Friday, November 14, 2008

The thrill is gone

Tonight after dinner, the family and I were browsing at Target (the toy shelves are piled dangerously high at this time of year). As usual, I stopped by the card aisle to see what caught my attention. This has to be the peak time of the year for card variety and the boxes were stocked.

I could've bought a couple of packs of Masterpieces (because I'm still looking for that Russell Martin card), or Upper Deck Series 2 (I might have all the Dodgers, I'm not sure) or Upper Deck X (just because I haven't yet) or Bowman or Bowman Chrome (just to say I wasted my money) or Allen and Ginter (for the minis) or Baseball Heroes (for the colors) or Heritage (still collecting that thing) or Topps Series 1 (is that STILL around?) or Topps Series 2 (I can't think of a reason).

Instead I went with Topps Updates and Highlights -- reluctantly. I had a blog topic in mind, and that's the only reason I bought them. Isn't that a piss-poor reason to buy cards? But that's the point of this post, Updates and Highlights does not excite me. It's kind of like HOMEWORK.

Seriously, did you think of anything when you saw the two Randy Wolf cards up there? I know Dodger fans thought something and it wasn't very nice, but I'm guessing the cards didn't even register for everyone else.

OK, now, for those who remember collecting back in 1982, what did you think when you saw this?:

Wasn't that the most mind-blowing time to be collecting cards? It was for me. The two Griffey cards are the '82 Topps original issue and the '82 Topps Traded (I don't care if the term "traded" is technically inaccurate with rookies and such, I like that term so much more than "Updates & Highlights"). It was the second straight year Topps had issued a traded or updated set. You couldn't buy the traded set in stores; you could only send away for it, out of Baseball Digest or something.

I couldn't afford to buy the first set in 1981, but I bought the '82 set (lucky for me, the Ripken card was in that one), and my head exploded with what I saw. Back then, the card companies issued one set each year and whatever team that player was depicted on in that set was the team that stuck in your head for the entire year. I probably looked at each player's card hundreds of times during the course of a summer and every square inch of that card was catalogued in my brain.

So when I saw Griffey in a Yankee uniform, especially after all those years with the Reds, it was like Topps had tinkered with the laws of space and time. Hey, I knew that Griffey was traded to the Yankees in the fall of 1981, and watched him play for the Yankees on TV the following summer. But the '82 card said Griffey was a Red, dammit. Topps, you magical wizards, HOW did you do this?

They also altered the backs the first few years, which I thought was freaky, too. I had been staring at that Tom Burgmeier cartoon for eight months and it had always been green.

That 1982 Traded set was filled with other wonderful, bizarre discoveries as Topps transformed Reggie Jackson from a Yankee ...

... into an Angel ...
... and Davey Lopes from a Dodger ...

... to (sadly) an A ...

... and Reggie Smith from a Dodger ...

... into -- GAAAAAA! -- a Giant.

Of course, part of my fascination with this set was that I was approaching it with child-like wonder. I was still a teenager at the time. But the major reason these first few traded sets had such an impact is because they were ground-breaking. Nothing this revolutionary had been done before (The '74 and '76 traded sets didn't really have the same impact in my opinion as they were exclusively airbrushed deals and brutally close headshots. The '72 high numbers? Well that was just a handful of cards).

But after years and years of traded and update sets, I think a lot of the thrill has disappeared from the sets. It has for me. I pick up some cards here and there in hopes of getting the Manny Ramirez card (which I more than likely will end up getting through a trade). I'm not crazy about all the extra All-Star cards, HR derby cards and combo cards either.

When you think about it, have card companies come up with anything as revolutionary as the traded sets over the last 25 years? Chrome and refractors are cool, but it's just added bling. Not a lot of substance there. Autographs? Very cool, but it's not blowing anyone's mind, I don't think. Relics? Yawn. (OK, mini-yawn, but it's still a yawn).

I'd like to see Topps or UD or someone come up with something that can shock collectors with what is mind-blowingly possible with cards. Kind of like how I was shocked in '82.


  1. The big reason the traded sets aren't as exciting as they were back in the 80s is that we have too many card sets now.

    I don't think there's any way to put that genie back in the bottle.

  2. Thanks so much for the post! I've never seen the back of an 82 Topps Traded card until now.

  3. my dad gave me the 81 traded set for christmas that year. i made him take a picture of me holding up a bunch of those cards as i went through them - mickey hatcher, kenny landreaux, fred lynn, don sutton, until i got almost to the end and saw fernando. if i had been in possession of a sombrero, i would have thrown it to the sky.

  4. I love the updates & highlights set. Many of the players I collect are in there. Add in the fact that they get passed over in most sets, and now you've got me pretty excited.

    For instance:
    Joakim Soria
    Mike Aviles
    Kelvim Escobar
    John Mabry (back in the day)

  5. The title of your post made me think Will Clark had died.

  6. Dave,

    I'm glad people out there still love them. I'm not saying get rid of them. They've just lost their excitement for me.


    Ha! Oh, I don't like Will Clark, but I don't wish THAT on him.

  7. I really liked the Traded, Fleer Update sets and to a lesser extent the Donruss Rookies sets. But the new Topps Update and highlights sets do nothing for me either. They, as said above are too big. I could care less about the highlights aspect of it. I want rookies and traded cards only. The current year all star jersey inserts are a nice addition. 2005 was a mess because of how many GU cards made it into the set, although I admit, those are my favorite GU sets, and a bitch to complete.

    Topps needs to drop the highlights, keep the rookies and trades and for god sakes Topps, I don't need the same "rookies" in consecutive years of the traded set.

  8. I am looking forward to U&H this year. A couple of big names moved at this summer like Manny, CC, and Rich Harden. And a few Players will have their first Phils cards in U&H. I just wish Matt Stairs was one of them. Have to wait for 2009 for that I guess.