I love pretty pictures and it seems that in baseball Upper Deck believes the same thing. Cards are meant to be an extension of our joy for the game. Therefore cards should capture the game's best moments - that means stats, biographical info and photography. In my books, if one is missing the entire product suffers. You can include all the inserts, autographs and fabric scraps you want, but it's still the base set that should be the meat of any product. I know this is a somewhat dated view in a lot of circles where the chase of the rare cut autograph or patch is a driving force. I acknowledge and recognize this but it's simply a trend and once a trend is overdone it will become commonplace and an expectation. Game-used, anyone?
Let's get back to basics. Rather than proposing a complete overhaul, let's stick to one thing right now - making sure the pictures on the fronts of the cards capture the passion, action and emotion of baseball. Upper Deck - keep up the great work. 2008 Upper Deck Series One is gorgeous. It's doubly gorgeous when you place the cards alongside of 2008 Topps Series One. Topps can only rest on its laurels for tradition for so long. I'm getting sick of ripping open packs or sorting through sets and finding second- and third-rate pictures on my base sets. Maybe not this year, maybe not next but someday soon I'll become so disenfranchised with the poor photography on Topps' cards that I'll either go exclusively to their competitor or perhaps stop collecting all together. That's how serious this issue is. It's not a threat, it's not me calling someone's bluff, it the truth. If cards are supposed to encapsulate my joy for baseball and they don't, why would I continue collecting?
Here's where I think Topps needs to start - bring the Stadium Club brand back to this side of the hobby. And by pushing this single brand and its attention to photography, other Topps brands will likely fall into place as well.
Stadium Club debuted in 1991. Printed on Kodak paper and hyped as the best looking cards in the history of the hobby, Nolan Ryan in a tuxedo and a Jeff Bagwell rookie helped make 1991 Stadium Club one of the most popular of the year and one of the nicest looking sets in the history of the hobby. In ensuing years the sweet photography remained but its identity became eroded as Topps tried to cash in on other trends such as shortprinted rookies and chrome shininess. In 2003 the brand was dead and laid to rest.
Now that its been gone for five years, it's time for Stadium Club to make a comeback. Launch it as such. Collectors already familiar with the brand will remember chasing the Ryan tuxedo and being amazed by the photography. Let's face it, nobody remembers 2003 Stadium Club. We remember the splash it made when it first debuted. Those who weren't in the hobby in 1991 will be drawn in by the photography and simplicity of the set. There's no need to make things complicated. Stadium Club will sell itself if its identity of being a gorgeous card is realized. Heck, if Topps wants to play with Photoshop, this might actually be the set where it makes a bit of sense.
Here's my ideal take on what 2008 Stadium Club would look like:
Base Set: 400 cards, no short prints. This will allow for a mix of veterans, rookies and even some legends - just as long as the photos are iconic.
Cost: $5.00 per seven card pack. Make them glossy and on moderate card stock. Follow the lead of 2008 Upper Deck Series One and its mix of quality and value.
Card Fronts: Full-bleed photography with a small plate for player name, position and team. Simple elegance. It might also be cute to have Johan Santana dress in a tux and pay tribute to the 1991 Stadium Club Nolan Ryan. Mix vertical and horizontal shots.
Card Backs: While full career stats would be ideal, it might impede on the Topps base set too much. Instead, three years of major categories and a couple of cheesy biographical tidbits would suffice. Perhaps "elegant moments" could be a focus. To really appeal to old-time collectors, a return of the players' first Topps-produced card would be cool.
Inserts: Keep it simple and use them to add value, not drive sales. Redemptions for 8x10 reproductions of card-front photos would add to the brand identity. On-card autographs falling one-per-box would be ideal - stickers are bulky and would take away from the photography aspect. One game-used is predictable but nobody's going to care. Seeing as how Topps loves parallels, I'd opt for the once popular First Day Issue cards at a rate of one per box and serial number them out of 50.
Stadium Club is obviously on Topps' radar as it came back in basketball this year. I'm not sure how it was received as I don't follow basketball closely. Plus it was a relatively weak rookie class, which seems to have hurt every basketball product to a certain degree.
If the brand can come back in basketball, why not baseball. It wouldn't be hard for Topps to drop one of the other brands if it's a matter of being cut off in the number of sets they can produce. But Topps isn't going to do a darned thing if the set isn't going to sell. So here's the deal. Let's mobilize. Let's make our collective voices heard. Let's make Topps bring back Stadium Club and with it, great photography.
So get your stamps ready because it's time for an old-fashioned letter writing campaign. Forget email - I don't think Topps checks it that often. Plus it's not something they can hold and they're easily deleted. Letters are tangible and real. They create clutter when sent en mass.
But letters aren't enough. We need a gimmick to go with the campaign. When fans of the TV show Jericho wanted it to return they sent CBS peanuts. Lots of peanuts. Tons of peanuts. Literally. So if Stadium Club is about photography, let's let Topps know about who we are - with photographs. With my letter to Topps campaigning for Stadium Club's return to baseball, I'm going to include a photograph. I don't know what it will be but a picture will be part of my package and so should yours. Whether its printed at Walmart or your local one-hour stop or it's printed off your printer on a regular sheet of paper, let's give the Topps mail people something to decorate their cubicles with. Please no dirty stuff though. Keep it cute like your son or daughter playing Little League, the family holding up their favorite baseball card, a postcard or a scenic horizon shot. Whatever - just include a picture.
I am quite serious about wanting to see Stadium Club return and I hope there's others out there too. I'll make it simple for you. Here's where to send your letters:
The Topps Company Inc.
One Whitehall Street, New York
New York 10004-2109
Easier still, here's a letter you could include (simply cut and paste into Word or write out the following by hand):
To Whom it May Concern,
I am an avid baseball card collector and I love great cards. I am a big fan of Topps products and would like to see your Stadium Club brand return.
To me Stadium Club represents beautiful cards and gorgeous photography. In all honesty, I feel as though photography has been lacking in recent years at Topps. When it first launched in 1991, Stadium Club represented the best in baseball photography. It remained this way for several years before the brand was tinkered with and its identity was lost.
I believe a relaunch of Stadium Club with a focus on photography would go over very well with today's collectors. I know I would support it if the cost was reasonable and the focus was on bright, vivid action shots and portraits rather than high-end inserts and a hard-to-build base set.
I have enclosed one of my favorite photos to help illustrate why I want to see Stadium Club return to baseball. Feel free to use it to decorate your office walls or just toss it in the garbage. Whatever you choose, thank you for considering my request for Stadium Club's return.
That's it - simple as, well, whatever you consider simple. So let's get this campaign started. Feel free to leave comments, link to this page or pass on the love. Let's make a movement - a positive movement - like this hobby has never seen. I'll have more tools and tips posted shortly.