What Is Missing From The Modern Baseball Card?

“For many of us who have been collecting for a period of time, we don’t see a need for “extra value”. The value is in the baseball card itself. The value isn’t related to the monetary. It’s a function of a love for the game and a love of the hobby. The history of both matter a great deal to those like us.

It seems silly and we are often dismissed as relics of a bygone time. Worse yet, they question why we collect when we so clearly hate the hobby. That’s an accusation that I find ridiculous. I love baseball cards, old and new. I simply wish Topps has more faith in the card themselves.

I will not be dismissed by fellow collectors, manufacturers or the hobby press simply because I think a simple base card is worthwhile. I can respect the opinions of those who disagree with me, but in the long run, collectors like myself will be proven right. You can only add so much “value” to a product until it is bursting at the seams. You can only go so far. If steps aren’t taken now to restore the base card and the base set to prominence, then the base set will have to go away. It simply won’t be able to survive”

The few lines above come from Chris Mays latest article ‘The Collecting Season Begins’ over at Talking Chop. While primarily a review of 2013 Topps Series 1 he also spends some time pondering what Topps’ flagship Baseball set means in this modern collecting age.

My wife spent a few days in hospital recently with some bizarre blood clotting ailment (don’t be concerned, it turned out to be kidney stones and she’s on the road to a full recovery) but I spent the few nights I had as a single parent thinking about new articles for the blog, which in turn led me start thinking (again) about the nature of collecting and why we all do it!

Then along comes Chris’ article which gave me more food for thought and pointed me in a different direction entirely.

Off the bat – I love Baseball and I love Baseball cards! But above all else I love collecting. I’m a hoarder, always have been and I guess I always will be. My eldest daughter is already exhibiting signs of this behaviour as well with her inability to part with anything that she’s accrued in so far her short life, much to the exasperation of my wife.

Since I was a Baseball fan long before I was a Baseball card collector it seemed a natural part of my ‘collecting evolution’ that I would gravitate towards Baseball cards as a hobby, and in the early days of collecting Baseball cards (late 90’s/early 00’s) I got a real kick out of it.

After returning to the hobby two years ago after a self-imposed exile, I’ve found that I’ve not quite managed to re-kindle that same love and adoration that I had for Baseball cards during the period when I first collected them. And it’s not until now that I’ve asked myself why this is…

It’s a given that I’ve changed as a person over the last decade. While being away from the Hobby I’ve become a father twice over; gotten married; changed jobs; moved house; and taken on a barrel load of extra responsibilities that come with managing these aspects of my life. There’s also the issue of not having as much money as I used to to spend on cards as I had 10 years ago, but I can live with that! I’ve found that since starting this blog the whole exercise has become a cathartic experience for me, and I’m enjoying writing about cards as much as I have collecting them.

So, it’s entirely possible that the changes in my personal life have affected the way I see the Hobby now, but I know deep down that isn’t the full reason…

I’ve often felt quite bitter about the fact that I didn’t grow up with Baseball cards like so many of you over in the US and Canada have. I’d even go so far to say that I’m quite jealous that I don’t have those childhood stories of the thrill of opening wax packs back in the 70’s and 80’s, welling up with excitement at the prospect of what treasures lay within. Hoping to pull a card of your favourite player or team… Sadly that’s something I’ll never have, but it doesn’t stop me resenting the fact that I could have been doing it if not for a quirk of geographical fate that saw me born over 3,000 miles away from the epicentre of the Baseball card collecting world… Goddamnit!!

But I’ll get over it one day 🙂

It’s important to point out at this stage that I have a great affinity for the cards that Topps produces today. I constantly see comments in a variety of different media that discuss why Topps’ monopoly on the Baseball card market is bad for Baseball cards and collectors in general. On the whole I feel Topps gives us some beautifully designed cards! There are some missteps along the way every now and again (National Chicle… anyone?) but generally it’s difficult to argue with the look and feel of some of the cards that get released (occasional chipping issues aside). I do think that a single company having pretty much complete control over our collecting habits is concerning, and I know that there are non-licensed products out there as well, but let’s face it, when we talk Baseball cards we’re talking Topps!!

But for me the problem is – will anyone else do things differently? If Topps lose their monopoly on the Baseball card market when their exclusive contract with MLB finally expires, will anyone else step in and do things any better? I fear that Topps has set the template over the last few years and that it will be difficult for other companies to come along and produce Baseball cards without trying to copy and emulate Topps’ success in the marketplace… Which will probably mean much of the same in terms of design and content, just more products to choose from.

So is it Topps’ fault that I feel that there’s something missing from modern Baseball cards?

Moving on from this for a few moments, another thing that struck me about the collecting ‘scene’ since my return, and that’s to do with how Baseball cards are viewed within the Hobby. Chris touches on the point that the ‘value’ of a card should be in the card itself and that it should be derived from “a love for the game and a love of the hobby”. This is spot on, but unfortunately I feel that this is an attitude that is now missing (and probably has been for some time) from the Hobby, and that when we talk about ‘value’ nowadays, primarily it’s in fiscal terms. When we discuss a card’s ‘worth’ we don’t look at what it means for the individual to own and cherish a Baseball card, instead we concentrate on what he ‘should’ get for it on eBay!

It’s now more obvious than ever that Baseball cards have become commodities to be sold to the highest bidder. I’m convinced that the Hobby is breeding a generation of collectors who are only interested in the next big ‘hit’ – individuals who only see the ‘value’ and ‘worth’ in a box of cards in terms of what monetary return they can get from busting it open and scavenging through it for the one big score that will enable them to make double or triple what they originally spent in the first place!

While I accept that collecting habits and trends change over time, a lot of the responsibility must lie with Topps for fostering an environment that allows this to happen. Box hits!! Case hits!! This is where it’s all at!! Topps says that this is all done for the collectors but I can’t help  feel that the collectors are the only one’s who are getting shafted!! Not all of us who aren’t dealers can afford to break cases or even the odd box of high-end product, such as 5-Star or Museum Collection, in the hoping of hitting a book card or a bat knob! Instead we end up watching the box breaks on YouTube, which is often the worst thing to do as these videos often tend to propagate the myth that we can all get the big hit if we spend enough money on sealed boxes!

So where does that bring us? What’s the niggling little thing at the back of my mind that has me questioning what’s wrong with modern cards??

Well, the only way I can put this is that it feels like modern cards have no ‘soul’!

They have no substance, no gravitas to them. I know that this sounds a pretty abstract concept, but I can’t think of a better way of putting it! Modern Baseball cards feel empty somehow, and I feel that this has led to an empty collecting experience for me over the last couple of years…

I’m not talking about Bowman products, as they are geared to and designed around the future of the game. I don’t mean the retro sets either, like A&G, Gypsy Queen and Archives, as these are merely ‘gimmick’ products, an alternate way of spinning a modern Baseball card set through the use of nostalgia and history.

Nope… Most of the issues I have are with the main Topps set. This is the set that should stand head and shoulders over everything else Topps produces, the yardstick by which all other sets should be measured. It should be treated reverentially… with respect! It’s been around long enough and I, along with many others, feel that it’s earned it.

I came into this years Topps set with a huge degree of indifference. What does it say about a mainstream Baseball product where the only thing I’m interested in as a collector is an insert set of mini cards based upon a classic Topps design from 1972?

As Chris points out in his article, there are a possible 10 different parallels of the same base card!!! 10!?!?! Why the hell do we need 10 parallels of the same card??!?! This is insane! Then figure in all the manufactured inserts as well… What value are these adding to an already full check-list?

What Topps has given us so far in 2013 is too much!! Too many inserts – Too many parallels – Too much variation!! Please understand that collectors aren’t necessarily calling out for anything extra. Sometimes it’s good to scale back a little, to go for a more minimalist approach. Even this years Topps Heritage looks as if it’s groaning under the weight of too many extras. Once a great product, the Heritage brand is now in danger of becoming the retro equivalent of the Topps base set!

How far can this all possibly go? How much ‘extra’ can we be given before the whole collecting experience becomes vacuous and worthless?

Looking back I don’t think it’s any surprise that the last great Baseball card set produced (in my humble opinion, of course) was the inaugural 2001 Topps Heritage set, a stripped back, almost carbon copy, in terms of size and structure to a set that was released almost 50 years earlier!


It’s like I said… I love Baseball cards. I love the history of Baseball cards! I love what Baseball cards mean to collectors and what they mean to the sport that figuratively gave birth to them!

So for this reason I’ve decided to take a step back from collecting again for a while…

I’ll still be writing the blog as usual, and I’ll still be picking up the odd blaster or box every now and again for reviewing purposes (I still love bustin’ me some wax!! :)). I just won’t be going after anything specific to collect on a regular basis. It’s not to say that I won’t pick up the odd card every now and then if something jumps out at me. I just need to step back and concentrate on what’s important to me and to refocus on the reason why I started collecting these cards in the first place.

Oddly enough, when I look back to the time when I first started collecting Baseball cards, to the time when I was all fired up and excited about collecting, the only thing I picked up back then was vintage Topps. I don’t know if that says more about me or more about the current state of modern Baseball cards…


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