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Taking a Gamble on the High End

Aaron_mediumI’m trying to get used to the idea that there are more than one type of card collector. For years and years, if you were a baseball card collector, you were probably a set builder. Your goal in the hobby was to complete a set of baseball cards. When I left collecting in the early 1990s, this was still the main focus for the majority of collectors, even with the numerous sets the manufacturers were bringing to market. When I returned to the hobby in 2005, I found that things had changed. Now, the world is overrun with player collectors, team collectors, prospectors, high end collectors, case breakers and on and on and on.

Some have used this change in collecting habits to predict the death of the hobby. I’m certain I’ve even done so here in one of my more pessimistic moments. Last Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning aired a piece by Armen Keteyian that was ostensibly about the death of the hobby. It would be generous to simply say that the story wasn’t very good. There’s little doubt that the hobby is not the force it was in the early to mid 1990s. Numerous manufacturers were making money hand over fist before the collapse of the mid 1990s, and the hobby has certainly regressed since then. Of course, all those people buying baseball cards in the 1990s had little to nothing to do with baseball and little to nothing to do with collecting. It was all about chasing the dollar. Yes, the manufacturers were making a killing before the collapse, but it was a house of cards. The vast majority of those cards released in the salad days are now close to worthless. I’d argue that the collapse just purged the hobby of a specific type of odious speculator. It was no longer possible to buy dozens of cases of baseball cards, stick them in a warehouse somewhere, and wait to get rich.

Murphy_mediumSo, what are we left with in 2012? As Chris Harris at Stale Gum points out, the kids are gone and the hobby is now dominated by the internet-savvy young. That certainly isn’t a description of me and I can’t speak for everyone, but I suspect the hobby is going to become different things to different people. Old timers like myself will continue to build sets until they aren’t putting out sets worth building. Guys like cbwilk will continue to buy prospect cards like Bowman and Minor League Heritage to collect autographs. Others will buy up the prospect cards hoping against hope that one of the young kids featured will break through and have that big year. There will always be those that are so infatuated with a team or a player that they will go out of their way to add to their collection. Case breakers will continue to buy up product in large quantities allowing the rest of us to swoop in and get the individual cards we want off of eBay. There will always be those fortunate collectors to whom money is no object and will be willing to take the gamble on the high end.

Us old timers should relax a little. I suspect we can all co-exist in this hobby.

Of course, I can’t pretend to understand high end collectors. Why would someone drop nearly three hundred dollars for a box of baseball cards that is far more likely to disappoint than it is to bring happiness? All of which brings me to the first high end product of the year from Topps, 2012 Topps Tribute.

Mccann_mediumWhat will your nearly three hundred dollars get you? Each box contains three autographs, each of which has been hand signed. Each box contains three relic cards. Each of the six packs will contain a base card parallel serially numbered to 99 or less. Some of the cards are magnificent. There’s a parallel of Hank Aaron’s 1954 Topps card which has been hand signed by the Home Run King. There’s a Dale Murphy autograph where he has hand inscribed the words “NL MVP 82, 83”. Legends like Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax have hand signed cards for the set. There is gold to be found.

Of course, the majority of the autographs won’t fetch such a high dollar. As a Braves fan, let’s say you busted a box and for your three hits, you received the Dale Murphy autograph above, a Tommy Hanson auto and a Julio Teheran auto. It would leave you, or me, seriously excited. Each of these cards are clearly a worthy addition to any Atlanta Braves collection. Of course, if you went to eBay, you could find the Dale Murphy card for around a hundred dollars. The Hanson auto would only set you back fifteen. You might have to cough up twenty-five dollars for the Teheran. That’s a lot less than the three hundred dollars the box will set you back. In fact, you could also add a Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy autograph for just fifty bucks more. You might even be able to grab a Tim Hudson for another thirty. You are still under three hundred dollars. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Hanson_mediumThis, specifically, is my problem with high end products. If you spend three hundred dollars on a box of baseball cards, there’s no pleasure to be had in pulling a Tommy Hanson baseball card. He is one of my favorite players in baseball, but in that circumstance, the card would be a major disappointment. It would crush me to pull any autograph of an Atlanta Brave out of this set that isn’t an Aaron! I just can’t drop money where I would view landing one of the cards I want from the set as a disappointment. (On the other hand, when I open that envelope from that eBay vendor and pull out that Tommy Hanson auto, I’ll be nothing buy happy. The joys of this hobby have certainly changed from those days when I walked from my parent’s house to 7–11 to buy a 30 cents packs of cards hoping for a Mike Schmidt or a Reggie Jackson.)

As far as high end sets go, I like this set. The cards are beautiful. The autographs and relics feature many excellent cards of the Atlanta Braves. Is it worth the gamble? I’ll always, always say no. Still, if you decided otherwise, good luck. You might pull the Aaron, the Mays, the Koufax or the Musial. If you are going to take a chance on the high end, I’d certainly recommend this product over Triple Threads, but that’s a rant for later this season.


2012 Topps Tribute Atlanta Braves Checklist

Thanks to Sports Card Radio for the checklist information.

Base Set (Available in the following parallels: Bronze, Blue, Green, Black, Orange, Gold, Red, Purple, Printing Plates)

  • 1 - Hank Aaron
  • 12 - Eddie Mathews
  • 78 - John Smoltz
  • 95 - Warren Spahn

On Card Autographs (Available in the following parallels: Blue, Orange, Gold, Red, Purple, Printing Plates, Onyx)

  • TA-BB1 Brandon Beachy
  • TA-BB2 Brandon Beachy
  • TA-BMC Brian McCann
  • TA-DMU Dale Murphy
  • TA-DU1 Dan Uggla
  • TA-FF Freddie Freeman
  • TA-HA Hank Aaron
  • TA-JH Jason Heyward
  • TA-JS John Smoltz
  • TA-JTE Julio Teheran
  • TA-JTE1 Julio Teheran
  • TA-MM1 Mike Minor
  • TA-MM2 Mike Minor
  • TA-RD Randall Delgado
  • TA-THU Tim Hudson
  • TA-TH1 Tommy Hanson
  • TA-TH2 Tommy Hanson

On Card Autograph with Inscription

  • Dale Murphy (Inscribed NL MVP 82, 83)

Tribute to the Stars Autographs

  • TSA-CJ Chipper Jones
  • TSA-DJ David Justice

Tribute to the Stars Relics (Also available in the following parallels: Blue, Orange, Red)

  • TSR-CJ Chipper Jones

Retired Remnants (Also available in the following parallels: Blue, Red)

  • RR-HA Hank Aaron

World Series Swatches

  • WSS-EM Eddie Mathews
  • WSS-HA Hank Aaron

Championship Material (Also available in the following parallels: Blue, Red, Purple)

  • CM-CJ Chipper Jones

Debut Digits Relics (Also available in the following parallels: Gold, Red)

  • DD-CJ Chipper Jones
  • DD-HA Hank Aaron

Position of Power Relics (Also available in the following parallels: Blue, Red)

  • PPO-BM Brian McCann
  • PPO-DU Dan Uggla

Prime Patch Relic

  • PP-CJ Chipper Jones
  • PP-WS Warren Spahn

Reprint Autographs

  • Hank Aaron (1954 Topps Design)

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