Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Why Panini Doesn't Deserve an MLB License

In yesterday's post, I gave a few reasons why Panini should get a license to use MLB logos on their cards. But now, let's look at why they shouldn't.
There are enough MLB sets already. Topps has two or three releases hit shelves every month during the season, plus they have all of their online products. I remember not too long ago when every week would see two new lines arrive at the card shop. That's just too overwhelming.
Trading cards might be heading for another bubble. From late 2010 through 2011, card releases were pretty sparse compared to today; an average of three sets were released each month including major releases (Finest, Prime Cuts, Allen & Ginter) and small oddballs (Leaf Pete Rose Legacy, ITG Canadiana, eTopps). The 2018 season (the last I have relatively complete data for right now) saw more than twice that, and I didn't include most of Topps' small/repetitive online offerings (Topps Now/Living Set/Throwback Thursday).

But it's not just about the number of releases.

In 2011, sets like Gypsy Queen were really short-printed due to a perceived lack of demand, and even Update was probably printed in much smaller quantities than in previous years. But tons of 2018 Update packs have flooded clearance bins at Big Lots and WalMart; the last cards I remember at Big Lots were 1990 Donruss! And the baseball cards subreddit is full of investors looking for profit and hoarding these packs; it's almost like we're repeating the mistakes of the junk wax era all over again. Just now it's with certified autographs and SPs of unproven rookies, instead of base cards of unproven rookies. (How many autographs did Guerrero Jr. sign this year?)

Don't get me wrong, as a budget collector, not a prospector/investor, I'm more than willing to pick up the "scraps" from these big spenders looking to clear out their "worthless" base cards, inserts, and parallels. And I'll be glad to swoop in and pick up all the other "worthless" cards people have if the bottom drops out. But we've had this before. And too much product out there will lead to disaster.
Many of Panini's offerings rip off Topps' existing set concepts. Prizm? Finest. Optic? Chrome. Elite Extra Edition? Bowman. Donruss? Topps. Chronicles? Archives. Diamond Kings? Gallery. (Okay, DKs came first, as a subset, but Gallery was first as a product line.) Leather & Lumber? Triple Threads (relic set), or Allen & Ginter (throwback set). Topps did all of it first, and Panini just took the concept and made their own set.
Panini is lazy. Ripping off a set concept (chromium cards, throwback, heritage-style) is one thing. It happens all the time, and has happened for a long time. Leaf came before Stadium Club,a fter all. But Diamond Kings isn't real artwork, is it? Isn't it just a PhotoShop filter? Gallery uses real art. I can't tell Prizm sets from each other since they all look the same. The same goes for many of the high-end sets. They all just seem like the same thing. Plus, others have pointed out that Panini has a bad habit of reusing pictures. To me, that's all just lazy. Hire some artists and some graphic designers, and spend a little more time and money on Getty Images.
Panini products have way too many parallels. The 2019 Donruss base set had 15 parallels by my count (all four printing plates counting as one parallel set). Action All-Stars insert from that set? 10 parallels. That's the same for all of their inserts. Bleachers Inc. Autographs: six parallels. There are 138 sets in 2019 Donruss, but only about 15 unique sets in the full release. And then Donruss Optic's base set has 26 parallels, with the autograph insert sets having over a dozen parallels each. Prizm: 28 parallels of the base set.

Apples to Apples? Topps' flagship has 15 parallel inserts as well, but their insert sets have only 5-6 parallels each (still a lot, but not as many as Donruss). Many insert sets only have three parallels. Chrome has 19 base parallels, but autograph sets generally have less than six parallels, with only the Rookie Autographs having 13 parallels (printing plates count as one set). Finest: 8 parallels of the base set.
Exclusive autograph/appearance contracts cause disappointment with consumers. If you want autographs of your favorite players, then having only one manufacturer means that your player will be in that company's sets. Players had exclusive deals with all of the companies in the past, meaning some players couldn't appear in certain sets or you couldn't get any autographs or relics of that player from most of the offerings out there. Mickey Mantle went to Upper Deck, leaving Topps without its most iconic player when it wanted to reprint its classic 1950s sets.
All the other sports have monopolies. If Panini got to make licensed cards for two sports, that would probably be unfair to the other companies; Panini would need to give up its exclusive license, as then should Upper Deck. Hmm... Upper Deck is probably a different company now that McWilliam is gone; are they worth a second shot with the MLB too?

So, why do you think Panini shouldn't get an MLB license? Remember, arguments for them getting a license should go on the other post. This isn't about a flame war.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Why Panini Deserves an MLB License

Ahh, the Good Old Days. Some of you may be old enough to remember the wonderful card collecting world of the 1960s and 1970s. When Topps had a monopoly, and they only issued one big set over multiple series during the year. Don't like the design? Wait 'til next year!

But the 1980s saw the coming of Fleer and Donruss, followed by Score and Upper Deck; the 1990s brought Pacific into the mainstream. 1989 also saw the first non-flagship set, when Topps brought back the Bowman line. Then came the 1990s, when companies made dozens of sets each. Those were wonderful times. Those were dark times.

Things happened. Companies bought other companies. Companies went bankrupt and came back from the dead. And companies just decided to stop making cards.

By the end of the 2005 baseball season, Fleer had gone bankrupt and the Donruss/Score/Playoff group lost their license, leaving only Topps and Upper Deck. Upper Deck would lose their license in 2009, leaving Topps as the only company allowed to make baseball cards with MLB team logos.

Panini bought Playoff and all of the card brands that come with it to produce basketball cards, but nearly a decade ago they also acquired an MLBPA license. Since then, the conversation has come up multiple times about Panini getting to put "Tigers" on a card instead of just "Detroit".

Topps recently (in 2018) extended their agreement and has exclusivity through 2025.

Here are some reasons why I think Panini should be granted an MLB license.

Topps has a monopoly. In 1980, the courts said that other companies had to be permitted to create trading cards. Yet, in 2009, Topps and MLB Properties went against this decision, kicking Upper Deck out of the baseball market. I'm no expert on antitrust law, but what changed between 1980 and 2009?

I certainly would understand not renewing Upper Deck's MLB license back then, given their controversies - counterfeiting, reprinting, litigious practices. But for the better part of a decade, it seems to me that Panini has been trying to play fair.

Panini has appealing set designs. Not every set will appeal to every collector. I get that, and I'm not a fan of all of Panini's offerings. Donruss has influences from its past designs and is a good line for a full-sized flagship set, Leather and Lumber had a nice throwback feel. Chronicles compiles a whole plethora of set concepts together, and Diamond Kings has a great art feel. Optic and Prizm are great contrasts to Chrome and Finest. A lot of people knocked Triple Play, but I thought it was a great set geared towards kids that only suffered from a bad choice of artwork. They also had a great multi-sport set with throwback designs (Golden Age).
Not my image.
Panini makes better relic cards. Almost all I ever see from Topps are single-color swatches or small pieces of patches. Big pieces of jersey are reserved for the highest-end products or one-of-one cards most collectors won't ever see, and there are chances for bat barrels. Bats and jerseys. But Panini's sets include spikes, hats, and jackets. Absolute Memorabilia has brought catcher's gear, and I remember when bases, dirt, walls, balls, and many other artifacts made their way into cards. At least Panini has been trying for some variety.
Not my image.
 Panini has a heritage that dates back to "Golden Age" of cards. Topps boasts about its history, and it is a long one. But Donruss got its start in 1954, and produced cards back in the 1960s. Panini itself has been producing stickers since 1961.
Topps is getting complacent and stale. Topps Heritage and Topps Archives both recycle old designs. Topps issues multiple sets using its flagship design, including Chrome, Chrome Sapphire, Pro Debut, and Mini. Hello, Clearly Authentic. Gypsy Queen (10 years) and Allen & Ginter (15 years) are rip offs of previous brands that Topps has come to just rely on as "sure thing" sellers. The entire Bowman line is a prospect dumping ground. Finest, once the premier premium card brand, now feels like an afterthought.

The high-end sets have uninspired hits on uninspired, unremarkable designs. Many of Topps' recent sets have been reboots of previous lines - Stadium Club, Gold Label, Gallery, High Tek. Inserts in most of the sets just try to cram as many stars as possible without really focusing on a theme.

Having a real competitor would force Topps to produce cards that collectors really want to choose over another company's. Competition brings innovation.
Panini has (had?) a licensing agreement with the Hall of Fame. Panini's two Cooperstown sets were fantastic. It opened the door for a lot of obscure Hall of Famers (is that an oxymoron) to finally get modern cardboard. Plus, the set included favorite broadcasters, induction ceremony images, and looks at items found in the Hall of Fame. What was such a promising series has disappeared, but could be a great opportunity to release a full, complete series of cards for current Hall of Famers. Panini included some of the HOFers in the Golden Age sets, too.
Don't forget the Team USA and Collegiate agreements. Panini has the youngest and oldest players. They've put themselves in a position to provide some really great sets.

Are there any other reasons you can think of that Panini should get an MLB license? For now, I'm only focusing on the reasons they should; save your arguments against for later, when I can write that post as well.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

1975-76 Calbee: The Original Dirt Card?

Laundry: done.

Dinner: done.

Show the new teacher where to take out the trash, how to teach preschool, and a whole bunch of other stuff: done.

Update 1975 Calbee post: ...

I mentioned that I had been flipping through a couple of the "extras" boxes I've stacked up over the past few years. Some of the last cards I came across over the New Years holidays (yes, I'm still getting through those scans 20 days later) were forgotten about perhaps six years ago.

You see, back when I wrote the 1975-76 Calbee By Year post, I broke the set up into subsets, and was inspired to find some examples of cards from those subsets.

And I did. I grabbed a few at a shop or at a show. Or perhaps I already had them and didn't realize it even back then.

And then I forgot about them. They got tossed into the extras stack, and there they sat for a large part of a decade. And then, we hit a new decade. And I found them.

The 1975 portion of this set had seven subsets. Two of them overlap in card numbers; the last 35 cards in the set are Star History or Japan Series. Star History features players in 1975 and in the past using a color photo and a black and white photo.
 Card #294 has Tokuji Nagaike. He's not really much of a star, but he was popular enough 45 years ago to end up in this subset.
 Here's #323, with Tsuyoshi Oshita. Another player who really isn't that popular now, but ended up in the set anyway. You can see that the old photo could have been displayed in multiple ways on the card.
The third series to be issued in 1976 was the regular series; before that were the two magenta-bordered series Pennant Race Stars and Spring Training. The regular series has several team cards and multi-player cards, and three cards featuring Korakuen Stadium's turf. Yes, three cards in a baseball card set were about dirt.

The card above describes the many layers of the astroturf playing surface. I might try to get all three and do a full-on post attempting to translate everything, but until then, you can just enjoy the beauty that is an educational piece of cardboard that was sold with potato chips 45 years ago. Too bad they didn't have relic cards back then.

(Random tangent: Tokyo Dome resurfaced its playing field some years ago, and turned the old turf into a souvenir; each piece is about the size of a coaster. I grabbed one piece, and I'm quite glad to have it! Similar random tangent: over a decade ago, I came across a doormat-sized piece of artificial turf - maybe from Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium? I still have that oddly-shaped cut of plastic and rubber, and it still has some dirt in it from use. I don't know how I'd go about authenticating it, or even if I could, but to me it's the biggest piece of a major league ballpark I own. Until I can actually get a stadium seat. Ah, more stuff I can't have for a house I don't have...)

I've updated the original 1975-76 post with these images, and I'll continue updating as I gather new type cards for Calbee subsets over the year.

So until next time...