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Friday, March 7, 2008

Moments & Milestones Whoopsies

Our favorite mirror set from Hell is back, and Topps made a couple of goofs.

First we have here an Albert Pujols black parallel card numbered 26/25. This is merely laughable. I guess my cynicism was unfounded and the quality department at Topps really is that inept. Unless that's what they want me to think.....

This next goof is a little more near and dear to my heart. Brandon Jones is an outfield prospect for the Braves that is trying to win a platoon job with Matt Diaz in left field. There's an autographed card of Brandon in the set, and I thought I might try to snag one. Here's one of Brandon's base cards:

And here's the Auto:

Hmmm... Looks like this is a card for Joe not me. Apparently Brandon got traded to the Reds and came down with overnight Michael Jackson disease. So much for my Braves auto. Topps hates me.

The best thing about Moments and Milestones is it's a textbook example of gimmickry combined with artificial scarcity with just a smidge of overproduction. A cocktail that initially intoxicates the crowd but eventually leads to ruin, wrecking the hobby in a wild orgy of parallels before everyone is forced to check into rehab as part of a court ordered mandate. You remember back in the wild and wooly days of the mid 90's? and how when Upper Deck inserted a card with a little swatch of a jersey in a pack? How everyone went bugnuts crazy over them? And since everyone wanted them so badly every manufacturer started putting them into everything? And after a few years they became so dirt common, you could pick up pretty much anyone for a couple bucks? This is what Donruss started, and Topps is finishing with serial numbered cards.

A serial numbered card used to be something rare and special. Donruss Elite cards from the early nineties were numbered to 10,000 - an enormous number nowadays - but they were hard as hell to find and were a really, really, big deal. The print runs slowly started shrinking, first 5000, then 2000, then 1000, then parallels on top of parallels. This is still back in the late nineties mind you, so the numbers were still a big deal. Then Topps Stars came out in '98 and had an entire serial numbered set, complete with a bunch of layers of parallels. This effectively killed any specialness that numbered cards had, but the really low numbers were still good. Something numbered out of 100, out of 50, out of 25. I pulled a Greg Maddux Blue Foil Leaf Z-Axis die cut or some some nonsense in '98 or so and I about lost it. The card was goofy looking and had a big printer's roller mark right in the middle but it was numbered out of 50! Holy crap! Something numbered that low had to be special.

Then Donruss came in with their Parallelapalooza. They figured out that people liked low numbered cards. The problem with low numbered cards is that you can't make that many of them by definition. However, parallel sets were common and accepted. Different foils, slight variations, something just a touch different, and you got a parallel set. Now, if you create a WHOLE lot of parallel sets, and serial number them all to really low numbers, you can print up the same amount of cards you printed before, but now they have ADDED VALUE. If you rip a pack and get a crummy parallel card that looks the same as the other cards, it's pretty boring. But... pull one numbered out of 25 and that's a hit! So Donruss released a whole lotta parallels and now there are a whole lotta cards out there numbered to under 50. Not so special anymore. There's still one bastion of serial numbered sanctity and that's the 1/1.

One card. That's it. The only one out there. The only one ever. A unique little snowflake. You can play shenanigans with that other stuff, but this, this is untouchable. It's the only one! How can a company screw that up? 210 cards. Each card has a parallel card for each number of whatever stat on the card. Tom Glavine has 300 wins, there are 300 versions of that card. Each version has a 1/1 red parallel. I'm not even gonna try to do the math, but that's a helluva lot of 1/1s over a 210 card set. That's also not counting the 1/1 press plates in the equation. There's also 1/1 autographs, don't forget them. Net result:

378 1/1 Milestones cards on eBay right now.

True 1/1 cards selling for under five bucks.

Excellent Topps. Eeeeexcellent.

Kill off all this gimmicky crap so we can get back to collecting cards again.


Fleerfan said...

Excellent synopsis of one of the main problems with the hobby today. This contrived scarcity of parallel and #'d cards is one of the things that drove me out of collecting new cards.

I started off as a set builder in the mid '70s through the early '90's, was reduced to a team collector in the mid '90s, tried to hang on in the late '90s by collecting a few favorite players and finally threw in the towel completely around 2000 when it was impossible even to just collect all the cards of 1 player.

The situation has now reached the absurd level when you have something like this offering with tons of 1/1 cards, and a boatload of cards that essentially look the same except for a different # on them. Gee, I'd really like to try to work on that set.

Unless you are Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, there is no way you have a realistic change of completing a full "set" of something like this.

Maybe I'm just "old school", but card collecting back in the day was about trying to put together a set - whether it be a complete set of all the cards from the set, or perhaps trying to put together a set of your favorite team.

That is all but impossible to do now. And we wonder why many collectors have dropped out and fewer and fewer kids seem to be collecting these days.

Your comments on those Donruss Elite cards sums it up perfectly - once there was a time when 10,000 seemed very limited because there was the PERCEPTION that with so many people collecting cards that there would be at least 10,000 collectors who would be interested in that card. Now we've reached a point where 1/1 isn't even special because there may not be more than 1 person who really wants that 1/1 card.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dayf, great post that spawned a great expanding comment from Fleerfan.

If it weren't for the Topps All-Rookie 50th Anniversary team cards I wouldn't have anything to get excited about with the 2008's so far.

Anonymous said...

Like Joey, I really like the ASR inserts, but I wish they were a subset of the regular set rather than an insert. I have one bat card in my collection (Al Oliver!) and think it's pretty cool, but the overproduction of these memorabilia cards has left a bad taste in my mouth.

To fleerfan, I'm a lot like you. Every once in a while I'll get a wild hair up my butt and decide to try to build a set again, but I will ignore all the inserts and parallels and focus solely on the base set. Unfortunately, with pack prices driven by the inserts, that is a difficult task even.

dayf said...

The thing is, it looks like the set is pretty easily completable as long as you are looking at the numbers on the back and not on the front. It is technically only a 210 card set, it's just that each of those cards are broken down into a certain number of subsets and given a 150 card run each. It's still just a basic set, it's just blown up into some weird baseball card fractal.

I'm sure that some players have more cards then others - Glavine's 300 wins or Frank Thomas' 500 homer stat is going to result in more cards than one of the player whose stat is doubles, but overall I'll bet there are just as many base cards out there as in a comparable hobby only semi-premium set like Co-Signers or UD SP. Theyre just all numbered to 150.

In doing this, they trade off a temporary 'oooh" factor when people see a low numbered card, let alone 6 in a pack, for damage to the hobby caused by frustrated collectors. Player collectors now instantly have several hundred short numbered cards and parallels to chase or else their beckett % complete number for their player will drop. Regular set collectors are bewildered by the whole thing and avoid it. People who liked to collect low numbered inserts all of a sudden see piles of them in a common bin (the store I go to has them for 50 cents apiece) and short numbers are not special anymore. I'll admit, I bought a pack, pulled an Albert Pujols numbered out of 25 and yawned. Once they are one a pack, they are not special anymore. See mid-90's Fleer inserts.

The other point I was making about the Donruss Elite cards was that those cards, even though there was 10,000 of them were INSANELY hard to find, mainly because there were millions of base cards out there. Nowadays if you buy a box of cards and don't get a numbered card, you just got robbed. Topps has Gold and Black numbered parallels. Heritage has chrome, refractor and black refractors. Upper deck has gold cards numbered to 99. Most autographs worth their salt are numbered. Serial numbers are common as weeds nowadays.

So now there's an escalation that has to happen each year to try to wow collectors jaded by the last gimmick. New collectors drool over the hits while old timers like me get fed up and rip a box of 80's crap in protest. Now that 1 of 1's are FIVE BUCKS (my mind blew when I saw that) the only frontier left to completely screw up is maybe cut autos. Once they start hitting one per box then we're in real trouble. Of course DNA cards and dog autos are starting to trickle into the hobby so I'm sure they'll keep surprising us.

Fleerfan said...

To followup thewritersjourney's comments, pack prices is one of the other problems I have with the hobby. I just can't justify paying what new packs of cards are selling for these days - at least not on the scale to try to complete a set of anything.

I know we can't go back to $.10 packs, but for the price it costs to buy a box of a new release, I would rather take that money and spend it on vintage items that I have a much better shot at building a set with.

The insert / pack price relationship is a catch-22: Collectors want value from what they are buying, so the card companies respond with autographs, game used pieces of memorabilia, serial #'d cards, etc, which drives up the production cost, thereby driving up the pack price.

At the higher pack price, the collector expects even greater value, so the cycle continues again with higher production costs further driving up pack prices which drives up the expected value even higher and so on and so on.

Unfortunately you start pricing out the casual collector as well as collectors who simply don't have the discretionary income to spend what it takes to make collecting a viable hobby.

As much as I miss the thrill of busting packs to build a set, I'm having more fun putting together things like a 1970 Topps Baseball Set, a 1971 Topps Coin set, the 1975 - 1979 Hostess panel sets and a number of different Fleer sticker sets than I would spending a similar amount on new product.

Its a shame because there are some new releases that really look nice, but I just can't afford to do it all.

To paraphrase George Costanza:
If New Card Collector George walks through this door, he will Kill Vintage Card Collector George! A George, divided against itself, Cannot Stand!

William said...

This is a great post, so very true. Since serial-numbered and game-used (and serial-numbered game-used) cards aren't fun anymore, there's nothing left to do but buy a pack of Topps Total, pull a middle reliever from the bottom of a team's 40-man roster, and smile knowing this is what card collecting should be.

deal said...

Just that fact that the cards are mirrors emphasizes the laziness of Topps and the other companies. In my opinion The Milestones cards are even worse then "Generation Now" - at least those cards had some info regarding the game - the date - perhaps the pitcher and team faced. The Milestones cards don't even have this simple info - and yet they are a "Premium" set??

The card on ebay of Glavine's 3rd win - Dayf can probably clarify this but did the Braves even have that uniform back when Glavine earned his 3rd victory?

My first Yankee Stadium Legacy was #3108 - 06/29/1962 - The photo is of Moose Skowron. According to retrosheet.org, On June 29th of 1962 Moose came in as a defensive replacement a DEFENSIVE REPLACEMENT! The man came to the plate 500 times that season and hit 23 homers yet his picture is on a card representing a game where HE DIDN'T EVEN BAT!!!

A little bit of attention to some details could make a big difference between a generic clone of another card and a card that has at least a little significance.

If the card companies want collectors to treat these cards as special, they must first treat them as special themselves. Is that to much to ask??

dayf said...

The Braves haven't really changed their uniforms since they went to the Retro Tomahawk look in 1987, but the point is taken. There are only two different photos for Glavine, One in a Braves uniform, one in a Mets. I don't really understand how the checklist works, or if there are more than one stat per players, It is all a little silly. You could technically build a 1-210 set of this stuff, but just with the uniform variations (which set builders would care about if they could first get past all the numbering) it would get hairy.

It's too bad, because the cards are legitimately atractive. They remind me of Donruss Classics. I just can't take it seriously as a set because I understand how all these low numbered cards are really not that scarce if you think about it. That doesn't mean I'm not going to pick off a few Braves here and there and try to snag a cheap 1/1 on eBay though.

dayf said...

Oh - and about the Yankee Stadium cards, I noticed that too. I got an Allie Reynolds card where the game on the back was actually pitched by Vic Raschi. That's pretty lazy there. I love the cards though, I which I would quit pulling DiMaggio and get more players like Wally Pipp.

Chris Harris said...

First off, I agree with most of what's been said here. It's obvious that whoever came up with this concept is not a card collector.

Two points:

1) On the original sell sheet the black parallels were to be numbered to 32 copies (which probably explains the Pujols numbered "26/25"), and the base cards numbered to 199.

2) 378 ones-of-one on eBay, in a product that's been live for less than a week is a fucking joke. Is it any wonder that many of them are selling for less than $5?

Is this what Topps means by "Added Value In Every Pack?" When everything is considered "scarce," then nothing is.

dayf said...

I didn't know that about the sell sheet. Probably means lower-than expected orders for the product if they had to slash production by a quarter.

deal said...

Found another error, apparently Scott Rolen won the Rookie of the Year award in 2001. His former teammate Albert Pujols may find that amusing.

see card on ebay:

at least they got it right on the back of the card.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I look back at jersey cards worth hundreds in the mid ninties, and now they are worth a few dollars.

Anonymous said...

I found a Manny Ramirez 2008 topps milestone number 28/25 today.