Contributor John Dudley
We made it another year around the sun! That means it is time for some good old-fashioned, end-of-the-year navel-gazing with the first-ever newsletter Best of the Year Awards! While there aren’t any shiny trophies yet, I’m sure the honorees will be thrilled with their inclusion on such a prestigious list.
Rookie of the Year (Hobby): Football and basketball both had intriguing rookie classes with players likely to be part of the hobby landscape for quite some time, but none had the on-field success and hobby success of one Julio Rodriguez. It was supposed to be the year of Witt and Franco, but J.Rod never got the memo and slugged his way to the forefront of the hobby. While most everyone has seen their Card Ladder Player Index (a great measure of player hobby value) drop drastically in 2022, J. Rod’s has doubled. Only one other rookie in any sport saw a 50% bump in 2022 (Bobby Witt Jr.). J. Rod wins this one easily.
Player of the Year (Hobby): Very few veteran players saw substantial increases in card prices in 2022. Cooper Kupp, Aaron Judge, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, and Connor McDavid all saw their cards double on average in 2022 according to Card Ladder’s Player Index (Kirk Cousins and Anfernee Simons did too, but that was due to negligible starting values).
Out of those, I think Judge, Allen, and McDavid did the most to set themselves apart this year whereas the rest relied on hobbyists having little to no expectations to begin with. Ultimately, I think Connor McDavid will be the one collectors look back on and kick themselves for not buying in at 2021 prices. For that reason, Connor McDavid is my 2022 Hobby Player of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Judge, Josh Allen
Best Trend of the Year: Grading prices and wait times are returning to “normal”. Really, we are still in the process of defining a new normal for a world with four high-volume competent grading companies. I expect 2023 to be the year of the great grading price wars, but the return to lower prices and faster turnaround times was the best trend from a year many collectors would like to forget.
Worst Trend of the Year: I promise this is the only negative one. It’s got to be the market dropping, right? Well… no. There are at least some positives to the market decline. A correction was due, cards you thought were out of reach are now affordable, and there are no long lines of dudes outside Target and Walmart waiting to get their cardboard fix. The downturn in the card market seems largely tied to real-world economic issues and I want the worst trend to be more unique to or tied to the hobby,
No, the worst trend award goes to the absolutely demolished product release schedule. All industries dealing with printing have had massive delays, but it is past time for companies to start factoring that in. A confusing and unpredictable release calendar hampers the growth of the hobby greatly. During J. Rod’s hottest stretch, there were few baseball products available. Cut to December when Topps released Holiday, Stadium Club, Sapphire, Brooklyn, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Platinum, Bowman Chrome X, Heritage High Number, Topps Japan, Topps UK, Bowman Draft 1st Edition, Topps Chrome Black, Triple Threads, Five Star, Chrome Update, Bowman Draft, and Bowman Transcendent. With a new release every two days, it is unsurprising that some of these flopped hard. They would have sold well in July and August when fans were desperate for cards though. It’s not just Topps and baseball. Panini has also had major issues in establishing a predictable release calendar. Getting back to a release schedule where collectors know the time of year by what product is available is a must.
Card Image of the Year: Let’s just give an honorable mention nod to the Topps Stadium Club line in perpetuity. Topps Update’s Albert Pujols #US300 was close, but just like in real life, he’s better when joined with teammates. Topps Update’s #US168 One Last Dance featuring Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright is wonderful enough to make this Braves fan seek out rarer parallels of it.
Insert of the Year:
Panini figured out that collectors love case hit inserts and Topps has followed suit. That said, the 2022 class of case hits did not bring their A-game. Lack of originality is my major complaint with the lot of them so I’ll go with the one that nailed their underlying conceit the best.
Sure, Topps Home Field Advantage cards are absolutely a knockoff of Panini’s Downtown cards, but they also nail the concept better than Panini ever has. The cards are hard to hit, but with a lot of packs to pull from and their insertion in hobby and retail, they are also not impossible to find at reasonable prices. This means a lot of collectors are trying to complete this set with its almost perfect checklist (swap Miguel Cabrerra out for Torkelson and it is perfect IMO).
Best New Product: Topps Logofractor came out of nowhere and took off based on its simple, but effective design. It also had great timing in its release as well as a friendly price point. This product would’ve bombed at $200 a pack/box but flew off the shelves at $50. Hopefully, Topps will look at this uber-successful release and the massively disappointing Sapphire that offered far less for $200 a box and draw the appropriate conclusions when designing 2023 releases.
Card of the Year Wide Release (Base or unnumbered SP): This list might skew a bit baseball-heavy, but the card world is driven by rookies and Julio Rodriguez and crew were more captivating than their basketball and football counterparts (no chance Brock Purdy cracks this list). Julio Rodriguez has some great rookies with lovely SPs in Topps Series 2 and Topps Update (my personal favorite card of his), some top-notch autos, and a bevy of refractors but it is his Topps Logofractor SP that wins out here. The Logofractor design is a simple one, but it seems to have near-universal hobby approval. The timing of the product release when J.Rod had few high-dollar cards allowed this card to establish itself as one that is a must-have for J.Rod fans.
Card of the Year Limited Release (Parallels or #d <99): A card so hot it had Drake dropping a large fortune on boxes in search of it has to be the winner here, and it is. The Flawless Triple-Logoman LeBron James, even with some unfortunate design choices, is the clear card of the year and will be remembered for a long time. Each time this card changes hands in the future will be a major hobby news story. Some other massive cards were made this year, but none will have the same mystique. The card has already sold for 2.4 million, which is even more staggering given the market conditions in basketball.
Product of the Year Under $500 per Box: Topps has received a ton of guff for a couple of dreadful releases (Topps Chrome Update and Topps Chrome Sapphire) that should have both been in the running for P.O.T.Y. status. Lost in the justifiable vitriol though, is the fact that Topps released multiple other products in December that are awesome. Topps Brooklyn and even Topps Holiday were both serious contenders for the best product crown.
Ultimately, I had to go with 2022 Topps Update which is pretty close to the Platonic ideal of what a modern wide release should look like. There was enough printed that unopened boxes and packs remained both affordable and obtainable while still providing strong value in each box. This is an almost impossible feat to pull off and one that future products should emulate. The set looks great and even the scorned Rookie Debuts got an upgrade with some Stadium Club-level photography used for some of them.
Honorable Mention: Topps Logofractor (it was a coin-flip decision between Update and Logofractor).
Product of the Year Over $500 a Box: Flawless with its metal briefcases and winning lottery-ticket-level cards gets the nod here. When I think of basketball products from the 2021-22 season, Flawless is the first thing that comes to mind which is a good indicator for being the best product of the year. While I am hesitant to put such a pricy product very few collectors have ripped in the top spot, the excitement over this product has not been matched in quite a while.
Congrats to the winners. Let me know what your favorites of 2022 were in the comments. Next week, I’ll shake off 2022 and see what 2023 has in store for us.
Also, if you haven’t checked out the insanely useful Card Shop Live app, what are you waiting for? It’s great for breaks, personal rips, singles, and hobby info. The breakers are all heavily vetted so no shenanigans here.