2 Big Changes That Could Overhaul Topps Archives Baseball and Make It Better

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By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor | Commentary

2019 Topps Archives Baseball arrived a few months back amidst a crowded marketplace and it didn’t seem to generate a lot of buzz. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad set, but something about it doesn’t seem to have clicked. And it feels like it’s been that way for the line for a while.

In some regards, I like Archives. I’ve actually been busting a lot of discounted 2018 blasters of late, having fun building the base set and chasing the deep Rookie Card crop. Of course, there’s the nostalgia that comes with Archives, a key selling point for the brand.

And while I love the idea of a slightly cheaper blaster version of the brand, I wouldn’t touch it at $80-$100 that hobby boxes can run. I love that nostalgia, but more on the impulse level. And $100 is not a regular impulse buy for me and I suspect I’m not alone.

I’m not ready to declare Archives broken. But it’s not capturing nearly the same level of hobby excitement that Heritage seems to. A couple of years ago I thought that maybe giving the line a break for a few years would be a good idea. Now, I’m not so sure. That said, I think there are a couple of changes that Topps could make to either revive it or alter its course and the expectations that come with it.

Go Beyond Baseball for Designs

One of the things that works for Heritage is its continuity. You know what design is going to be the foundation each year because it’s taking a chronological approach.

With Archives, it’s more of a soup. A variety of years and designs are tossed into the pot each year. And while a lot of them are fun and work on their own, there’s no consistency to it. Often, the choices feel arbitrary, particularly when some past years are repeated while others have been glossed over entirely.

The hodge podge style also makes it hard to remember which year and set and Archives card comes from. Call me a purists or a relic from the past, but I do enjoy at least knowing where a card’s from just by looking at the front and not having to look to stats or, heaven forbid, copyright dates.

Another problem is one of gimmick infringement. As Archives dabbles in several old designs each year, it takes a little bit away from Heritage.

Archives is nostalgia. I get that. But the Topps brand is so much more than baseball. Why not leverage that history a little more through this set and look to other sports (not to mention entertainment and non-sport) for the design foundations? This isn’t breaking new ground in Archives as they’ve done it as inserts. But I’m thinking bigger.

Topps already does this every week with their online Throwback Thursday sets. Many draw from outside baseball. And in the process, it’s like market research, seeing how collectors react. Of course, player selection is probably a bigger driver, but it’s not the only thing. A great crossover is going to generate buzz online now. Even if collectors aren’t into the six TBT cards of the week, they can be providing feedback for something more expansive — like Archives.

I’m not sure I need another Ninja Turtles-inspired Babe Ruth card, but there are hundreds of others that will work.

2019 Topps Throwback Thursday Baseball 197 Babe Ruth

Topps has a lot of memorable designs to draw from, covering a lot of sports and even non-sport. By stepping outside of baseball, Archives could maintain its core identity of nostalgia. At the same time, it wouldn’t feel like a retread. Between Heritage, the seemingly annual reprint inserts in flagship baseball and more, there are lots of old baseball designs out every year already.In this era of exclusives, there’s plenty of room to expand past horizons.

Make Topps Archives Baseball a Retail-Exclusive

Topps Archives is a fun line. And while it can have some big cards that carry significant value, its charm is in the smaller, overlooked autographs. There’s a place for Terry Steinbach and Charles Nagy autographs in the hobby. But $100-ish boxes of cards probably isn’t one of them.

Archives is a tough product to stomach at current hobby prices. Even if you’re more focused on fun than value, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend that much for what you get. The cards themselves aren’t the highest quality. They’re more like the base products they mimic. The vast majority of the autographs can be had for under $10 on the secondary market due to their niche appeal.

Again, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a ton of fun when you’re busting blasters that are significantly cheaper. And these don’t even have to promise a signature per box. There’s enough content elsewhere to make for a fun break at a lower price.

So why not switch things up and make it a retail-exclusive product? Maybe switch it out with something like Topps Fire that could be tweaked to be more hobby-centric. Or soup up Gallery. Perhaps introduce something new.

2019 Topps Fire Baseball Fernando Tatis Jr

This would work in a couple of forms. Through its foundation in nostalgia, Archives directly targets lapsed collectors. It’s like a gateway product to bring them back into the hobby. It starts with the packaging that directly connects with sets they may have collected in the past. A major place to find these lapsed collectors is at retail. If you’re not collecting, you’re less likely to go into a card shop. But if you’re picking up some shampoo at Walmart or socks at Target, some packs or a blaster can easily grab one’s attention and find their way into a cart.

Archives is the kind of product that catches your attention and draws you back into the collecting world. And from there, hopefully, back into a local card shop.

There’s enough nostalgia in other products to keep that going at the hobby level. Archives is a line that doesn’t need fancy configurations. Going to retail-only, it could also quietly cut back further on some of the premium signatures. The lower price point also emphasizes fun over the chase. Sure, it can still be there, but the focus will truly return to the nostalgia the classic designs and players bring.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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10 comments

  1. Tyler Nicholson 13 December, 2019 at 19:21

    I agree that works better as a retail product. I didn’t buy any this year, but a big draw for me in past years has been cards that aren’t available in other products such as Will Ferrell, Bull Durham, Major League, and The Sandlot.

  2. Jeremy DeJong 13 December, 2019 at 21:45

    They need to go back to the ‘03-‘05 version, or make the product into a ‘missing cards’ kind of line with missing cards for guys like they feature in the product now. Who doesn’t want to see cards like missing rookies of Buster Posey (‘08 Draft Pick), Kris Bryant (‘15), etc, and missing final Topps cards of Griffey (‘11) Ripken (‘01), Lou Brock (‘80), among hundreds of others. This set could be 300 cards big and last at least a decade.

  3. Justin 14 December, 2019 at 16:38

    I like your take on making Archives retail only. However, the quality must improve in order to avoid alienating collectors.

    Archives was the only product I looked forward to every year and I’ve been let down since 2015. I’ve given up on this product altogether mainly because year after year, it doesn’t excite me.

    I don’t mind not pulling a hit, but when I do, I don’t want to pull “Bald Vinny”. Make the hits harder to come by and put something decent in there for a change. That way when We pull something, I’m reasonably happy.

    Just look at 2003-2005 Topps Fan Favorites and you’ll see what I miss.

  4. RJ Martin 15 December, 2019 at 10:33

    I basically agree, Archives isn’t at the top of my favorites list. But Gallery is, I have often wondered why Topps doesn’t make it a hobby product, with wider distribution. Combining your idea with mine, make Archives a Target exclisive and make Gallery a hobby/retail product. Anyone at Topps listening?

  5. Benjamin Pfiester 15 December, 2019 at 11:07

    Or just eliminate Archives altogether. I’m beginning to think less is more when it comes to modern baseball products.

  6. Jeffrey Allen 16 December, 2019 at 09:20

    Another thought I’d like to see with Archives: do (non-SP) variations of players in their different teams. Yes, it’s cool to see Goose Gossage as a Padre, but why not include a White Sox / Yankees version? Like this year, they could have done the 59 version as a White Sox, the 75 as a Yankee, and 93 as a Padre? The other thing they have had success with is the movie tie-ins and such. Yes, it’s a shame they had a limited Major League lineup and made the Costner auto-only, but those were fun. A 50-year collection of Expos? No disrespect to Montreal but the roster selection wasn’t that great (and adding Randy Johnson just seemed like a stretch for the sake of adding a “big unit” … er, name).

  7. fred 16 December, 2019 at 09:39

    Let’s face it. Archives is superfluous. There are retro sets as inserts in the flagship brand every year now, and there’s also heritage, so let’s face it , how much of Topps’ designs over the years do we really want to revisit over and over again? Archives has had some cool insert ideas over the years, like Major League, Bull Durham, Will Ferrell, and this year’s Expos set, but it seems silly to put out a whole product for one cool insert set. Maybe this product has simply run its course.

  8. Mike Bartosiak 16 December, 2019 at 12:12

    Retail sucks. Buy $300 worth of product and don’t get a complete set. Unless topps starts varying the distribution better, I may turn into a one factory set a year kind of collector.

    I bought 2 holiday boxes. 2 cards different. Even got the same inserts. I bought them at two different stores even.

  9. Randy Johnson 16 December, 2019 at 13:06

    I really like Archives, have the “team set” of Major League Indians and a couple of the Will Ferrell cards.

    I do wish they would hit some years like 1988 – not a great set but the first year I really started collecting.

    My dream card is a 1988 Topps Trout auto, for example … that I pull in a pack from Target!

  10. Chuck 17 December, 2019 at 10:40

    Good, thoughtful read. Thank you.

    To me a lot of these retro cards such as Archive, Heritage, TBT don’t feel as nostalgic as it could be. The type of cardboard just isn’t the same. It’s too modern and the quality is too high. Use the exact same kind of cheap cardboard as they did in the 70’s and 80’s, make the price pretty dang cheap, and heck throw in the stick of bubble gum in every pack, and then I’d really be interested.

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