2010 Topps National Chicle Baseball Review

Baseball cards are steeped in nostalgia. Nostalgia for a simpler time yadda yadda yadda. Cornball as it sounds, nostalgia is what brought a lot of us back to the hobby after being seriously burned as youngsters during the junk wax era. It was the siren song of Heritage that brought this burnt collector back into the fray. And, since that day of retro love, I’ve looked with rose-colored nostalgia glasses at every retro set that sings “SPs!” in a lilting voice.

And every time, I (and my wallet) end up dashed on the rocks of impossible-to-collect sets with a stack of worthless base cards surrounding a few penny-sleeved SPs and lame inserts hanging out on the back end of the box. And I’m left with an empty feeling of, “Oh, well they look kind of nice and, hey, vintage cards are expensive so this is the next best thing!” Well I’m here to tell you, fair readers, that the premiere edition of Topps National Chicle for baseball takes that trend, eats it up and craps out the same experience in $90 box doses.

Sound harsh, does it? Surprised to hear it after my relatively warm reception of the artwork in our recent video break? So am I. Thw warm fuzzies tickling my tummy after being less disappointed than expected with the artwork have hardened into thick lumps of apathy. Care to hear why? Read on, dear friends.

A selection of 2010 Chicle base cards

The 275 card base set (followed up by 54 short prints for a total set of 329) is, as the box proclaims “all-painted!” For this set, Topps commissioned a dozen artists to produce cards of both modern and classic baseball players. The misture of artists provides ample variation and visual interest to the set and, unlike the football set of the same name, contains a vast majority of quality images to look over. Sure, sometimes likenesses are a little weak and proportions tend to go out the window occasionally, but for the most part it’s forgivable. A couple of artists’ work really stands out as top notch to me. Chris Felix (below, right) has amazing likenesses and realism, while Jeff Zachowski (below, left) takes a softer, more expressionist angle with his colored pencil portraits. These two are real standouts to me- enjoy an example of each of their work below.

Jeff Zachowski does Bob Gibson and Chris Felix does Pirates rookie Neil Walker

Notice the soft focus effect on the end of the bat of the Walker? Fantastic work. And I wish that Gibson was one of the one-per-box 5″X7″ cabinet cards- I might frame that bad boy! But it’s not all roses and apple pie here, check that Jeter in the top image. Not only am I not a fan of artist Mike Kupka’s style, but he used the same diamond-and-grass background for each of them. I think the idea is to create a theme, but this theme isn’t great and, laid end-to-end, it just looks boring to me. To each his own I guess, but I could do without these.

Apart from the base set are the short prints I mentioned above. There are three “subsets” of SPs here: Retired Stars Revisted (cards numbered 276-299), Vintage Veterans (301-310) and Rookie Renditions (311-329). The Retired Stars set got a lot of press early on for the infamous ChippeRuth card featuring Babe Ruth in a modern Braves uniform… looking an awful lot like Chipper Jones in the process. There’s also a Gehrig with a soul patch that’s pretty sily looking, especially since Yankees aren’t allowed to have facial hair, but this subset doesn’t bother me taken in total with the rest of the set. Plus, they’re short prints so you only see one in more than 4 packs. In the two boxes we opened, we got a grand total of 4 of these and none of them were terribly offensive. The Vintage Veterans got a better response and certainly smack less of  image prostitution. The Rookie Renditions are pretty fun- modern rookies drawn on classic Topps designs.

Inserts are limited to parallels- Chicle backs, Bazooka backs and Umbrella backs (limited to 25 numbered copies). And here’s where the complaining begins. These inserts are a waste of space in the packs. The only difference is the backs. You have to flip them over to even tell you’ve got an insert. They suck. Plain and simple. I couldn’t care less what back these cards have. Do a different color scheme or alternate painting on the front… anything, even a gold border like in Topps and Bowman base sets. Just don’t make me flip the card over (losing the player/artist information and card num ber in the process) to find out I got a card that nobody even collects. The popularity of parallels has been on a serious decline ever since the inaugural edition of Topps Gold in 1992 if you ask me. And here we’ve got three different type eating up valuable SP space in the packs. The only difference between the Chicle and Bazooka backs are their insertion rates. Sorry, I’m just tired of this pattern- I got tired of it trying to collect the minis in T206 and T205 (the original 2003-2005 issues) and then not even all cards had the parallels. Here, you just don’t have a chance. I did the math and, to collect a complete set (no inserts- just SPs and base), even assuming perfect collation, you’d have to open more than a case of this stuff. At $90 a box when first released, you’re in for a $1000-plus project there.

So let’s talk value. From the two boxes Jon and I opened, we pulled two of the best “hits” you could hope for.

Topps National Chicle Lou Gehrig relic and Paul Molitor Artist's Proof

Those are great cards- happy to pull either of them in any product. The Gehrig is obviously one of the rarest relics from the set, seeded at some crazy low rate and the Artist’s proof is a one or two per case deal #/10. As I said in my Chicle football review, I love the design of the relics and the Gehrig may be me and Jon’s best pull ever as a collective. We dropped these cards on the ‘bay and got a cool $95 for the pair overall. There’s a box recouped right there! Pretty exciting since this is a product we opened solely for review purposes. The problem is, even with these two amazing hits, we’ll have trouble recouping that second box worth of costs. And here’s why.

2010 Topps National Chicle autographs

The autograph selection in this set is atrocious. They’re all on-card and they all look fantastic (save the Span, which we’ll see… by Christmas, so says Topps.com). And theyall sell for about $2. I harp on value a lot. Maybe too much, considering that this is supposed to be a hobby (and, therefore, is meant to be fun). But when Topps sucks the fun of collecting a set into a vortex of too many SPs and lame parallels and packs the auto checklist with guys who already have hundreds of autos available, I’m left wondering why I’m even bothering to open this stuff. I know the point isn’t supposed to be to resell this stuff for a profit- the point is supposed to be collecting. But there’s so little collecting to be done here that this set lands squarely in a no-man’s land of “Why?” For the record, we got a Manny Ramirez jersey and a Mark Teixeira jersey as well- both $2 relics. Can you imagine how little value would’ve been in these boxes had we not pulled both the Gehrig and the Molitor? Brutal. Truly brutal.

In the end, this is a set that looks damn good. On-card autographs and well-designed relics always score points with collectors. But that’s where the point-scoring ends. This set is uncollectable which, as a hobby, makes it worthless to me. And for people who just like opening packs, looking for hits, you’ll get plenty of the $2 type hits that give you approximately $2.50 worth of enjoyment. It’s a losing proposition for everyone. Which is why box prices have dropped $20 since we pre-ordered ours. In 2 years, we’ll wonder why anyone paid $90 for a box of this setuff when you can get the base set for $10 and most of the autos and relics for less than $5. I hate to be one of those retro-is-dead bell ringers, but what we have here is a failure on many levels and I really do have to wonder when it will end. And that’s coming from a guy who pulled a Gehrig bat from this stuff. Think about that.

Design – ****
Set Collecting – *
Inserts – *
Hits – **
Overall – ** out of 5

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