The big hits get fewer and the small hits get bigger
With another year of baseball products in the books, it’s time to look back and ask one important question. Why the heck do I keep doing this? Like last year, I purchased a little more than $3,000 worth of hobby boxes and retail packs and sold about half that in single cards from those boxes and packs. There were surprises, disappointments, oddities, and a few more disappointments. Nothing here is from a premium product, just ordinary sub-$100 boxes of mostly base products. What follows are the best cards I pulled from packs in 2013. For some perspective, take a look at what Brent Williams pulled from 64 cases of 2013 Topps Update. With more than 10 times as much product as I opened all year, his results may surprise you.
1. 2013 Bowman Byron Buxton Blue Wave Refractor Autograph BCP-BB 02/50
The story behind this card is a long and sordid tale of high hopes, unfulfilled desires, crushing reality, twists of fate, and unexpected riches. A screenplay will certainly be forthcoming; film rights are still available. Way back in the early months of the year, 2013 Bowman was released with the promise of wrapper redemption Blue Wave Refractor packs. Last year’s promotion proved to be quite popular, so getting the wrappers to Topps in less than a week was essential. I had not yet decided whether to buy any boxes of this year’s Bowman, but I knew that I wanted to get in on the wrapper redemption. A solution appeared in the form of case breaker extraordinaire Brent Williams, who was selling wrappers for a price that was too good to resist. And so I purchased the household limit in wrappers, to be shipped directly to Topps for maximum efficiency. One day after the product was released, the wrappers began their journey back to their maker.
The following day, I finally broke down and purchased the bare minimum amount of product necessary to assemble a complete base and chrome set. Collation was on my side and I was left just a few cards short of my goal. Little else came from those packs beyond an Alen Hanson refractor autograph that accounted for half of my total sales of unwanted inserts. My change of heart also left me with enough wrappers to redeem for two packs, assuming that there was still time. Already at my household limit, I sent in these wrappers with my brother’s house as the destination for anything that should be sent in return. Now three days after product launch, the chance of any return was getting slimmer. I may have already missed the window.
On the following Monday, launch plus five days, Topps announced that they had already received a mountain of wrappers and would shortly run out of packs to issue in exchange. They urged customers to stop sending wrappers as those already in transit would surely exhaust their supply. The outlook for my late travelers was grim, but those were not essential to my plan. At worst, I could still look forward to receiving ten shiny foil packs in the mail. Tracking information showed that my wrappers had indeed reached their destination, though they arrived on Tuesday, five full days after being shipped. Even some of the wrappers shipped at the same exact time as mine arrived a day earlier. This was not an encouraging development.
Within days, reports began appearing of people receiving a number of packs that did not match the number they should have been due. People who sent in wrappers for ten packs instead received only two, while some who sent in for two received ten. One person even reported receiving ten packs despite not having sent in a single wrapper. I was getting worried as the days turned to weeks and no shipments from Topps appeared in my mailbox.
Eventually, I had to accept reality. My packs would not be coming. Not twelve, not ten, not even two. My fate was to receive nothing.
Several months later, with this loss long behind me, I was visiting with my brother and handed him something or other of little importance that I had remembered to bring for him. He went off to deposit what I had given him and came back with two foil packs for me. Those packs that I had given up on when the ten that should have been assured failed to arrive were now in my hands.
At this point, the opportunity to maximize the return for these cards was long gone. I already had all of the Mets that I wanted from these packs, so there was nothing inside for my collection. These were now a mere curiosity and little more. Still, I had to see what was inside. The first pack held nothing of any consequence. With expectations as low as they could be, I opened the second pack and saw the glint of a gold serial number on the bottom card. Was it a Red Wave Refractor? No, those are numbered to 25, this one was numbered to 50. That means it’s an autograph. Anybody good? I checked the name and it said Byron Buxton. Flipping it over confirmed what the back had told me – I was holding a Byron Buxton autograph card.
As it turned out, this particular Byron Buxton autograph card was one of the best ones to have. Similar Buxton autos numbered to 50 in other products were selling for a respectable $150, but his Bowman Chrome autographs were selling for hundreds of dollars. The timing was also quite fortunate as Buxton was at the top of everyone’s prospect list at the end of the 2013 minor league season. This card had been selling for up to $550 at the time I pulled it. My luck had certainly turned around.
In the end, this card sold for just under $400. I had hoped for more, but the market was softening and the card had a slightly dinged corner. This one card made back everything I had spent on 2013 Bowman including the 100 wrappers that never bore fruit.
2. 2013 Panini Prizm Draft Gosuke Katoh Prospect Signatures Red Refractor 53 020/100
It was a long way down from that one big hit. Last year, I pulled two cards that sold for more than $200 and nothing else that sold over $50. This year, it was just the one card at just under $400 and nothing else over $100. This particular card was the result of a Black Friday splurge designed to help me get my hands on a few Panini Black Friday packs (which themselves held the Puig Lava Flow card shown further down). Two boxes of 2013 Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks yielded six cards numbered to 100, two of them autographs. Of the six, three (including one of the autographs) sold for 99 cents and two didn’t sell. And then there’s this Gosuke Katoh autograph that sold for $91 to someone in Japan. It was a nice surprise in a product filled with underwhelming cards.
3. 2013 Topps Heritage High Number Manny Machado Real One Autograph ROA-MM
I screwed this one up. After last year’s Heritage High Number set was a big hit, I couldn’t pass up this year’s version. Topps anticipated the surge in demand and increased production by nearly an order of magnitude while keeping the price steady at $100. That should have been a recipe for crushing disappointment. When I finally got my set (FedEx delivered it a day late after faking a delivery attempt in their tracking system, damn liars), it did not in fact hold the Zack Wheeler autograph I was hoping for. Instead, I had to settle for Manny Machado. The problem here was figuring out pricing. With so many autographs released in 2013, pricing Machado’s cards is not easy. Some low-numbered autos sell for $50, while other less limited autos sell for well over $100. The sweet spot seemed to be in the $75-80 range, so I set a $75 Buy It Now price to avoid falling into the $50 basement or having other sellers undercut me with 1-day auctions. And it sold in minutes while the next one to sell went for over $100. Instead of getting my base set for free, I only got a good deal on it. Oh well. In my defense, the signature isn’t all that great and the corners were banged up from being at the outside of the stack in the box. Topps should know better than to put the most valuable card in the most vulnerable spot.
4. 2013 Topps Archives Manny Machado Gold Rainbow 27 041/199 RC
At least the Machado autograph sold for more than either of the Machado parallel cards featured here. After the blue sparkle Machado (see below) from my Topps Series 1 wrapper redemption packs sold for nearly $30, I was expecting a similar price for the Archives gold foil parallel numbered to 199 (similar to the blue sparkle print run). $60 was a complete shock and sent it to the top of my Archives sales, ahead of a Roy Halladay printing plate and card #7 on this list.
5. 2013 Bowman Chrome Derek Jeter Gold Refractor 215 44/50
Yankees Bowman Chrome gold refractors seem to find me every year. Last year, it was Ichiro. This year, I hit the broken down aging Yankee jackpot with Jeter. Comparable cards were selling for $40-60, so I set a $50 Buy It Now and hoped for the best. Someone thought they knew better though and tried to get a bargain. So $50 turned into $54.88.
6. 2013 Topps Series 2 Tom Seaver Proven Mettle Coin Wrought Iron PMC-TS 25/50
Topps Series 2 was nothing short of a colossal bust for me. Four jumbo boxes yielded one jersey card I could sell, three I couldn’t, one autograph I chose to keep, three I couldn’t give away, three manufactured material cards that brought in about $25, and this. With a going price of about $50 at the time I pulled it, this is the most valuable card I kept from a pack this year and the most valuable Mets card I have ever pulled from a pack. These coins are some of the best manufactured material Topps has ever produced. But this card is small consolation for an otherwise awful experience.
7. 2013 Topps Archives Tommy Lee Heavy Metal Autograph HMA-TL
Topps Archives throws in a few non-baseball items from time to time. This year, it was autographs from heavy metal stars. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long to find one; this Tommy Lee auto was the first autograph I pulled from Archives this year. While an interesting curiosity, these lose a bit of their appeal when they take the place of autographs from baseball players. Fan Favorites Autographs don’t bring in $30 though, so bring on the oddities.
8. 2013 Topps Heritage Matt Cain Mini 350 033/100
Here’s a good example of prices that make no sense. Ordinarily, a parallel card numbered to 100 wouldn’t be worth more than a couple of dollars for all but the hottest players. The mini cards in 2013 Topps Heritage though were selling for $20 or more for no real reason. I guess people just love hand-numbered mini parallels.
9. 2013 Topps Series 1 Josh Beckett Silk Collection 01/50
$31 may seem high for a Silk Collection card, but having another low-numbered Josh Beckett card up for sale at the same time probably inflated the price a bit.
10. 2013 Topps Series 1 Stan Musial Chasing History Relic CHR-SM
Stan Musial passed away shortly before 2013 Topps Series 1 was released. While it may seem a bit morbid, this helped sales of Musial items. At $30, this is the most I’ve gotten for a memorabilia card this year and is more than four times the selling price of any other memorabilia card I’ve pulled in the last two years except for last year’s Posey jumbo patch.
The Next 12
Occupying the $17.50-$30 range, there are plenty of familiar names from number 11 to number 22. Puig, Machado, Trout, Harper, etc. all have a spot here. Parallels, photo variations, and autographs dominate this slot and represent the best of the rest before we get to the manufactured material tier in the $5-$17.50 range. For comparison, this price range is about the same as the range for the 12 cards shown at the end of last year’s list, but those were five slots higher. Only seven of the top 22 cards counted as guaranteed hits in their products and most of those were rarer versions than would ordinarily be expected. Five of the 22 came from some form of redemption pack and weren’t even in any purchased product. That does it for 2013. This has been an interesting experiment for the last two years, but I’m not seeing enough of a return to justify these games of chance so much in the future.