The reigning National League MVP is the new face of Topps Baseball Cards, now shipping to stores across the country. How do you get your hands on him? Ben Henry of The Baseball Card Blog tells us how.
Ryan Howard may be without a new contract from the Phillies, but the popular slugger roped another lucrative deal earlier this winter. Howard signed an exclusive contract with Topps, granting the New York-based company exclusive rights to autographed cards, game-used memorabilia and Howard’s image use on packaging and advertising.
Ben Henry has been an avid collector since 1986 and started The Baseball Card Blog over a year ago. I connected with him over e-mail to ask about Howard, advice for casual collectors and the state of card collecting today.
Beerleaguer: Topps is now shipping their 2007 cards across America, with Ryan Howard as the new cover boy. What are your thoughts on Howard as the new face of Topps?
Ben Henry: I think it’s brilliant that Topps was able to get Howard. Topps is finally ‘getting it’ with their spokesmen: lock up fun guys when they’re young and they won’t have a chance to jump over to the infinitely cooler Upper Deck. It’s also great for Howard. He’s cementing himself in the minds of the newest generation of card collectors.
Beerleaguer: Which Howard cards are hottest; which hold the most value?
Ben Henry: It used to be that you couldn’t get a hotter card than the player’s rookie card. Then card companies starting making cards for anyone who graduated the 8th grade, in hopes that someday one of them would make it out of Double-A. Fortunes were lost on these cards. Trying to find an edge, card companies limited production runs. They tore up jerseys and gloves and shaved down bats, inserting them as "relic" cards.
So my answer is if Ryan Howard debuted 30 years ago, his rookie card would’ve been his most valuable card for his entire career. It would probably cap somewhere around $200, and that’s if he ends up in the Hall of Fame, which is no easy task. Just ask Jim Rice, a guy with a $5 rookie card.
Instead, here are four of Ryan Howard’s most valuable cards, according to March’s Tuff Stuff, which, coincidentally, features Howard on the cover:
1. 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres $50 (RC)
2. 2003 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks & Prospects $75
3. 2003 Bowman’s Best $600
4. 2003 Donruss Rookie & Traded Elite Turn of the Century Autograph $1,000
Will these cards hold their value? That’s the real question I have for the hobby. I go to shows in the New York area and see relic and autographed cards selling for $3.
Beerleaguer: Which sets would you recommend for casual collectors, and where can one find the most comprehensive collection of Phillies cards for the 2007 team?
Ben Henry: I would recommend the basic Upper Deck and Topps sets. Both borrow heavily from early ’90s Score, as each set is comprised of roughly one billion cards. Upper Deck has a ton of cards, with a checklist that resembles the baseball encyclopedia. Topps is more manageable at 660 cards and includes special cards like they used to back in the '60s.
Plus ... and this may be something new if you haven’t collected in a while: There are only two card companies now. Major League Baseball denied Donruss its license and Upper Deck bought up the Fleer nameplate after Fleer bought the farm a few years ago. So while you may see many of the same brands (Bowman, Fleer, Topps, Ultra, SP, Upper Deck), there are only two Goliaths battling it out: Topps and Upper Deck.
Beerleaguer: I've been collecting Topps Heritage because I like the nostalgic look. Which sets would you recommend for appearance, display, etc.?
Ben Henry: It’s funny you bring up Heritage, because when I got my first full-time job after college, I decided I’d collect the Heritage set modeled after 1954. God, that set’s totally awesome. For design, you really can’t get better than Topps Heritage. A ton of collectors also love Topps’ Allen & Ginter product from 2006 (Chase Utley's Allen & Ginter pictured right). It’s clean, with turn-of-the-century barroom portraits of ballplayers and famous people like Thomas Edison and Orville Wright. I was also a fan of 2005 Bowman Heritage, modeled after 1951 Bowman, one of the pillars of post-war baseball card design.
Beerleaguer: Without getting too broad, what are your thoughts on the modern era of collecting compared to the past? Did Upper Deck and the glossy card ruin the industry? And is the industry on a rebound?
Ben Henry: It’s easy to blame UD for what happened to cards. They were the first to insert an autographed card into packs (Reggie Jackson Heroes, 1991), and what they did right as a company — from the start — inflated the hobby, giving false hope to a legion of other companies. While other companies have fallen by the wayside, UD carries on.
If 1952-1981 was the Topps Dynasty, 1982-1988 the Fleer/Donruss Interloper Years, 1989 to the present is definitely the Upper Deck Era: autographed cards, memorabilia cards. Many sets now have these cards checklisted amongst the regular base cards. You need these cards to complete the set. To a collector like me, this is crazy: I’m never going to get all the cards I need.
And yet, baseball cards are getting back to being in a good place. There are sets, like those I mentioned earlier, where packs don’t cost too much and there are a wide variety of players. Little kids and old guys with pot bellies are still interested. If card companies can manage to do that, they must be doing something right.