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Will 2014 Be Critical Year for Five Star Baseball?

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The Topps Company seemingly enjoys moving brand names (Chrome, Inception, etc.) back and forth between the different sports products it produces. If a brand does well in one sports card arena, the thinking is that the carry over will help it do well in another sport also. Indeed, the card maker has even taken it all to a new level by trying out a product in an Asian country or two before bringing the cards back into the USA.
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Back in 2012 Topps used this strategy by moving its “Five Star” brand from football to the baseball card market. And this was no mere moving about of words and letters. It created Babe Ruth 2014 Five Star bat relic quite a stir as that particular brand had established itself in a relatively short period of time as an ultra high-end collectible. When the word was released back in that summer of ’12 the questions were not only about the set’s checklist and design, but whether or not the baseball side of the sports card hobby could sustain such a high-end product. Polls were actually conducted that asked the question, among others,”Does baseball need an ultra high-end set?”

The answers to that question were vast and varied. However, the Topps Company must have been pleased with the reception because it returned in 2013 and, just this week, released the early information on 2014 Topps Five Star Baseball. Once again it is a hobby exclusive product, and it is slated to release sometime in December of 2014 (no firm date nor tentative checklist has been provided yet).

Before dishing out what few details we have on the coming release, it is interesting to take stock of how the Five Star brand has done in baseball cards up to this point. As mentioned earlier, the Topps folks must be pleased, but that sentiment does not seem to be shared unanimously across the hobby landscape.
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To be sure, it is the perspective of time that is often the best judge of this sort of thing. With that in mind, when one looks at the hobby performance of the inaugural release of the first Five Star Baseball released in 2012, it will be found that the product routinely is given a “thumbs down” on many dealer forums regarding product. Even so, the dealers on those sites are trading the boxes of 2012 Topps Five Star Baseball at about 15-20% over original cost (at least between themselves).

So that mixed response brings a quick inspection to the follow-up Five Star Baseball product of 2013. Frankly, using the same 14FSBB_SS_1503_GriffeyJRdealer-to-dealer sites reveals that that incarnation of the product has faired considerably worse. Yes, it also gets negative remarks from many dealers across the board, but it is a big difference to find that those dealers who are still sitting on the product are routinely trying to unload it for $35-40 less than they originally paid for it. Perhaps it is my own take on things, but that kind of response does not sound like a clamoring for more to me.

From the first whispers regarding the Five Star brand three years ago the sticking point most often raised was the idea of paying $75-90 per card for a six-card pack/box. Even those who can afford to drop that kind of coin want to know that their purchase will at least approach being worth what they have spent, and that price per card is hard to provide consistently in any product. The flip side, of course, was the loudly touted fact that Five Star Baseball would offer only “on card” autographs, that is, no stickers.

However, as one dealer noted in a blog when the cards were introduced, “Something that’s ‘five star’ doesn’t strive to simply be good. It has to reach beyond great and stand above everything else.” Each person has to decide if this (or any other product) measures up to that ideal. What I can do here is let you know what Topps is planning with 2014 Topps Five Star to reach toward that goal.
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Basically, the company is keeping the formula (on-card autos and high-end hits) and idea of Five Star the same as it has been, but they have added at least one more autograph per box/pack for 2014, which has their advertising touting, “Look for more Autographs in every box”. And, once again, due to its price tag, it won’t be a product for every collector. Those who do decide the price point and product fits their collection can plan on the following.

Every pack/box of 2014 Topps Five Star Baseball  is scheduled to include 1 Autographed Relic card OR a Silver Signatures Autograph OR Golden Graph Autograph (using gold ink); 4 Five Star Autographed Cards of a mix of retired and active MLB players, and; 1 Additional Five Star Autographed Card OR Cut Signature OR Legends Relic OR 1/1 Relic.
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Again, it is a big point with Five Star that all autographs are signed on-card. Personally, I find this especially interesting as Topps touts the use of silver and gold inks on some of the chase cards. I cannot help but wonder how many extras are signed so that they get enough good copies. Whatever the answer to that may be, it is noteworthy that the Silver Signatures and Golden Graphs cards are the most paralleled cards in the product. Topps states that these cards will have the following breakdown:

• Base Versions – #’d to 50
• Purple Parallel – #’d to 25
• Blue Parallel – #’d to 20
• Green Parallel – #’d to 15
• Gold Parallel – #’d to 10
• Orange Parallel – #’d to 5
• Red Parallel – #’d 1/1

In some boxes, however, the shiny ink signature card will be replaced by an Autographed Relic card. And, because this is Topps Five Star, these cards are planned as something more than just a jersey swatch with a signature beside it. The Five Star Autographed Jumbo Patches will feature an autograph and a .875” x 1.875” patch piece (#’d to 35). These will have Gold (#’d to 10), Rainbow (#’d to 5) and Five Star (1/1) parallels. Topps is also planning Five Star MLB® Silhouetted Batter Logo Patch Autographed cards (#’d 1/1) for this category in packs.
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Another sign that this is the 2014 version of Five Star is the inclusion of several book cards to serve as the autographed relic. An Autographed Jumbo Relic Book card (#’d to 50) is one of the possibilities, and it will have the Gold and Five Star parallels.The Five Star Dual Signature Patch Book will present autographs and patches of two MLB players (#’d to 10). And some will receive a Five Star 4-Piece Signature Book that will house an autograph and 4 relics of an MLB player (#’d to 50). In a recurring theme, these books will have Gold (#’d to 10) and Five Star (1/1) parallels.

Of course, the promised breakdown per box includes that lion’s share of Five Star Autographed cards by retired and active MLB players (4 per box). Those autographed cards will be sequentially numbered, and they will also each have two versions of parallels: a Rainbow parallel will be #’d to 25, and the “Five Star Parallel” will be a 1/1. As stated earlier, there has not been a checklist released, and so it is hard to know the mix of retired and active players in these autographs. Topps has, in the past versions of this product, attempted to keep the signatures of active players to the upper echelons, and there is no reason to doubt they will make the same attempt with 2014 Five Star.
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The “final” card in each 2014 Five Star pack is the wild card as it may be an additional Autographed card OR Cut Signature OR Legends Relic OR 1/1 Relic. As would be expected, the Five Star Cut Signatures  are all 1/1s. And there will be some “regular” relic cards in the Legends Relic checklist (#’d to 25), and a Dual Legends Relic featuring two all-time greats (#’d to 10). However, some of the other relic cards get interesting as in addition to the usually coveted Bat Knobs (#’d 1/1) and Bat Plates (#’d 1/1) Topps is creating Letters Jersey relic cards with letter patches from the back of MLB ® players’ jerseys (#’d 1/1).

In some respects, this high-end product acts like an individually boxed Hall of Fame. Then again, with its price point, that is what most collectors feel it needs to be. This third incarnation will be interesting to watch and see if the Five Star brand can, in reality, “reach beyond great and stand above everything else.”

About Larry Pauley

Larry Pauley began collecting in the 1960's, opened his first card shop in the KC area during the late 1980's, and today, when not combing flea markets for the next “find,” he runs MLB Memories—a card shop in Nixa, MO, a website at mlbmemories.com, and stores on eBay and Amazon. Track him down @MLBMemories on Twitter or Facebook, or e-mail [email protected].

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