This year's rendition of the flagship product is an interesting product, and not always in the good sense. The base cards are nice, though not exciting like Finest or Ultra, not nostalgic like Heritage or A&G or Goudey.
Design: This is the short-printed variation of Greg Maddux's card #289, Walter Johnson. This is the standard Topps design, framed, not full-bleed, average-to-above-average photography (although this is not an example of it), nice layout, good statistics on the back, and an interesting new feature that shows how the player fared against other players, such as the top five players with the lowest BAA (batting average against) for a pitcher and the pitchers whom a player has the best batting average against. The logo on the plate is a neat touch, but the overall design is average. Grade: B
Value: For my $77 HTA (home-team advantage) Jumbo pack hobby box, I got 10 packs of 50 cards, 100% of the base cards (that is why I like the Jumbo boxes better than the wax or retail boxes), 10 Turkey Reds, 10 Gold Border cards, 10 Ring of Honor cards, 10 Legends of the Game, 10 ToppsTowns, 1 WBC redemption, 1 autograph, 2 relics and 1 Legends Patch card. Nice haul. No sketch card or Legends autogamer, but pretty nice mix of everything. Grade: A-
Inserts: I love the Turkey Reds. Not enough for them to be a separate product, which is why I didn't collect it, but it is great as an insert. I love the old-style obverse with the old-style font. The Gold Borders are numbered to 2009. (Yawn) The Ring of Honor I could care less about. Very poor design on them, almost useless information, and a continuation of a series from 2008. OK, so where do you store this: with your 2008 inserts, or with the 2009 base set? Dump them. The Legends of the Game are fantastic, though. Another great old-school design with modern touches, interesting pictures (colorized), and decent information and a timeline on the back. Great addition to the set. The ToppsTown cards are numbered and have different players on the 25-card set. Eh. Not necessary. All in all, a nicely designed and streamlined set of inserts that augment the base set instead of overpowering it, like last year. Grade: B+
AutoGamers: I received my allotted 2 relics and 1 autograph, although I am disappointed with the signer: Yovanni Gallardo. The game-used relics are better, with a Jose Reyes and a Ryan Braun. The cutouts for the relics are their position, and the Braun has a pinstripe on the far right side of his. (Aside: Let's not kid ourselves. These are not dual relics. They are one relic showing through two cutouts. Get real!) The design of these Career Best cards, though, leaves me scratching my head. There is absolutely no relationship or resemblance to the base cards, and although I like the design with the solid background colors and different colors to differentiate between autos and relics, they are too radically different to make sense. And the Gallardo sticker (not even on-card - booooooo) is off-kilter. Nice going. Grade: C
If they really want to make the autographs desirable, then they should eliminate the B-list and stick to the big stars. This would increase demand. I see that the Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Howard autos are selling well, but the Gallardo's, like mine, are less-than-lusted after.
Miscellaneous: One nice addition to the set, and a neat throw-in, was the Commemorative Patch (not game-used) of the 25 Legends of the Game. We got a patch of Tris Speaker, appropriate since we are Indians fans, that made us look at each other, say "Wow!!!" and "Holy Moly!!!" and high-five. This was a neat piece to get in the box. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is a game-used relic, though. It is only a tribute to each player, witht he letters being from their nickname, not their real name. (No "G" in Tris Speaker, but several in "The Grey Eagle." At least I got a 'G'.) I like them.
Also, they put in redemption cards for a World Baseball Classic "Rookie Rising Star." Hmmmm. A bit of mystery is a good thing. Keeps interest high. Grade: A
Overall Grade: B-
I may be too tough on this set, and it may stand the test of time better than some of the others, but it is a flagship product, and it should look like it. Topps needs to rethink its strategy and emphasize their bread-and-butter basic collector of sets, give them something desirable, and make it worthwhile to purchase. Otherwise, fah-ged-a-bod-it!