For instance, as of today, August 20, Beckett's numbers show some interesting facts. These numbers include all parallels and inserts, of course, and they also include the All-Star teams, the team sets, and Topps Now. Before we get too far into a number-crunching, mind-numbing post, I'd best show you the card that led to this discussion -- one of those Topps Now cards.
For all of its flaws, Topps Now did allow me to sort of draw a line under Jonathan Lucroy's career with the Milwaukee Brewers -- unless, of course, through some unlikely scenario, the team decides to sign him back as a free agent after the 2017 season. I say that is unlikely in large part because I have a feeling that Lucroy may work out an extension with the Rangers between now and the end of next year. He went to college in Louisiana, his wife is from Louisiana, and they make their offseason home there, and the only place closer for him other than Dallas would be Houston.
Okay, back to the numbers. Counting everything that Beckett has categorized to date with a team attached, Topps has issued a staggering total of 82,326 different cards this year. There are still a ton on the way, though. For comparison's sake, in 2015 and including all the cards that Beckett categorized (which adds in all those online-only 5x7 money grabs), Topps issued an incredible 125,736 unique cards (not including the uniqueness of each card with a serial number, since, after all, a card numbered 97 of 99 is really a 1 of 1 in at least one way).
So, first question: is Topps issuing too many different cards?
I personally believe the answer to that question is an emphatic "ABSOLUTELY." Why? Whether you are a player collector, a team collector, or a set collector, you are forced to choose constantly as to what cards you will chase and what cards you will not chase. There are too many 1 of 1 cards, too many parallels, too many products, and too many cards generally.
To prove this point, one need only look at the "Set Types" characterization. In terms of cards that are a part of the "Main" set for Topps, a relatively small number of cards are issued -- even including the tremendously frustrating short-printed cards. In 2016, 8,912 of the 82,326 cards -- about 10.8% -- issued to date qualify as being in the "main" set. Last year, that number was 10,673 out of 125,736, or about 8.4%. In other words, in 2015, over 91% of all cards are parallels, inserts, or parallels of inserts.
Question two: Are there too many parallels? You can see my answer already.
Even for set collectors, today's Topps is incredibly frustrating. Short prints and photo variations dot nearly every set. Whether its Heritage and the 75 -- increasing next year to 100 -- short prints in the initial release of 500, Allen & Ginter's guaranteed 50 short prints (and the crazy "next" 50 of minis from rip cards), Archives (though it had only 10 short prints this year, those were SUPER-short prints), or the Flagship's increasingly obnoxious and overdone photo variations, the difficult-to-find cards make it less and less fun to be a set builder.
This leads to question number three: do short prints and photo variations take away from the main set that is issued?
For people who grew up as set collectors -- especially in the 1970s and 1980s -- the answer to that question is emphatically "Yes" as well. I want to like Topps' sets again. I want to collect a set again. With my main reason for collecting a set being nostalgia, I'd love to try to collect an Archives or Heritage set. But, I don't even try because the short prints are too difficult to find and too hard to justify buying. As a team collector first, I'm forced to budget my money to try to find and buy Brewers cards that only show up once every six months on eBay. Based on how difficult those are, why would I spend $5 on some short-printed card of Rob Refsnyder?
Finally, one of my main axes that I grind against Topps is its focus on the "big city" teams. It isn't that Topps is a frontrunner when it comes to issuing cards. Topps issues many more cards for the teams it perceives to be more popular while ignoring the more "mundane" teams. As a Brewers fan, I've documented on many occasions my displeasure with this situation.
Equality is not in the Topps lexicon. Based entirely on math and since there are 30 teams, each team should get 3.3% of all cards issued. Sure, there are some teams with longer, more storied histories than others, so there should be some variation there -- especially when Topps apparently must issue thousands of cards of retired players. But, the numbers never work out to be anywhere near "equal."
In 2015, Topps issued 1,321 cards for teams that no longer exist in the major leagues or never did. That includes a few Negro League teams (Homestead Grays, Birmingham Black Barons, Kansas City Monarchs) and all the teams that have moved or changed names (Florida Marlins, Milwaukee Braves, etc.). Rather than try to apportion those to their follow-on teams -- I mean, do Orioles fans really collect the St. Louis Browns? -- I'll take them out.
With those removed, the total cards Topps issued in 2015 is 124,415. If those cards were meted out equally, Topps would have issued about 4,106 cards per team. Unsurprisingly, though, there is no such thing as "equal" distribution.
Instead, Topps issued 6,641 cards of the Boston Red Sox (161.7% of the expected total) last year, 5,914 cards of the New York Yankees, 5,300 cards of the New York Mets, and 5,164 cards for the Chicago Cubs. That accounts for 23,019 cards -- 18.5% of all the cards issued last year. So, if you felt like every pack of cards you opened in 2015 was a Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, or Cubs hot pack, well, you were probably right.
On the other end of the spectrum, Topps issued 2,515 cards -- about 61.3% of what one would expect with equivalent distribution) of the Tampa Bay Rays (2,529 cards if you add in the Devil Rays' 14 cards), 2,905 cards of my Milwaukee Brewers (70.8% of the expected number) , 2,930 cards of the Philadelphia Phillies, and 2,990 cards of the Colorado Rockies.
As you can see, the numbers here have little to do with which teams have a longer history. If that were the case, the Mets should have had many fewer cards and the Phillies should have had many more. It isn't based solely on metropolitan area size either. If it were, then the Phillies again should have been higher and the Twins would have had fewer than their 3,199 cards.
One final measure: how about percentage of main sets? If you take out the parallels and inserts, will that make things more equivalent?
Last year, 130 cards in "main" sets were of players on teams that no longer exist in the major leagues (as defined above). That's out of 10,673 cards. That leaves 10,543, which means equivalent distribution would lead to about 348 cards per team.
The reality: the Red Sox had 480 (137.9% of the expected total), the Yankees had 477, the Mets had 474, the Cubs had 418, and the Dodgers had 408. On the other end of the spectrum, the Rays had 227 (65.2% of the expected total), the Rockies had 244, the Brewers had 246 (70.7% of the expected total), and the Phillies had 269.
All this leads to my final question: should Topps try to be more equal with its distribution of cards across teams?
I can see having a somewhat unequal distribution. But the disparity that these numbers display is excessive. As a monopoly in the licensed card world for baseball, Topps should be held to a higher standard -- by collectors to an extent, but especially by the entities granting licenses in MLB and the MLBPA.
What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.
This is also a contest post -- I'll put everyone who answers into a randomizer and send something special for your collecting interests your way to the winner.