Good Artists Copy, Topps just Steals

I never thought there would come a day that I’d be here defending Panini America, the worst baseball card manufacturer of all-time but it’s 2022 and that’s exactly what I’m tasked to do. As you know, Panini America struck hobby oil with their somewhat-rare ‘Downtown’ inserts that have been all the talk among collectors for the past couple of calendar years. I personally don’t understand the hype, but I love a good underdog story and clearly these inserts have that particular appeal.

Topps Company, saved on their deathbed by Fanatics, just released their historic flagship brand for the 2022 year and inside the extremely overproduced Series 1 you can find somewhat-rare ‘Home Field Advantage’ inserts, which are clearly a direct rip-off of Panini’s Hometown inserts. As you can imagine, Topps apologists are working overtime on social media defending Topps but in this case, there is absolutely nothing to defend. Topps, out of ideas for more than a decade, stole Panini’s idea.

Meanwhile, the star of the release, Wander Franco, has nabbed most of the spotlight. Currently, there are 11 of his cards on eBay with an asking price of $10,000 or more with 5 of them demanding $20,000+. A reminder that Franco is well under six feet and 200 lbs. and hit 7 home runs in 70 games. Baseball Reference is projecting a 10-home run season and a .279 average for 2022, that is if there is even a 2022 season. Those aren’t quite $20,000+ asking price numbers but a fool and his money ….

Credit where credit is due, 2022 Topps’ 1/1 die-cut sketches are absolute FIRE. So far only two have hit eBay but due to scarcity, don’t expect to find one under a thousand dollars. The Miguel Cabrera posted below has a $2,500 price tag, while a Wander Franco version has an outlandish $35,000 price tag. In my opinion, as a 32-year collector of baseball cards, these Topps die-cut sketches are the best cards they have produced in 10-15 years, if not longer. It’s a damn shame they are being overshadowed by the Hometown heist.

Topps’ (Fanatics) Rebirth

As you may have already heard, Fanatics purchased Topps Company on January 4th, 2022 for $500 million. Having previously secured the exclusive rights to NBA & NFL trading cards last year, this move by Fanatics almost guarantees the return of Topps Chrome Football & Basketball, as well as rookie-themed Bowman products for all three major sports. This is potentially a huge win for collectors as it brings back Topps Chrome Refractors to NFL & NBA collectors and also likely drives a steak through the heart, figuratively speaking, of Panini America. Read here to understand why this is GREAT. Thank you, Fanatics.

As most know, Topps introduced Chromium and Refractor technology way in 1993 with Finest Baseball. Finest and Topps absolutely changed the world of trading cards seemingly overnight. Finest’s debut put and end to the “Junk Wax” era in the same way Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album killed off hair metal. After Topps’ Refractors hit the market, nothing would ever be the same and I was dreading losing Topps’ wares after Fanatics took over. Now, I and millions of other collectors won’t need to worry. Fanatics has 70 years of traditions to fall back on and model its new products after.

Not long after the Fanatics/Topps deal was announced, a very special card hit my inbox. To be honest, it is a card I think about more than I’d like to admit. I originally wrote about this card way back in 2015 and have seen it hit auction sites a total of zero times since then. It is about as rare as cards can get with a print run that is to this day unknown. The card was produced by California-based, Signs & Glassworks, INC. in late 1992 or early 1993. There is actually a trademark which was filled in January of 1993 which you can find here. As you can imagine, there’s not much more information available.

The little bit of information that is available was passed on to me by a Dan Marino super collector who owned a copy and believed, take it with a grain of salt, that less than 10 were produced and that Signs & Glassworks’ owner, Craig G. Taylor, shopped his finished product to both Upper Deck & Topps but was met with little to no interest. What’s perhaps most fascinating is that Craig’s Chrome Marino card is titled ‘Football’s Finest’ and when Topps finally released their own Chrome product, they called it ‘Finest’. Could this be a case of ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal’?

Unfortunately, Signs & Glassworks INC. is no longer in business and Craig G. Taylor doesn’t have much of a public, online presence otherwise I’d probably spend an hour asking him fanboy-type questions about his meeting with card manufacturers, what went into creating the first chrome card, and much, much more. Here’s what I do know, Baseball Card Blog reader, Brian, owns one of these extremely rare cards and is the reason we have a much better picture to display today. Brian plans on getting the card authenticated and eventually selling it to someone who will appreciate its history.

Today, card manufacturers produce artificial scarcity. That “one of one” you pulled from a $500 hobby box has other copies with a slightly different printing variations on it and that particular player has anywhere from fifty to hundreds if not thousands of “one of one” cards. In 2022, there is nothing truly rare about a low-numbered card, a certified autograph, or even a game-used memorabilia card unless it is of a player that was active pre-1980. If you’re a modern collector, odds are your player will have an assembly line of all parallels, refractors, game-used relics, and autographs being produced in your entire lifetime.

This Dan Marino Football’s Finest prototype is something completely different. It is a card that had a hand in inspiring this hobby’s greatest innovation (Chrome + Refractors), one that was never meant to see the light of day by regular collectors, and was produced in very small quantities. Considering that it is now nearly three decades old, there’s a good chance that more than a few copies have been lost or tossed into a dumpster. Ultimately, that means that there is likely less than 10 surviving copies in the world. As of now, it will remain in Brian’s collection but who knows where it will ultimately land?

Are You Mentally Prepared for 2022 Topps?

35 days. That’s how long collectors have before we have an opportunity to examine what could very likely be Topps’ final, fully licensed flagship before Fanatics swoops in. Judging by some of the previews provided by Topps Company, it’s clear that we desperately needed a change. Aside from “reinventing the wheel” with fresh 1987 Topps throwbacks, there’s also a total of 15 parallels in this year’s flagship, guaranteeing that Topps’ overworked printers may finally be pushed to their breaking point this year.

As for 1987 Topps, just how many times is too many for one company to pay tribute to itself? I’ll give you this much, ’87 Topps’ design is as iconic as it is bland but at the end of the day it will always be seen through Junk Wax-tinted glasses. If anything, ’87 Topps helped pollute landfills all across this great country for the past three decades and yet here we are 35 years later continuing to print more of it into the millions as if we don’t have enough of it being recycled as it is. Mother Nature asks, “Am I a joke to you”?

The problem Topps has, well, one of their many problems, is that they are unable to generate anything that constitutes a memorable baseball card design, at least when it comes to their historic flagship brand. Simply take a look at their design below and ask yourself if this generic, community college graphic major design will be revered thirty years from today. Will kids who grew up on 2022 Topps look back fondly at Topps’ work the way we did Topps’ flagship designs from the 80s and 90s? No, of course not.

The reason we loved junk wax designs was because as kids in the 80s, we had nothing else. Comic books, magazines and sports cards were right at the top of our childhood activities, alongside 8-bit gaming consoles because we really had nothing else to do. The internet and new technology changed trading cards and made collecting obsolete, at least to kids. That’s why the hobby is filled with a bunch of grey-haired “Boomers”. Kids today want smart phones and PS5s, not $400 boxes of Bowman Chrome.

If Fanatics doesn’t buy up Topps Company, we may ultimately see the demise of generations of collectors who grew up on Topps in the 80s, 90s, and beyond. While very little is known about the future of Topps or even Fanatics’ plans for baseball cards, judging simply by the people who have been placed in charge at Fanatics, baseball cards as a hobby will not be a priority. What you can expect is more ultra-high-end products that cater to the older, gambling crowd and overproduced retail products for the millennial flippers.

One thing is for certain, if Fanatics doesn’t swallow Topps and their long history of brands, it won’t have any nostalgia to fall back on. Like it or not, nostalgia helps sell cards almost as much as the game-used memorabilia cards and the army of sparkly Refractors. Fanatics is going in with a blank slate, which may end up being their downfall. Or you know what? Maybe collectors need a brand new, Ultra-Pro page in their lives. Make no mistake, the world of baseball card will never be the same. How you take it, good or bad, is completely up to you.

To Live & Die with Nostalgia

It took Topps Company 49 weeks into 2021 to finally produce a nearly perfect baseball card product and here it is. 2021 Topps All-Star Rookie Cup is a Montgomery Club exclusive, 1 pack per box product. A box will run you $50 from Topps and a lot more once they start hitting dealers/flippers and on the secondary market. Those $50 will yield you 10 cards, including 1 base parallel/variation, 1 rookie cup variation, and best of all, one on-card certified autograph. During these times, this is what passes off as a great deal in the sports cards collecting world.

The autograph checklist is full of stars from today including Juan Soto, Mike Trout, and Ronald Acuna Jr. as well from years gone by like Jose Canseco, Manny Ramirez, and Andruw Jones. The main theme of the set appears to be a throwback to 1990 Topps, which has been done countless times but with a good price point and an impressive checklist, a re-hashed design can be forgiven. I do however find it quite shocking that one of the most god-awful Topps flagship designs of all-time (1990) has somehow aged like fine wine in this completely new era of collecting.

My question is just how many more times can Topps get away with running back to the well of Junk Wax era designs? It seems like this year more than any other, every single product featured a throwback insert of some kind. It’s gotten so prevalent that it seems like more than half of Topps’ efforts are spent chasing after old school collectors. Throwbacks can be fun, as we see with ’21 Topps Rookie Cup but just how many callbacks do we all accept before things start becoming kind of sad and depressing? Nostalgia brings us feelings of joy but at some point too much of it is just an excuse to live in the past.

I would like to see Topps attempt to create some iconic designs for the 2022 calendar year. That’s if they are even able to produce a full year of baseball cards. With an MLB work stoppage and Fanatics planning some big things in baseball cards, we could see Topps bow out of the baseball market even before the new exclusive deal takes effect. Hell, we may even see Fanatics purchase Topps next year and shut down production early to begin planning a 2023 relaunch. Right now, nothing is for certain so hang on to your butts and get ready for a hell of a show next year.

The Hobby Penny Pincher IV

In the Hobby Penny Pincher, I will be displaying a modern “hot autograph” available on the secondary market and then I’ll point you to a usually cheaper but just as beautiful alternative to help make your purchasing decision. I don’t use eBay affiliate links and have no way to make money off my work, it’s just a free service for those deep into collecting. I know at times in my collecting life I have been left disheartened due to price gouging and would hate to see someone walk away because they feel like they aren’t able to keep up with the Joneses.

Well, 2022 is lurking just around the corner but that hasn’t stopped Topps Company from pumping out one final baseball product for the calendar year. Allen & Ginter Chrome is now live, in demand and completely unnecessary. Allen & Ginter, a brand that was once a set collector’s dream that was known for being fun & quirky has descended into just another release dominated by Chrome/Refractor madness and chased by young flippers looking to make some quick money.

One of the bigger hits so far, available on eBay, is a wonderful Reggie Jackson Orange Refractor, on-card autograph numbered to 25 with a $999.99 price tag. Let the record show that not even one week ago, a 2021 Topps Finest Reggie Jackson autograph sold for $30.00 and most of his 2021 Topps autographs regularly sell for well under $100. Seems to me that the Allen & Ginter Chrome is a bit inflated at the moment. Thankfully, I have a much better Jackson autograph and unlike the Ginter Chrome, this one is HISTORIC.

Look, I have absolutely no idea why you’d even want a Reggie Jackson autograph. Perhaps he’s your uncle? Maybe he’s your stuck-up neighbor yelling at kids to stay off his freaking grass? There’s plenty of Reggie Jackson on-card, certified autographs available to choose from and like most of his 2021 checklist, you can find hundreds for under $100 if you are smart and patient. While there are many flashy versions that will include gimmicks, the one you really want comes from way back in 1990.

You see, Upper Deck, in only their second year, inserted Reggie Jackson certified autographs in packs of their flagship. Let that sink in for a moment … their SECOND YEAR. Meanwhile, Topps, as usual, asleep at the wheel, was still learning to use gold foil (read about their test run here). This Reggie Jackson card is not rare by any stretch of the imagination, but it is truly the FIRST pack-inserted, certified autograph to hit the market and truthfully, it is absolutely glorious in every way. Ungraded copies can be had for under $300, again with patience.

You will easily find flashier Reggie Jackson autographs featuring Refractor technology, low numbered serial printing, and even game-used memorabilia but nothing beats 1990’s Upper Deck REGGIE card. This was a time when Upper Deck was years ahead of its time and truly innovative in an industry full of lame ducks like Donruss, Fleer, Score, and Topps Company. Upper Deck’s reign wouldn’t last long, as Topps Refractors were just three years away but in 1990, there was no greater baseball card manufacturer.