The Appalling 2012 Topps Update Series

Showing utter contempt for those that have collected their cards the longest, Topps fails with the appalling 2012 Topps Update Series.

I wanted to love 2012 Update Series. As a Braves fan, there’s a lot to like about the checklist. The premier card in the series is Andrelton Simmons’ first Topps base card. I wish they would chosen a better picture. Considering his defensive prowess, I think they could have found a better shot. They did use nice defensive shots of both Jack Wilson and Juan Francisco, but it seems strange that the shots of the two are nearly identical. Braves fans will be pleased that Ben Sheet made the checklist. His short but memorable run in the rotation is one of the season's highlights. His final inning on the season's last day is one of the greatest things I've witnessed in baseball. All of the cards feature the same excellent tight photography that Topps has nailed this year. Unfortunately, across 990 cards, a lot of the shots are starting to look identical. There’s certainly nothing here to top the Tim Hudson photo from Series 1.

Across all three series of the base sets, Topps has managed to cram in thirty different Braves players, and my hat’s off to them for that. The most obvious missing name is Luis Avilan, but it was down the stretch that he proved his value so I doubt he was ever on Topps radar. Hopefully he’ll be included next year. I was secretly hoping for one more Peter Moylan card as well. As a Braves collector, a J.C. Boscan card would be the ultimate. I’m not going to nitpick the checklist though. Topps did a great job including a lot of Braves and providing a good overview of the 2012 Braves. (I just hope they don’t undue the good by giving Lyle Overbay a Braves card in 2013 Series 1 and not Luis Avilan.)

As far as the set goes, I like the design. I love the photography. I hate the set. I need to rant.

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The first Topps Traded cards appeared in the sixth series of the 1972 set. They were seven cards featuring players that had already been included in the uniform of their previous tean in an earlier series. The new cards looked similar to the other cards in the set except that they included pictures of the players in their new uniforms. On the seven traded cards, the team name was not included on the top of the card. Additionally, Topps included a stamped black box with the word "traded" inside of it. These cards proved popular, largely because of the players involved. The cards included the first card of Steve Carlton in a Phillies uniform. The mini set also included two other Hall of Fame players in Frank Robinson and Joe Morgan. The set certainly wasn’t comprehensive at just seven cards, but they included the traded players that mattered most.

Traded cards would return in 1974 which was a strange year for Topps. For the first time, Topps decided to issue their entire base set in a single series of 660 cards. For the first time, the cards numbered at the end of the set were no rarer than those cards at the beginning of the set. In later production runs of the 1974 set, Topps added a 43 card traded set and included a checklist of just the traded cards. These cards weren’t very attractive since they included a large yellow box at the bottom of each picture with the word "TRADED". Additionally, most of the cards were not photographs of the players in their new uniform, but were close up pictures where the new team colors were airbrushed in, or on the ugliest of the cards, any team insignia was airbrushed away completely. The cards are not noticeably rarer than those in the base set and are an easy get.

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Topps would put a traded set into production again in 1976 and it was produced in the same manner as the 1974 set. Fortunately for collectors, the cards were far more attractive. Instead of an ugly "Traded" designation on the card, Topps used a fake newspaper headline advertising the trade. The airbrushing was still awful, but that was how Topps did things at the time. Even if the airbrushing was poorly executed, and even if the design was lacking in 1974, it wasn’t hard to see why collectors would love traded cards. Who wants to wait until next year to get a card of a player with his new team?

In 1981, Topps would again put a traded set into production. This time though, Topps would include a traded set on their release calendar every single season, with the exception of 1996, 1997 and 1998. The format of the traded card set changed in 1981 as well. The cards were now identical in design to cards in the base set. In addition to veteran traded players, the sets also included rookies who did not make the base set. Over the years the sets would be called by various names such as Topps Traded, Topps Traded & Rookies, Topps Updates and Highlights and the current Topps Update Series. When the traded sets first entered yearly production, they were issued as complete sets and would only be available at hobby stores. Over the years, Topps has distributed the cards both as retail and hobby complete sets, and have also released the cards in packs. Currently, the Update Series set is essentially a third series of the Topps base set released in the same fashion without a factory set of any kind available.

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I’m in the process of a never ending project. I’m attempting to collect every Topps base set released in my lifetime. As I’ve said before, the appeal of the Topps base set is that it works as a sort of mini-history of the game. If I want to relive the 1988 season, all I have to do is pull that binder off my shelf and turn through the pages. When Topps made the decision to introduce the traded set, it provided even more information I could learn about a season. When I leaf through the pages of my 1984 Topps binder, I remember that Pete Rose briefly played with the Montreal Expos before he returned to the Reds. When I leaf through my 1987 Topps binder, I’m reminded that the great Greg Maddux became a full time big leaguer in 1987. This project is my personal history of major league baseball.

Well, until 2012 Topps Update that is. Topps has decided that only a select few deserve to remember the big deals of 2012. Ten years from now, if I pull out my 2012 Topps binder, I will not find a single reminder of the Dodgers blockbuster trade in August. Those players have been placed on "SUPER SHORT PRINTED" cards. Do you want Adrian Gonzales? Well, you’d better have (at least) a hundred dollars ready to spend. The entire purpose of the Update Series, like the traded sets before it, is to showcase new players who didn’t get a card in the earlier series and to showcase players who have been traded. Here we have the biggest trade in recent baseball memory, and Topps doesn’t want you to own the card. The explanation is that the trade happened too late in August to make it to production. To say that explanation strains credibility would not be an exaggeration.

Five players involved in the epic Dodgers - Red Sox deal were given short printed cards in this year’s set. If we were to grant Topps a pass on these, how do they explain the Jim Thome and Kevin Youkilis cards? Jim Thome was traded from the Phillies to the Orioles at the end of June, yet Topps couldn’t be bothered to put him in Update Series this year as anything but as a super short print. Youk was traded to the White Sox a week earlier, but his only card in Topps Update picturing him in a White Sox uniform is a super short print. Thome’s card could have served as a reminder of the Orioles magnificent 2012 season.

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Why wouldn’t Topps want all collectors to have this Thome card? The answer here is simple. If you are one of those collector’s who likes to sit at a table and put an entire set in a binder, Topps simply does not care about you. As a consequence, Topps has simply stopped caring about the base set. I learned to live with the endless variations and gimmicks, because at least the base set itself is more or less intact. When Topps makes the insulting decision to checklist a short printed card, as they did with the Bryce Harper card 661 in Series 2 this year, I get past it by reminding myself that he will be included in Update, so my picture of the 2012 season would remain intact. That is no longer the case.

Topps real customers are not the Dad who buys his kid a pack of cards at Target anymore than it is the long term collector who picks up a hobby box from his local card shop. The real customers are the case breakers who buy dozens of cases, break them, and sell off the cards on eBay. They want more value so Topps short prints more and more cards and they include more and more variations. To make things worse, Topps won’t even reveal insertion ratios on these cards. If they did, and collectors knew exactly how rare these cards are, they could make informed decisions about the prices they are being asked to pay by the breakers. Topps would rather give their favorite customers, the case breakers, the ability to gouge collectors until the true insertion ratios can be determined.

If there were even the slightest bit of evidence that these gimmicks were working, I’d shut up. Instead, Topps is alienating the collectors that have been collecting and purchasing their product the longest. Ultimately, you can only add so many short printed cards and so many variations before the remaining collectors get too tired to care. Where will Topps be then? They have all but announced to the world that the base cards included in the set are irrelevant. If Topps doesn’t care, why should a collector?

Let’s not forget the role that MLB played in creating this mess. Giving Topps an exclusive license was an idea so stupid that my guess is it had to have been dreamed up by Bud Selig. In all my years of collecting, no set has left me as bitter as this one. I expect that to change once 2013 Topps Series 1 is released. I can’t wait to see what crap Topps will unleash on collectors next year.

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2012 Topps Update Series Braves Checklist

Thanks to Sports Card Radio for checklist information and Baseballcardpedia for the list of Silk inserts.

Base Set (includes the following parallels: Golden Memories, Blue, Gold, Black, Platinum, Wood and Printing Plates)

Silk Inserts

  • Matt Diaz
  • Jack Wilson

Blockbusters Insert Set

Blockbusters Commemorative Hat Logo Relics

  • BP–28 - John Smoltz

Golden Greats Inserts

  • GG–86 - John Smoltz
  • GG–98 - Warren Spahn

Golden Greats Autographs

  • GGA-JS - John Smoltz

Golden Greats Auto Relic

  • GGAR-JS - John Smoltz

Golden Moments Autographs

Golden Debut Autograph

  • GDA-TP - Tyler Pastornicky

Gold HOF Plaque Inserts

  • HOF-WS - Warren Spahn

Gold Engravings Reprint Cards

  • GER-HA - Hank Aaron

1987 Topps Style Mini Inserts

All-Star Stitches Relics

  • AS-CJ - Chipper Jones
  • AS-CRK - Craig Kimbrel
  • AS-DU - Dan Uggla

All-Star Jumbo Patch Relics

  • ASJP-CJ - Chipper Jones
  • ASJP-CRK - Craig Kimbrel
  • ASJP-DU - Dan Uggla

All-Star Stitches Autographs

  • ASAR-DU - Dan Uggla

General Manager Autographs

  • AGM-FW - Frank Wren

Golden Giveaway Code Cards

  • GGC–25 - Warren Spahn
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