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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Good: Panini's Short Legacy

This is part three of a six-part series on the return of Panini to baseball cards.

It's easy to criticize. I know this all too well. You put something in front of me, and I can tell you all the reasons why I don't like it. On the flip side, I can enjoy something immensely, and may not be able to tell you two reasons why. Hm. Family Guy. I'm watching every episode again, in order, as we speak. Why do I like it? Well, it's entertaining. Okay, I could tell you two reasons why. It's funny, it infuses pop culture references I can relate to, the stories unfold almost as if you would think they could happen to anybody. So, there's four. I'm surprised I could do that. Let's try that with baseball cards.

It's entertaining. (Uh, duh, stupid.) Putting together sets and collections is a challenge. I make and meet new friends. It's inspired me to write and share my thoughts and experiences with others. There's a thrill that comes with opening packs, searching through boxes at card shows, and trying to find (and successfully win) cards on eBay. Don't forget that there's a sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing part of a collection - seeing a completed page in a binder, finishing a set, or even bringing an entire collection to a successful end. And there's the reminder of your childhood days, playing baseball yourself, and seeing those men pictured on cardboard in person.

Well, I did pretty damn good. I couldn't do that with a specific set, though. I have a hard time writing my This Card Is Cool features. The whole point of writing those is to try to express my joy for cards in words.

What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. The good stuff about Panini. So, positive! No criticism from me in this post!

Panini has a history in baseball, but most of it lies with sticker issues that were fairly similar from year to year. However, their 2009 purchase of Donruss Playoff brought a 25-year off-and-on legacy of producing innovative and popular baseball cards. When it comes to 1980s cards, Donruss tends to be my favorite design from year to year (though that's a different post). When I dove headfirst into collecting in the mid-90s, Donruss/Leaf/Pinnacle provided a whole bevy of products that brought something unique to the market. Whether you liked the products or not, there was something different coming out every year.

Pinnacle had randomly inserted cards giving away pins in 1995. I'd love to have a full 18-pin set of those. They inserted heavy metal cards into boxes of 1997 Pinnacle XPress, and issued cards in cans in 1997 and 1998. I've already talked a good bit about inserts, though.

The 1990s saw some beautiful base card sets, too. 1997 Zenith is one of my favorite base sets, and each pack had an even more awesome 8x10 version. 1997's New Pinnacle set made for another great looking base set.

When Playoff took over in 2001, they brought their own style to card designs. The Status and Aspirations parallels were serial numbered in a less-arbitrary fashion, pulling from statistics to give the quantity meaning. They brought their own style to cards, creating parallels and parallels-of-parallels to entice player collectors with even more options.

Playoff brought Diamond Kings back, and gave them what they deserve - their own full release. And made them attractive. When they released a Donruss, Leaf, or Studio product, it still had the feel those sets had back in the 1990s.

Of all the high-end sets released in the mid-2000s, Prime Cuts was by far the most elegant. Even the boxes they were sold in were worth money. And a little lower on the price scale was Absolute Memorabilia, which produced some of the most interesting relic combinations and best-looking patch cards ever issued.

In fact, Playoff relics stood out from the rest because they were unique. I'm not aware of any other companies that used catchers gear, shoe, batting glove, and hat relics during that time. I haven't seen a baseball player relic that isn't a jersey or bat from Topps in at least the past two years.

The history of the company that today is owned by Panini has brought many interesting and collectible sets to the hobby. Since taking over, Panini has tried to show they listen to collectors and provide what they want. With their blog, they've brought collectors into their offices to show the card design process, and asked collectors what they wanted in their sets. They issued a highly popular 99-cent mainstream product. Many of the images I've seen through their previews and on blogs show me that they're putting out cards that I would enjoy looking at if they were issued in my sport.

Whether you like anything I've offered in the past two posts or not, there's one thing you can't deny. With another company issuing cards (MLB logos or not), there will be some competition in the market, and if I learned anything in Economics 101, all those years ago, it's that competition is good. It drives innovation. Which means we should see an improvement in releases, just like we saw in the 1980s and 1990s when new manufacturers and sets brought about a bevy of experimentation and innovation we still see in cards today.

Panini's Return to Baseball:
  1. Panini Swings the Bat
  2. Coolness on Cardboard
  3. The Good
  4. The Bad
  5. The Ugly
  6. BBA: My Own Set
Nonje ne regrette rien.

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