While I certainly agree with Gellman's last post about the Top 5 best reasons and worst reasons to get into the hobby, I have a couple of my own nits to pick with our hobby, and while I think it's terribly uncouth to ride his coat-tails - so I won't - I have to get this off my chest.
When I started collecting sports cards there was ONE company producing product, Topps. If you were lucky you got a nice big base set each year and maybe a traded set (though that didn't really take off until there Fleer and Donruss started producing sets). Even by 1989 when Topps, Donruss and Fleer were joined by Upper Deck each company only produced one big set, with maybe an odd-ball set here and there. For some reason I always thought that Stadium Club was the first major "second" set from a company, but then I did a little research and remembered that Donruss' Leaf was the first time a manufacturer brought out a second major set in a single year. Why I had forgotten I don't know, especially since the 1990 Leaf set was (and still is) highly desirable. I know there's a 1990 Bowman set from Topps too, but that doesn't count since the cards were not standard size.
The 90's were known for the incredible amount of product unleashed on the populace, with a record number of card manufacturers making a record number of sets, there's still unopened CASES of product that flooded the market. One would think that the attrition rate for card companies in the new Millenium would point the way for the survivors to create a new paradigm with the amount, size and scheduling of the sets that they produce, but nope, you'd be terribly wrong.
For the 2008 Baseball Season Upper Deck has already released SIX major sets, and the year isn't even half way finished. Let's look at each set released so far:
Upper Deck 2008 Baseball (Series 1 and 2) - Technically two releases, but since they're named "Series 1" and "Series 2" I'll treat them as the same set. Now this is what you call a "base" brand, a label that UD treats with continuity from season to season. Unless they decide to add a series 3, it will round out at 800 base cards plus so many inserts I can't count. The set itself doesn't have a whole lot of thrills, a very basic checklist with a lot of veterans and stars, a smattering of prospects, and a nice series of "season highlights" spotlighting memorable moments from the 2007 season. These are the kind of sets we collected 20 years ago. The inserted relic cards aren't really anything to write home about, though they did try to do something special by printing new jersey cards in the 1997, 1998 and 1999 style of inserts. Sure there are autographs and other serial numbered inserts as well, but they are nothing to write home about.
Upper Deck 2008 First Edition - These cards as your "entry level" packs, they retail for a buck or two and are very, very light on the inserts. While the above series 1 boxes have 33 different inserts (including 5 different "StarQuest" set colors) First has only ONE insert. If you want an easy set to put together, this is it. The cards are also fairly uninspired, being unglossed and unfoiled versions of the standard UD set. The only difference is the lower number of cards (300 versus 800) and the card numbers themselves. I like this design better though, because you can actually read the player's name and team on the card.
UD Premier - This is one of those ultra-expensive sets, where packs cost $200+ and you get pretty much 7 "hits" in each pack. For that price, you'd better. If I'm not mistaken every single card in this set is serial numbered, and being an early release, this set had the first major rookie autographs and relics. This is one of those sets that makes me glad that eBay exists, because while I'll never be able to afford a single pack of this product, I've purchased two singles on the auction site. Of course this is also the set with the now infamous "Stitching Patches" which while they are very, very nice, don't even come close to qualifying as a "game used" relic.
Spectrum - I have no idea why this set was produced, other than to empty the wallets of collectors. A 100 card base set provides only three or four cards per team, and while all the "biggies" are in the set (Ichiro, Arod, Vlad, etc) the base checklist leaves much to be desired. In fact I don't see any RCs in the base set at all, though I'm sure I'm just missing someone. The biggest insert set looks like the Derek Jeter Retrospectrum set of 100 moments in Jeter's career. Nice, but I'm not a Yankees fan, and the UD focus on the Yankees this year is starting to border on overload. Oh, did I mention the FIVE parallel versions of the regular cards? Sure it's a very pretty product with it's shiney foil covered front, and there's oodles of relics and autos to pull (you're supposed to pull four hits per box), but please, was this product necessary?
Upper Deck SPX - When it was first introduced SPX wasn't a "super-premium" brand, just a premium brand, and thus still occasionally affordable. Now it's a 3 card pack that costs $20. Sure, one of those three is a guaranteed auto or relic, but a lot of those hits are really, really bland. Even though most of the hits are numbered to 25 or less, there's so many of them out there that it really doesn't matter that there's only 25 versions of any specific card, because in reality that same card has about six or seven different variations. This set is great for cherry pickers on eBay, because who wants to spend the money for a pack or box, when all the singles end up on eBay anyway?
Legendary Cuts - The brand of the moment because of the Topps lawsuit is yet another super-premium pack of three cards. Again, I just don't see the purpose of this set other than to flood the market with more relics that aren't worth the cardboard they're printed upon. I'm sure that the HOFer collectors will be salivating over the disputed legends cut sigs, but I can't say that I'm excited. I thought it would have been more interesting if Topps had succeeded with their lawsuit and gotten a court order that barred UD from releasing the product at all. Then what would UD have done with all those cases of cards they couldn't sell.
MLB A Piece of History - I guess the draw here is the inclusion of embedded pieces of paper along with your relics and autos. Though I'm not sure what the attraction could possible be - for example the Box Score Memories set seems to have a game box score (from who knows where) embedded on a card with a small swatch, and perhaps an auto. While that's kind of nifty, the dubious nature of the actual box score makes it not much more than a novelty. There are more insert sets here than you can shake a stick at as well, which is good since the sell-sheet guarantees one insert per pack. Of course if that's just a lame parallel, well, you'd be mad wouldn't you? At least here you get 8 card packs and 16 card boxes for about $70 per box.
So that's SEVEN sets and we're not even at the All-Star break. We still have Goudey and Heroes to come, and I'm sure UD will throw another couple of sets together just for fun.
Now I don't want you think that I'm piling on Upper Deck, Topps is just as bad - already this year they've released:
- Topps Series 1 and 2 (Base Brand)
- Topps Opening Day (Entry Level Brand)
- Topps Heritage (Mid Level Retro)
- Moments and Milestones (Hobby Exclusive)
- Bowman Baseball (2nd Base Brand)
- Topps Finest (Premium)
- Topps Co-Signers (Premium)
- Topps Chrome (Premium)
And we're going to see shortly:
- Allen & Ginter (Premium Retro)
- Triple Threads (Super-Premium)
- Bowman Chrome (Premium)
For two manufacturers to produce TWENTY different baseball sets is just going overboard. Several of these sets could be combined to make one product without losing market share, because all of this bloat has fragmented the marketplace. It would be a different story if each set had a compelling reason to collect, but the honest truth is there is absolutely no reason for any collector to purchase all these different sets. Each product, with the exception of the entry level brands, has a wealth of relics and autos to pull at various ratios. In fact, I'd say that the multiple different types of hits within each set further fragment the industry. If each set had only one or two different types of hits, there might be a better reason to keep buying different products. For example, if say UD SPX only offered autos and relics from rookies, while Spectrum had only autos and relics from super-stars, there would be a reason to buy both sets. As it stands now though, what reason does anyone have to buy these products, other than OCD?
Of course, you're sitting there saying, "that's all well and good, but do you have a better idea?" Yes, yes I do, and my next post will delineate the sets that I'd produce if I ran a Baseball card company.