Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kicking off card season with a Blast(er)

I wouldn't normally make my first baseball card purchase of the year via the Blaster format. I rarely buy the things at all, though I do have a weakness for the "box cards" in the Big League product. It just feels like I am paying a premium for the so-called "Patch" card in each one, that I very rarely ever wish to own at all, for one.

The other problem with blasters is the way collation works in baseball card packaging. The sheet-cutting and partially random assemblage of the cards is designed to do one thing: there will not be a repeat card, inside a given package. 

However, when one buys two such packages, you will "hit" identical sequences of cards - and then you don't get just a duplicate card, you receive multiple duplicates. Many multiples. This is probably magnified even more in the "hanger box" format, although that has usually offered the lowest price per card. So far, I haven't seen any hanger boxes or "rack"/"fat" packs, either, this year and I have to wonder if I ever will.

This year however, anyone wishing to just buy a few brand new baseball cards while grocery shopping can't take any chances on hoping to find some desired pack format. It is a minor miracle to find new baseball cards on a shelf at all, so if any are seen they must be purchased on the spot. Which is how I found my first blaster of the 2021 baseball card season - a single solitary blaster, half hidden behind some Magic The Gathering boxes of some sort.

A little later on I did find just a few examples of my preferred format but that will make for a nice future post, with some interesting, non-blaster cards to look at. Today I want to check out the rest of the blaster as a way to ponder 2021 Series One a little more. Fully absorbing the "first pack" is nice and all, but there are 84 other cards in each blaster - now a $25 blaster, where I shop. What did I find?

This is a perfect example of why I grade this design a "so close" - everything works here, except those almost vertical design elements, and outside of the ridiculous player name size. Many have commented on how they make the cards "line up" in a stack and would even in a binder page, but I don't think that is why they exist like this. Rather, aligned elements like this make it easier to print and most importantly, cut the cards accurately. Something ever more important in the collecting era of "10 Snobs" who insist that every single baseball card Topps makes MUST arrive to their greed focused hands in 100.0% flawless condition, including "centering," or it is off to Social Media they go. Not just some of the time, but instantly.

I still quite like this Alex Verdugo card, with his cool glove, harmoniously color balancing the Green Monster and the team colors, and the way the wall even makes it looks like he has a green wristband on. Perhaps the perfect card to post today - St. Patrick's Day.

Meanwhile I think this card will kick off another random little side collection for me - cards featuring these - "full wrap?" - sunglasses that I am seeing on more and more cards lately. How long will baseball players favor these? I fully expect my Topps Baseball cards to document this.

But I'm just not sure I will ever quite get used to looking at 2021 Topps Baseball cards in the horizontal format.

An S1 card I always anticipate is some World Series cards from the previous Fall Classic, like this one:
I didn't have much invested in the Series last year, with 2 teams from the coasts featured, and was unable to watch it at all while out on a remote job at the time, and no ability to head into a pleasant little drinking establishment with a television, either. So I was depending on Topps to show me at least a little of what I missed. This card does that wonderfully, with a great image break taking primacy over the design elements. Overall, this is probably my favorite Kershaw card in some time.

Another routine part of Topps Baseball is the Rookie Cup -
Floating player, floating Cup.

And it's always nice to pull card #1 in a new set:
And card #27, too:
Mike Trout is routinely card #27 on many Topps checklists these days, a tiny holdover from the then firm break with tradition in 2013, which I could now write as "way back in...2013" - when I started this blog. Time flies, when brand new baseball cards appear for me to purchase on a relentless, basically year-round schedule these days.

That card makes me think State Farm has certainly got it's money worth from that bit of advertising placement at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. And also makes me wonder if they have ever considered hiring Mike Trout as a promo guy of some sort. Seems like it would be a good fit - the perfect wholesome baseball player, who would surely make a good neighbor, and one with basically perfect statistical production, year in & year out - a sure bet almost like - insurance.

I did find a bit of a surprise in terms of a year in, year out tradition in Topps Baseball for about 25 years now - a special handling of card #7.
That long run of Topps Baseball sets going back to 1996, of either a Mickey Mantle card, no card, or a carefully selected Yankees card at card #7 is over now. The Mantle family moved on to do business with Panini rather than Topps back in about 2017, iirc, but Topps kept some minor tip o' the cap to The Mick in the Topps Baseball set even afterwards.

2021 #7 is such an odd card. The center of the card is basically empty space while a touch more care in overall composition might have nicely accented the basic card design. And I certainly never expected to find the word "dab" on a baseball card of all places, given it's 21st century association with something else altogether.

Meanwhile, I also pulled the Yankees team card from this blaster (why not make it #7?), which is also odd -
On some of the horizontal team cards, the white line around the "design element" (what else can you call those weird parallelogram like 'things') just inexplicably disappears. 2020 strikes again I guess, with more baseball cards being produced than ever before, all done via Zoom meetings, perhaps. Meanwhile on this card at least, the design element has a clear antithesis in a whole 'nother professionally played sport, which at least gives you a mental name for the design elements on these graphic error cards.

Another card I always watch for in particular, this time of year, is one featuring a previous equal to the #27 card, Miggy:
And Miggy is looking good here - this bodes well for the 2021 Tigers.

Speaking of which, for the first time in a long time the Tigers have highly anticipated Rookie Cards in a new Topps Baseball release, and I pulled one in my first purchase -
What I particularly like about Tarik Skubal is that he is not some high-rated first round prospect who already has Bowman cards selling for 4 or even 5 figures. Rather, he is a normal product of baseball scouting, drafting, and development. It's way past time that my team gets some fresh young talent this way, rather than whatever they could get via their timid trades of two month rentals, which is how they picked up another Series One Tigers card I was looking forward to:
Though I am a little less optimistic about Paredes than Skubal, I do quite like the prominent view of the Al Kaline patch the Tigers wore last year, when I had the lowest chances to see them on TV of any year of my life. Those 3 cards pretty much satisfied me completely on the Favorite Team portion of the beginning of my 2021 baseball card season. I guess there are upsides to starting with a blaster after all.

2020 was of course a completely unique year in basically every way, and along that way, we all knew this card was coming -
and this one:
which was my first card to show me a fan cut-out in the stands. I know there will be more, and better, such cards in my future S1 purchases, but this is a card image I was expecting (and oddly looking forward to) from the first rip of the first pack.

A great thing about the Topps Baseball genre is the occasional repeat of a classic -
This new entry in the Wrigley Ivy checklist perfectly shows off the possibilities of this design + image and I can almost forgive that too long left side design element. Almost. I will return to that shortly. This year's Topps Baseball features an even more classic Wrigley Ivy card I quite enjoy:
It's like Topps has brought the Social Media concept of "trolling" into the set with this one, which perfectly cardboard-encapsulates the probable rise of the South Side of this year, while the North Side likely treads water.

As for images that perfectly match this design, I found several -

Now this Spencer Howard RC has me wondering - does this set feature the most Powder Blue uniforms since, oh, maybe 1982 or so?
I would say - Yes, yes it does. Probably later this year I will attempt to tally up how many Powder Blue baseball cards I find this year. I think it will be - a lot.

That is another of those 1952 "Redux" cards though I can't for the life of me figure out the need to use the weird psuedo-word "Redux" for these, nor why an insert clearly included to mark the 70th anniversary of Topps Baseball sets doesn't include the special Topps 70 (or is it 70 Topps?) logo - but for once I am glad to see Topps basically miss an obvious chance to thematically tie a few things together, as these "Action 52s" that I quite like are much better without any superfluous graphical notations.

Especially since such sure, why not appellations will likely be found on all the other inserts in the release:
I have always been a fan of 1986 Topps so I quite look forward to obtaining some "new" 1986 cards. But I don't know anyone who celebrates the 35th anniversary of anything and that notation on these reprint inserts is pretty much played out - but you know it will be a huge deal all over the Topps Baseball set, next year. A prediction so easy, it's like falling off a log.

Meanwhile I might need a duplicate of this Ortiz card to help fill out some binder pages of a half-baked Opening Day insert checklist from a few years ago called "Heavy Hitters" which well illustrates the comical challenge of maintaining upper torso muscle mass as you get older.

Inserts have changed over the last several years; I believe Topps dialed down the insertion ratios of most of them to give collectors more of a chase challenge and possibly to up the re-sale value of their products; something I can only partially agree with. When I like an insert, I don't want it to be rare. When I don't like an insert, I am more happy to not find them in my packs. Particularly all those insert checklists that mix certified Hall of Famers with maybe-maybe Rookies which then makes for big holes in the checklist years later after most of the Rookies inevitably fail to reach Cooperstown immediately after their first At Bat.

This year there are a couple ridiculously low input low hanging fruit type inserts given the "Anniversary" theme of the Topps Baseball set, and one upside is that the design of these inserts locks out brand new Rookies completely, as with this one:

These are nifty little reprints I would quite like to assemble - but they are also basically low insertion rate reprints that I am unlikely to find more than a couple three of over my coming S1 purchases. But since they are just reprints without hot Rookie Card cards included, I'm thinking they will be very cheap to acquire in the "aftermarket."

Speaking of which, the point of most box break recaps for most readers is the hits, man, the hits - did I "hit" anything in this blaster? Anything worth more than 0¢, the basic value of all of the cards I have just scanned in for you, (possibly temporarily) outside of the 2 RCs shown? Why yes, yes I did:

This is technically a "super" short print, though it took me quite a while to realize that. Usually the photo variations have some sort of theme to the image selections. Other times, Topps simply phones it in, as with this card. Nonetheless if I can get around to ever selling this it would probably pay for the price of the blaster. Which is both good, and bad. 

'Bad?' Yes, this "hit" card I found is the reason it is so hard to find baseball cards for sale, and I don't care to encounter problems when I just want the simple pleasure of ripping a few packs of brand new baseball cards. Of course I enjoy the faint chance of "hitting" a card worth more than 0¢ in my packs (the 'good'), but if I had to choose between buying packs that might hold a $20 bill and a guaranteed chance to simply buy a few packs of baseball cards, I would take the the guaranteed availability. Meanwhile that intoxicating chance to find a $20 bill in a pack of cards, or $200, or, even - $2,000 - leads people to purchase so many of these baseball cards that this all now makes it difficult for people who just want to buy the cards, a few packs at a time. Like me.

Ultimately, a Topps Baseball set is remembered for the basic design of the basic baseball card and how that works out for any random player your mind selects when thinking about the set. Over the years I have started to notice the way I think a few teams put uniform #s in odd spots, though I can't recall another specific team example right now, when I need one to share. I have noticed the Reds uni style including the uniform # on the player's belt before this card. 

But it took until I found this card to even notice the player name is written in a team color match, normally a basic, and good, part of a baseball card design. In 2021 Topps Baseball, however, the uniforms have to do the talking:

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