LeBron James: Coming Home Helps His Cards

Its rare I talk about basketball cards on this site, but today is a big exception. Not only did the biggest player in the hobby, LeBron James, sign with a new team, but he signed with a team he was with prior. As a result, a ton of cards that had lost some luster are now relevant again, which is a huge deal. Over the course of 2003 until the end of their license, Upper Deck produced close to 1000 different James autographs under their exclusive deal. Those cards just became the most important ones in basketball.

Check out the recent listings:

2005 Exquisite LeBron James Limited Logos Jumbo Patch Auto

2009 Exquisite LeBron James / Michael Jordan Dual Auto

2008 Upper Deck NBA Finals LeBron James SSP Auto

2007 UD Basketball Heroes Lebron James Auto SSP

2007 Exquisite LeBron James Auto Patch

Although James is about as controversial a player as there is in Basketball, he is easily the best. Aside from two rings, he also has 4 MVPs and a handful of reasons why no one else in the league is as valuable a name as he is. He became a hated figure for his decision back in 2010, but seems to have gained some of that back as of late. UD may have had an exclusive with James that ran throughout the time he was on the Miami Heat, they were prevented from making his licensed cards due to Panini's NBA exclusive.

Upper Deck Authenticated had produced some pieces that were NBA licensed, but nothing in terms of cards. Now that he is back on the Cavs, its almost like its okay to all those collectors who werent able to buy his Miami cards. They strived to find substitutes as we saw with prices on rare Panini issues, but nothing like autographs.

Dont get me wrong, I cannot stand exclusives in any way, shape or form, but Basketball suffers more than most because of all the major players signed to deals. James is an autograph only topped by Jordan, and collectors will be waiting to get his new Cavs stuff for a long time. Love him or hate him, James is the best of the best, and the hobby is happy to have him in the news. Trust me on that.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Allen & Ginter Still Captures the Imagination

There arent many sets today that are still worth the time it takes to put together. Allen and Ginter is still one of those epic undertakings that the few remaining set collectors still feel is worth the challenge, even though it has become quite the spectacle over the last few years. I have always said Ginter is a set collector’s paradise with the heart of a high end product, and this year’s product is no different. Although it doesnt have the same star power in the non-sports autos, it definitely has its moments.

2014 Allen & Ginter Bo Jackson / Ken Griffey Jr Dual Relic Auto Book

2014 Allen & Ginter Mark McGwire Box Loader On Card Auto /15

2014 Allen & Ginter Snoop Dogg Auto

2014 Allen & Ginter Yasiel Puig Rip Card /50

2014 Allen & Ginter Roberto Clemente Metal Mini 1/1

2014 Allen & Ginter Sandy Koufax / Jackie Robinson Dual Rip Card /5

2014 Allen & Ginter Jose Abreu Auto RC

Its almost ironic that one of the biggest baseball products of the year isnt about baseball completely, with the non-sport element being as much a draw as anything for everyone who buys in. However, the on card autographs and always beautiful cards never disappoint, and that draws in a secondary crowd that is rare in MLB.

Adding in content from a pretty solid MLB autograph checklist is only part of the draw, as the parallels and plethora of subsets can rake in dollars like no other. Rip cards, wood cards, metal cards, anything and everything make Ginter special, even when you consider that the type of card can create more value than the player on the front. Rip cards are fascinating to me, as so many people buy them and leave them in tact. Even though the cards hidden inside can be extremely cost heavy, the sealed card is just as much of a draw.

I dont collect much baseball, but I always get pulled into Ginter one way or another. Even after close to 10 years of this set, its still fresh in a lot of ways, as showcased by the number of people who chase it each year. That’s a big deal when you factor in how much of it really doesnt change.

2014 Prestige is Live and Does Not Deserve Your Support

I have commented previously on the debacle that is 2014 Prestige based on galleries highlighted on Panini’s blog, and now that it is starting to show up live on eBay, I am only further questioning some of the horrid decisions that were made surrounding the content of this product. Although there are some elements that look very good, its clear that Panini is banking on Elite to cover up any misdeeds that Prestige presents on a larger scale. This should make you angry, as they are just expecting you to buy because its there. A strategy that dumbs down their consumer base in this type of capacity is awful.

Here are some of the Manziel cards with the first pics in Cleveland Uniform:

2014 Prestige Johnny Manziel Two Color Patch RC

2014 Prestige Johnny Manziel Prestigious Picks Foil RC

2014 Prestige Johnny Manziel Draft Picks Foil RC

We also get this crap too:

2014 Prestige Johnny Manziel Base RC

2014 Prestige Bishop Sankey RC Auto Base

2014 Prestige Kalil Mack Auto Red Parallel

My biggest gripe has to do with the base rookie cards – a focus for this product, as it is the one thing that I fail to understand the way they are done. If you consider that A) rookie premiere photography is available in other parts of the set, B) retouched NFL uniform pictures are available at other parts of the set, it doesnt make sense that Panini went with C) retouched sideline shots that feature no NFL branding what-so ever.

They are basically delivering forcing us to drive the economy car for the same price we are paying to drive the luxury. From a customer perspective, this does not bode well, as cards without NFL branding rarely sell well. Although Bowman is a stark exception to this situation, Panini should not take that as support to continue down this ugly path. It also goes further to support that the lack of attention to detail is so vast, it almost prevents a loyal fan base from latching on to the product.

Now, some of the cards do look much better than 2013, which was horrendous in its own right. Yet, those aspects are so far overshadowed by the base rookie cards that I cannot put it into words. I still stand by 2012 as Prestige's best year in the entire run of the brand, but to see that things are going down from that peak is disappointing from a staple brand name for years in Football. Dont even get me started on the use of MORE rainbow foil and MORE enormous text, all of which are present in this product.

Lost in all of this is the launch of their new "revolutionary" redemption points system, which to this point has generated little to no buzz industry wide, collectors have seemingly resigned themselves to either loving that they dont have to deal with scrub autos in their packs anymore or shrugging their shoulders in apathy over replacing one issue with another. I have said from the beginning that Panini is trying to fix the wrong part of the redemption problem with this program, as the existence of redemptions is NOT the problem at all. It has yet to be determined how successful this program will eventually be.

Prestige is bad, and I wouldnt waste my time with any of it, just to state your potential disapproval with how the set is constructed. That’s the only way they will learn.

How Big of a Deal is Mike Trout to Baseball Cards?

Over the last five years, we have had our fair share of superstar prospects come and go – some becoming huge deals, others settling into mediocrity. Just named again to the AL All Star team, Mike Trout is far and above the best to come out of the group, performing better than other players who received far more hype.

If you are out to buy a Trout for your collection, here is what I would chase:

2008 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Auto RC – Crazy to think you could buy them for 50 bucks raw at release.

2011 Topps Finest Mike Trout Auto Refractor – These have become pretty iconic over the last few years.

2012 National Treasures Mike Trout Auto Rookie Patch – Never took off in baseball, but this is a nice looking card.

2012 Bowman Sterling Mike Trout Auto Refractor – more affordable and on card.

2010 Bowman Platinum Mike Trout Auto RC

If you remember back to 2012, when both Bryce Harper and Trout entered the big leagues full time, the headlines were dominated by Harper's potential to be one of the game's best hitters. He was supposed to be great in the field, great at the plate, five tool guy. A few years later now, and Trout is two seasons with a few votes from being AL MVP, and Harper is good but not great.

Its far too early to say that Trout will end up being a HOF caliber player, or that Harper wont come around to challenge him. What I am saying is that between these two guys, Puig, Abreu, and others like them, its rare to have a situation like this. Although its early to predict Trout’s final trajectory, its not too early to say he is one of the most valuable in the hobby and will be for a long time.

Because Baseball is a different animal than other sports, high end doesnt have the same following than it does in other parts of the hobby. Trout is one of the only high end players left, as his autograph may be one of the most valuable among active non-rookie players, save Derek Jeter. Since Jeter hasnt signed in a very long time for any company, Trout’s the guy. Miguel Cabrera has come on lately as a top value guy too, but he has never been all that popular with collectors for some reason – considering his accomplishments.

Not only is he now more valuable than his teammate in Albert Pujols, he is more valuable than current/Future HOFers like Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey, and company. That’s pretty exclusive company.

I am a huge Trout fan myself, as its hard not to be. The guy is a perfect representation of all that is good with Baseball. The question remains – can he keep it up? If the answer is yes, he will be in the HOF, and he will have a tremendous career that will go down in history. But, there is a lot that can happen between now and then. Lets just hope nothing goes wrong.

SCU All Access – Interview With Topps Digital’s Chris Vaccaro

When I reached out to Chris Vaccaro, Editor in Chief for Topps Digital Apps, I was hoping to get some time to walk through his thoughts on the 2014 season of Bunt and how much success has been had. Bunt has become bigger than ever over the course of the year, and from what he is saying, things should continue to expand.

If you havent been following along with Bunt, the app is available on iOS and Android devices, and combines digital card trading with fantasy.The app mirrors regular card collecting with Signature cards, and even favorites from the Topps sets that everyone has loved, only in digital form. Some of the cards, as expected can be quite valuable, if you can believe it.

2014 Topps Bunt Clayton Kershaw Signature Series

2014 Topps Bunt Albert Pujols / Adrian Gonzales Dual Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt Russell Wilson Bowman Signature Series

2014 Topps Bunt Buster Posey Signature Series

He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, which has provided some great opportunities to see what is coming down the road for the app. To also get a peak behind the scenes is awesome, and I must say that I am that much more excited for the second half of the year now reading his answers.

A huge thank you to Chris for all the work he put into answering these questions.

SCUncensored: Chris, thanks for doing this for the readers of the site. Many of us are familiar with TOPPSIAN and TOPPSMIKE, talk to us a little bit about the scope of how you work with the Topps Digital App team?

Chris Vaccaro: I’m the Editor-in-Chief and Head of App Operations for Topps Digital. I oversee the daily operations of what’s happening in Topps BUNT, Topps HUDDLE and Topps KICK. While we really do work as a team and use a collective approach to ideas and operations, I handle daily planning and strategy and guide our team. I have a traditional journalism background, so my experience with content and creative are valuable for the workflow we operate with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I’ve been with the company for more than two-and-a-half years now and have seen our apps grow from their launch to present day. In the app, you can see me as TOPPSCHRIS. I also write in the news feed almost daily, and especially when I travel or find myself in unique baseball situations.

SCU: Bunt has been relatively re-imagined to begin the 2014 season, what has surprised you the most about this year?

CV: We’re quite pleased with how the 2014 season has unfolded on Topps BUNT. Most of the things we envisioned in the off-season are coming to life more and more each week. We are constantly growing, learning and evolving. Everyday is a new day in digital and we’re fully committed to making the experience work for our fans and for our team. I don’t think there are any surprises for us. We are all working very hard to make this a wonderful experience for our users and we hope they’re enjoying the 2014 baseball season as much as we are.

SCU: What has been your favorite thing this year about the game? I see you ask the fan of the week each week what they love, but let’s turn this one around on you?

CV: One of my favorite aspects of our apps is the ability to print digital media almost in real time. As a team, we can react rapidly to produce cards, and other content immediately after a game or historic moment takes place. So the milestone cards are one of my favorite features of the app. You saw it with the Josh Beckett and Tim Lincecum no-hitters this season, or the Albert Pujols 500-home run, or even with Tony Gwynn’s passing, and all of the milestone cards we were able to create to honor their achievements and careers. Additionally, I grew up a big card collector and sports memorabilia fan. I still have every card I’ve ever purchased or owned from when I was a kid. I have a bobblehead collection that soars near 300-plus, I have countless autographs and other items in my collection. So for me, to work for Topps and represent a brand so ingrained in American sports culture, it’s both a privilege and a major responsibility. The specialness of releasing cards with the Topps logo and representing this company is very real for our team.

SCU: New rookies this year like Tanaka and Abreu have been a huge focus for the app, not to mention another huge year in the making for spokesperson Mike Trout – what has it been like to have them to play off of?

CV: Mike Trout is a super star. We’re so fortunate to have signed Mike to a deal and have him represent our app while being the face of baseball for years to come. It was a pleasure hanging out with him in Tempe, AZ this year to film our BUNT commercial during spring training. As far as the rookies you refer to, that’s just a product of special things happening in baseball every year and our Topps Digital staff reacting to what’s hot in the game. Tanaka and Abreu are doing very well this season, so you’re going to see more cards of them whenever it fits. The same can be said for players like Troy Tulowitzki, Dee Gordon or Nelson Cruz. If you’re hot, you’ll end up in BUNT in multiple ways. It’s unique because they’re earning their way into sets by being on top of their games. For many sets, we come up with the players just a week or two before they are actually released so we can utilize players who are doing very well at release time.

SCU: Where do you see Bunt going over the next few years? What would you like to see that could be on the horizon for all the digital apps?

CV: I see us progressing, getting bigger and better. I tell people often that we’re only in the early stages of what’s to come for Topps Digital. Our development team is top notch and giving us tools on a daily basis to make the experience that much better for our users. I hope that Topps BUNT becomes a major fabric of sports lifestyle in American sporting culture. Just as Topps is part of what baseball is today with physical cards, I’d expect that to be the same case digitally speaking for years to come. If you’re watching a game, have BUNT out on your device. If you’re at a game, check BUNT. Need to know something about baseball or a player? Check BUNT. What else would I like to see? More multimedia and new, cutting-edge cards that push the boundaries of the mobile experience.

SCU: I have always thought Bunt parallels real card collecting in almost every way, even down to the way signature cards are the most valuable to all the fans, was this something you guys aimed to do more with this year?

CV: Absolutely. The trading card experience is at the core of what we’re doing, only we’ve digitized the experience. Collectors crave certain sets, players, teams, rarities or whatever suits their specific needs. We release cards in packs that combine to make sets and offer a chase just as you can get with our physical product for so many years.

SCU: Sets like Ginter and Gypsy Queen have always been favorites of collectors, and to see them come to the app is a really amazing concept – are we going to see more of the marriage between digital and real cards?

CV: Hopefully. We’re Topps and between the physical cards that are released and the growth in digital we’d expect to see more similarities to benefit the fans and the overall trading card experience.

SCU: The community has always been Bunt’s biggest strength. To say they have been expertly engaged this year is an understatement. What do you take away from their rabid fandom and how that may also lead to challenges when things go down that not everyone is a fan of?

CV: First and foremost we’re VERY thankful for each and every one of our fans. The community is what helps all of our apps come alive. The conversation is real, the trading is real, and the back-and-forth talk about issues that are important to the fans is very important to us. The more rabid fans we have the better job we’re doing. It means people care about the product and want to see it grow.

SCU: Through my Bunt blog site, I have tried to provide a huge resource to the thousands of new Bunters this year, only because the game can have some lead time to get into the nuance and become a competitor. What are you all looking to do to provide a more easy onboarding process for the new users?

CV: We’re always talking internally about onboarding and trying to evolve that process as much as possible with our development team. It’s come along way and we’ll continue to make adjustments from app-to-app and season-to-season.

SCU: With the All Star game coming up in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, what are some of the double secret plans you can give us some hints about? This is the midsummer classic and lots of events are going to be going down! Lots of us are extremely excited to see what Bunt has in store.

CV: I’ll be in Minnesota covering the event and helping to bring the action live to our fans. Without giving too much away, keep a look out for All-Star cards of both modern stars and legends. Sticking with the roots of baseball history that we try and bring into the app as much as possible, there will also be odes to the 1965 and 1985 All-Star games that were held in Minnesota.

SCU: I am a huge fan of things like the VIP program, Fan of the Week and Friendly Fan Awards that tend to recognize the users that really go to big lengths to keep the app going strong. Do you have plans to build around some of the other areas of the community that do similar things for Bunters?

CV: Without getting too specific, yes. As I’ve said before we are constantly involving, and that means in EVERY area of the app experience. We have thrown around ideas to bring in awards and programs for various activities; some you’ve seen, others we’re still developing and thinking about. Stay tuned and check in everyday!

SCU: If there is one thing in the app we should all be excited about for the second half of the season – what would you say it is?

CV: More cards, more inserts, more sets, more chases … and most will be new to BUNT or new to Topps. You never know what’s going to be released or become available in our apps!

SCU: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me, it’s always a great thing to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Anything else you would like to say that I haven’t covered?

CV: Thanks again to our fans! We’re working extremely hard to make sure this experience stays true to the Topps name and brand, and create a unique experience that you can’t find anywhere else.