Friday, July 6, 2012

What is "iconic"?

That was one of the topics du jour in the twitter-sphere of Ryan's Pitch, today.

Rick Klein (@rickklein) put forth a great discussion piece on Cardboard Connection that cited his desire for Topps to return to its roots with the flagship release.   With no frills or parallels or inserts or whatever, Rick channeled his childhood roots as he cited this phenomena when explaining his stance:

"For all of baseball card history, until the 1990s, the star cards were the chase cards. You pulled a Willie Mays, a Nolan Ryan, a George Brett, a Ken Griffey Jr., and that was the value in your pack. They made the pack or the box worthwhile."

I tend to agree, for the most part, and I have found myself suffering through the same thought process as I've torn through wax for the past year or so.   I would fight an inner struggle to thumb quickly past base cards (ANY base cards) in the hopes of finding that strikingly rigid relic card or seeing some beautiful ink surface from behind the preceding, boring base card.

Seriously, self?!

Then, of course, I would feel the shame and return through the piles to pay my respects to the cards upon which the foundation of our hobby is built - the base cards.   "We are cards, too" I can almost hear them screaming.   And they're RIGHT.   Turn them over when you get a chance and just READ.   Even if it's one of the simpler designs like Gypsy Queen, read what's there.   The stats, the facts and, if you're lucky - the cartoons (Archives, Heritage).   read the words, gain the knowledge and behold - there's the value in your baseball card.   Flip it back over and look at the front design.   Is the picture cool?   Do the colors work?   Can you find an airbrushing or printing error?   Enjoy it.   Critique it.   Share it.

And now...........collect it.   Trade it.   Put it on a dart board (Red Sox).   Check the number off your list and add it to the others.   Send it to the player in a TTM request or slide it gleefully into a 9-card page.   There's the value in your baseball card.   You might not be able to flip it for your car payment on the Bay of E - but you can get something out of it.

Let me get back to the twitter conversation...........

SO, Rick, along with several other collectors, industry players like Beckett's Chris Olds and even Topps themselves (@ToppsCards) bantered back and forth about how Topps might be able to satisfactorily meet Rick's request.   It is a healthy debate and very logical, too, as all seem to respect the fact that Topps IS a business and would need to be profitable while heeding Rick's recommendations.

What is iconic?

Rick made another excellent point in his article, referring to the Topps designs of years gone by, albeit mostly from the years of our (us 30 somethings +) youth along with those wonderful vintage editions.   He cited how easily all of us could recall the designs in our minds, with specific cards for certain years and how those designs thrive today in our collective hobby conscious as "works of art" and artifacts of sporting sentimentality.  

How much of this is due to our own hearts and memories clouding our judgment?   Have we simply not allowed enough time for current cards to achieve the same status in our mental display cases?   Perhaps....but then again, the obvious excitement surrounding this year's Archives release is undeniable.    I am a victim myself!   I vowed to stop at the flagship and Gypsy Queen releases this year but fell like a middle-schooler for Erin Andrews when I picked up a few 'sample' packs of Heritage and Archives.  

Now a "Fox" in more than one way...

Yes.   Gratuitous........

I've said it before - well done, Topps.   So, what is it about seeing today's stars in yesterday's designs that makes it all so exciting?   Is it the gimmickry of it?   Is it the allure of 'something new as something old'?   We may never know.   But ask yourself this - would you be as stoked to see McCutchen in the 2002 design vice this:

....or this?

Oops.  An insert......okay, score one for Topps.   But hang with me!

So, what do you think?   What does iconic mean to you?   Will the 'surfboard' design of 2012 flagship develop into an iconic design - eventually?   Have we, as a hobby, lost our ability to appreciate beautiful designs if they aren't accompanied by the chance to pull on-card autographs, jumbo relics or maple syrup glaze parallel SSSSP's?

Perhaps, but in the meantime - here's my two cents:   I don't believe iconic designs are behind us.   The iconic designs of my youth are exactly that - the iconic designs of my youth.   The '87 mini inserts from this year's release made me tear up a little while they very well might cause a 12 year old kid today to mutter, "What the heck is this?"  It's true, fellow geezers.   The iconic designs of the golden age and beyond are iconic for the legendary players they picture, I believe....and they're just old....and can be kind of tough to find.   2012 base cards will be old one day and probably hold some value for collectors who are riding bikes today that will remember watching Pujols or Cano or Kershaw as children.   One thing that WON'T be the same, however, is the scarcity.   We may never see that phenomena associated with present-day releases so I think that is a unique contributor to the allure of designs and plain old base cards from vintage (50's and 60's) releases.

For the record - here's MY iconic:


Where was I 6/24/83?!? I don't know.....

And THIS.....this just doesn't seem epic to me.   Not yet.   But perhaps one day?

Golden Mouuuuus

Overall, this is a great question and a healthy debate.   Topps truly can't stand to lose too much from trying to find an answer, either.   There will probably be a 'swing and a miss' from time to time, yes.   But they might as well try, though.   You KNOW that we will all be there to at least pick up a few packs!

Let me know what you think and thank you for providing the discussion point, Rick.

Thanks for reading and before I forget - GO YANKEES, BEAT THEM SOX!!!!!!!!!!


  1. My definition of iconic is whenever I think about a certain player, a specific card comes to mind. Foe example, if I hear the name Benito Santiago my mind flashes with his 1991 Topps card or with a bigger name when you hear Mickey Mantle you are likely to picture the 52 Topps.

    Not sure if that's where you were going with this, but that's my thought pattern.

  2. Iconic, like beauty, is certainly is in the eye of the beholder. But for me, I'd have to put Griffey from 1989 Upper Deck as the most iconic card to me. I came back to collecting as a 13-year old in 1993 after leaving in 1988 or so. I didn't know much, but that card seemed very very difficult but not completely unobtainable. At card shows I would sometimes buy a pack of 89 UD - and somewhere along the line I pulled one. It still seems pretty amazing to this day, even though you could find that card all over eBay today for far less than the 50 bucks I sold it for to a dealer 20 years ago.