Sunday, February 5, 2012

REVIEW - Topps Series 1

I'm sure you've all been nearly Topps-ed to death in the blogosphere this week, but hopefully you still have some patience left for my first of (hopefully) many product reviews. I'll try to keep my review strictly design-related but we'll see how it goes.

Let's start with the base card. First off, I was really big fan of the 2011 design. Topps did a good job of making it look classy yet contemporary. They didn't over think things and didn't have anything 'trendy' that'll we'll be giggling about 10 years from now. As for the 2012 design, I think it's a step back. The amorphous blob in the corner screams late 90's, as does the font choice, Bank Gothic. I've seen quite a few other complaining about the readability of the last name in foil on black and I agree, it's hard to make out in scans and low light.

I like that they team logos are included but they should definitely be moved to the right corner of the card. As it is now, the left corner is really crowded while the right is empty, leaving the card to be imbalanced overall. Also, it's always nice to see the player position on the front.

I do give Topps credit for the photo quality throughout Series 1. There seems to be a lot more fielding shots than normal, with tighter crops for better use of the card real estate. The Arencibia and Revere ones above are a couple of my favorites so far.

The back of the base set is successfully simple. The round curve thing fits well into the top with the name and team/position section. I like that the numbers are big and just sitting inside the black box, nice and readable. The stats are always concise and thorough, though it seems like someone made some goofs and/or bad decisions. I'm sure a lot of you have noticed that doubles show up as 3B instead of 2B on some cards. That's just something that got overlooked in the proofing process. But substituting W for BB when it comes to walks, I think that was intentional. And dumb. Either way, I hope they fix it for Series 2. It's really embarrassing.

Now on to the gold 'rush,' and by rush I mean 'overkill.'  It looks like they consolidated the gold and Diamond Anniversary parallels from last year into a single "Golden Moments" parallel (which happens to be the name of a completely different insert set for some inexplicable reason.) I like that golds are actually shiny instead of just a dull gold border like they've been doing. There's a warmth to the set that's inviting. As for the Golden Greats insert, these are just....I don't know. When they released the comps a few months ago, I assumed that the gold medallion things would be actual gold foil. Instead, it's just a big yellow gradient-filled circle. The layout's actually not bad with the home-plate frame and the standard 'old-timey-ness' Topps loves. But the fake gold medallion is just too much to overlook, especially when they went to the trouble of foil-stamping the text directly to the left of it. Also, why they needed to make a 75-card set featuring only 15 players is beyond me.

The Gold Standard insert set has a decent concept behind it but the execution falls a little short. The design is a little off balance with the empty space below the medallion. The '3000 HITS' on the card above are just a little too faint. Darken that up a little more and you'd have a winner. For the Classic Walk-Offs, if the bottom right photo was full-color for the non-auto cards, it would really help balance out the design. Everything else works fine and that's the only problem spot. Not terribly exciting but it gets the job done.

The Golden Moments card here is a relic version I was lucky enough to pull in from my box break (if it didn't happen to be a Giant, I'd be kinda bummed.) I like the design idea but there are a few things that bug me. First, the home plate shape (which usually houses the team logo) needs to be moved over to the right a bit. There's no reason it for it to not be centered between the player cutout and the Golden Moments bar. The other issue is the white fade along the bottom. I know the reason it's like this is for the signature on the Autograph variations, but I don't understand why it has to be on the non-auto version. It's not like they just pull the random non-auto prints out and hand them over for guys to sign. The auto variations always include that 'TOPPS CERTIFIED AUTO' text, so there's definitely at least one design distinction there. To me, it just comes across as laziness.

This year's version of the player-comparison insert is called Timeless Talents. I like these better than the Diamond Duos of last year. First off, the design is better since it fits in as both traditional and contemporary. That means it's a little boring but it'll do. But where it really beats last year is the player thread. This is obviously a retired legend on the left and the current player with the similar game on the right. These combinations were found in the Diamond Duos set too, but there were also combos made of current teammates or current players from different teams. Hopefully if they bust this set out again for Series 2, they don't start mixing up those up again.

Inside the retail blasters this year are 2 different kinds of manufacture relics. The first is a Retired Number Patch which is basically their number embroidered in a block font onto some kind of fabric. These aren't as visually exciting as the old manufactured logo patches from last year, but I think they fit the space better and it's nice having a consistent shape from card to card. The other one is a Historical Stitches card which is basically the player's last name stitched onto a heavy flannel. This is supposed to replicate the old names being stitched into player jerseys from the past, which isn't something I knew about. These are pretty cool though a little drab with such a big 'swatch.' Still, these are both pretty cool to go along with the Retired Rings and Coin cards that I don't have any scans of. I give Topps credit for being innovative here. We all bitch about the plain colored jersey swatches and how they aren't really 'special' any more since they're all basically the same year to year. I think they've done a good job replicated the old 'feel' of getting a memorabilia card by introduce these new, specialized items into the hobby. I just hope they're able to keep coming up with new things in the future.

 Next is the Gold Futures set, which is basically just a way for them to make another Eric Hosmer card. My Hosmer fatigue is picking up speed early this season. As for the design, I've heard others say this looks like an Upper Deck card. Some meant it as a compliment, others as an insult. I'm somewhere in the middle on that. I will say, this is Topps best effort at making a design that can work just as well for a relic and non-relic version. The relics have the space in the middle where the team logo is cut-out for the swatch. I think maybe a gold border would be nicer than the black border here, but that's a small quibble. But the block box where the name is has to go. Unreadable.

Finishing up the inserts is the '87 Mini set. These seem to be a big hit with everyone and rightfully so. I'm sure most of it is nostalgia for when most of us were kids in the middle of the junk wax era, but there's just something about this old cardboard and that wood border. I thought that coming off of last year's Heritage set, the whole wood thing would seem old hat by now, but there's something different here that makes this set really shine. It could be the cartoony font, team logo in that white circle, but I'm guessing a lot of it is the photography and the card size. They're just so darn cute, ya know? And look at that card back. How could you not love that card back?

Okay, finally time reel in this tome. Overall, this is pretty much the same thing Topps does year in, year out. This isn't the major suckfest that some are saying, but there are some things that could definitely be better.

Base cards: 3/5
Parallels: 3.5/5
Photography: 4.5/5
Golden Greats: 2.5/5
Gold Standard: 3.5/5
Classic Walkoffs: 3.5/5
Golden Moments: 3/5
Timeless Talents: 3.5/5
Retired Number Patch: 4/5
Historical Stitches: 4/5
Golden Futures: 4/5
'87 Minis: 4.5/5
OVERALL: 3.625/5

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