In which I praise Topps for getting (some) things right
The evolution of the Bowman brand has been interesting lately. Since the last major redesign in 2012, Bowman has added ice parallels, wave refractors, and mini shimmer refractors, removed the First Bowman Card designation, added a new 1st Bowman designation, introduced Bowman Black autographs, confused collectors with 2013 Kris Bryant Bowman Chrome autographs in 2014 products, added wrapper redemptions, ended wrapper redemptions, dropped the pretense of a “base set” in Bowman Draft, and much, much more. After three years of incremental improvements, Topps reshuffled the deck in 2015 and brought order to an increasingly chaotic product.
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Changing up the base Topps formula
When it comes to base Topps, there hasn’t been much of a difference from year to year in a long time. Most of the elements of the flagship Topps products date back to at least 2012, some all the way back to 2001. It was time for a change.
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Contains more Mike Piazza than the Hall of Fame
When we last checked in with Topps revivals of decades past, we saw the unenthusiastic return of Stadium Club. With a generic format, terrible photography, and no standout cards, it looked like Topps had pushed the modern-retro thing just a bit too far. After all, the Major League cards in Archives were a huge hit, Gold Label returned in a classy, though limited, form, and Finest had one of its best designs in more than 20 years. Stadium Club seemed to show that Topps was out of ideas, but they didn’t stop there. Topps dug back into the turn of the century well for one of its shortest-lived but fondest-remembered experiments: Tek.
Topps Tek ran from just 1998 to 2000. In a departure from cardboard, Tek is an all-acetate product. Plastic cards? It’s an interesting novelty, but it wouldn’t last. The product’s unique hook was that each player is featured on a variety of different patterned backgrounds. The 1998 version, which featured John Olerud and Mike Piazza as Mets, had 90 different patterns for each player. The 1999 version (with Piazza), cut that to 30 but had two photograph variants for each player. 2000 (again Piazza) narrowed the checklist even more with just 20 different patterns, five each with four different photographs, the last five being colored pattern short prints. Tek was tailor-made for player collectors and made base cards relevant again. And then it was gone. The rise of autographs and memorabilia and the eventual emergence of parallels pushed quirky concepts like Tek aside. Those player sets were fun to chase but almost impossible to finish. Tek was a journey. 14 years later, the journey begins anew. Read more »
Something old, something new, something orange, and something, um, black?
Part of the Donruss legacy from the Playoff years was innovation and diversity in memorabilia. To date though, Panini has been a bit inconsistent in its memorabilia releases. This fall, Panini brought the Immaculate Collection brand to baseball and brought with it some of what made Playoff/Donruss great. It also brought some of what has become controversial in the hobby and, until now, has been largely unseen in baseball products.
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From the future of the hobby to flashback footnote
Back in 1991, the hobby was starting to respond to Upper Deck’s new quality standard and the growing demand for premium cards. Topps set a new standard with 1991 Stadium Club, one-upping Upper Deck with full-bleed photography and a new take on stats on the back. While 1991 Topps was still mired in the past, Stadium Club was the future. Two years later though, Upper Deck brought full-bleed photography to its base product while, along with Topps Finest and Fleer Flair, its new SP product helped to define the super premium category. Stadium Club meanwhile had grown stale and gimmicky, sticking around for another decade despite having been made redundant by an era of premium escalation that it had helped to usher in.
The Stadium Club brand would appear only briefly over the next decade with baseball, basketball, and football products in 2008 and a Triumvirate insert set in 2013 Archives. In 2014 though, Topps resurrected the brand that had been irrelevant for 20 years and tried to breathe new life into it. They just didn’t try very hard.
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May contain trace amounts of MLB players
Last year, Topps added a premium thick card product to the Bowman lineup in the form of Bowman Inception. Unlike the other Bowman products, Inception features autographs on thick card stock with a mostly matte finish. For the subject matter, Inception mixes a few token RC autos (to appease the MLBPA) with a mix of top prospects.
Inception’s Initial Offering
Which is how we wound up with this pairing: Jeurys Familia, the default Mets Rookie with autographs in everything, and Travis d’Arnaud, the top prospect received in the R.A. Dickey trade. This was d’Arnaud’s first Mets autograph, but otherwise there isn’t much notable here. The concept may have been new, but the generic ballpark sky background and the focus on established prospects and Rookies took away any sense of excitement. Would things be any different the second time around? Well, sort of.
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