Bring Back Big Sets
By *censored* aka Drew Pelto
Not all of us want more cards overall, just more cards per set…
I’ll admit it, I’m an old-school collector. I’d rather spend my money on a bunch of base cards of nobodies than cards serial numbered with pieces of jersey in them.
My first packs of cards came in 1990, with the first one I truly remember being a rack pack of 1991 Donruss baseball that I got in April of 1991. You remember those ones with the borders that look like the producers of Tron met with Jackson Pollock and threw something on blue and green canvases. An ugly design, an ugly checklist, ugly overproduction, but it was my first and it will always hold a soft spot in my heart. Things like that stick in your memories from when you’re a seven year old and Cory Snyder is the best player ever, no matter that the stats say to the contrary.
So I think of myself as an old-school collector. Maybe not as old-school as those who were buying nickel packs with gum in them (I do remember the gum being in 1991 Topps, but those packs were 59 cents, not a nickel), but definitely older school than those who don’t remember a day before glossy coating and metallic foil on every card. A little piece of me died when Topps Gold was put in each pack in 1993.
While the technology involved in card production has improved, the hobby has done a faceplant into the turf. Or ice. Or court.
When I started, everyone had a card. The lefty reliever that pitches to one batter per game, the third string point guard, the fourth line tough guy, the punter, you could find at least one card of each of them in their sports’ sets. But now, these guys are hard to find. I know, a lot of people ask “who cares?” There are still completists like me out there who care. The last thing I want is 50 cards per set, per year of A-Rod, Sidney Crosby, Kobe Bryant, or Peyton Manning. Give me those unsung heroes who can drop a ball and boot it 50 yards. Give me a card every now and then of a guy who has 300 penalty minutes a year and has fewer goals than teeth. Give the guy who puts up 4 points and plays 8 minutes a game his moment in the sun. Give props to the little guy!
I’m not asking that every card set suddenly do this. There’s a market out there for premium cards of premium players. I may not like it, but I understand it. However there are still those of us out there who appreciate the nobodies. Not every collector out there wants to pay for a chance at cards with pieces of game used jersey, bat, stick, helmet, mouth guard, or pine tar rag. Plenty of us collect cards for just that– the cards.
When I was in college, I started collecting autographs. I hounded stadiums, arenas, hotels, practices, anywhere I could get. The biggest annoyance was when a player would walk out, perfectly willing to sign… and I had nothing for him because he had only two cards out there and I had neither. I have a box of autographed index cards from times like this.
The 792-card Topps set has died. While yes, the sets have gotten larger over the past few years, they’re loaded with filler. Who needs a special card for each Gold Glove Winner? Late 1980′s Topps sets had only special cards for All-Stars and a few Record Breakers (not counting the Nolan Ryan worship of 1990 and Pete Rose worship of 1986). No set had more than three cards of a single player in it. Completists like me had cards of anyone and everyone. Set collectors had a challenge ahead of them.
With the old 792-card Topps set put into today, you could fit in 24 players from each team, each manager, and still have 42 cards left for All-Stars, Record Breakers, Award Winners, Highlights, or any other random filler piece you could want. The one place I will show appreciation instead of critical nostalgia: the removal of checklist cards as part of the set. Nothing “harshed my seven-year-old mellow” quite like busting a 15-card pack and getting two checklists.
I’d rather bust pack after pack and get a bunch of backup catchers and one card of Derek Jeter instead of 15 different Jeters and see the little-known guy never get a card. That used to be half the thrill of being a rookie athlete– finally seeing yourself on a card. Some guys don’t ever get that luxury. Or if they do, it’s one card after playing three years. No matter how seemingly insignificant a player may seem, he still has his fans, even if it’s just his family, fans of his team as a whole, and people like me who collect everything.
I’d love to see more companies take a return to the old days. No glossy coatings, no gold foil, no fancy computerized designs. Just give me what card collecting was in its good old days: a photo of a player with a neat and clean border and statistics on the back that’s affordable for the kids. And don’t give us these cheap packs with 5 cards for a buck either. I come from a time of 15 cards for 59 cents. I know inflation has sunk my two cents to the dirt and this will likely fall on deaf ears, but 20 cents per card is ridiculous. I understand it for the premium sets, but help us old-school collectors out. Hear us, companies. I just want one set each year that goes back to the roots of collecting.
About the author: Drew Pelto is the radio and internet voice of the NAHL’s Wichita Falls Wildcats. He is a long-suffering Cleveland fan with all the baggage that comes with the lifestyle. He prays each night to his autographed photo of Mario Lemieux while burning LeBron James’ photo in effigy. He has a very understanding wife of three years who puts up with the card collection he has built over 20 years. For largely inexplicable reasons, his favorite sets are 1987 Topps baseball, 1990 Pro Set and Score football, and 1990-91 Pro Set and 2002-03 Topps Total hockey. You can reach Drew via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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