baseball, Rice made his MLB debut with the Mets in 2013 and received Rookie Cards in just 2013 Panini Prizm.

Best Sticker Autograph

2013 Topps Opening Day Mr. Met Mascot Autograph

An autograph from the best sports mascot ever? Nothing else even comes close.

Best On-Card Autograph

2011 Bowman Platinum Matt Harvey

How does a card from 2011 Bowman Platinum qualify for the 2013 awards? Well, when it takes two full years for the cards to just be signed, you can’t really call these 2011 autograph cards. Harvey autographs were some of the hottest cards released this year and none were dated 2013. It’s been a strange year.

If you insist on having autographs from the actual 2013 product year in this category, here are a few worth noting.  Shown here are the first Mets autographs from Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, the last Mets autograph from R.A. Dickey, and an autograph on a thick slab of clear plastic.

Worst Autograph

2013 Topps Series 2 Collin Cowgill Chasing History Autograph

Sticker autograph, photoshopped black jersey, player who was traded shortly after the card was released. And then Topps made a second attempt in Topps Update that at least fixed the jersey issue. This card has no reason to exist.

Best Uniform Memorabilia Card

2013 Topps Tier One Matt Harvey
2013 Topps Triple Threads Jeurys Familia
2013 Topps Five Star David Wright Jumbo Jersey (blue jersey variant)

Technically, this should probably go to the 2013 Topps Triple Threads Harvey/Wright/Wheeler triple jersey card, but that was out of my price range. Instead, have a bunch of blue jerseys. Except for the Wright, which I haven’t been able to get yet…

Best Patch Card

2012 Panini National Treasures Matt Harvey

Depending on the variant, this one could qualify for best jersey or patch. Either way, this is one of those cards that was a must-have regardless of the price before Harvey’s card prices went through the roof. Because now you sure can’t afford it.

Best Bat Card

2013 Topps Triple Threads R.A. Dickey

Bat cards just aren’t very common anymore. This year, the only Mets bat card worthy of this award isn’t a Mets bat card at all. R.A. Dickey’s first bat cards came after all of his cards had been changed over to the Blue Jays, but I’ll let that slide.

Worst Memorabilia Card

2013 Topps Triple Threads Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Poor Kirk Nieuwenhuis. After being all over 2012′s autograph and memorabilia cards, he found himself with very little MLB playing time in 2013 and far too many cards. He got September off after the AAA season ended and then had loads of memorabilia cards in Triple Threads. After already having triple jersey autograph cards in last year’s Triple Threads. As if the unnecessary Future Phenoms card weren’t enough, Nieuwenhuis had three single jersey autograph cards. The green jersey cards I can see, but everything else is just filler. I suppose it isn’t really fair to single out Kirk when so much of Triple Threads was unnecessary filler, but the award has to go to someone.

Best Hobby Shop Promotion

Panini Black Friday

Every year, card companies try to find ways to get people to visit their local hobby shops. 2013 was filled with various promotions, from the Topps Series 1 Spring Fever redemption packs to Panini’s Boxing Day packs. Topps Archives had the most with vintage card redemptions, 25 cent packs, and ’80s card redemption packs with Topps Series 2 base, blue sparkle, and silver slate parallels. The best of the bunch, as usual, was Panini’s Black Friday promotion that combines discounts on Panini products with bonus packs containing cards featuring some of the hottest players in four sports with parallels, autographs, and unique memorabilia. Matt Harvey was the lone Met featured in this promotion.

Best New Product

2013 Bowman Inception

Coming into 2013, I thought the last thing the hobby needed was another Bowman product. With five Bowman products on the market already, what more was there to cover? Bowman Inception brought premium thick autograph cards and no filler. All on-card autographs, no chipping problems, no base cards, and no chrome. In other words, something different. Travis d’Arnaud and Jeurys Familia are the only two Mets in the base autograph sets, about average for the 62 total cards between the rookie and prospect autographs. As an added bonus, Jose Reyes was also among the sapphire reprints in this product.

Most Improved Product

2013 Bowman Sterling

Elsewhere in the Bowman franchise, Sterling was in sorry shape in 2012. With some of the most boring and uninspired autograph cards on the market and little else going for it, Bowman Sterling was a product without a purpose. For 2013, Sterling kept much of the same structure as the previous year’s product with a few key changes. Autograph orientation switched from landscape to portrait, a minor change that greatly improved the design. Other design changes improved how the base cards scanned to the point that the signatures no longer blended into the background. The biggest change though was with the refractor parallels. 2012 Bowman Sterling had six refractor parallels and none between base refractors (numbered to 199) and gold refractors (numbered to 50). The 2013 edition reduced the numbering on base refractors (now numbered to 150) and added three tiers above gold: green (numbered to 125), ruby (numbered to 99), and orange (numbered to 75). Canary diamond print runs were also increased from 1 to 3 and 1/1 superfractors were added. On top of that, the autograph checklist was increased from 88 to 106 with the Mets representation including the first certified autographs from L.J. Mazzilli and the first Mets autographs from Noah Syndergaard. More players and more parallels with a better design made 2013 Bowman Sterling a welcome improvement over last year’s afterthought.

Most Disappointing Product

2013 Panini Hometown Heroes

I’m tempted here to go with 2013 Topps Finest, but at this point I have no expectations for a product with lots of history and no real direction. Panini Hometown Heroes on the other hand was a new product that promised a new take on the formula that brought us Topps Archives and Leaf Memories. What it delivered was a bland design filled with autographs that have been done better by Topps over the last two years. While it did bring a few new or hard-to-find autographs, the design deficiencies made it hard to get excited about any of them.

Autograph Product of the Year

2013 Topps Archives

No surprises here. With 15 former Mets in the Fan Favorites Autographs set, including 8 shown as Mets (and the first autographs from Keith Miller), nothing else comes close. What’s even more impressive is that Topps featured an entirely new group of autographs in the second year of the new incarnation of Archives, for a total of 32 former Mets (15 shown as Mets) over two years of Fan Favorites Autographs. That’s still well under ten percent of the former Mets with certified autograph cards, so there’s plenty of room for next year’s Archives to keep the streak going.

Honorable Mention

2013 Leaf Memories

Leaf is no slouch in the autograph department and Leaf Memories combines 1990-style autographs from their three prospects, Rafael Montero, Domingo Tapia, and Dominic Smith, with buyback autographs from players from the 1980s and early 1990s. Among the buyback autographs are the first from Kevin Elster and Rick Aguilera, plus countless favorites from some of the best Mets teams in recent memory. Well, relatively recent at least. The large number of redemption cards though keeps Leaf Memories from threatening to dethrone Archives.

Game-Used Product of the Year

2013 Topps Museum Collection

Now in its third year (though only its second under the Museum Collection brand), some of the shine is beginning to wear off Topps Museum Collection. It has all of the memorabilia variety we’ve come to expect: jumbo jersey and bat relics, autographed memorabilia cards, quad relics, four-player relics, etc. This year, the highlights were jumbo bat cards from Darryl Strawberry, autographed double and triple memorabilia cards from R.A. Dickey, and jumbo Matt Harvey jersey cards. Jumbo jerseys from Johan Santana and Ike Davis weren’t quite as exciting and the usual assortment from David Wright seemed like a repeat of last year. Still, this year’s cards sold better than last year’s counterparts, which may be why I wasn’t quite as interested in them this year.

Honorable Mention

2012 Panini National Treasures

As usual, nothing could match the quality and player/material diversity of Museum Collection. Panini made a good showing though with 2012 Panini National Treasures. With autographed jersey and patch cards from Dwight Gooden, David Wright, Matt Harvey, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, plus various booklets featuring Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, and David Wright and plenty of other former Mets like Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Keith Hernandez, and Jose Reyes featured in the other memorabilia sets, it should be obvious why National Treasures was a big hit.

The Essentials: 2013 Mets Autographs

Return of the Prospects

A lot of baseball cards have been released in 2013.  Between Topps (MLB and MLBPA licenses), Panini (MLBPA license), Leaf (no licenses), and Upper Deck (MLBPA license but strict MLB oversight), more than 40 baseball products have been released this year.  So which cards stand out from the rest?  To answer that question, we’ll break down the key Mets cards from 2013 in The Essentials.

2013 was filled with new Mets autographs from the first days of the year all the way to the last.  Add in a few current stars (well, as much as the current team has stars) and loads of former favorites and you’ve got a pretty decent bunch of cards for one year.  Best of all, 2012′s prospect drought didn’t carry over to 2013.  Instead, we were treated to a bountiful prospect crop, so let’s start there.

Prospects

Aside from a few 2011 draft picks in Elite Extra Edition and a couple of 2012 draft picks in Bowman Draft, the prospect autographs in 2012 were limited to, well, Chris Schwinden.  And maybe some Reese Havens, if he and/or SP Signature count.  Things started off much the same in 2013 with the first Panini-branded Elite Extra Edition.

EEE gave us the first autographs from 2012 draft picks Branden Kaupe, Logan Taylor, Matt Koch, and Matt Reynolds (Reynolds was supposed to have his first autographs in 2012 Bowman Sterling, but redemptions were issued instead and the cards were released in 2013 Bowman Chrome).  Gavin Cecchini also made an appearance with Kevin Plawecki showing up as redemptions (that have yet to be fulfilled as of the end of 2013).

Coming into 2013, two dozen Mets prospects had been featured on Bowman Chrome autographs in Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and Bowman Draft, from Bob Keppel in 2001 to Kevin Plawecki in 2012.  2013 Bowman had just Jeurys Familia RC autographs, but Bowman Chrome picked up the slack with Luis Mateo, Matt Reynolds (now signing with just his first initial instead of the full name) and Rafael Montero.  Bowman Draft added 2013 draft picks Dominic Smith and Andrew Church.  Mateo, Reynolds, and Smith had their first autographs in other products (2013 Bowman Platinum, 2012 Panini EEE, and 2013 Panini Perennial Draft Picks, respectively), but Bowman Chrome is king of the prospect autographs.

Not that Panini is going down without a fight.  They may not have a license from MLB Properties, but they’re still making a big push to get a piece of the baseball card market.  Traditionally, Panini wouldn’t put out autographs from draft picks until January’s EEE.  This year, Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks was positioned to challenge the prospect aspects of Bowman Chrome and Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects (hence the overly alliterative name).  Not only did Panini get top pick Dominic Smith, but they also landed autographs from third round pick Ivan Wilson and past picks Jayce Boyd and Cory Vaughn.  Rainy Lara and Amed Rosario were included as redemptions, but there’s no word on when those will be fulfilled (Panini’s got a lot of signing to do…).

Without licenses from either MLB Properties or the MLBPA, Leaf didn’t have much to work with except retired players and prospects.  They did an impressive job with that limitation, getting Dominic Smith and Rafael Montero to sign for them in multiple products alongside their one exclusive signer, Domingo Tapia.  All three had autographs in Leaf Metal, Leaf Memories, and Leaf Trinity, the latter of which featured thick plastic slabs, memorabilia, or inscriptions on all of its cards.  Though limited in its scope, Leaf’s offering in 2013 was quite noteworthy.  Hopefully the MLBPA is paying attention, too bad MLB Properties has hitched itself to Topps for the foreseeable future.

Not that Topps has been all that bad lately.  In addition to the players with Bowman Chrome autos, Topps also managed to get signatures from 2012 7th round pick Corey Oswalt (winner of the “Most random prospect to have an autograph card in 2013″ award that doesn’t exist) and 2013 4th round pick L.J. Mazzilli, son of former Met Lee Mazzilli.  On top of that, they also produced the first Mets autographs of top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.  That leaves most of the Mets’ top 20 or so prospects with autograph cards of some soft except for Jacob deGrom and Gabriel Ynoa.

Rookie Cards

When it comes to Rookie Card autographs in 2013, the big name was Jeurys Familia.  Seriously, he was in just about everything for the first 8 months of the year, at which point Zack Wheeler took over and finished off the year’s RC auto appearances.  The pair accounted for all of the Mets RC autos released by Topps in 2013.

But not all of the Mets RC autos in 2013.  Panini Pinnacle was perfectly positioned to provide the premier penmanship piece from recently departed Mets pitcher Collin McHugh.  Familia was in there too because, well, just because.

2012 Rookies

Last year’s default rookie signers Jordany Valdespin and Kirk Nieuwenhuis were back again in 2013, though JV1′s first autograph this year will probably also be his last as a Met.  Things aren’t looking too good for Nieuwenhuis, who wasn’t even called up in September.  He still had a bunch of autographs in Gypsy Queen, Tier One, and Triple Threads.

2013 All-Stars

Both of the Mets All-Stars from 2013 had autographs released in 2013, though all of Matt Harvey’s were dated either 2012 (all of his Panini autos) or 2011 (Bowman Platinum redemptions that finally made it out two years late).  Hopefully you got your fill of Harvey autos early because prices spiked in April and haven’t cooled off all that much since then.

New Old Mets

A few new faces we’ve already forgotten also managed to get some autographs out in 2013.  Collin Cowgill and Shaun Marcum were featured in Topps Series 2, then Cowgill came back in Topps Update to commemorate the one thing of significance he did in his very brief Mets career.  Marcum also had a few autographs in Topps Tier One alongside Kirk Nieuwenhuis and (of course) Jeurys Familia.

Dickey

R.A. Dickey continued to have Mets autographs into 2013, including these three on-card beauties.  The Gypsy Queen and Tribute Dickey autos were released as redemption cards and were sent out shortly after the Museum Collection card was released (Museum Collection also included several cards with Dickey sticker autos).

Fan Favorites

This year had another good haul of Mets autographs in Topps Archives.  Gregg Jefferies, Howard Johnson, Jesse Orosco, Kevin McReynolds, Keith Miller, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez were all featured in the Fan Favorites Autographs set, though several of these were in card styles that were used in previous Fan Favorites Autographs sets.  This is Keith Miller’s first autograph card because, well, he’s Keith Miller.

Hometown Heroes

Panini’s attempt at an Archives clone didn’t come out all that well but still managed to include autographs from several Mets favorites including Darryl Strawberry, Lee Mazzilli, Lenny Dykstra, Ron Darling, Mookie Wilson, Dave Kingman, and Tom Seaver.  Pat Tabler, not shown as a Met, has his first certified autographs here.

Memories

Leaf’s Archives clone on the other hand is starting to come into its own in its second year.  In addition to the previously mentioned prospects, Leaf Memories was loaded with buyback autographs from retired favorites like Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Sid Fernandez, Kevin Mitchell, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster (his first certified autographs), and Barry Lyons.  Many others Mets were shown in other uniforms, including Rick Aguilera with his first certified autographs.  Unfortunately, many of the buybacks were issued as redemption cards, some of which couldn’t be entered into the online redemption system and had to be redeemed through Leaf customer service.  As of the end of 2013, only the Elster autos are known to have been fulfilled.

Chasing History

As usual, Topps threw a few sticker autographs from retired Mets in its main base autograph insert, Chasing History.  Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, and Howard Johnson are featured here in autographs from Series 1 (Carter and Gooden) and Update (Johnson).  Carter autographs are getting harder to find and his Chasing History Autograph insert was available at surprisingly low prices.

Heritage

After having only one Mets autograph last year, 2013 Heritage was loaded with Mets.  Al Moran, Amado Samuel, Jay Hook, Mike Joyce (never actually played for the Mets), Pumpsie Green, and Tim Harkness represented the biggest Mets contingent in Heritage history (though at this point the Mets have only existed for three years).  Ken MacKenzie has his first certified autographs in 2013 Heritage as a Giant.

New Ink Colors

In 2013, Topps expanded its use of various colored markers into more products than ever before.  While the use of different colors has been common in Tier One and Museum Collection Framed Autographs from their start, Topps Chrome and Topps Triple Threads have added metallic marker variants for the first time.  Tier One itself added a new color, copper rose, to replace the white that was easily confused with silver in the past.

And that will do it for this year’s installment of The Essentials.  The remainder of 2013′s wrap-up posts will go up later this week.  Happy New Year!

Adventures in Group Breaking

Breakin’ 3: Bowman Sterling-y

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just don’t follow the sports card industry), group breaking is the hottest trend in sports cards.  For a (relatively) small fee, collectors who can’t afford the high prices of modern cases can still get a shot at a big hit, provided that they buy into the right slots.  Formats vary, but there are opportunities to get a big return on a small investment (or the reverse).  I’ve been doing the cost-benefit analysis on the various opportunities I’ve seen and finally found the right mix of return and risk in the year’s final offering from Topps as broken by collector favorite Brent Williams.  But before we get to that, let’s take a look at a couple of smaller breaks I tested the waters with earlier in the year.

2012 Panini Prizm

The first break I considered this year was the 2012 Panini Prizm team break from Brent Williams.  I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk at the asking price when I would probably walk away with a Lucas Duda autograph as the big hit.  Instead, I found a cheap 4-box break to buy into.  That should have been good for two base team sets on average, which would include a Matt Harvey Rookie card (because this was a 2012 product).  In the end, I got what I was hoping for: one full team set, a second team set minus one card, an extra Ike Davis, and a few inserts.

And of course a Duda auto.  There was no getting around that one.

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects

I never really know how to deal with Bowman Draft.  Prices for some of the cards that come out of it can be quite high, but the long-term value is highly volatile.  Positioned at the end of the base Bowman line, most of the Rookie Cards are duplicates from earlier releases (with new photos), which adds to the confusion.  This year, with increased production, decreased numbering on colored refractors, and more variants than ever before, I just bought up base and chrome lots, the base autographs, and a few cheap parallels and left it at that.  To make things interesting, I also bid on a few player slots in a 5-case break from RynemCaseBreaks.  I ended up with only two, Andrew Church (non-auto only) and Zack Wheeler.  With a total cost including shipping of less than $20 and a practically guaranteed 30+ card lot of base/chrome cards for each player, I wasn’t too worried about coming up empty.  Because there wasn’t much of a chance at a big return anyway.

I actually watched almost all of the 5-case break live and it was quite entertaining.  Some slots came up big while others were big losers.  The Bowman Black slot, a bargain at well under $100, was the big winner with both Kris Bryant and Austin Meadows pulled from the 5 cases.  That’s over $500 worth of cards for a slot that could have been a total loss.  On the Mets side of things, the $20 Andrew Church autograph slot came up big with base, refractor, and orange refractor (#d/25) versions pulled in the break.  The $120 Dominic Smith autograph slot on the other hand got just a base autograph (worth about $20).

My slots were not big winners.  In addition to the expected base and chrome cards, I got four parallels: two Zack Wheeler refractors, a Zack Wheeler ice parallel, and an Andrew Church black wave refractor.  Out of all of the base Mets pulled in the break, the best card was a green refractor numbered to 75.

2013 Bowman Sterling

And now, the main event.  Bowman Sterling isn’t exactly my favorite product.  Released at the end of the year, it usually features a mix of rehashed rookies and draft picks, a less popular second helping of autographs we’ve already seen in more interesting products.  Last year, a terribly bland design with refractors that barely looked like refractors did nothing to help the checklist of repeat signers.  Prices on the secondary market reflected these problems; I picked up a gold refractor autograph (#d/50) of Kirk Nieuwenhuis for $1.50 plus shipping and a black refractor autograph (#d/25) of Kevin Plawecki for about $10 more.  The Bowman Black autographs had some decent value, but the massive chipping that plagued thick Topps autographs in 2012 caused them to lose some of their appeal.  Sterling needed a revamp to justify taking a slot in the Topps lineup.

2013 Bowman Sterling is a completely different product from its 2012 incarnation.  Sure, the basics are still the same: 3 autographs per pack, 18 total autographs per box, dual sticker autographs, Bowman Black autographs numbered to 25, etc.  This time though, the autographs are in portrait orientation (typically more highly desired than landscape) and green, ruby, and orange refractor parallels fill the space between refractors and gold refractors.  Most Rookie Card autographs are, unfortunately, on stickers, but the product delivers where it counts: prospect autographs.  2013 draft picks Dominic Smith and Andrew Church return after Bowman Draft, but joining them are Noah Syndergaard with his first Mets autographs and L.J. Mazzilli (fan favorite Lee Mazzilli’s son) with his first certified autograph cards.  Add in some Zack Wheeler sticker autographs and you have a solid Mets checklist with a few must-haves for any serious Mets collector.

Shortly after the checklist was released, Brent Williams announced the possibility of a team-based group break of Bowman Sterling on launch day.  With 106 rookie/prospect autographs in 2013 Bowman Sterling and 144 total autographs in an 8-box case, the odds of getting all of a team’s base autographs are pretty good.  A quick calculation put the over/under of the value of the Mets slot at $90.  For the right price, this would be a great break to get in on.  Which meant that I probably wasn’t the only Mets fan who would be after this slot.

Two days later, Brent Williams announced that the Bowman Sterling break was on.  I was catching up on Twitter while waiting in line at the post office to mail out recent auction sales.  And I was a couple of hours behind on my tweets.  Skipping to the top, I saw that the price breakdown had just been posted.  The Mets slot was priced at $90, right on my estimated cost.  At that price, even getting just the base Mets autographs wouldn’t be a bad deal, especially with them all in one package sent the day after launch.  There was a chance of getting less, but there was also a decent chance of getting some nice bonuses.  20 minutes after the announcement, I claimed the Mets slot without hesitation.  And then I waited two long days for the break to begin.

2013 Bowman Sterling 8-Box Case Break – brentandbecca

I tried to keep my expectations in check.  All I wanted were the five base Mets autographs, one of the base Mets cards, and something extra.  Unfortunately, I missed the start of the break and came in about halfway through.  Among all of the Pirates, Philies, and Yankees autographs, I saw only a Noah Syndergaard base card and two L.J. Mazzilli base autographs.  From what I heard, I had missed a pair of Andrew Church base autographs and a Dominic Smith green refractor autograph.  That still left me three base autographs short of my goal as the break entered its final minutes.  And then the rest of them started hitting one after another.  The base Dominic Smith auto and a green refractor Zack Wheeler auto came up at the end of box number 7.  Box number 8 held the final two base autos, Syndergaard and Wheeler.  And with that, this break had exceeded my expectations.

And that’s it.  Nothing huge, but everything I wanted.  I also had a chance at both The Duel inserts featuring Mets, but I lost out on both of them to the other team featured on the card.  Now I’m just waiting for the post office to deliver the cards.