Saturday, September 3, 2016

Target Made Me Pay in Dollars

Topps comes out with quite a few baseball products this time of year. Stadium Club, Archives, Chrome, Allen & Ginter, even Bowman Platinum is making a comeback. Update will be out right smack in the middle of the postseason. I haven't purchased packs of many of them, but they're starting to trickle in via trade.

Still, I do like a low price point. And Topps Bunt, a new physical product based on their smartphone app, fit the bill pretty well. A 24-card value pack set me back a mere $3 at Target recently. I haven't looked over the whole 200-card checklist yet, but the pack I got was pretty full of players like this:

2016 Topps Bunt #179 Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco was one of the first cards to fall out of this pack. Canseco, of course, was baseball's steroid poster child, and the first of only four players in the 40-40 club (three of which are tainted by steroid scandal). The back of this card has a paragraph about his 1988 season in which he set that mark, but nothing about how "clean" he is. Nor his hilarious Twitter account, which would be perfect for a digital-themed set like this. 

2016 Topps Bunt #138 Nomar Garciaparra
Nomah (sorry, Boston) was in here too, and this turned out to be a bit of a Red Sox hot pack. He's on the Dodgers broadcasting team now, and I heard a bit of him earlier this week as the Rockies regular channel didn't televise either game of Wednesday's split doubleheader. The Rockies and Dodgers were rained out on Tuesday night, and the Rockies came darn close to sweeping L.A., if not for a 9th-inning grand slam.

There were two grand salamis in that game (way better than calling it a Papa Slam), the first from rookie Stephen Cardullo, who recently broke into the majors at the ripe old age of 28, turning 29 the same day he hit his first Major League home run in Game 1. And as I write this, Nick Hundley just hit one to left-center for his first Major League grand slam, helping the Rockies trounce the Diamondbacks to begin the holiday weekend!

If you want Papa John's at a discount today, don't miss out.

2016 Topps Bunt #83 Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens, a 300-game winner, doesn't pop up in sets too frequently anymore. He's definitely not as well-liked a guy as Ken Griffey, Jr., who still gets more cards than most active players. For multiple-team stars like these past three, Topps is definitely using their most well-known team for the photo and logo. You probably won't find too many unfamiliar uniforms in Bunt, but the product could continue to evolve if Topps decides they like the physical/virtual crossover.

2016 Topps Bunt #139 Stan Musial
Stan Musial was always a Cardinal, winning a whopping seven batting titles during his career. As you'd expect, Ty Cobb holds that career record with an amazing twelve, exactly what you'd expect from the all-time batting average leader. Musial won three World Series in his career, and even threw a pitch in 1952 in what amounted to a publicity stunt.

I like the action shot, but I'd put his Archives card from this year above it. The design of 2016 Bunt, which is now starting to show up in the app itself, is pretty plain and logo-dominated. It's been compared to 2011 Topps Lineage, and minus the foil, I can see the similarity. It even has the same 45-degree bend in the bottom design element.

2011 Topps Lineage #33 Tony Perez
Topps was a few years ahead of putting accent marks on player's names, something the MLB is finally taking seriously on uniforms. Tony Pérez, a key member of the Big Red Machine, got a great batting cage shot in 2011 Lineage. I'm fairly close to completing Lineage, but I still need to go through the checklist and figure out which ones I'm missing. It can't be more than a dozen.

Lineage has another similarity to Bunt, and that's the team logos. Logos in Bunt are a dominating element in the design, but Topps was careful to use period-correct logos, just like they did in Lineage.

2016 Topps Bunt #166 Carl Yastrzemski
In a set with all these legendary retired players (which aren't too common in Bunt outside of the insert sets), I think it's the least they could do. No one wants to see Jackie Robinson with a big "LA" logo behind him.

2016 Topps Bunt #180 Robin Yount
So far, it's been a lot of the same players as I pulled in those packs of Archives and Stadium Club. This shot of a young Robin Yount isn't quite as interesting as his dirt bike card, but those 1980s Milwaukee jerseys are pretty cool, back from their American League days. This photo would fit well in one of the insert sets, as we'll see soon.

2016 Topps Bunt #48 Dwight Gooden
Dwight "Doc" Gooden has been in the news lately following his 30 for 30 episode, along with Darryl Strawberry, the darlings of the 1986 Mets. Strawberry's name is even burned into my little league baseball bat. And I love those 1980s Mets uniforms. This pack is worth it for the throwbacks alone.

2016 Topps Bunt #23 Xander Bogaerts
Yes, I actually did pull a few active players, too. The Red Sox streak continues, this time with the third different logo in four cards. Bogaerts is from Aruba, one of only five Major Leaguers to hail from the island nation. The only other one I've heard of is Sydney Ponson. Xander is only in his fourth year, but he's becoming a fan favorite in Boston, and earned his first All-Star selection this year.

2016 Topps Bunt #62 Starlin Castro
Ex-Cub Starlin Castro is now in the same division as Bogaerts, and though the Yankees are in a rebuilding year, they're going all-in on the youth movement. It's been working for the Cubs, and it's good to see the Yankees turning an eye toward the future instead of clinging to aging players. Of course, the Yankees still honor their past, as we can see the memorial #8 patch of Castro's sleeve in honor of the great Yogi Berra.

A lot of bloggers have been suggesting that Topps Bunt could possibly replace Topps Opening Day. Personally, I think just because they're both on the lower-end of the pricing spectrum doesn't mean they don't both have a place in the market. Sure, Opening Day could be better differentiated from Topps Base, but if the market can support numerous high-end products like Museum Collection, Triple Threads, and Tier One, then why not more than one set for the low-end crowd and kids without money to burn on "hits"? Opening Day has all those awesome insert sets, and doesn't focus on retired players the way Bunt does.

At a buck or two a pack, I don't see a problem with keeping them both around.

2016 Topps Bunt #144 Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig has gone through some transaction drama in the last month, first being demoted to Triple-A, then placed on waivers, then claimed by the Brewers, only to end up right back on the Dodgers after the transaction fell through. Not many players in this small set have spent recent time in the minors, but the back of this card has it right—Puig has a "flamboyant style".

The back of each card also reminds us how this set blurs the lines between physical and digital. It's physical enough that I couldn't buy it with digital coins at the Target checkout lane, but Topps was sure to print "Collect and Trade this card in the Topps Bunt app today!" on the back of every card. Below that are logos for both the Apple and Google Play App Stores.

It would be cool if I could actually add this card to my digital Bunt collection just by virtue of owning a physical copy, but that's not the case (yet). At least they gave me a scratch-off code for a digital pack, and I won another code in a recent contest at Sport Card Collectors.

I'd also love to see Topps develop a web app for Bunt, as the mobile apps are a bit clunky and hard to navigate, especially when your collection grows.

2016 Topps Bunt Unique Unis #UU-3 Shin-Soo Choo
And now we come to the inserts. I only found two, so I can't quite say whether these are up to par with the awesomeness found in Opening Day, but I find them pretty appealing. Fans of throwback uniforms are sure to like this one, Shin-Soo Choo is sporting some 1970s-era Rangers gear, and Topps even gave us the date of this card for us! I always appreciate that. It's a hint of 1997 Upper Deck, and also their Topps Now product.

2016 Topps Bunt Programs #33,924 / #P-30 Carlos Gonzalez
Using that code I won from Sport Card Collectors, I was lucky enough to pull Carlos Gonzalez' card from the Programs insert set, which even has the same card number on the virtual back. It also has a Digital card number up in the 30,000 range (amazing how many digital cards they've released). The base cards of retired players have the same backs as their printed counterparts, but active players that can score points in the app's fantasy scoring system get the same card back as normal Bunt digital cards. Last time I posted a Bunt card, I was on an iPhone 4S with a different aspect ratio, and Topps was about 30,000 cards from designing this one.

I'm sure this makes a lot more sense if you've actually used the app. My collection of digital Pokémon is coming along nicely, too. 

2016 Topps Bunt Light Force #LF-8 Luis Gonzalez
The final (physical) insert card from the pack is dubbed "Lightforce", and I must admit that I don't really get the theme here. It definitely has sort of a spacey galaxy thing going on, and it seems to be color coded to the old Diamondbacks uniforms. Which is nice, because it looks like it could actually be a shot from the Hubble Space Telescope. 

After looking at eBay, it seems like all the cards from this insert set have the same color scheme, it just happened to coincide perfectly with Arizona's old colors. Which by the way, are light years (sorry) better than their current dark gray monstrosities. That link opens a PDF, by the way, in case you are still running Acrobat 6 on Windows 98 and are worried about program startup times.

I guess that tongue-in-cheek sentence above really does indicate that maybe, just maybe, digital cards aren't so crazy after all. It wasn't so long ago that it was quite a lengthy ordeal to open a PDF on an underpowered computer over a dial-up connection. But now I can go walk around outside and collect Pokémon, open PDFs in multiple tabs in barely more than the blink of an eye, have my car read me a text message, deposit a check through my phone, and now carry around on that phone the same cards that I put in my 9-pocket pages.

Welcome to the future.

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