The Collecting Season Begins

A rainbow of Jason Heyward 2013 baseball cards.

What does 2013 Topps Series One have to offer for Braves fans, player collectors, and set builders?

The first quirk to be noticed in 2013 Topps Series One, which has been available for nearly two weeks now, is that there is no card number 7. In recent years, Topps has included Mickey Mantle in their base set on card number seven. It would seem that their contract with the Mantle family has expired and for 2013, there is no Mantle card at number seven. In a rather classy move, Topps has retired card number 7. While we can debate endlessly rather Mantle is the one and only player who should be accorded such respect by Topps, it is, more than anything, an acknowledgement of the influence and popularity of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card. It remains the gold standard of the modern baseball card and it is the most important and enduring symbol of Topps manufacturing history.

It goes without saying that no baseball card released in recent years by Topps will ever achieve a level of importance that even begins to approach that of the 1952 Mantle. A number of fortunate (or, unfortunate, depending upon your point of view) circumstances led to the scarcity of the rookie card of the man who was arguably baseball's most popular player for almost two decades. The only scarcity in today's Topps base set is of the artificial variety. Cards that are intentionally manufactured at low volume to increase interest and add "value" to the product. There's little doubt that if you hit upon one of these rare cards that you'll make a little money off them. Unfortunately, recent history suggests that these cards will never rise much higher than the price they fetch now.

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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 2013 Topps base set is of a piece with all of the recent base sets from Topps. The set is 330 cards with the usual assortment of veterans and rookies. There are numerous inserts and such. The design is very well done and tasteful. In particular, I like the use to the cap logos rather than the standard team logos. My only design complaints are minor. (I would like to see the player's position returned to the front of the card and I would love to see all foil vanish from the base set until the end of time.) As with the 2012 set, the design is simply a vehicle to frame great photography. The 2013 set shows that the photography in the 2012 set was not a fluke. They have perfected the art of the close up candid and of the tight action shot. Some of the photographs are simply astonishing.

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Of course, the clean design and the great photography masks the monotony that is becoming a deep problem for the base set. Each years set varies little form the set before it. Even the candid and action shots start to blend together after a while. A posed shot is not an evil and would help break up the set a little bit. It would be nice to see Topps change the composition of the set for a change. Why does each year's base set have to be served up in the same three series of 330 cards? Why are these three series comprised of virtually the same cards year after year? One more thing: the monotony only increases as the collecting year moves forward. The Series One design will also be seen in Series Two, Update Series, Pro Debut, Opening Day and Topps Chrome. Even the best designs in recent years start to look a little tired by October. It looks as if Topps puts little to no thought into base set beyond the design itself. It would mean a great deal to collectors if Topps would just start to change things up a bit each year.

One rather pleasant surprise in Series One so far is the lack of unannounced super short-printed cards, a staple of recent Topps base sets. In 2012, Topps included an early card of Jose Reyes in a Marlins uniform as a short print in Series One. This year, they've airbrushed Reyes into his Blue Jays uniform and simply included the card in the set. This is a hugely positive choice. Of course, there are still short printed variation cards, but this year, Topps actually released the list when the set hit the streets. The theme for this year's variations is "Out of Bounds" and the cards feature shots of the players going into the stands or the dugouts or the photographers area after a baseball. The cards are, in of themselves, fine. The problem is that there are other base cards with similar shots that are not variations. That sort of removes the "specialness" of the SP variations does it not? (You can see the Freddie Freeman SP card in the photographs.) Ultimately, this would have been a perfect idea for an insert set. Even including them on the base card design is fine. What I question is why they have to be checklisted alongside the base card? I know that the screams of "integrity of the base set" are falling on increasingly deaf ears, but that doesn't mean we are wrong.

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So, if you want to put this set together, how should you go about it? Here are the options I see:

  1. You can buy retail pack after retail pack until you are close, then trade and purchase the remaining individual cards you need.
  2. You can spend fifty dollars on a hobby box and then buy a few retails packs, and again trade or purchase the remaining cards you need.
  3. You can spend a hundred dollars on a jumbo hobby box and walk away with the base set (or at worse, a card or two short) as well as a few "hits" that won't even come close to returning the amount you paid for the box.
  4. You can let other people open tons of the product and purchase the base set for twenty bucks on eBay from a case breaker.

If you say that the first three options sound like the most fun, I won't disagree with you. Honestly, any of the three options are within reach of my card buying budget. Still, I encourage you to think about what your goal is in collecting. If the opening of loose packs is the goal itself, then spend away. If the goal is to get the base set, just buy it. You can use the money you save to track down and purchase the hits you want rather than walking away with whatever reject Topps dropped into your box. If you have the urge to open a few packs, by all means, head to the store and buy a pack or three. I just recommend that collectors leave the opening of new product to those who can afford to buy in bulk. (One word of warning, if you are someone who likes to collect a master set each year, a base set plus all of the regular insert sets, then the 2013 set should be a difficult and potentially expensive acquisition. Each insert set is not being seeded at the same rate as past years due to the shear number of inserts this year. Some case breakers are having difficulties building the master sets they pre-sold based on previous years.)

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For player collectors, new Topps base sets continue to be a bonanza of numerous new cards. Even players whose careers have ended have numerous cards. Are you a David Justice fan? He has an autograph this year. There are Dale Murphy relics. Chipper Jones might not receive a 2013 Topps base card, but he's got relic and insert cards. Hank Aaron continued to be featured prominently in the set. If you prefer current players, there are the usual non-sensical insert sets (the best of which this year are the minis done in the style of 1972 Topps) and more parallels than could possible be rational. According to baseballcardpedia.com, for every card in the base set, you can, theoretically, acquire the following variations:

  1. Emerald Foil (Inserted one in every six wax packs)
  2. Gold (serial numbered to 2013)
  3. Desert Camouflage (serial numbered to 99)
  4. Black (serial numbered to 62)
  5. Pink (serial numbered to 50)
  6. Platinum (serial numbered to 1)
  7. Printing Plates (4 for each card)
  8. Red (from Target retail packs only)
  9. Blue (from Wal Mart retail packs only)
  10. Purple (from Toys R Us retail packs only)

Sure, I would argue that this is far more parallels than is wise, but it does give a player collector plenty of cards to run down. You can see a mini Jason Heyward rainbow at the top of the post.

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For Braves collectors, the base set checklist is fairly basic. Only eight Braves appear on the checklist, which means Series 2 should be good to Braves fans. (Don't be alarmed by any preliminary Series 2 checklists you see floating around.) Dan Uggla continues to find himself in the insert sets despite his disappointing performance on the field. Tom Glavine returns to Topps this year joining his long time teammate John Smoltz on the checklist. The usual suspects have relic cards and the David Justice autograph is available seemingly everywhere on eBay, often for just ten bucks. Justin Upton appears in the set with Arizona, which means he probably won't receive his first Braves base card until Update Series. Since BJ Upton didn't appear in Series 1, his first Braves base card will likely appear in Series 2. In other words, the cards that most Braves fans are eagerly awaiting won't be released until later in the season.

So, that's a lot of words wasted on a not-exactly comprehensive overview of 2013 Topps Series One. Basically, if you like the current direction of the hobby, you'll love 2013 Topps. If you don't, you won't. In other words, Topps is holding steady.

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2013 Topps Series 1 Braves Mini Checklist

You can find more complete checklists at baseballcardpedia.com and Sports Card Radio.

Base Set

  • 46 Craig Kimbrel
  • 105 Freddie Freeman
  • 115 Tim Hudson
  • 116 Brian McCann
  • 126 Dan Uggla
  • 201 Jonny Venters
  • 222 Jason Heyward
  • 257 Mike Minor

1972 Mini Inserts

  • 7 Craig Kimbrel
  • 8 Dan Uggla

The Greats Inserts

  • 11 John Smoltz
  • 17 Chipper Jones
  • 20 Tom Glavine
  • 22 Hank Aaron

Chasing History Inserts

  • 26 Chipper Jones
  • 31 Warren Spahn
  • 35 Hank Aaron

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