Albert Pujols’ Hobby Legacy – 500 Home Runs Strong

Although the accomplishment has been diminished over the last few years, history was made last night. Albert Pujols’ 500th home run made him the 26th in history to accomplish the feat, and as someone who is a benchmark in this hobby, that is a VERY big deal. Its hard to say what he has meant to baseball cards, because he has had a truly enormous impact on both the prospecting and rookie side of the game.

Here are some of my favorite cards of his to pick up:

2012 Leaf Metal Albert Pujols Auto /5

2001 SPX Albert Pujols Auto RC /1500

2007 Ultimate Collection Albert Pujols Auto Jersey

2012 Topps Gypsy Queen Albert Pujols Auto

Whenever a prospect comes screaming hot out of the minors, everyone automatically compares them to what happened back at the beginning of the decade with Pujols’ ascension to the top of the Cardinals’ lineup. He was not a number one pick like Harper or Strasburg, and most of his cards were only crazy expensive once he started playing as well as he did.

The benchmark for new player value may be moving more towards his teammate Mike Trout, but Pujols is the hall of fame for measuring that kind of rise through the ranks. Its rare that a player will win one MVP, let alone all the awards that he has won, making it clear that he is obviously one of the best ever. The issue in the hobby is that things are very much based on the new hotness or the “what have you done for me lately” mentality. Because of a few down years, its clear that Pujols wasn’t the monster he was back a few years ago. His Bowman Chrome rookie card still is the most expensive in the history of the product, and will likely be that way for the foreseeable future.

We should all be happy he hit his 500th home run, because it adds to the allure of the game. He is the one guy who has never had any suspicion of PED usage, and seems to be the role model that baseball needs. That also means that 500 home runs doesn’t mean what it used to, especially among collectors who have already given up on Barry Bonds and company for their connection to steroids. Its inevitable that the discussion will eventually turn this direction.

I have been a fan of since watching the Cardinals at Busch stadium about 6 years ago, and I am glad that he finally made his mark. He sure has done so around the hobby, no matter what his current stat line may say.

2014 Topps Finest and 2014 Score Previews are Looking Good!

Two big previews to discuss today, and both of them actually look pretty damn good. I think we are starting to make a lot of progress in design for both Topps and Panini, which is a great thing. Though the rookie class is more likely to be able to support the higher end products this year, I think it’s nice to see that the companies continue to improve design.

2014 Topps Finest

I was a huge fan of Finest’s design last year, especially for the hard signed cards that have become a staple. The product has been the beneficiary of a complete resurgence, as collectors have flocked to the boxes as one of the first higher end products of the year. In 2009 I would have said this product was dead. Now, its one of the best.

This year’s design looks similarly impressive, check out some of the best of the best:

2013 Topps Finest EJ Manuel Jumbo Patch Auto /25

2013 Topps Finest Eddie Lacy Patch Auto RC

2013 Topps Finest Keenan Allen On Card Auto Blue Refractor

Its no surprise that the LATE draft will impact the card year, likely leading the card companies to have to make tough decisions in the way their early products are constructed, and this might be the first time we see how much that effect will take its toll. I think all the cards look improved, especially on the patch autos and the base cards. However, the on card autos from 2013 look to be stickers this year – VERY disappointing. On the jumbo jersey autos, which have been a favorite of mine for a few years now, the border around the swatch is WAAAY to thick to the point of ruining the aesthetic of this design. There is no reason for a border that thick, so much so that it bleeds into other elements of the card. I reached out to Topps with the hopes that they change the design before production, so we will see.

NOTE: these pictures are just mockups – rookies will be in their NFL uniforms.

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2014 Score Retail and Hot Rookies Hobby

Things look to be changing for Score this year, with a lower end product for retail and a more middle of the road product for hobby. Because last year’s score was nothing short of a visual disaster, combined with horrid performance on the market, I don’t think this is a bad idea. Hot rookies will be structured like 2007 Upper Deck Elements Baseball, with mini boxes promising different content in one factory box.

The design for the cards is vastly improved as well, even though the rookies are still sporting sideline shots with their helmets off instead of retouched action shots. I really like a lot of the insert sets that they are doing for the retail side of it as well, including some really creative ideas to build out the interest for a different target market. Will this product knock your socks off with content? Not even close, but at least it seems to look a lot better than last year’s train wreck:

2013 Score Cordarrelle Patterson HOT Rookies Auto – One of the ugliest sets of recent memory

2013 Score Kenny Stills Auto RC – An iconic design does not solve these eyesore’s problems

2013 Score Tavon Austin Auto RC – horrible!

Now that we are starting to see more previews for 2014 products, I am really starting to get ramped up for the draft. Its one of my favorite times of the year, and 2014 is looking to be one of the deepest there is. Still a bit concerned that there has yet to be a 2014 licensed preview with Manziel, but Im sure that will work itself out.

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Leaf Johnny Manziel Draft Predictors Are Live

Last week, Leaf announced that they were going to be offering a program where collectors can buy exclusive packs onlineThese packs each contained a card of Manziel with a city name on it. These packs each contained a card of Maziel with a city name on it. If that team picked him in next month’s draft, the card can be exchanged for an autographed version of the card. Each team only has 41 copies, so there are not many out there.

The first ones have hit, and its easy to see where collectors believe Manziel will go:

2014 Leaf Manziel Draft Predictor – Cleveland

2014 Leaf Manziel Draft Predictor – Jacksonville

2014 Leaf Manziel Draft Predictor – Houston

Upper Deck also has their own version, but inserted in packs. They selling nicely as well:

2014 Upper Deck Johnny Manziel Draft Predictor

I really like this program, and I think that anytime a card company can count on Manziel at this point, they will walk away with people buying in. The cards look really cool, and I have to give it to Brian Gray for trying this out. Exclusive eBay sets have not really performed that well in the past, but this one seems to be a bit different due to its limited nature.

Personally I think Manziel will end up in Cleveland, but Jacksonville and Minnesota are all very good guesses as to where he will eventually go. I bought a pack and ended up with Cincy. Although its a long shot, there have been talk about Dalton not being the answer there. Could have been worse.

2014 Upper Deck Shows Promise for New Rookie Class

Each year when Upper Deck FB is released, we get an even better picture of which of the rookies are the top in the class when it comes to value. This year’s class is so deep, that we are looking to be in for a very nice treat in 2014. Some of the bigger hits are already selling for over 100 bucks, which is VERY good news after last year’s rookie disaster.

Base Auto SPs

There is no doubt about it, with such a big checklist, the top guys will be very tough pulls. When you are looking at players like Bortles and Manziel, the hype is so big right now, that many collectors are just wanting to get in before the draft hurts or helps the card’s stock. Other players like Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney are also looking great to be top picks. Its really too bad their autos are tough pulls.

2014 Upper Deck Johnny Manziel Auto Base SSP

2014 Upper Deck Sammy Watkins SSP Auto – Love this pic!

2014 Upper Deck Derek Carr SSP Auto

UD Authentics Autos

These cards are easily some of my favorites of the young 2014 card year, and are a retro homage to autograph cards that came out back when hit content in packs were just getting started. Because these cards are hard signed, they should automatically carry larger value than the stickers used on the base. The nostalgia factor will obviously increase things as well.

2014 Upper Deck Johnny Manziel Authentics Auto On Card

2014 Upper Deck Blake Bortles Authentics Auto On Card

Letter Autos

I am NOT a fan of signed fabric, as they never look good and they never stand the test of time. Although it looks like UD used some VERY high quality pens on these, I really wouldnt waste my time with these, but collectors go nuts over trying to spell shit with the ones they can find. One thing to keep in mind – the numbering is for that particular letter, not the whole run. UD looks to have spelled the team name and player name this year, so Johnny Manziel’s letters will be more common than you might expect.

2014 Upper Deck Teddy Bridgewater Letter Auto /15

2014 Upper Deck Teddy Bridgewater Authentics Auto

Non-RC Autos

There is a surprising amount of non-rookie content in this year’s set, as I saw a Rice and a Brees auto pulled yesterday. Although these cards will rarely sell for as much as the licensed stuff once the new pack smell wears off, it is still nice to have them in the product. I can see its hard to find pictures of older guys though.

2014 Upper Deck Joe Namath 1994 Auto Retro Throwback

2014 Upper Deck Earl Campbell 1994 Auto Retro Throwback

With Five Star coming out next week, now is the time to sell. If you are looking to buy a box or two, its a REALLY fun rip.

2014 Upper Deck Football is Live

The first truly licensed set of 2014 has arrived, and though UD Football isnt sanctioned by the NFL, it will carry value with college collectors looking to buy their school’s players. Personally, I think this set should have been out much earlier to compete with unlicensed products, but UD doesnt seem to concern themselves with that.

I am pretty happy with the design this year, more than previous years:

2014 Upper Deck Johnny Manziel On Card Auto

2014 Upper Deck Johnny Manziel Letterman Auto

2014 Upper Deck Teddy Bridgewater On Card Auto

2014 Upper Deck Blake Bortles Auto SSP

2014 Upper Deck Sammy Watkins SSP Auto

My biggest complaint with this set is the abundance of stickers, which I wish would not be an issue with a pre-draft product that can practically be sent out immediately after the previous season for on card autos. That being said, the autographs do look really nice, and the photography on the cards is about as good as it gets. There are a few on card auto sets, but not enough to make me happy. Many of the top rookies will be beyond SPed in any autographs on the checklists, but the base cards are excellent for sending out TTM autos early on.

I have always been a very big fan of the retro cards in this set, and for the third year in a row, they have really come through on these. I think that we need to start seeing a bit more variety, maybe folding in some of the inserts that would be saved for the Fleer Retro set that is WAAAY too late in the year to make a difference. Can you imagine the Metal Gems cards during this point in the year in a larger set? HUGE. Hell redo them later on with updated checklists.

The letter signatures have never been something I like at all, but the design is a lot better this year. I cant support signed swatch cards, as they never turn out well.

Other inserts like photo variation SSPs and Predictors are cool cards, and I think UD did a good job keeping this set relevant along the way. Overall, UD can be a fun bust for some cheap thrills, even though the value will tank as the year moves on. Cheap thrills are still fun this early in the year.