“Either Topps does not understand the value of its own cards, or the company is assuming that collectors are stupid. Because what’s happened is that Topps is creating risk in the marketplace, which (unless collectors are, in fact, stupid) will ultimately impact the initial value of every Bowman Chrome RC auto issued in its spring Bowman releases until the day that Topps promises to quit the practice.
And if Topps can print three sets of 2012 Bowman Chrome Yu Darvish RC autos, what’s to stop the company from printing three sets of 2014 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant prospect autos?”
— pg. 348 of The Modern Baseball Card Investor, April 18, 2014
The spring 2014 Bowman release included what were thought to be the first Bowman Chrome autos of Chicago Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant, who earlier this month was named Baseball America’s 2014 Minor League Player of the Year. This release included a full slate of Bryant Bowman Chrome refractor auto parallels, including regular refractors #’d/500. But intriguingly, the 2014 Bowman product included a limited number of base autos, leading everyone to believe that the base auto was short-printed. These cards all carry the “1st Bowman” designation.
As recently as June 30, a BGS 9.5/10 base auto sold for $1,000, while on July 2, a BGS 10/10 Pristine copy sold for $1,500.
But then Topps threw a curveball into the game: The June 27 release of Bowman Inception Baseball included 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant base autos – that is, cards which precede the 2014 Bowman Chrome prospect autos. The 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft base autos were also included in July 30 2014 Bowman Platinum release.
As we discussed last week, the common speculation was that the color parallels of the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant auto would be inserted into boxes of 2014 Bowman Chrome, if not also 2014 Bowman Draft and 2014 Bowman Sterling as well.
And with last Friday’s release of Chrome, Topps laid the double whammy: Not only did the 2014 Bowman Chrome release include various color parallels of the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft auto, but it also included base versions of the 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects auto – the very same card issued in the 2014 Bowman release, and the very same one previously thought to have been short-printed.
In other words, not only has Topps produced a full set of 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant prospect autos and quite deliberately released them in various 2014 Bowman products – and after using the 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects Bryant auto to sell the spring 2014 Bowman release – but it turns out that the 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects Bryant base auto that everybody thought was short-printed has turned out to be quite common.
On its @BlowoutTV Twitter feed, Blowout posted a picture of 30 cases worth of Kris Bryant autos from its 2014 Bowman Chrome case break. That haul included three 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft autos (a base, a refractor #’d/500, and a Blue Refractor #’d/99), and nine 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects base autos.
— BlowoutTV (@BlowoutTV) September 29, 2014
If you are a case breaker or a dealer — or if you are a collector who simply pre-ordered these products — this looks like found money. But if you bought the 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects card or otherwise bought 2014 Bowman product earlier in the year under the premise that the card labeled “1st Bowman” would now and forever actually be Bryant’s first Bowman Chrome auto, you may have lost trust in Topps.
The bloodbath on the 2014 Bowman Chrome Prospects Bryant autos is in full force. On September 21, a base 2014 Bryant auto graded BGS 9.5/10 sold for $291 at auction, while a 2014 Refractor auto #/500 graded BGS 9.5/10 sold for $321 on Thursday, September 25. A 2014 Blue Wave Refractor #/50 graded BGS 10/10 Pristine sold for $1,100 on Saturday, September 27 – that is, $400 less than a comparable base auto sold for at the beginning of July.
Meanwhile, the market continues to be flooded by a fresh wave of Bowman Chrome Bryant autos of a variety of colors and years of origin. Among the other 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft color autos to emerge from 2014 Bowman Chrome are Green #/75, Black #/35, and a Purple #/10 auto.
Why Would Topps Do This?
There are two basic reasons why Topps would make such a move:
- To plant the idea the idea that the key Bowman Chrome prospect autos of top prospects can appear in any Bowman-branded product at any time. And apparently even if that top prospect has already had his key auto issued in the spring Bowman release, as is the case with Kris Bryant.
- To keep dealers and case breakers from busting out on Bowman Chrome, Bowman Platinum, and Bowman Inception. If dealers and case breakers bust out on these products, pre-orders in 2015 will decline.
The psychological principle behind the first point is variable ratio reinforcement, which is the same principle behind the random payouts of slot machines in casinos. If you can’t predict when the payouts will occur or how big those payouts will be, you will be more likely to continue gambling, or – in this case – pre-order a range of Topps products.
If you are a dealer or case breaker and knew, for example, that a Kris Bryant-caliber prospect was slated to have his first Bowman Chrome auto in the spring 2015 Bowman release but that the rest of the year was barren, you might be inclined to load up on 2015 Bowman but sit out the rest of the year. But if instead you knew that this player’s key cards would be spread around – or that he might even have a superior 2014-year issue in later sets – you might think twice before sitting out 2015 Bowman Inception, 2015 Bowman Platinum, or 2015 Bowman Chrome.
But the reason this is necessary is because of the second point. The reality is more likely that case breakers and dealers often use simpler logic: “If I make money on this product this year, I will buy more of it next year. If I lose money, I will buy less or sit out.”
What Topps Has Actually Accomplished
So that’s the why. But here’s what Topps has actually done:
- Topps has implicitly acknowledged that Bowman Inception and Bowman Platinum are inferior products value-wise. The fact is that if these products could stand on their own, Topps wouldn’t need to stick a top-end Bowman Chrome card in to support them. This is particularly true considering that both Bowman Inception and Bowman Platinum already had their own Kris Bryant autos to begin with.
- Topps has created risk in the marketplace and devalued the initial values of all spring Bowman releases, and perhaps beyond. This is the bigger problem.
Let’s say that the next mega prospect will have his first Bowman Chrome auto (labeled “1st Bowman”) issued in the spring 2015 Bowman release. You want this card badly, but how much are you going to pay for it? How confident are you that Topps is not going issue more of them in later Bowman-branded product releases throughout the year? Worse, how confident are you that Topps is not going to show up with a trumping 2014-year Bowman Chrome Draft auto for this player?
As we discussed a few weeks ago in our discussion on Case Breakers and the Value Cycle, secondary market values drive box value. And as I said in the quote at the beginning of this article, unless collectors are stupid, the threat of multiple – and/or preceding, as is apparently now possible – Bowman Chrome RC/prospect autos will dampen the initial values of cards issued in all future spring Bowman releases until Topps announces that it will stop this practice. This will impact the ability for both dealer and case breaker to profit off of the spring Bowman releases, and ultimately drive down pre-orders.
The fact is that Topps is not responsible for what happens on the secondary market. If a collector wants to speculate on a given card of a given player, then the onus is on the collector-speculator to accept the risks. On the other hand, Topps should not be playing against the collector, either; the problem is that that’s precisely what is happening here.
And beyond the question of whether what Topps has done here is or isn’t flat out cheating, Topps has – both figuratively and literally speaking – shown what cards it can and will play, and put the onus on the collector to trust whether a player’s first Bowman Chrome auto will remain his first.
Jeff Hwang is a gaming industry consultant and the best-selling author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy, the three-volume Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha series and The Modern Baseball Card Investor. Follow Jeff on Twitter @RivalSchoolX.