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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Today's Bowman

Bowman's eggs are all in one basket. It kind of happened by accident, with a little bit of luck - Topps used its contracts with the most promising minor league players to bring them to major league cardboard before Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck could. This, along with just the right timing - strong rookie classes of 1991 and 1992 - turned Bowman into the "home of the rookie card." While the base Bowman set has always included veterans, by the mid-1990s the set favored and even featured rookies. Through the 2005 release, approximately half the set would feature major leaguers, while the other half featured rookies.

By 2005, most card sets had an overwhelming number of rookie cards. Many boxes featured autographed cards of minor leaguers, many of whom were years away from stepping onto a major league field, and many more who would never cross the white chalk line. Major League Baseball decided to change the rules in 2006. They dropped Donruss, limited the number of sets each manufacturer could issue, and most importantly to the Bowman product line, defined who could be in a licensed release.
The new "rookie card" rule stated that a player cannot appear on a card unless he is on a 40-man roster. Players still working their way through the minor leagues could receive cards in insert sets, but not in the base card release. It also defined the use of the rookie card logo, seen all the time these days.

Bowman could no longer devote half its set to its minor league prospects, but the insert rule provided a work-around. Instead of being Bowman "rookie cards", they would be labeled as "First Bowman Cards" and be numbered separately with a prefix. Officially known as the Prospects insert set, it added a little bit of confusion to Bowman set numbering.

Of course, there's more than one Bowman issue. 2010 saw the release of Bowman, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Chrome Draft, Bowman Platinum, and Bowman Sterling. If you look close enough at each set, the prospects are numbered separately from the veterans and MLBPA-defined rookies.

The crazy numbering scheme is needed so Bowman can continue to be relevant in the hobby. Without the prospects, Bowman becomes just another set. The only thing Bowman has going for it is the rookies.

Prospectors looking for the next Pujols-like big money hit don't care about design. They care about card value. This is why (I feel) the Bowman design has changed very little since 2001. This is why there are five separate Bowman releases per year, three of which have exactly the same design.

Now that Topps has the MiLB and MLB licenses, they theoretically could release Bowman under the minor league license and eliminate the crazy numbering scheme. They could also get rid of all the veterans that most purchasers of this product don't care about. Let's face it. Most Bowman buyers are looking for Strasburg or Harper, the Prospect cards and rookie autographs. They buy the packs up, keep the prospects, and dump the red and green base set cards either at the card show or in the trash can. Team and player collectors are just about the only collectors interested in these "reject" cards. Moving five prospect-based releases from the MLB license to MiLB would allow Topps to release five additional relevant MLB sets. They could even include some veterans in their minor league uniforms as an insert or subset.

And while we're changing things, I think it's time for a change with Bowman Chrome. Bowman Chrome is just another parallel set, released in a separate pack. Topps needs to combine Chrome with the regular release, either by eliminating the regular release or (*gasp*) making Chrome a parallel released with the regular Bowman issue.

Topps released promo images of its 2011 Bowman Chrome set this week. If you want to know what the cards look like, just look at 2011 Bowman (or see the sellsheet) - the autographs will look pretty much like the Harper at the top of this post. 1994 Bowman's Best throwbacks will return, and there will be cards featuring the 2001 design. (Which, if you read yesterday's post, isn't really different from this year's design.) Bowman Futures is an insert set with parallels (what are micro-fractors? Fusion-fractors? Future fractors?). As always, expect the base and prospects sets plus colored refractors. The Team USA cards will return (the only part of the set that interests me).

Is this set necessary? Again, couldn't Chrome just be part of the regular set as a parallel? Topps, I have the answer for you. Instead of releasing Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and then Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects, just release three series. Each series can have Bowman, Chrome, and all the Refractors you feel are necessary. You can still put Team USA in the second series and all the draft picks in the third series. All the prospect hunters will still buy your boxes, because you'll be releasing new prospects in each series, just like you do now. You'll remove the confusion of numbering (and you won't have to wear out the B and P keys on your keyboard). And you'll remove the monotony of three separate "releases" all having the same design. Yes, there is a difference between three identical series of Topps flagship cards and three unique releases of Bowman with the same design.

If you want proof that Bowman purchasers/collectors don't care about design, read the thread on Bowman Chrome going on at Blowout. They're talking about player and autograph selection, print run, and repeat appearances by players like Harper and the official rookie class. Repeat appearances are generally solved if you issue your set in three series (unless you just issue a second base card like they're doing with Harper).

What are your thoughts on Bowman and its five releases?


  1. I SPEAK ONLY FOR MYSELF HERE: Bowman is an irritating, confusing, and unnecessary set in my opinion. There are so many inserts and parallels, there's no justification for the base set. I don't understand the market relativity. They really should just fill the packs with either a blank card or one of the 5-10 prospects people are actually looking for, rather than fill it with a bunch of minor league players who will never spend a day in even High-A ball. But people keep buying it like it's high grade crack, so I guess Topps will keep printing it. I never reject cards people send me, but when I get a random Astro Bowman card of a prospect I've never even heard of, it's a little disappointing. I will generally go out and buy a single or two of a guy I want, but never buy a pack because I just don't like the product overall. Anyways, there's my two cents...

  2. I agree that Topps should keep doing the regular Bowman set and get rid of the other sets in the Bowman line (Bowman Platinum, Bowman Chrome, Draft Picks & Prospects) Why does Bowman Chrome have to be a separate set? Just make it a parallel of regular Bowman. I like Bowman but I don't see why people go gaga over it. I'll buy a Bowman blaster every once in a while but I won't spend massive amounts of money on it.

  3. Next time I send a package to The Dimwit I'm going to have to pack it full of Bowman! (That's a joke.) Though I have used Bowman as filler in trades before. I have to be careful when I pull cards from a Bowman stack for trade (or the same when it comes to offering up some other unknown prospect card from any particular random set). I try not to count them when I'm counting overall cards I'm sending, unless that person has those cards or players on their want list.

    Bowman's popularity lies solely in the chance to hit it big in a few years. Look back to '92, with Mariano Rivera and Mike Piazza. 2001 has Pujols. I know there are more, but those are the ones that really stick out. Right now, people can pull a Bryce and make a nice profit, or a Brandon Belt and still make a few bucks. And just like the lottery, people buy the packs hoping for that 1/1 winner that will cover their expenses for the next year. It's a different breed of hobbyist than us. (Hey, new article idea.)

  4. Funny you mention the thread on the Blowout forums, as I was just reading it this morning. It seems that Bowman is tailored to a very different collector than most of us on blog street. It almost seemed to me that these guys collect and stockpile rookies and don't really care about the cards unless they can makes some bucks off of them, whereas we buy cards we like because of design, players, teams, etc., what ever the reason we get drawn to certain sets and cards. I don't know, its almost like Bowman is in a league of its own as far as collectability goes. Either you love it or you hate it.

  5. I like Bowman as a TTM fan. Since regular Yanks dont sign much, I use the prospect cards for TTM requests. Otherwise, I'll collect the Yanks base cards and that's about it.