Thursday, February 23, 2023

Staying on the train too long

I am still wrapping up some 2022 products but also still waiting for one - haven't bought any Stadium Club yet. I'm waiting for a "Sale" - i.e. a discount. The Big Box store where I live usually does a Buy One, Get One 50% off deal on sports cards one time in the winter, making them essentially 25% off. Stadium Club is now only available in blaster boxes, which are $30 at my only local baseball card source — that's about 80¢ per card just to get, I dunno, 30 base base cards since SC parallels and inserts are generally useless to me. That then makes each card I might keep cost a solid ONE DOLLAR, each, since most of the parallels and inserts won't be salable, either.

Nevertheless when the BOGO-50% sale on trading cards does arrive I will check out 2022 Stadium Club and hope to pull card #1 - the Shohei Ohtani card I already know I want. And I do like knowing I have that lottery ticket chance at hitting a card worth money, by buying sealed packs. But more importantly, I like acquiring some of my baseball cards randomly - let's-see-what-the-pack-delivers, rather than always deliberately shopping for them, singly.

So I am still on the Stadium Club train, when the cheaper tickets finally arrive, at least. But one product I am no longer on-board with has some similarities to SC in the useless parallels arriving with usually still appealing cards I want to keep. That product is Topps Gallery.

I have generally liked Topps Gallery ever since it's re-boot in 2017. I haven't liked it to set completion but one of those years, though I have always liked parts of each of those 5 sets enough to chip away at assembling those parts, and be happy with my purchases of retail baseball cards. I basically like this Roberto Clemente card here - I like the Pirates, Clemente is one of the most admirable figures in baseball history, I like photos shot at Shea Stadium, and I like baseball card photos from around the batting cage. And I like this clean, elegant design which is usually a hallmark of a Gallery release. One problem with this image in particular, however, is I already have a Clemente card using this same photo.

My true disappointment with this card, however, is especially disappointing when I like the basic design/framing of the photo. That's because — it is a photograph. That is a complete change to this product, so I am hopping off this train, though that decision is (maybe?) one $30 blaster too late.

I don't think Gallery has been all that popular most years, and not all of it sells on the retail shelves when new, because a lot of collectors just don't like "Art Cards." But, I do. I don't like every Art Card or every artist that makes them for Topps; I doubt anyone is ever going to like every style of Art. But, I like some of them.

So I was quite disappointed with this simple key fact about Gallery this year. There are still other Art Cards out there of course, but very few of them are offered in a set format like Gallery was. Rather, they are produced in limited quantities and thus every card costs $5 each, and, up. I love baseball cards, but not to the extent that I can or will spend > $5 on a card all that often despite my basic desire to do so pretty darn frequently.

Last year, the main "like" I had in Gallery was an insert set, "Modern Artists," which was created from illustrations drawn by Josh Trout, who's work I have particularly enjoyed in this product. This insert continued in 2022 -

Art by Jason Drumheller

This is, technically, artistic creation, but the art at hand is design work, not painting or drawing of Joey Votto - those are both photographs of Votto. These inserts also qualify as art because each of them are different, which is actually a basically quite interesting thing to do on the part of Topps. However seeing as Topps sends me more baseball card designs than I can even count already, I couldn't really get excited to collect 25, or even 9, individual card designs, even though many of them proved quite good when I scrolled through the other 24 examples. I -think- I would like to see this concept attempted again, but -maybe- it is a better one for the far more numerous Player Collectors, than a fit for my styles of collecting. I can't recall Topps ever issuing an insert run with a one-card, one-design composition.

With ever more and more baseball card products, I am quite content to just collect 9 copies of whatever it is and then enjoy. That is how I collect Stadium Club, and those parts of the last 5 years of Gallery that I have enjoyed. This year's Gallery did feature other baseball picture cards I quite liked and I felt I could almost assemble some page-mates for the Clemente card, like this one:

That would make a nice theme, 9 Hall of Famers on this simple elegant design, and I love that classic old Cardinals jersey there. But I feel that, probably, this Musial image is a repeat from other baseball cards, and I am certain some of the other HoFer's in the pack were repeats. So again the needle on my collecting Ouija board is moving towards dis-embark.

This same thought kept nagging at me, with each card I liked -

Hmmm, 9 interesting Rookie Card cards from this chillax design might be nice. It will be an interesting new season to see if Pittsburgh finally has a core middle infield that doesn't have to be "churned," for the first time since Mercer & Harris. So I was glad to pull another Rodolfo Castro RC, and I will be keeping this one on a page, somehow. But one thing Gallery does, just like Stadium Club, is it makes assembling like cards of cards I like into a process I don't like, because...

These I don't like.

I like colorful parallels, usually. But stamped parallels? And even though I quite like that perfect, full image of the Ray shoulder patch, something I do collect, I would not add this otherwise perfectly acceptable Wander Franco RC to a page with the Rodolfo Castro RC. I am not actually at all OCD in life, I just pretend like I am on a baseball card blog. But for whatever reason, I just can't add not-like cards together, even when I like them. Probably, the Wander RC will make it onto my page of good Rays shoulder patch cards, though that is approaching the magic number, 9, and it may finally be time for a count-down post to see which of 10 cards doesn't make the cut. 

Again and again I faced this same decision with this $30 stack of baseball cards, as here:

Another great card. Another intriguing Pirates Rookie to follow in the coming season. I always like what I call "Empty Seat" cards, and keep most of them. There aren't all that many such cards in a horizontal format, so that's where I hope this card will anchor a binder page, someday, but that is going to take a while to collect. My new all horizontal binder is taking shape nicely and I am already quite looking forward to a mid-winter, early-Spring-Training morning some years in the future when I sit down with a cup of coffee and start slowly paging though it. I will kind of wish this next card is in there...

That shows off another feature I have liked in Gallery - it arrives late in the season, and functions as good basic "Update" set for at least a few players every year. In fact this year it appeared earlier than ever, before Update even. This is one of Freeman's first Dodger cards, and is another very good baseball card. I was pleased to read that Night Owl needs this one the other day, so I hope it is still on his want list so I can give it a good home.

It would have gone very well with this next card -

- which is a fun card of a player I do collect. As with the Roansy Contreras card, I am hoping it can help make progress on an assemblage of 9 horizontal cards for 'Salvy' but I think that might be quite an uphill challenge to assemble 9 horizontals of a single player.

I did go into a bit of a 'cheat mode' and checked out my potential for finding 9 good horizontals from 2022 Gallery, but they were scarce in the checklist over all. Which is something I increasingly don't understand on the part of Topps - MUST every checklist include both vertical and horizontal cards together? The horizontals are frequently such a small component of a set that they feel like the tow-headed step-child fairly often, even though many horizontals are great baseball cards.

My search for possible horizontal page-mates for the previous 3 cards revealed this card to me:

Which just basically infuriated me all over again, as this is now the 3rd product I have discovered using this same exact fake backdrop, as in a recent post about this specific image. There are other backdrops like this, in other sets, and in this 2022 Gallery release as well. Quite a fall-down from a set that started out proud to use original art — I stayed on this train, too long. 

If I discover this image again in 2023 Heritage soon, which I feel is likely, my unconditional love of Topps products will become ever more conditional. Which means I will simply buy less of these fake baseball picture cards. The last thing I want from my curated collection of these images from a sport I love to follow is a reminder of our ever increasingly fake world. I am often quite thankful I work outdoors, where nothing is fake.

Unfortunately, the "Modern Artists" insert up there was the only insert example I pulled from my blaster; there are 3 other inserts in this. One of them, "Portrait Gallery," does feature original illustrations (i.e. color pencil work) by Dan Bergren, a long-time Gallery contributor who's work I also quite like and am collecting from other years of this product. I wish I had found one in my only purchase of this product as it would have cheered me up and possibly leaned me into trying to stay on the train. But as it stands I know I am just not up for spending > $50 or so just to assemble the 20 card checklist of his quite pleasing baseball art, mostly because his assigned checklist naturally includes all of the "Hot Rookies" of 2022, forcing up the price to see the art. Because, Rookies. 

I also wish I could summon the priorities to spend $20 on just 9 examples of his drawings, but I already spent > $20 hoping to find such examples, sigh. I did find a minor victory under the scratch-off box on my $30 lottery ticket however:

That's a /99 parallel for which I can probably receive $1.50 or so after fees, etc., when it someday arrives at COMC. I bought the ticket and took the ride. There is no escape from the concept; though bloggers and other collector-commentators elsewhere (including me) permanently whine about parallels and Rookie Card cards, I do perfectly understand why they are in products. Which is because the vast majority of collectors absolutely require that a package of baseball cards gives them something of "value" - something worth money - so every package must include something besides just boring old base cards. So Topps gives the customers what they want, as with this Verlander parallel. It is a distinct minority that just want baseball cards even when they aren't worth money later.

Despite my disappointment with 2022 Gallery in a general sense, I did receive some true "keeper" baseball cards that I will enjoy in years to come, so my $25 spent (after considering JV + Wander RC = $5 or so) did get me a few cards. One of them, I will have zero trouble assigning a home for, as it will live in my Tigers binder -

That's a brand new Detroit Tiger who greatly improved the value of this particular blaster of baseball cards, for me, when the new Tigers GM sensibly traded away his best Reliever, Gregory Soto, for a pair of basically Major-League-ready young players and one extra scratch-off ticket prospect. You don't need a bullpen when you don't have an offense, and it is the first Tigers trade in a long time that didn't involve simply dumping a "rental" contract with just 2 months to run. So that was a nice puff of comforting warm air near the Hot Stove a couple months back, a rare feeling for a Tigers fan.

I'm not sure I would have ever deliberately purchased this card though I will be naturally finding Vierling's regular RC in the Topps Baseball set at some collecting point. This is what I meant by the simple joy of assembling a baseball card collection, randomly. The Tiger's first Spring Training game is just a few days away as I write up this post, and Vierling will likely get his first Tigers At Bat, kinda-sorta. And I have his Rookie Card, ready to go. 

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