1999 Topps Mark McGwire #220 Home Run #53
There were plenty of collectors who picked up one copy of the McGwire and one copy of Sosa and called it quits. If you opened a box 1999 Topps cards there was a really good chance that you were going to pull at least one Sosa and one McGwire. Overall, if you surveyed collectors who were around to bust some wax and put together that set, they probably had a pretty favorable opinion of the variations. Not too hard to find, but not super easy to assemble into a complete set.
Topps continued to use variations into the early 2000s, but the company often followed the same pattern used in the 1999 Topps set with McGwire and Sosa. The variation cards weren't too difficult to find, but not too easy to put into a set. Although, some were pretty easy to put together. Case in point would be the 2000 Topps set variations which featured the Magic Moments subset which featured several Hall of Famers (or HOF caliber) players. There were a total of five cards for each player which highlighted a different career accomplishment. Here's a Griffey:
2000 Topps Ken Griffey Jr. Magic Moments 1997 AL MVP
Well, you get the picture on the early variations that Topps used in their sets. They were generally very well done and offered a slight wrinkle to the set which offered collectors a challenge. Topps continued to use variations and different chase cards and generally did a great job until 2007. That's when the hobby entered a "ridiculous" phase with the variations. It all started with this gem:
2007 Topps Derek Jeter George Bush/Mickey Mantle SP
I am pretty sure the official word from Topps was that this card was a prank gone wrong. I am not sure that I have really ever bought that. Since this card we have had more and more silly time with variations. Players with sunglasses, players without sunglasses. Players in uniform, players out of uniform. Pies in the face?
2010 Topps Ike Davis Pie Card
Completely lame. I had three of four of these for a week before I discovered that they were a "short print". (Sigh) I sold them all, except Ike, as fast as possible. We've also had sparkles on cards have been introduced to the term Super Short Print to describe cards of Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols. The worst variation ever? Thanks to the good folks at Everything Lincoln for a scan of the card:
2010 Topps Ryan Dempster Abe Lincoln
Words cannot describe how much I do not like this Ryan Dempster card. Why is Abe Lincoln airbrushed onto this card? Is that in Pro Player Stadium? Ridiculous.
Before I continue further into my rant about how much I despise what Topps has done with the variation concept in recent years, let me point out a couple of ways the company has done well with this concept. Let me ask you this: Why do you collect baseball cards? I collect cards because I enjoy the game of baseball, I follow the game, and enjoy collecting the cards of players I watch. Especially those whom I see in person. So, here is a cool variation card made by Topps in this year's base set:
2013 Topps Albert Pujols Out of Bounds
You are going to give me a variation set of players jumping over walls, sticking their gloves into the crowd while fighting of fans for foul balls, and players hanging over the railings of their dugouts try to snag popouts? I accept. That's a cool idea. I get action photos of players and the cards are focused on the game. Card collectors get plenty of still shots of players standing next to a base or holding a bat. I've collected Pujols cards since he came in the league in 2001 and can honestly say this is the best action card of the future Hall of Famer. Really cool.
2012 Topps Skip Schumaker Squirrel Card
If you are looking for something cute then this should be as cute as it gets. The Rally Squirrel gets on the Cardinals World Series rings, he can get on a baseball card. Unlike the Abe Lincoln airbrush card, this variation is features a piece of baseball lore which actually happened. Whatever happened to this Mariners groundskeeper? He was on every blooper real at a baseball game when I was a kid. He could have a variation and I would be cool with that.
So, where am I going with my rant about variations? I went to put together one of my last sets of the 2013 calendar year with the 2013 Topps Update set. It's out early this year, so I guess we are somewhat limited in the rookies appearing in the set and will have to wait on the postseason highlights until next spring. I can live with that. However, I do not like when I am in my planning stages and hear that there are up to 50, YES 50!, different variations within the Update set.
We've gone from McGwire and Sosa, two cards with 70 variations with a few cards in each box, to 50 variations including the dreaded Super Short Print which is available in a few cases. So, here's where it gets really bad.
Here's a base Buter Posey Update card showing him as a National League All-Star. Really cool.
2013 Topps Update Buster Posey
Now, if I told the average Giants fan that there was a Posey short print, they'd be ecstatic. No, there's not. The variation for this card is actually another Giants player. It's Will Clark. Many Giants fans would still be really cool with a Will Clark card. As a Cardinals fan, I still remember 2000. Will Clark is cool, but Topps mucked up his card with a 50/50 photo of Clark and Matt Williams.
2013 Topps Update Will Clark Variation
Now, Buster Posey also has another variation with Willie Mays, but half the card is Sandy Koufax. Don't worry Giants fans, it doesn't say Sandy Koufax. He's just airbrushed onto the card.
2013 Topps Update Willie Mays Variation
Like I said: Ridiculous. I understand that Topps wants to put a little bit of fun and excitement into collecting, but there comes a point when you completely overcomplicate things are drive people away. I am not sure that I want anything to do with the 50 different variations that Topps has offered in packs of Update. In fact, it's my understanding that not all of the short-prints are even from the Topps Update set, but they actually went back and created variations for cards in the base Topps Series 1 and 2. Insane.