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The Topps monopoly is leading to crappy baseball cards

Feb 9, 2012, 11:09 AM EDT

Skip Schumaker card

I used to be a major baseball card collector. I still have tens of thousands of them in the basement, but almost none of them are newer than, oh, 1990 or so. Just kind of lost the thread. Girls and stuff got more interesting for me in the late 80s. And then the companies all decided to come out with 27 different sets and special editions and things.  It was just too much pressure for a guy who prided himself on being something of a completist.

It’s a totally different baseball card world now than it was 20-25 years ago, but I have a lot of friends who have continued to collect. One of them is Cee Angi, the newest contributor to The Platoon Advantage.  But she, like several others I know, are poised to give it up.  The reason? The Topps monopoly is leading to crappy cards:

Ever since Topps monopoly began as the “Official Card of Major League Baseball” they have really jumped the shark on card quality, creativity, but especially photo-selection and editing. One would assume that the improvement of technology would lead to a better baseball card, but they seem to be on the decline at a rapid pace.

Cee hates the 2012 set. A lot of cards have pictures taken with obstructions and — inexcusably for a company that has the official imprimatur of Major League Baseball —  feature pictures taken through the screen behind home plate, with visible net.

The last time Topps let quality slide like this was in the late 70s and early 80s. It led to Fleer and Donruss getting in the game and cards becoming awesome for a good while.  Let’s hope that happens again.  Because the beauty of baseball cards, even in a digital age, is to bring us closer to the players and give us something that sitting in the stands and watching on TV just can’t do.

And the 2012 Topps set just doesn’t seem to be too interested in that.

  1. bloodysock - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    The cards are so crappy, the stats for the squirrel were not included on the back of the card.

    • hasbeen5 - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:41 AM

      But I think he shaved “F You” somewhere on his tail

      • cur68 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:53 PM

        That hairy tailed rat is GREEN in the picture. If that isn’t craptastic photography at work then my color perception is really going off.

  2. Matt Adams - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    I guess they could have just made the card with The Fonz jumping the shark

  3. dwrek5 - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    “And then the companies all decided to come out with 27 different sets and special editions and things.”

    Hit the nail on the head!!!

  4. contraryguy - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Printed media is dead. Isn’t there an app for this yet?

    • Tim OShenko - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      Digital technology may be able to provide an alternative to the cards, but they will never be able to replicate the taste and texture of those pink sticks of chewing gum.


      • contraryguy - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        Oh yeah… I actually liked the gum, probably in the minority there. Somewhere in the house I may still have some ancient wax packs with the gum in them, but if the bugs are smart enough to not touch it, maybe I’d best leave them alone too.

        I think the cards jumped the shark in the late 80’s with the Upper Decks and The Bowman series coming out… too many cards out there.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 9, 2012 at 4:13 PM

        Remember that weird set of Upper Deck cards they had ballplayers to different things? I have one of Tom Glavine playing hockey, and like, Paul O’Neill or Jose Canseco or somebody topless in a locker room. They were black & white, too – 1990 or 1991 thereabouts.

        Weird stuff.

  5. unsatisfiedmind - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I have a vast collection of cards from late 70s through mid 90s, and while the quality of cards with Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, etc… in the mix definitely increased, the value in collecting cards at that same time tanked because there was just much too much volume.

    I think that was the beginning of the end for the hobby of sports card collecting. Collectors of my generation who grew up in the era where cards became too plentiful and had no lasting value probably now don’t see any real value in sharing the hobby with their children. I’m keeping all of my cards to share with my son someday, but I don’t imagine we’ll ever start collecting anew.

    Cee is right, “[o]ne would assume that the improvement of technology would lead to a better baseball card…” but instead I think oversupply and advancing technology has rendered baseball cards obsolete. So while technology might make better cards, I doubt it makes much financial sense for Topps to invest in making them better, because I don’t think better cards would result in significantly better sales.

    • nategearhart - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:14 PM

      I personally think the beginning of the end was when we decided that cards were worth anything at all. They were best back when it was just kids having, trading, and playing with them with no care as to whether or not they’d be worth money someday.

      • - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:36 PM

        For me it was the combination of Collector Guy getting involved which lead to the the sky rocketing price, The 1994 Strike (as I look at my childhood collection it starts in the mid-80’s and stops at 1993), and that’s also the same time girls and other adolecent stuff entered my mind.

        I bought a few packs from the 2011 Topps Set just to see what cards looked like these days. Ehhh, I think I’ll spend that money on being a beer snob.

  6. thefalcon123 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    I stopped collecting around 1993/1994, mostly due to the dramatic rise in their cost. I done ‘member back when cards cost .44 cents in 90 and 91. Then they shot up to like $1.50 for pack of 12. Ludicrous!

    My main reason for collecting was because it was the only way to see baseball stats (outside of buying one of those mammoth books every year). It’s hard to imagine that I used to only be able to see full stat lines when they ran once a week in the sports section of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Now I get annoyed when it’s 10 am and baseballreference hasn’t updated all the player pages yet. What a dark, dark time for America….

  7. Francisco (FC) - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    Craig waited patiently sitting on his high chair, refilling his bubble pipe. Tiffany confirmed she received his package and promised to call. On his side table he had some rather unusual prototype baseball cards. The light on his chair blinked and he pressed it.

    In front of his fireplace, where the Phanatic rug rested, the Braves 1995 Championship Team picture recessed into his wall and a massive 71″ LED screen surged forward. The display lit up with a small inset picture of Tiffany. Surrounding her image where schematics and charts on the design of his baseball cards.

    “Hi Craig, I got the cards, I must say they are a bit… strange. I agree the market could use a change, but I’m puzzled by some these.”

    Craig immediately stood up and skipped closer to the display. Good thing his Brave’s bathrobe was tied securely! “My dear Tiffany, I realized that with the foul baseball card company monopolizing the market, innovation and creativeness have been stifled for more than decade. I sense an opportunity to bring baseball cards into the 21st Century. Using a lot of high tech.”

    He picked up a Roy Halladay prototype card: “As you can see it’s not just a card, it’s a very thin electronic device. Instead of just one picture of Roy Halladay, you get several ones as the card transitions them. On the back of the card, his stats are continuously updated through the internet… or will be once the season starts of course.”

    Tiffany raised an eyebrow. “That’s interesting Craig, but what’s wrong with this Roy Ozwalt card?”

    “Oh that! Until Ozwalt actually accepts an offer, the card computes the probability of signing with a team and fluctuates the pictures to possible team uniforms. Once it’s announced the card will settle on the final configuration.”

    She nodded uncertainly and held up another card: “Miguel Cabrera? What’s this BSOHL label on his card?”

    “The card keeps track of which ball player is in the Best Shape of His Life. We have a fellow Twins’ fan who keeps the database updated and the card reflects this accordingly. You should see the Jose Reyes one, fans have a choice between Dreadlocks and no Dreadlocks.”

    “All very interesting Craig, it’s certainly outlandish, but this kind of tech looks pricey. How much are each one of these going for?”

    Craig started to speak, held a finger up and then frowned. “That could be a problem, the best price I can come up with is $500…”

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      Feel free to offer ideas on what other features we can put on these baseball cards!

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:32 PM

        A WAR to Salary ratio as compared to Ryan Howard would be quite popular around these parts I reckon. 😉

      • hystoracle - Feb 9, 2012 at 1:55 PM

        Can you imagine how big that card would need to be to put all the Sabermetirc numbers of today on the back of the card? Batting Average, OPS, HRs, and ERA just don’t cut it anymore. All the WAR variants alone would fill the card.

      • Bryz - Feb 9, 2012 at 4:51 PM

        In that case, then the backside of the card would need to rotate among different stats as well.

        First would be the FanGraphs Dashboard, then the Standard, then the Advanced, then the Batted Ball, then the More Batted Ball, then the…

  8. aceshigh11 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    I still have my collection from the ’80s…mostly Topps, but also Donruss, Fleer and some Upper Deck.

    Good times, good times.

  9. Walk - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    The squirrel is scrappy.

    • El Bravo - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:42 PM


  10. acerob2002 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    I used to collect baseball cards as well, but I have never liked the topps cards. the Upper Deck cards have always been the best baseball cards, and to lose them last year was the last pack of cards I have purchased. I think mlb really dropped the ball with this one. they said that they did it to appeal to more of the younger generation, but even my card loving kids hate the topps cards.

  11. Jonny 5 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    This is exactly what happens when monopolies are allowed. The consumers get less than they deserve. It is what it is. MLB cares not of your fatuous baseball cards anyway. They thumb their nose at you and say, “Then buy our hats instead if you don’t like it.”

  12. thomas2727 - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Craig of all people with his legal background should know Fleer had a long legal case the finally led to them being able to produce baseball cards in 1981.

    Topps crappy quality was only a coincidence.

  13. xmatt0926x - Feb 9, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Like Craig, I’m a late 30’s child of the 80’s and that was the last of the golden age of baseball card collecting. It was great though. Going to a baseball card store was like entering heaven. Then there was always one dad in the neighborhood who had the real bigtime collection spanning several decades in his basement. All those rookie cards from the 60’s and 70’s!! Then as Craig said it went from 2 or 3 sets available at less than 50 cents a pack to 10 different sets at $1 or more a pack and my friends and I were done for good.

  14. yettyskills - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    If you collect cards from 1988 and beyond you’re throwing your money away.
    1987 was the last year sport cards had any real value, 1988 mass production took over.

  15. hpt150 - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    In the 2011 set, Topps didn’t even make cards for the following players: Matt Wieters, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Garland, Hideki Matsui, Craig Kimbrel’s regular Braves card (though they did make an All-Star card for him), and a few others. Their customer service is polite but incompetent and if I had more time, I’d take a photography course and put that company out of our collective misery. Unimpressive.

  16. greasebawl - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    I am a child of the 1970’s. The baseball card market changed somewhat in 1981 with Fleer and Donruss. Score came along a few years later. These collectors known as “speculators” ruined the hobby by putting outrageous prices on cards during the late 1980’s. It first started with Rookie cards and Error cards. Personally, I feel something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The atmosphere of Baseball card shows changed during this time of the late 1980’s. It went from young enthusiastic collectors to arrogant stuffy types. Upper Deck took the cake. This was the advent of the premium card. Packs were $1.50 and up. This took the 11 year old kid right out of the market. Damn shame that something cherished from my childhood was reduced to that.

    • Tyree Studio - Feb 9, 2012 at 5:50 PM

      agree 100%

  17. blurryvisi0n - Feb 9, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Reminds me of what EA sports has done with Madden Football, looks the same now as it did back in 2000.

  18. jason1214 - Feb 9, 2012 at 9:40 PM


    You said it brother, market disappeared due to expense of packs, and I agree 100% thanks Upper Deck. Card shows are non existent these days. I think another problem is the overproduction of cards also, the market got flooded late 80’s-early 90’s. MEMO to Topps, your cards blow this year.

  19. heckjeck - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    I’m 47 now, so it’s been 34 years of collecting for me. After selling cars and being a finance manager I met a girl who I couldn’t date…as she worked for the dealership…so I quit. (A few years later we married) I didn’t know what to do with my life and wanted some time off. So, I opened a baseball card store (Heckle & Jeckle Collectibles) with a friend in 1991. I bought him out in 1994 and yes, I’m still around.

    When I opened, there were 30+ shops in the Rochester, NY area. Now, there are 3 with a couple Mall stores that hawk knick knacks.

    When the Beanie Babie craze hit in 1993 I was buying and selling them in my store.

    I started carrying video games in 1997 and now, my 4000 sf store is probably 35% cards, 45% video games and the rest is toys, action figures, etc.

    In my opinion, it’s not the quality which has ruined collecting. It’s the fact that there’s too much “other” stuff for kids to do. In this electronic age, a kid (and many adults) would rather play a video game…and they collect them too. While I do carry some newer titles, I specialize in old school games like Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega, etc. I go back as far as Odyssey, Atari and Fairchild (yeah, look it up)

    Like us, today’s kids are buying and collecting what comprises their youth: video games.

    Sadly, these kids will not be able to tell stories of going to the corner store and popping some massive stick of stale gum in their mouth until the flavor passed…about 30 seconds worth. They will be telling stories of going to the game store and waiting in line for 2 hours for the new Killing game….and the 200+ hours it took them to beat it.

    Sad, but true.

  20. yahmule - Feb 13, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    Soulless speculators ruined baseball cards, comic books and when you get down to it, damn near everything else in this country.

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