The 420 Dollar Baseball Card Gamble

2012 Topps Five Star Baseball is live. It's one of the most ambitious high-end baseball products that Topps has released to date. Is the gamble worth the reward?

I’m not one for gambling on baseball cards. I’ve tried it a few times and it always turned out badly. I can still remember trading a 1985 Donruss set for several hundred Gregg Jeffries rookie cards. I still haven’t re-completed by 1985 Donruss set and those Jeffries cards aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. I also bought a box of Triple Threads when I first got back into collecting. I was flush with cash, but not a lot of brains. I was fooled looking at the pictures of the big hits possible in Beckett. Two hundred plus dollars later I had a triple patch card of Scott Stokes that I can’t unload on anyone.

2012 Topps Five Star Baseball might just be the ultimate gamble. Right now, a box sells for around four-hundred and twenty dollars. That will get you a single pack with only six cards. What will the gamble get you? According to the Topps sell sheet for the product, this is what you will get:

  • 1 Base Card
  • 1 Autograph Card of an Active Player
  • 1 Autograph Card of a Retired Player
  • 1 Autographed Relic
  • 1 Autographed Book or Autograph
  • 1 Jumbo Jersey Relic, Patch, Bat Plate or Bat Knob

The sell sheet is rife with pictures of beautiful cards. You could pull Sandy Koufax or Hank Aaron as your retired player autograph! You could get an autographed relic by rookie phenom Bryce Harper! You could get an ultra-amazing, 1 of 1, spectacular Babe Ruth cut autograph as your autograph book! Your jumbo relic could be a Lou Gehrig name plate from an actual, game used Lou Gehrig bat! Each of these cards is beautiful and worthy of the hype. (Well, except for the Harper card. That’s a clown card bro.) You might even pull the Aaron or the Koufax. (It should be noted that, unlike the cards pictured on the sell sheet, these cards seem to have almost universally rough edges. This is being attributed to amount of handling they go through as hard signed material. As always with Topps, there are also a number of redemptions, but these seem to have been kept to a minimum for a change.)

Aaron_freeman_large

Let’s break the product down and see which cards will appeal the most to Braves fans.

The base cards are a surprise to me since they weren’t mentioned on the sell sheet. There are 80 cards on the base set and each is serially numbered to 80. The checklist features both retired and active players. I suppose these cards could be considered “added value”, but they will be of little interest to Braves collectors. Why? Well, of the 80 players on the base card checklist, there isn’t a single card of a single player for the Atlanta Braves. There is no Hank Aaron or Dale Murphy. There is no Warren Spahn or Eddie Mathews. There is no Chipper Jones or Jason Heyward. I can’t decide if this angers me or if I’m grateful. No Braves base cards means I won’t spend a penny on them. The cards have been selling in the three to thirty-five dollar range.

The active player autographs include a slew of different cards, and frankly, I’m having trouble keeping track of all the cards available. They are available as a regular autograph and as rainbow parallels. There are also quotable autographs where the player includes a brief inscription along with the autograph. Braves autograph subjects include Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla. The Heyward has been selling in the twenty to thirty dollar range. The Chipper has varied widely from the fifties to over a hundred. The Uggla can be had for around fifteen bucks. The Braves weren’t included in the quotable autograph checklist. (There is also a special Freddie Freeman silver ink autograph, numbered to 99, included in the product that has been selling around twenty-five. There’s also a gold ink parallel numbered to five but I haven’t seen one on sale yet.)

The retired player autographs are available in similar configurations as the active players and also include some notable Braves. The regular retired player autographs and rainbow parallels include Dale Murphy, John Smoltz and the great Hank Aaron. The Aaron can be had in the one-hundred and fifty dollar range. The Smoltz has been selling at around thirty dollars while the Murphy card is going for twenty. Each of these seem like a good value. Both Dale Murphy and John Smoltz are included in the quotable cards as well but I don’t have selling prices. Murphy inscribed his card with his MVP years and Smoltz kept his simple with a “96 Cy” inscription. There’s also a Dale Murphy silver ink autograph available and selling for only slightly more than his regular autograph card. Additionally, Terry Pendleton has signed a silver ink autograph that is selling for less than twenty bucks.

Murphyanduggla_large

There are numerous beautiful Braves autographed relics in the set as well. The best of these is the Hank Aaron bat relic autograph that has been selling in the two-hundred and fifty to four-hundred dollar range. Chipper Jones’ auto-relic includes a jersey swatch and, like his regular autograph, is selling at widely varied prices. One individual has it up as a Buy it Now item on Ebay for 72 dollars but more often than not, it has been selling for one-hundred fifty dollars, occasionally a bit more. Dan Uggla also has an auto-relic available which is selling in the twenty dollar or less range.

As is common in most high end products, there are also numerous cards featuring multiple player signatures and/or relics to be had. Many of these feature multiple Braves, but they are rarely up for long on eBay. If you see one that you want, I’d suggest buying it immediately if the price is to your liking. You can search for Braves names in the checklist at baseballcardpedia.com, but I’ve seen items on eBay not included here.

There’s certainly a lot of individual cards to like as a Braves fan. The Aaron cards and Chipper cards are the highlight of course, and Heyward is always a worthy autograph subject. In fact, when compared to other players of his caliber, Heyward’s autographs appeared to be under-valued. The re-emergence of Dale Murphy and John Smoltz throughout the Topps products this year has been a welcome occurrence. Next year, I wish Topps would work on getting Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine back on the checklist, as Braves of course. On the other hand, I wish has found someone other than Dan Uggla to feature so prominently. If they were looking for a Brave whose cards would be valued lower, I would have liked to see them go after Tim Hudson rather than Uggla. Additionally, I can’t believe that Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been featured more prominently among this year’s rookie class. Hopefully, Topps has plans to correct that oversight next year.

So, 2012 Topps Five Star looks to be the high end hit of the season. If the product isn’t to your tastes, you should know, these are the types of products that Topps cares about now. Elements of Five Star will find their way back into the mid-end and low-end sets. Topps is all about the “hits” and every other cards is just in the way. In the sell sheet for 2013 Topps Series 1, they say the following:

Card-collecting is also about the chase – for the Rookie card, for the autograph, for the white whale.

Do you notice what’s missing? Sets. They don’t mention chasing sets with the most important product on Topps calendar and the single most popular set collected each year. If you are a high end collector, an autograph collector, a player collector or even a team collector, this is your world. Anyone else, no matter how long or how passionately you’ve collected, you’re just an old guy to be mocked by Topps and their Beckett toadies.

Chipperandtp_large

This product deserves to be judged on its own merits though, and not filtered through my biases. Let it be said that despite some glaring flaws (card damage in a high end set, really?), 2012 Topps Five Star is an excellent high-end baseball card product. It’s hard to recommend to someone who wants to purchase a single box, but if you have four hundred dollars to spend on Five Star, and you see cards you want, you should be able to find them affordably on eBay. Good luck.

(Next week, no complaining about Topps. I promise. Maybe.)

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