Grand Cards: October 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

11 Boxes, One low, low price

As I try to gradually get back into the blogging, I'll take easy subjects where I can get them.  Community Gum is hosting an 11 box all-Topps group break, that includes such nice releases as Topps Gallery and Turkey Red, some interesting inclusions like the one that comes with a Guaranteed Autographed Baseball, and some unmistakably awesome things like Topps LASER, which, wow.  If the Tigers weren't the worst team in history in the 90's I would totally salivate over Topps Laser.

Anyway, not only is this break now open, but it is currently $5 cheaper than it was yesterday, and $5 cheaper than it will be tomorrow.  There are also a surprisingly strong selection of teams still available (Red Sox? Seriously?), so get in on it.  After all, if it fills up, they will throw in a 12th box. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Misjudging Customer Demand

Sometimes sitting in an airport, or on an airplane, gives you a chance to just think.  I've been doing a whole lot of sitting in or on one or the other, so I guess this whole "thinking" think was destined to follow.  With a flight delay, I figure why not write about it?  I do have a blog, after all.

Today is a beautiful fall day.  The air is crispish, the skies are clear, long sleeves and jeans are comfortable...and the baseball season is wrapping up.  Game 1 of the World Series was last night.  Game 2 is tonight.  After that, we get to sit back and relax for a month or two, at least until we get that ol' baseball "itch" again.

You see, with a 162 game season, the fans get tired too.  By the time we get to Game 2 of the World Series, 28 of 30 fan bases have checked out.  Sure, they'll tune in, especially the bigger baseball fans in the bunch, but this is no longer a time for baseball fever.  Rather, we're on the cusp of baseball hibernation--the much needed act of post-season baseball recovery.

Whether MLB understands this is inconsequential.  They are in the midst of their crown jewel event and need to do whatever they can to hype the event.  I get that, and, despite the exhaustion I felt after the Tigers were batted out of Texas, a few days has given me a chance to recoup and be moderately interested in the World Series.

But, I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the level of excitement that exists at a national level for baseball at this time of year.  And it's not just baseball--every sport experiences this type of burn-out towards the end.  And most people get it.  Nike isn't going to introduce a new baseball bat right now.  Nobody cares.  Under Armour is saving it's new cleats for the fall.  The apparel companies are packing it in.  The Tigers Pro Shop is having a 50% off playoff merchandise sale this week.

And Topps is cramming a slew of new releases down our throats.


That's right.  Topps has essentially decided that the baseball season consists of two parts: the beginning and the end, with nothing in between.  In order to maximize their card sales, they need to capitalize on the excitement in the sport during those truncated parts of the season and then sell, sell, sell.

Let me explain.

Through their contract with Major League Baseball, Topps is allowed to produce 17 card sets per season.  I'll refrain from commenting on whether Topps should produce 17 sets per season, something that seems like far far more than anybody could reasonably care about, especially considering that they are not allowed to create sets of 1) retired players and 2) prospects, but I digress.  17 sets.  That's just around a new card release every 3 weeks (again, that seems like shockingly too many card sets...)

On its face, it doesn't seem to make sense to actually release sets with such a regular timeline--I'd imagine that December and January are pretty slow in the baseball card world, so it makes sense to work off of a 9 or 10 month sales schedule--capitalize on spring training, opening day, the season itself and the playoffs.  After that, exhale.

Yet Topps seems to confuse the basic tenets of 1) baseball fandom and 2) baseball fan demand.  That's where I started with all of this: people are burnt out.  As such, Topps is scaling back for the winner, right?  RIGHT?

September 7th: Topps Chrome  -- Great release time, people are playoff chase hungry and this is a consistently strong set.

September 12th: Topps Marquee -- One week later.  Topps Chrome is already becoming old news.

September 21st: Topps Heritage Minor League -- This somewhat intriguing set got no attention because it was released when nobody cares about minor league baseball and is the third set in three weeks.

September 27th: Topps Triple Threads -- This is a consistently popular high-end set that collectors seem to flock to in droves, especially on the singles market.  This release completely buries Topps Marquee.  Topps Chrome, less than a month from its release, is collecting dust.

October 5th: Topps Update -- Back in the day, they would release this right after the playoffs and include season highlights in here.  Instead, they try to jump on the playoff excitement.  Still, this is an fine release, considering no low-end or set-collector releases have been out in a while.

October 11th: Topps Finest --  ...and you just crushed Update.  Might as well not have been released.  This also gets lost in the Triple Threads singles fury.  Marquee is history.

October 17th: Bowman Chrome -- one of the most popular prospecting sets of the year just killed everything that came before it.

In 6 weeks Topps put out SEVEN products including FIVE sets with a consistently strong following and two sets that didn't have a chance in hell.

The only explanation is that the company has a fundamental misunderstanding of baseball fans and card collectors.  This is too much, too fast.  Nobody has the money for it, nobody has the energy for it and nobody has the appetite for it.  Even famed casebreaker Brent and Becca was a no-go:

Brent Williams
I did not break Finest due to the release being on top of Update this year. Plus thought about BC and doing TC football. Got to pick best 1s
13 Oct
That's right, didn't break what has been a historically major product for Topps because of how they spaced it out.  Of course, cramming all of these releases in made things pretty slow in the baseball collecting world the rest of the summer:

February 2nd: Topps Series 1
March 5th: Topps Opening Day
March 14th: Topps Heritage
April 11th: Topps Tribute
April 25th: Gypsy Queen
April 27th: Topps Attax
May 12th: Bowman
June 1st: Topps Pro Debut
June 6th: Topps Series 2
July 10th: Allen & Ginter
July 26th: Bowman Platinum
August 3rd: Topps Lineage
August 15th: Stickers (!)

Why did Gypsy Queen do so well?  It came 5 weeks after the last major release.  Why did Topps Lineage seem to garner such a (surprisingly) positive response?  People were starving.  They hadn't seen anything new in months.  Bowman Platinum is filler, A&G is what it is, Series 2 and Pro Debut are variations on the base set...Topps Lineage was the first accessible new product since Bowman in May.

Give me a break.

All year people have been bitching and complaining about Topps' Monopoly in the baseball card world.  I've stayed out of the fray, as I generally believe that everything that people have complained about (design, quality, misunderstanding collectors etc.) are things that Topps has done since I got back into collecting in 2007.  But if there is one thing that competition--real competition--could do, it is slap some sense into these folks and get them to release their products in a sensible way.

Meanwhile, I'll site on the sidelines.  If there is one thing a deluge of products is good for, it's picking up my team sets and singles on the cheap.  The more they shovel dirt on old favorites (Chrome, Finest, Update) by stacking up the new releases, the more easily and cheaply I can pick up the cards I actually want.  At some point though, someone is going to realize that collectors have a finite number of dollars to spend, and maybe, just maybe, it doesn't make sense to throw big new products out there week after week.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Finding Joy: A Saga

Let's go for a ride.

I've been traveling a lot for work lately--something that has taken me to all corners of the country, typically on a series of very fast 1-day trips that are cobbled together on very short notice.  Deadlines being what they are, I often need to book flights at the last minute to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, there are casualties.

Each of the Tigers vs. Yankees games in the ALDS started at 8:37.  Every one of them.  Even when they were "TBA" you just knew that they were going to be prime time.  I mean, Yankees, right?  Prime Time.  So, when I had to book a flight for yesterday and saw that my only option would leave me in the torturous isolation of the skies from 7:55 to 9:45 I was less than pleased.  But hey, 8:37, plus a few minutes for opening pomp and circumstance, means that I'll miss an hour of the game.  But that's like, a couple innings.  I'll survive, I guess.

But then that "TBA" became 8:00pm.  Shit.  By 9:45 this game could be almost over, and I would be stuck on a freaking plane, waiting for a line of the world's slowest people to pull their bags out of the overhead compartment, while a subset of them transform into the world's most polite people, letting everyone in the world cut in front of them as they patiently wait to get off the plane.  Meanwhile, I'll contemplate pushing the guy in front of me to the ground, starting a domino effect that will allow me to run on the backs of my fellow passengers to the front of the line.  I was certain this would happen.

Just as I was certain that once I got off the plane, the airport would effectively be closed, sports bars and all, and I would get to the rental car counter and some family of four that has never rented a car in history would be poring over the minutiae of adding supplemental insurance or debating the merits of pre-paying their gas tank, while I quietly die inside as the game winds down.

There was no way that I was going to see this game.  I was sure of it.

You might have picked up on my mounting tension if you were following me on Twitter:

I would pay a thousand dollars for Inflight internet on this next flight, but ,alas. Commence nervous wreckage. Go Tigers

Go little airplane, fly as fast as you can!

Let's go. Get on the fucking plane and close the cabin door. Baseball waits for no man or airplane. Come on!!
16 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Yeah.  My tiny plane was full of a bunch of lolligaggers.  My greatest fears were being realized.  The game was going to start and I wasn't even off the ground yet.  2 hours of radio silence followed.

As soon as I landed it the phone jumped out of my pocket.  Note to future self: Twitter is not a good tool for catching up on what has happened over a 2 hour span.

Just landed chaos trying to figure out the game while simultaneously looking for the nearest sports bar to park myself the rest of the night
15 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Guy in the row in front of me said that it was 2-0.  Bless your soul good sir.  As ESPN's mobile site loaded I saw this:

Jorge Posada singles on a line drive to center fielder Austin Jackson. Alex Rodriguez to 3rd. Nick Swisher to 2nd.
  • Pitcher D. Fister
  • BatterJ. Posada

183ChangeupCalled Strike
2 92Fastball (Two-seam)Foul
3    90Fastball (Four-seam)Foul
478CurveballBall In Dirt
691Fastball (Four-seam)In play, no out
Sweet Jesus.  Bases loaded and one out.  This is not the type of situation to follow on a freaking phone.

But follow it I did.  Fister prevailed, the aisles started to clear and it was time for a mad dash to the rental car.  Curveball--the rental car required a shuttle.

Following the game on your phone on a rental car shuttle is the worst thing I have ever experienced. Just want to scream WHAT'S HAPPENING
14 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Shuttle starts to slow, and I grab my bags and take off for the counter.  No need!  This airport lets me go straight to my car (National FTW!).  While on the shuttle I googled the local ESPN radio station.  I threw my bags in the back seat and almost broke the radio dial:

14 hours ago via Twitter for Android
 That "AAHHHHH..." is of the sweet release variety.  I just sat there for a minute and listened to VMart's RBI single.  I started driving before Cano hit his home run.  At some point, while navigating my way away from the airport I just screamed WOOOOOOOO!!!!! at the top of my lungs. 

And so, it would seem, the saga was over.  I had radio, it was like the 6th inning or thereabouts and I knew that I could listen to the rest of the game.  The thing is, I really wanted to see the game.  Also, I hadn't had any food for hours.  Commence the internal debate.  Hotel?  Sports Bar?  What happens now?

I had decided.  I'm just going to grab some horrible fast food and eat it in my hotel room I DON'T EVEN CARE.

But there was no fast food near the hotel, and just as I pulled into the parking lot I made a U-Turn and went back to a Chili's I saw along the way.  The hotel can wait.  I'm spending the rest of the night at the sports bar:

Finally in front of a tv (chilis!) Just in time to see that NASTY pitch.
14 hours ago via Twitter for Android

That was Scherzer being awesome, by the way.

As I ate some discount nachos and beer I noticed between innings that the place was starting to clear out.  At 10:55 I was the last person there, and the bartender asked if I wanted another beer.  Do you guys close at 11?  was my response. 


"Sure, I'll take another."  It's a dick move.  I know.  Ordering another beer with 5 minutes to close when I'm the last person in the joint is not a cool thing to do.  But if it could give me another half hour it would be worth it.  Again, I DON'T EVEN CARE.  There are more important things than etiquette.  You can mop around me.  I'll leave a good tip.

Well, it bought me some time, but not quite enough.

Chilis has closed. I'm about to get kicked out. NOT NOW
13 hours ago via Twitter for Android
That was in the top of the 8th ~11:18pm

I could hold out for this half inning, and as soon as Inge grounded out I downed what was left of my beer, flew out the bar, jumped in the car and drove at a ridiculous high speed the 1000 ft. (seriously, it was two buildings away) back to the hotel.

Somehow, in that 25 seconds I was forced to make a decision: Listen to the rest of the game in the hotel parking lot, or check in and get to the room but risk missing something.  Executive decision said Hotel.  Go.

Literally just sprinted to room. Asked what channel tbs was at the front desk.
13 hours ago via Twitter for Android
Bottom of the 8th, 1 out.

And the rest, they say, is history.  Pure Joy.  Yelling and screaming at the TV.  Hotel neighbors who probably thought about calling the front desk a few times, and maybe the police a few others.

What a game.  What a series.  What a team.  And then this:

12 hours ago via web


Go Tigers.