|By Jim Rutledge
NEW YORK, N.Y. — As Major League Baseball launches its 138th season, nearly 74 million fans will head to ballparks before the World Series in October. Thousands, too, will buy baseball trading cards.
More than 81 billion baseball cards – or 362 cards for every American – will be bought in 2013. If collectors and dealers were buying cards everyday, that would amount to 22 million baseball card transactions per day. There are more than 996.5 billion baseball cards in the United States.
The Topps Chewing Gum Co. is considered by many to be the pre-eminent creator and brand maker for the sport and has an exclusive baseball card licensing agreement with Major League Baseball until 2020.
Topps has released its signature hallmark box set, Series I that features 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals as the No. 1 card in the 330-card box. Series I features limited-edition autographs and memorabilia cards that recognize players’ records and achievements from the game’s greatest players – past and present.
With this year’s series, Topps made a controversial move of erasing baseball’s all-time, record hitter Pete Rose, a 24-year MLB veteran who was banned from baseball. Rose’s name has been removed from all statistical records on the new Topps baseball cards. Rose was banned from baseball for life in 1989 after it became known that he gambled on baseball games.
“MLB does not permit the usage of the name or likeness of Pete Rose in licensed products, and that legality is the reason the move was made,” said Topps spokesman Jeff Fransen. “It was a simple decision.” Topps official did not explain why the decision was made this year.
Matt Bourne, MLB’s vice president of business public relations, added, “Since (Rose) is banned from Major League Baseball, we don’t include him on any official licensed product.” Bourne told USA Today, “This is not a new policy.” However, this is the first year Rose’s name did not appear with his records.
MLB’s and Topps’ move is puzzling to some collectors. Despite the fact that Rose will not likely be considered for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the popular museum still recognizes Rose’s record-setting career. In a Rose museum exhibit, there are 20 Rose artifacts.
On the back of each 2013 Topps Series One baseball card, Topps changed its design format. The company is printing a new feature, “Career Chase,” which details how much more a player must achieve to break one of baseball’s coveted records – hits, home runs and strikeouts. Rose owns more than 15 MLB records including 4,256 hits during 24 seasons, 10,328 outs, and 3,562 games played. Rose’s records are still listed, but his name has been eliminated as the record holder.
As an example, the baseball card of Texas Rangers’ catcher A.J. Pierzynski notes, “With 1,645 hits, Pierzynski is 2,611 (hits) away from the all-time record of 4,256. Previously, Rose’s name would have been listed as the record holder.
The controversial move by Topps has not affected the collectible value of Rose’s Topps cards. His 1963 rookie card is listed in various conditions on eBay from $450 to $2,100. As many as 8,700 cards are listed on eBay as low as a $2. A 1968 “very rare” Rose card, with a PSA rating of 9, is listed for $700.
The 2013 Topps Baseball Series I features the usual assortment of games, contests and autographed cards to keep the collectors interested. Several dealers have claimed in recent years that baseball card collecting was dying due to kids – the majority of all new cards purchasers – losing interest in the hobby because of computer games and other electronic distractions. Card companies say kids are the motivator behind consistent card buying of their favorite players or anyone of the 30 teams.
Topps is running a contest for 2013 called “The Chase” with a $1 million price. To win, a collector must find code cards within packs, and then go to Topps website and type in the code to win prices. Target stores, for example, which offer a wide selection of sports trading cards, have an arrangement with Topps for a “blaster” box of Topps cards that consist of 10 packs of baseball cards with eight cards in each pack – including the “Chase” cards.
Another new card set is a special commemorative patch card that comes with its own special pack in a box. The 2013 card “patches” have material that form an image of a baseball player.
Parallel cards are cards that are identical to each player’s base card with the exception of a minor image change. Gold parallel cards are limited to 2,013 copies and Black parallels are limited to 62 cards. New this year is a Pink parallel set limited to 50 cards – following the popular Breast Cancer Awareness cards in football – and the Desert Camo foil parallels cards honoring the military but limited to 99 cards.
Every box set contains one autographed, Topps Relic card.
Another feature of Topps cards this year is the “Out of Bounds” series that captures 25 players trying to make defensive plays either at the fence or in foul ball territory.
Topps broke a tradition with its 2013 set of cards. They have abandoned the traditional numbering system for each card. The new system is different than any other season’s scheme. Card No. 1 belongs to the Washington National’s star Bryce Harper, and there is no card No. 7. The No. 00 cards belong to players Scott Downs, Mike Moustakes and Daniel Murphy – a departure from the tradition.
The majority of the cards are ordered by the jersey number of the players, such as Ryan Braun at No. 8, Dustin Pedroia No. 15 and Joe Votto No. 19.
The following are some Topps card facts:
•The 1952 Mickey Mantle card is the most valuable Topps card. It id listed for $6,995 by Dacards.com. An autographed Topps, Mantle card is $10,300 at Rakuten.com.
•A total of 582 baseball cards weighs l pound.
•A 1952 Topps baseball card wax-sealed box with 24 individual packs sold at auction in 2004 for $208,740.
•All Topps cards made in 1952 that did not sell by the end of the year were dumped into the ocean off the New Jersey shore – including Mantels first Topps cards.
•Topps sold its 1951 baseball card packs with caramel candy instead of gum to avoid a legal mess with the Bowman Card Co.
•Michael Eisner, the former chief of the Disney Co., is one of Topps owners after buying the company in 2007. The company’s revenues are more than $10 billion per year.