Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A collecting year for short attention spans

Yesterday, Dinged Corners (so glad they're back) asked what we all would recommend to someone who hadn't been collecting in months. What was out on the shelves, virtual or otherwise, that would catch one's fancy?

I ran through my mind all of the various choices released this year, discarded some automatically, and rambled off some incoherent answer. At the end, I realized there really wasn't anything great from 2011, and that the item that I recommended -- Topps Heritage -- won my vote solely because I like how it looks stacked up in a pile. To me, it looks like a cord of wood -- if wood was sliced very, very thinly. Don't look at me that way. I find firewood comforting. It's a cold weather thing.

But I also realized that this was a sign of someone with a short attention span. Only a 2-year-old would recommend a card set based on what it looks like stacked up, as if they were building blocks.

But that's how I've gone through card sets this year. Like a 2-year-old with severe ADD.

So far this year there's been Topps Base (Series 1, 2 and Update), Heritage, Opening Day, Attax, Gypsy Queen, Allen & Ginter, Lineage, Chrome, Marquee, Finest, Tribute, Heritage Minor League, Bowman, Bowman Platinum, Pro Debut -- and I haven't completed a single one. Nor do I wish, to, although I'm making a half-hearted attempt with A&G because I have TRADITIONS, dammit!

Instead, like a number of collectors I know, I rush to the big box store or hobby shop, eagerly open up whatever new product is out, emit a few "Ooooooh shiny/mini/green paper/parallel!!!!" yelps, then look around wildly and exclaim "what's next?"

I am resembling my dog more and more.

I don't know who to blame here. Is this my fault? Is this Topps' fault. Is it the hobby's fault? Is it our culture's fault? I don't know.

I thought I'd look at each of the mainstream card sets issued this year and, by examining what I like and don't like about them, maybe I could come up with an answer.

But first I discarded Attax and Opening Day and Platinum, and the hobby-only issues, because -- heh -- nobody pays attention to those.

Topps base

What's good about it: Solid design. Better photography than 2010. Fun inserts.
What's bad about it: Too many inserts. Repeats of certain players in the set, some for no reason at all. But most of all, that ridiculous cheap card stock that prevents you from collecting something "of quality."


What's good about it: Well, we all know it looks great in a stack. Other than that, it's a nice, classic design. Some of the photos are beautiful. And there are manager cards. Plus, love the quality of the card stock.

What's bad about it: Bleepin' short-prints. Too many capless photos.

Gypsy Queen

What's good about it: I've never felt like I wanted to gnaw on a card, but there's something about the card stock on these that makes me want to try -- yes, I'm considering that a good thing. Other than that, the framed paper parallels on these are probably the best-looking parallels of the whole year.

What's bad about it: Too expensive. Restricted availability. Plus, I find the base cards boring and I don't understand why people go ga-ga over them. (Roy Campanella card excluded).

Allen & Ginter

What's good about it: It's A&G. Cards feel nice, but not as nice as back in 2008. I like the splash of color. Sometimes A&G pictures can get a little moldy.
What's bad about it: Short-prints again. I don't like this year's design -- so much so that it took a last-minute decision for me to decide to try to complete the set. And there are no inanimate objects. I know some people hate these, but this is what makes the set for so many people. There was no 2011 version of the revolving door. Booooo!


What's good about it: 1975 MINIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Send them to me!) Also, you have to admire a 200-card set with no short-prints, but lots of Hall of Famers.
What's bad about it: Horrible backs that make me feel like I'm shuffling through an Uno deck. Plus, the same cheap, slick stuff that appears in Topps base.


What's good about it: You know what you get with Chrome, lots and lots of shiny. Plus, the cards are flat this year. And you always have a shot at those orange refractors.
What's bad about it: Same issue that plagues Chrome almost every year -- repeat photos from the base set. Unless they shake up the photos, I'm going to get tired of Chrome. Sorry, baby, but it's true.


What's good about it: Well, first, I would never recommend Bowman to a collector unless they told me right off, "Hi. I collect cards, but only prospects that you've never heard of before." And then I'd proceed to tell them that we can't be friends anymore. But other than that, I think the Bowman design is pretty sharp this year.

What's bad about it: Same deal as usual. I don't know half the people in the set. What am I wasting my money on?

Did I miss anything (and don't tell me "Triple Threads")? You'll have to excuse me if I did. My attention span is short.

I don't think going through all of that helped me much. However it might illustrate that the inability to commit is due to the fact that each set has just enough good about it to get people to buy it, but just enough bad about it to prevent people from continuing to buy it.

I do think that the rapid rate at which Topps issues products does contribute to short-attention spans. But I don't know if Topps causes that or if it's attempting to appease a collecting body that has been used to getting 20-plus different card offerings a year so it just has to keep churning out, churning out content.

The rate at which cards arrive has forced me to make much quicker judgments about what I am buying. I need to decide much more quickly whether I'm going to commit to something because 1) I can't afford to buy everything and 2) the cards might not be on the shelves for very long.

Sometimes the card brands arrive so quickly that I just unconsciously say "screw it" and randomly grab packs because I have no hope of focusing on one thing.

That has definitely created a short-attention span in this collector.

Back in the '70s when I collected, there was only one set from April (and sometimes from January) to October. Slow-and-steady won the race. You had to appreciate each card that you pulled from a pack, because if you didn't, either you would move on to different pursuits, or you'd kill yourself over the tedious boredom of pulling a Joel Youngblood card.

When Fleer and Donruss came along in 1981, I was visibly rattled. How could I devote all my attention on three different sets? I know this is hard for collectors who were raised in the '90s -- with boxes and boxes of variety from which to choose -- to comprehend. But I could almost feel my brain trying to divide itself into threes in order to focus energy on Topps, Donruss and Fleer.

I still have this problem in the grocery store when I'm trying to focus on cereal bars or ice tea or cookies. Dammit, Variety! I just wanna get out of the store in under three hours!

I don't think it's possible to have a long attention span when it comes to collecting anymore -- not unless you're solely in the vintage world or have a super-human ability to focus on only one 2011 card set and dismiss everything else that you see.

Is this the collectors fault? Is it the manufacturer's fault? Is it the fault of a society that can now distill any movie or television show into a four-second sound byte on you tube?

I don't know.

What I do know is it's very difficult to recommend a single 2011 product to someone without being absolutely indecisive.

And I know that some of you didn't make it to this sentence. Blame Topps if you like.

(Sloppy, homemade line graph not drawn to scale).


  1. Great post. I got me to thinking about all of the Topps product I've bought thus far and I'd have to say my favorite has been between Gypsy Queen and Allen & Ginter.

    Due to some unforeseen changes I won't be completing either set anytime soon (though the A&G set looks dang sexy in that black Topps Direct binder!).

    The base set is solid this year. Better enjoy it b/c that mess they call 2012 will be on shelves before we know it!

  2. I miss the days of working on a baseball card set all summer long.
    The (over)crowded release calendar that we've gotten used to since the late 1990s is part of the reason I don't try to collect full sets any more.

  3. I really don't have much money for cards these days but reading through your reviews makes me feel like I haven't really missed anything.

  4. " "Hi. I collect cards, but only prospects that you've never heard of before." And then I'd proceed to tell them that we can't be friends anymore."

    Classic Night Owl.

    I don't think I'd mind the amount of product if I was just a set collector. I could pick and choose what to buy/collect. It becomes a bit more difficult when you're a team collector and need all the cards from all the sets that feature players for your team. Unfortunatley, I also suffer from that impulse to buy something every time I'm at the store, or a new product comes out, or I'm breathing...you know the feeling.

  5. This is exactly why I have always stuck with Topps Flagship. There were years when the Little League Snack Shack sold '83 Fleer, and I bought a few packs, but it felt like cheating.

    I'm a set maker, and I'd go mad trying to complete all the sets. I dang near go bonkers just doing Topps base.

    The only reasons I keep a horde of non-Topps cards that I've amassed from others who got out of the collecting game is: (1) Tony Gwynn, (2) Padres and (3) Fill out other peoples want lists for more (1) and (2).

    Love the graph, it's quite elementary.

  6. First off great post.

    Second, I completely agree with you on Heritage. Except, to me, it does stand out - as someone who's been back in collecting since last year, this is the one product that I would classify as "awesome". I know the short prints are a bit of a detractor - but other than that, great card stock, and a design I love.

  7. It seems that no set is perfect and they all have their ups and downs. No one says we have to buy everything. Technically you can just buy Topps base all year and just collect that, we don't have to deal with Lineage, Marquee, Bowman or what ever else Topps shovels out. I know I definitely feel compelled to try a little of everything and rarely complete the set. It is overwhelming to see all these sets on a store shelf but as consumers we definitely have the choice of what to buy ans what to leave in the bargan bin.