Base Cards: The Design
Late in January, I pre-ordered a jumbo box of 2019 Topps Series 1 Baseball from my local hobby store, Hall of Fame Baseball Cards in Monrovia, CA. I picked up my box the same day the store held their annual Topps Series 1 rip party. I had a great time and broke my box right there in the store. And I gotta say, right off the top that I really like the 2019 Topps flagship baseball design. It’s a welcome departure from the last three years of rather similar designs (which I also like):
It’s definitely not more of the same but the 2019 design does share one unique trait with the 2016 design. In the 2019 design, the circular tile pattern in the border and on the left side of the photograph serve the same function as the smoke effect in the 2016 design. The color/pattern is changed for the various parallel cards’ color schemes. Other than that, the 2019 design stands on its own (although one can argue that it is reminiscent of the 1982 Topps design):
Base Cards: The Photography
The photography and choice of pictures is pretty good for the most part. However, Topps is still over-processing the photos to make them slightly resemble a screenshot from a video game or an outtake from the movie “300”. The players and the lighting just look a bit too artificial:
Take a look at the whites of the players eyes above. Joey Gallo’s eyes especially look a bit creepy and definitely unnatural. The lighting in the vast majority of player photos makes it look like the ballparks had identical gametimes and weather. Did almost all game action takes place on an overcast day?. Maybe there just weren’t any suitable player photos shot at night or even in the shade. Very few of the player cards feature abundant sunlight.
These photo effects are not new to Topps as they have been used in flagship baseball and other Topps products over the last few years. And I have to admit I’m growing weary of it. These photographic effects are probably popular with the younger, videogame-playing set. And when company management and/or the client (MLB) want a card product that is different and innovative, this is the result. Hopefully the management at Topps will soon realize this look has been played out for flagship baseball cards and return to a more “normal” photographic look. These digital effects can be saved for other card products.
As others have pointed out, the partial borders of these cards to seem to be a compromise between those who like full-bleed photos and those who like traditional borders. Credit Topps decision-makers with a pretty good compromise. Personally, I like the full-bleed photos a lot but borders are cool too. The main thing is that we keep some card features standard (such as card dimensions) while avoiding falling into a prolonged rut with the same ol’ thing every year. As seen below, photo repetition apparently is tough to avoid (especially when about 1000 semi-unique images must be used for one master set and you’re on a deadline):
Despite my nitpicking about photographic digital effects and photo repetition, I still like the base cards a lot. I think it’s safe to say that it’s not hard to satisfy most of us set collectors. Here are some examples of base cards with exceptionally nice photos:
Action shots of players displaying their glove magic is always cool. And if you think those were good, check these out:
As seen above, a handful of Series 1 base cards have part of the player or player’s equipment overlapping the left border. This really makes the picture “pop” and is a welcome sight. Of course, this is not a new effect. We’ve seen a similar effect as far back as 1988 Topps and there’s probably cards older than that can claim the same feature. Still, I think this adds a certain intensity to the card and adds to the aesthetic appeal of these cards.
Base Cards: The Subsets
Kudos to Topps for adding a new subset to this year’s base set–Stadiums! I’d seen stadium cards included in previous editions of Topps Opening Day but that’s a product that doesn’t fit into my budget or time schedule. This subset is a very refreshing addition to the Topps flagship set.
As in previous years, Topps includes subsets featuring the World Series Highlights, League Leaders, All-Star Rookies, Future Stars and checklists:
All of the subsets are done pretty well, my previous nitpicking notwithstanding. Of course the World Series Highlights subsets would look more impressive had the Dodgers won the World Series but it is what it is–sigh. We still have to tip our Stadium Fantasium hat to the Boston Red Sox for having such a dominant 2018 season and postseason.
The World Series Highlights card backs offer a recap of one of the games won by the eventual World Series champions. The card backs generally use some elements of the front design and look quite good.
Quite a few other reviews/opinions of 2019 Topps Series 1 have expressed some dissatisfaction with the large light-gray surname being placed above the smaller first name and I agree with those reviews. It throws things off a bit in a negative way but it’s not a deal-breaker. I think perhaps the first and then the last name should occupy the large white space and then have the team name and position occupy the color stripe below. And while we’re at it, change the light-gray font color to the color of the smaller stripe shown on the right side, then highlight the letters with a thin outline the same color as the large stripe. Or at least put a thin outline on the light-gray letters.
Oddly enough, the stadium cards get the name placement right with the city name placed above the team name. The back of the stadium cards are also well done. The design and included info are all top-notch, although the starting lineup and rotation are always subject to change at any given time.
I’d like to see this subset return next year but with pictures of the outside of the stadiums or pictures taken from another viewpoint inside the stadium. These kinds of cards definitely bring fans just a bit closer to the experience of being at the stadium.
The League Leader cards don’t distinguish themselves much from the regular base cards. I’d love to see old-school multi-player league leader cards in flagship but player collectors probably wouldn’t care much for that. Besides, we already have that in Topps Heritage cards. Still, I’d like to see a league leader card design that somehow looks attractive and substantially different from the regular base cards.
Traditionally, the Topps All-Star Rookie cards are just the player’s base card with the Topps All-Star Rookie cup element. The same holds true in this year’s set. It’s very nice to see this tradition continue.
Future Stars cards are back again, this time with a rainbow gradient banner instead of last year’s gold tile banner. The player image being imposed over the banner results in very eye-catching cards.
Another traditional aspect of Topps flagship baseball is checklist cards. Almost no one actually marks these checklists anymore to track their collection but they can still be a useful reference in a pinch. The images on the front of the card are always pleasant. I always like seeing camaraderie between players on the same team or between opposing teams.
Parallel Base Cards
My jumbo box didn’t yield any very low-numbered parallel cards. Out of the ten jumbo packs in the box, I got only two gold parallels (serial #’d to 2019) and five rainbow foil parallel cards (not serially #’d). The gold parallels look pretty good to me and so do the rainbow foil cards. In fact, this year the rainbow foil seem to me a bit more shiny and even silvery (at least at the right and bottom borders). Somehow the rainbow foil cards seem more attractive than in previous years. These cards make me want to actually pursue building a complete rainbow foil set (of course that’s easier said than done).
More Parallels, Insert Cards, Hits and an Awesome Super Short Print
Reprints! Many collectors believe reprint insert sets have been overdone but I really don’t mind them. The top three cards in the image above are part of an insert set called Iconic Cards Reprints. There are 50 cards in the Series 1 portion of this insert set, not to mention a 150th Anniversary parallel version numbered to 150.
I should’ve showed these earlier with the other parallels but there is also a foil-stamped 150th Anniversary parallel of the base set. These parallels are not serially numbered.
The 150 Years of Professional Baseball insert set could be a huge monster of an insert set. For Series 1, there are 150 cards in this insert set, divided into three 50-card segments (Greatest Players, Greatest Seasons and Greatest Moments). This insert set will continue in Series 2.
The 1984 Topps insert set is very well done and looks like it will also be a large set (as many as 250 cards) based on last year’s 1983 Topps insert set. The Series 1 portion of this set has 100 cards. My jumbo box netted me ten 1984 Topps inserts with two of them being Jacob DeGrom–d’oh! As with all Topps insert sets, there are also parallel versions.
The best cards from my jumbo box tended were heavy on AL East teams. The auto and relic hits weren’t anything earth-shattering but I did get a Legends super short print variation of Lou Gehrig #230. SSPs were inserted into jumbo packs at a rate of 1:495 so I got very lucky with this one. As of this writing, that particular card has been selling for around $50 and up. Of course I am keeping this one along with all of the other cards in this box (except for duplicates). I’m also glad I got a Home Run Challenge card and a Greatness Returns insert card. The Greatness Returns cards (a 25-card set in Series 1) are especially attractive and are inserted 1:10 jumbo packs.
For the past few years, many of those who purchased Topps flagship baseball cards have complained about there being too many insert sets. I think Topps may have misunderstood these complaints because less insert cards are included in packs compared to last year. I love insert cards and I’m really disappointed in this development. And to make matters worse, Topps apparently forgot to include photo variation short print cards in Series 1 jumbo boxes even though jumbo pack wrappers state that short print cards can be found in jumbo packs at approximately 1:17 jumbo packs. Luckily, my jumbo box had a Legends super short print!
2019 Topps offers another nice insert set: Evolution Of. This set features old stadiums, vintage equipment and past players in old uniforms on one side of the card and their modern counterpart on the other side. My box didn’t contain any of these cards and yet the wrapper states the pack odds as 1:1.
There is also a Revolution of the Game insert set issued at a rate of 1:26 jumbo packs. My box did not have any of these (a 10-card set in Series 1).
2019 Topps Silver Packs
As a nice added bonus for purchasing hobby or jumbo boxes from the local card shop, customers also receive packs of 1984-style chrome refractor cards. Each pack contains four cards out of a Series 1 50-card set. There is also an autograph version and several parallel versions. And as luck would have it, I got an orange parallel version of the St. Louis Cardinals Patrick Wisdom #’d 18 of 25.
Rip Party Bonus: Hobby Packs
So despite a very rainy Saturday afternoon (Feb.2), attendance was pretty good for the rip party. We had a great time opening our boxes, spinning the prize wheel and participating in various contests galore. I did fairly well in the trivia contests and won five hobby packs of 2019 Topps Series 1. I didn’t get any hits in the hobby packs but here are the insert cards I did get:
The Bottom Line (Finally!)
As it turns out, my jumbo box gave me 343 out of 350 Series 1 base cards. The five hobby packs I had won gave me only one of the seven remaining base cards I need to complete the Series 1 base set. The six cards? #’s 53 (Brandon Crawford), 144 (Jake Arrieta), 178 (Jose Altuve), 194 (Felipe Vazquez), 239 Christian Yelich–League Leaders) and 331 (Cesar Hernandez).
Considering how many unique sports and non-sports cards that Topps issues each year, it’s rather surprising to me that their product quality is above average. Sure Topps has its detractors but just about every product they offer gets the attention and money of many collectors/investors. Many, many other companies have their share of product defects and recalls, so it’s probably unrealistic to expect perfection from every Topps product. That’s why I tend to be rather forgiving whenever I buy Topps product with my hard-earned money. I buy these cards simply for the fun of building sets and not for investment purposes.
So, recognizing that there is room for improvement in this product, I give 2019 Topps Series 1 a score of 8 out of 10.
I’m expecting more 2019 Topps Series 1 in my mailbox soon from several group breaks. Stay tuned…