10th Annual Topps Pack Opening Day

For years, as part of my moonlighting as an unpaid consultant for Topps Baseball Cards, I have engaged in a ritual involving a few company executives and a few (brand new) boxes of that year’s Topps set. The first box to come off the production line is ceremonially opened, either on television or at Topps HQ, and then we quietly pillage through whatever’s available pack-wise.

Today we turned it into a happening.

This started when I ran into my colleague and fellow collector Greg Amsinger at MLB Network two weeks ago. Greg is giddy enough about cards that I once almost distracted him from a Yankee Stadium live shot by advising him that my collection included three Honus Wagners. When the Topps gang and I set the “ripping of the first packs” for today, I asked if I could invite Greg along.


Next year, maybe we'll televise it

Greg brought a camera crew, Topps put up a display including blowups of the cards of Pujols and Reyes in their new unis and the one-of-a-kind gold card inserts, they assembled the entire 2012 Baseball Production team, I dressed up in my Matt Moore First Win Game-Used uniform, they fitted up a conference room full of unopened boxes, and pizza, and I had to give a little speech, and half of the staff snapped photos on their phones and their tweets out even before I finished talking (insert your own joke here; I actually had to be brief for a change as I’m still under doctor’s orders to not try to ‘project’ with some severely strained vocal cords and throat muscles).

Suddenly we went from four guys sitting in a room going “nice shot of Braun” to a veritable orgy of pack opening. It felt like snack time at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and I must say, for something that was made ‘bigger’ than in years past at least in part to utilize the presence of a tv camera, this organically and spontaneously turned into a really fun ninety minutes in which the pride of the employees – to say nothing of the imminent promise of spring and another MLB season – were in full bloom.

A veritable orgy of pack opening (or what my room looked like in 1967)

Before we get inside the packs, and a really exceptional effort by Topps this year (to say nothing of a sneak peek at their next issue, 2012 Heritage) a couple of fun images.

For some reason Greg didn't want to take Pujols back to the office

Why shouldn't cardmakers sign card boxes?

The Topps production team all signed the first box that was part of the ceremonial presentation depicted above. They do it at aircraft factories and they do it on the first production runs at Apple – so why not? And on the right is that display I referenced complete with the Pujols and Reyes blow-ups. I have no idea how poor Amsinger, Cardinal diehard that he is, got past this graphic testament to the fact that Albert has surrendered his legacy in St. Louis and is now tempting the curse of Almost Every Angel Free Agent Contract Ever (Amsinger, when I pulled a Mark Trumbo card today: “It should say third base on his card. Where else is he going to play for them?” Me: “First. After you-know-what happens.” Amsinger: shakes head dolefully).

A leap in photography

Over the last few years, Topps has been steadily improving the photo quality of their base set, but this year a great leap has been made. The photos are better sized and framed, more interesting, more innovative, and with the ever-increasing improvements in the mechanics of photography, crisper and more compelling. The embossing makes the names difficult to scan but the shots here of David Robertson and Jose Altuve are really terrific and virtually every square quarter-inch of the card frame is filled and filled cleanly. There’s a design decision here, visible in the Altuve card, to sacrifice the tip of his left foot to minimize dead space – and I think it works wonderfully.

And then come the fun cards. There are SP’s (single prints, if you’re not a collector – cards that you know going in are much scarcer than the regular 330 cards) that include Reyes and Pujols sent by the magic of computers into their new uniforms. When you consider that as late as 1990 Topps was still airbrushing the caps of traded players – literally hand-painting logos over the original one, not on a photograph, but on a negative measuring 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches) – let’s give the computer a round of applause.

The flatfootedness in the Reyes card makes it a little clunky but it gives you a pre-Spring Training hint at how the new Miami uniforms are going to visually ‘feel’ once the rechristened club takes the field.

Two years ago the theme of the SP’s were the Pie-In-The-Face celebrations, mostly enacted by the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett. This year the premise is celebrations and mascots, and in the case of the former, particularly the Gatorade Bath:

145 Butler (l.) and 145 Butler SP

Butler, caught just as the orange goop explodes but before he’s lost under it, is a classic card. But, to my mind, the SP version of Mike Morse’s card 165 and its suspension-of-the-wave is an instant All-Time Great:

I betcha it hits Wilson Ramos

But 48 hours after the cards reached dealers and collectors, most of the publicity has surrounded the short print of #93 Skip Schumaker.

For the record, those are Schumaker's left foot and ankle

The Cardinals’ second baseman is said to be ticked off – and I happened to see Kevin Millar, serious for the first time in months, take unnecessary umbrage at the St. Louis Rally Squirrel squeezing Schumaker out of frame – but remember, for every one of those cards, there are several hundred of the regular one on the right here. Happy? Nice boring five-cent card compared to one that’s rather crazily being bid up to more than $200 on eBay?

Players take the baseball card photo a lot more seriously than they would have you believe. Several inscribe cards bearing particularly unflattering pictures with notations about how much they hate the photo. On occasion players won’t even sign their cards based solely on the choice of image.

The real trick for the Schumaker SP 93 will be not to get the player to sign it – he’s noted for a good heart, I’m sure the charity possibilities will be raised to him and he’ll sign a bunch. The problem is going to be getting that Squirrel to sign the card. Incidentally, the squirrel isn’t a Topps first; a card of “Paulie Walnuts,” a squirrel who occupied a foul pole at Yankee Stadium, was issued in 2007.

I promised a preview of Topps Heritage 2012 and that’s coming – but one more aside first. I thought I’d pay off the day I scared Greg Amsinger with my Wagner boastfulness by bringing the famed T206 scarcity to Topps to link up the past and the present. He didn’t know it was coming, which is why he’s been caught mid facepalm on the right.

And lastly, Heritage. They’ve done another meticulous job matching up the set celebrating its 50th anniversary, the vibrant 1963 design, in which the glowing colors of ’60s Topps were first evident: A lot of star players on this sheet – and forgive the waviness of the photo: it’s a sheet.

Two cards in particular jumped out at me: Reyes again in what looks like a photo actually shot at the news conference announcing his move to Miami (although that could easily be a little misdirection) and C.J. Wilson in Angel garb.

One note on deadlines: Chris Iannetta is shown with the Rockies in the Topps set, but has already been updated to his new Angels’ uniform in the Heritage issue.


  1. Kevin

    Funny you talk about topps improving the pictures on the cards and then show a sheet of heritage that has 90% reused photos on it..oh well at least they try for one product.

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  3. EarlNash (@EarlNash)

    Great thanks for a look inside the world of Topps. For me, it is not the value of the cards, but the stories and memories that they evoke. KO, you were great on early morning ESPN from Conn., great on COUNTDOWN and continue to be great, though, alas, gray, as you share the joy of the game of baseball with us all.
    Now 67, this former reporter for the NY Journal-American writes on the Bosox Injection site; think you might get a laugh from this one:
    Earl Nash -30-

  4. Roberta K

    Is there a place that lists all the cards and players available? I’d like to see which SF Giants to watch for when I pick up my packs this year. 🙂

  5. Freddie Gasparini

    Thanks for the article- particularly in light of all this pre-superbowl football craziness around town. It’s so sweet for me to remember going down to George’s Meat Market one early spring morning and plunking down my quarter for my first five packs of 1962 first series.
    Hey! I got three Maris’ already!!!!

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  7. Stephen S. Power

    Well I can just go home because I’m not going to read anything better today.

    Great Wonka reference. The only thing missing from that table of wrappers and cards, though? The gum.

  8. Steve Wehmhoff

    The 1963 is my second favorite design, after 1960. The 1963 version of this design is also on my top 5 list (and is a fave in my Topps Store Make Your own card gallery). The basic set looks better than the old “deluxe” Stadium Club designs in the ’90s. They have done nicely this year. Now if I can find someone who wants my censored 89 Billy Ripkin Fleer card…

  9. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    Thanks so much for taking us with you to the candy store! What larks here! I laughed and cried! I am so thrilled to recognize so many players. It is only because of you and your Baseball Nerd that I have been able to enter that precious window of America’s beloved sport! This is so good for my cognitive loss…the memory part. I love that frozen gatorade! I will personally hunt for that squirrel, too! We appreciate enjoying this glorious day with you via technology. I hope your vocal chords get all better, but remember…our most important expressions are always done without words. P.S. Do you have a Paulie Walnuts card?

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  14. Ron Kaplan

    Just because you have the technology doesn’t mean you should use it. Technically, neither Pujols nor Reyes have taken the field for the Angels or Marlins, respectively. That means their cards could conceivably be considered “fakes.” It was one thing for Topps to airbrush a card after a player had moved to another team, as they did many years ago when the cards were distributed by series a month at a time; the higher-numbered cards might reflect mid-season transactions, either with photos of the player in his actual new uniform or via the aforementioned air-brush. Then again, that’s why Topps also took heads shots of the athlete without a hat, just in case.

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