This is the story of a hypocrite.
I have set behind my keyboard over and over again and complained, whined and moaned about virtually every move that Topps has made over the past two years. I’ve meant every word of it. When Topps rendered the 2012 Update Series impotent by failing to include the most prominent of the traded players, I wondered whether I could continue to collect the base set. Many of the collectors that I respect most have all but given up collecting new product. There’s a part of me that wants to join them in their boycott. It’s a large part, but sadly, it isn’t the strongest part.
As the launch date for Series One approached, I was terrified. I was terrified that Topps was going to include short printed cards of Jose Reyes photoshopped into a Blue Jays uniform, but numbered as a regular part of the set. I was terrified that Topps would overburden the product with endless parallels. I was terrified that Topps would continue to produce a series of mind-numbingly stupid inserts. The last two fears came true of course, but neither of those were my biggest fear. My biggest fear was that in the face of a new card release, I would break down and open my wallet. I was afraid that I would go online and purchase a jumbo box of Series One.
Naturally, my resolve broke, but only partially. I inquired about the price of a base set from the best of the case breakers online, and the price they came back with for a base set and a Braves master team set was so low I didn’t think I could say no. So I didn’t, and I ordered the set. Then, while waiting for my set, I decided to buy a single blaster so I could see it for myself. So, I had moved from thinking I wanted to boycott all of the Topps 2013 issues and settled on purchasing the sets I want from a case breaker. And the occasional pack or blaster from retail. In other words, it appears that I’m not boycotting Topps at all.
In the past, I’ve tended to purchase a jumbo box of each of the series. This would typically yield the entire base set, but would occasionally leave me a few cards short. I’d have a nice stack of doubles I could use as trade bait. I’d end up with some parallels, including the occasional Atlanta Brave. I’d get a decent start on any of the insert sets that captured my interest that year. I’d get two relic cards of players I didn’t collect. One of them was typically a manufactured relic which always struck me as silly. Finally, I’d get an autograph of a marginal player for a team I hated. Still, those relics and autos have been put to good use over the years as trade bait. I’ve always spent a smattering on retail as well each year for some additional trade bait and because, frankly, I just wanted to open some packs of cards. The typical jumbo box tended to cost me roughly a hundred dollars which means that there have been many years that I’ve spent in excess of three hundred dollars for the base set. For many years after my return to the hobby, I did this willingly and without issue.
Make no mistake, it was never truly worth the money. The base set is worth twenty to thirty dollars for each series. Nothing more. I was paying for the thrill and fun of opening the packs and having trade bait. I considered it worth it because I loved the cards. The funny thing is, at least in terms of design and photography, I think the base set is better than ever. It’s just never seemed less important to the manufacturer. There are more parallels. There are more insert sets. The entire focus of the sell sheet is on the hits. There is never more than a picture of two of the base cards. If the cards aren’t important to Topps then I don’t see how I can justify the asking price for unopened product. I want the cards I want, an obvious statement I guess, but I’ve found another way to get them. By purchasing them from a case breaker, I save myself tons of money and I get the cards I would have ended up with anyway.
I also lose a little bit of my enjoyment for the hobby. There are certain feelings I get as a collector that are simply the best. They can be almost transcendent. (Yes, I take card collecting far too seriously.) The first is sliding that last card into a binder page that has only had eight cards in it for years. The other is the anticipation of opening a new pack. I feel like Topps has robbed me of the first. I don’t mind opening the occasional blaster or a few packs here and there. I rarely regret it. (My blaster of 2013 Series One gave me the Chipper Jones Silk Rookie you see at the top of this post after all.) Outside of these small purchases though, the box opening experience always leaves me cold. With each pack, every aspect of the set I don’t care for seems to dominate the experience. Stacks of parallels and bad hits.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record and that’s fine. As many keep telling me, the hobby has passed me by. Opening a box should be viewed as “gambling” and I should know that when I lay out money. The product is designed for those that can afford to buy many cases and take the time to break them all for resell. Fair enough. The case breaker I deal with is a collector himself. He is exceedingly honest and fair and I have no qualms handing my money over to him. I do enjoy opening the box he sends me and placing the cards in a binder. I love to examine the photos and read the backs of each card before I slide it into place in its protective sheet. Buying a set will never match building a set in terms of pure enjoyment. It’s not bad though. Unless I’m prepared to quit new cards, then I have to settle for this.
This doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on set building either. Baseball card collecting has been around for some time now. There are always more sets. Base Topps has always been more focus, but I can expand in other directions. There are always older, vintage Topps sets that were released before I was born. There are sets that were released by other manufacturers, like Upper Deck. There are the more obscure sets, like the 1978 TCMA set that Hot Tamles mentioned in the comments of last week’s post. There are an endless number of sets to chase from the years. I may not be able to get that same feeling with new releases, but it’s still there for the taking.
So here I set, waiting for Brent and Becca to send me my 2013 Topps Heritage set. First, I’ll pull out all the Braves, lovingly examine them, scan them, and write up a post for next Sunday. Then, I’ll carefully put the Braves back into their numerical place in the set. I’ll pull a binder from a box, take the plastic off a new set of sheets, and fill them with my new set. It will be fun and will bring me a great deal of enjoyment. No, it won’t be as fun as all those years that I preordered three or four hobby boxes and anxiously awaited the UPS man. It won’t be as fun as sorting the cards myself and making up a want list and a list of my trade bait to post on my blog. It won’t be as fun as getting that missing card I needed in a package in the mail. That’s OK though. It’s still fun. For now anyway.
So, this hypocrite is done threatening to boycott new releases. I can still see the day that I might join many of my favorite “old time” collectors, but I’m not going to threaten that anymore. I’m also not going to stop complaining about what I see as the problems with the hobby as it exists today. I do care about card collecting and I want to see the hobby survive. I have my doubts. That said, I intend to take my fun where I can get it.