Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fixing Archives

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might have come across my incredibly vitriolic, angst-filled rant over the weekend regarding the 2014 Topps Archives set.  I know -- it was pretty harsh.  Perhaps I should not blog on days when I'm feeling hung over.  That might be better for everyone.

That said, anyone who is in customer service will tell you that writing angrily to a company with all your problems with their product or service and closing by saying, "I'm never going to buy anything from you again" is a sure way to get ignored.

The reason is pretty obvious: most companies are not going to waste time begging someone who is ticked off to come back so that they can be annoyed and write more angry letters.  They would rather focus on doing the things that retain customers that are happy or at least are not completely annoyed by them and, further, to grow their customer base.  The smart company will read the ugly letters to see what set off Mildred in Milford to make sure that those issues are not being repeated across the company, but Mildred won't be getting any $1 off coupons in the mail for her complaint generally speaking.

So, having dumped all over the 2014 version of Topps Archives previously, it is now time to turn the spotlight on my thoughts -- feeble though they may be -- for improving the set.  The improvements will fall into similar categories as my complaints:  short prints (and their design), player selection both for the base set and for the short prints, card designs in the set, and inserts.  While I did not have a problem with the inserts that I received, there is still room for improvement.

Short Prints and Player Selection
I think Archives lost its way this year most clearly in the short print series.  I don't have that big of a problem with increasing the number of short prints to 50, though it gets frustrating to anyone who wants to put the full 250-card set together that literally 20% of the set is now short printed.  To me, the real problem was the fact that the short prints include way too many active players and, in addition, too many good retired players.

I've circled the active players in red and the guys I call "too good" in green above.

The problem I have is not that these active players are active nor do I have a problem with "good" players being in Archives.  No, the real issue to me is that what made archives kind of special and different was the fact that we were getting cards of players from the past who weren't appearing in Tribute/Museum Collection/Five Star and also were not appearing in the multiple inserts accompanying the Topps Base Set. Now, though, all we have are just another card of Puig, Ryu, Abreu, and Babe Ruth rather than, as we had last year, cards of Sid Fernandez, Fred Lynn, and Juan Samuel or, as we had in 2012, cards of Brett Butler, Bake McBride, and Cecil Cooper.

So, how do we fix this?

It's pretty straight forward, though it may not be easy: simply don't put active players in the short prints.  That sounds easy, right?

It probably isn't as easy as I'd like it to be.  Thinking through the legalities for a moment, the real reason we are getting this hodgepodge of active players and superstar Hall of Famers in the short prints -- and the reason we get the same guys over and over and over -- is a simple legal issue.  These players -- or their estates or trusts that are operated for the benefit of the former players' heirs -- all own the rights to the individual player's image.

Let's talk about the retired players first.  To use any image, Topps must have a contractual ability to do so. To find players and compensate them in a way that makes business sense, Topps has to employ a bunch of lawyers to negotiate the agreements in question.  Even though Topps has a monopoly in terms of licensed products, its not the only card maker so even the retired players and their estates have some leverage in the situation.

As a result, Topps likely obtains the ability to include each player in however many card sets Topps chooses to issue for a particular period of time.  To make enough money off each contract, many of these players have to be included in a bunch of sets.

Alternatively, as many of us know, it is relatively easy to find the actual image Topps uses on each card.  We just use Google Image Search and, generally, we can find the card on Getty Images.  That's because Topps must have a licensing/contractual relationship with Getty for images that Getty owns.  Those images are ones for which the player photographed likely has provided a waiver to Getty for Getty to profit off the image.

Alternatively, the image might be owned by Getty from one of its photographers taking the photo in a public location.  Then, it's back to Topps to make sure that it has the right to use the player depicted on its cards.

Now, getting back to Archives, the reason that current players will feature more and more prominently is simply because Topps has contracts with nearly all of the current players -- Matt Wieters is a notable exception -- to print baseball cards with the players' image on it in exchange for a licensing fee.

In short, current players and those retired players with whom Topps already has a contract require no additional work on Topps's part to use their images on cards.  Lesser players and guys who have not been on cards in a long time require more work, make less money for Topps, and provide less marketability in other sets that Topps makes.

I mean, does anyone want a Bake McBride bat relic in their Museum Collection set? On the other hand, Ricky Nolasco is in Museum Collection this year.

To finish my point though, if we want Archives to be like it was last year in the short prints, either those short printed players will need to sign a multi-year deal (probably what Mookie Wilson did, since he was in last year's set too) or have additional marketability beyond Archives -- like Pedro, Canseco, McGwire, and Fernando, for example.

Being a lawyer and knowing these issues sucks sometimes.

Player Selection, Part II
There is one thing, though, that Topps can easily improve on with very little additional expense.  Archives does not need to be "ESPN: The Card Set" and be comprised of 85% Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Dodgers (or guys who played for those teams in other uniforms).  Nothing personal to all my blogger friends who like those teams, but those of us in the "flyover states" are baseball fans too.

Right, Georgia boy (and Bulldogs fan) Jason Aldean?

Card Design
The excellent Cubs blog Wrigley Wax gave a great run-down of the set designs that have been used for the Archives set over the past three years.  Using the Cubs cards for comparison, he ran down what Topps changed about each of the original designs when implementing them for use in Archives.  I don't mind the inconsistencies in designs that result from redoing the sets.

But there are a couple of problems this year.  First, we did not need to get the 1980 design back.  Look, I love the 1980 set design as much as anyone else who turned nine years old that year.  It's a clean, classic design.  It did not need to be back this soon.

Second, we did not need another set including the 1989 design -- in the same fashion as the die-cut minis from this year's base set.  It's as if Topps thought, "well, hell, we've got the graphics already put together for it from these die cuts, let's use the damn things again."  Actually, that's probably exactly what Topps thought. It's the laziness that has invaded Topps's business since it got the licensing monopoly back.

Third, the short prints need to be different designs from the base set.  Since we've gone to a full-on 50 short print cards like the other designs, why not just use one design for the short prints?  While you're at it, make it one of those awesome designs from 1974 through 1979, or 1981, or 1983 (like the framed minis from 2012), or use one of the old Heritage graphics designs and bring back 1960 again.  I mean, you used 1960 for relics last year, so you have the design graphics available....

Finally, there are the inserts.  I know I'm a lone voice in the wilderness at times on this issue, but Topps just does way too many inserts in every set.  I know Topps wants people buying these packs and having some payback on the secondary market to drive additional demand.  I know that inserts drives that at times, and, in particular, autographs and low-serial-numbered cards of popular players drives that.

But you can still scale them back a bit. Do fewer of them.  Maybe do 3/4 of the number of inserts that you did last year.  It's okay.  There will still be plenty of inserts on eBay with ridiculous pricing in the first two weeks after release as there always are, so your "investor" types can take their profits off us "collector" types.  I don't mind that.  Just a couple fewer.  That's all.


I know this post is long on reading and short on pretty pictures. My apologies to those of you who slogged through all of this hoping for some happy payoff.

I had a law school professor who drove all of us in his class nuts with how lacking in substance his class seemed to be.  It lacked direction, and he lacked an ability to stay on point.  He somehow got the nickname behind his back of "Mr. NASA" for his space cadet-like nature.  But he had one really good line that I recall every time I start ranting and fail to reign myself in:

Remember, nothing is so impeccable that it can't be pecked at.

Everyone can come up with problems, and every solution has its shortcomings.

But Topps, really, you can do better with Archives than you did this year.  And collectors like me would really appreciate it if you would try.


  1. Great post! The design of the cards is not a huge issue with me, but I couldn't agree more about the checklist and inserts. Who doesn't want to pull the Yankee's backup catcher in a pack. I think a little more focus on the content of set and a little less emphasis on making 25 parallels of the same card would be a good start for Topps.

    1. Thanks, Matt. I mean, you understand the situation too being that you are a Pirate fan. If you watch ESPN only for your sports, you'd think that the NL Central was actually named the "NL Cardinals and Cubs".

    2. This was especially true in the mid 2000's when the Pirates stunk. It took a few years for Freddy Sanchez to get any love in the card world and he had a batting title and a couple of All Star game appearances.

  2. There are five Dodger short-prints! FIVE! The Yankees have even more. As a team collector, hell, yeah, I'm pissed that there are 50 SPs.

    1. I can't complain too loudly about that, since the Brewers have featured on a grand total of ONE short print in three years -- and that was Cecil Cooper. Yes, I had to buy three of them to have enough for my set, my player collection and my team collection. If I had to do that for four or five cards each year, I'd pull my hair out.

  3. I guess this is why I still don't buy new packs of cards. All the brands and short prints gets confusing. I take any and all cards that I get in trades and I think there all great but I don't put any pressure on myself to try and complete even my team sets. I only buy vintage . Seems much easier and I know what I'm getting