Sports card collectors were introduced to chromium based cards way back in 1993 when Topps introduced Topps Finest. Back then, we were still pulling UV coated cards that had premium tags on them but stuck together and smelled pretty bad. I am not here to disparage Stadium Club or Upper Deck or anybody else from the early 90’s because we were all jumping on the premium brands if we could afford them. But Topps changed the game with Finest as we got a glimpse at what cards would look like if Marty McFly had picked up a pack in Back to the Future II. Forget the sports almanac; Chromium Sports Cards were the future!
The takeaway from all of this mania is that chrome cards, and especially refractors, are at the top of the food chain in the current hobby.
If you fast forward, you can see just how important chromium based cards have become. You can find them in Prizm, Contenders, Bowman’s Best, Bowman Chrome, Topps Chrome, Optic, and even Classics in 2018. They are highly sought after in the hobby and the chromium design gives companies the options for multiple colors and highlights that can be added. Many collectors today make a concerted effort to collect their personal favorite players in the multiple colors that are available in these products. My personal favorite cards are nostalgic looking cards but now that those also come in a chromium variety, you just about can’t make me believe there is a better card design.
Topps Finest made the splash in football, baseball and basketball back in the early 90’s and I recently ripped a box of each to take the trip down memory lane. The cards haven’t held up great since then because the technology had not been advanced to the point of where it is today. Chrome cards of today appear to be in great shape for future opening but it remains to be seen if the problem with cards sticking together over the years has been solved. The cards from 1993 faded just a bit as well and weren’t as bright. The borders were green and a lot of the cards had what appeared to be a green tint all over the card now.
The advent of chromium based cards also brought us the now uber-popular “Refractor”. The early Topps Finest Refractor cards featured a protective coating to help keep the card scratch free and in excellent condition. While they no longer come with that protective coating except in some rare cases, I still have some with the old coating on them. I am not a collector who removes protective coatings that were placed there by the companies, with an exception I’ll cover in a moment. Refractors have a unique rainbow appearance when they are held at various angles in the light. While they are easy to spot in most cases, the companies will sometimes notate that the card is a refractor on the back now. That was not the case with ’93 Finest.
The one exception I have for peeling protective coverings is the “Mystery Refractor”. I honestly don’t know when these were first introduced but I know the first one I remember was from 1998 Topps Football. To be totally honest, I did peel the protective coverings back then and the cards were beautiful. The Jerome Bettis below this paragraph was one of the “Mystery Finest” from that year. Just last night, I was breaking a box of 1999 Topps Baseball and pulled another of these Mystery Refractors and it really took me back to that ’98 Football set. The one I pulled last night was the “All-Topps Designated Hitters” with Frank Thomas, Tim Salmon and David Justice. I left the protective coating on it.
We haven’t just stopped at “Refractors” either. There is a whole sub-category of refractors like Gold, Mosaic, Multi-Colors, X-Fractors, Atomic and the ultra rare (1/1) Super Refractor. Products like Panini Prizm are pushing the boundaries even further. In the last 2 years, we have been introduced to Blue Waves, Pulsar, Camo, Tie-Dye and many other swirls and colors. The Prizm product is loaded with refractor variants and while it can be cumbersome to some collectors, it takes the chase of personal favorite players to a whole new level. Many times these variants will carry serial numbers with (for example) Blue Waves being numbered to 150, Pulsar to 99, Atomic to 5 and the Super being 1/1. It has made completing sets virtually impossible but has definitely made the team and player collectors want more.
This past year, Panini took arguably their two most sought after sets and combined them to make the non chromium set a chromium set with refractors, if that makes sense. To be more specific, they took Contenders and gave them an Optic finish and called them Contenders Optic. The hobby took notice to the naming of the set as it appears that Panini is going to officially call their refractor “Optic”, which leaves collectors of Prizm wondering if a change is coming to that product. Prizm was around before Optic so I’m not sure why Contenders got the “Optic” treatment as opposed to the “Prizm” name other than the fact that Optic Football was a leading seller last year. I feel like I’m starting to confuse myself.
You may have recently seen the various bounties offered to the lucky collector who pulled the Shohei Ohtani Super-Refractor from Bowman. At one point it was up to $100,000. That card was pulled last week by John Muheim, who plans to get it graded and then try to sell it on the open market. That plan may have taken a bit of a hit with the recent injury to Ohtani. As of this writing, there are some rumors floating around that the injury will require some significant missed time. The chase for Ohtani may have ended before the All-Star Break but the market has yet to make a definitive statement on the issue. As of this week, Bowman Mega is still selling at about $30 per box, which is a 100% markup!
BASEBALL 22 x 28″ outside frame dimension. Cards are not included.
The takeaway from all of this mania is that chrome cards, and especially refractors, are at the top of the food chain in the current hobby. RPA’s and Printing Plates and Autographs are still highly collectible but in some cases, a base (non-variant) refractor is outselling its autographed counterpart. Just take a look at 2017-18 Panini Prizm Basketball for proof of that. But many products are leaning on special refractors to push sales and as I mentioned before, even Panini Classics, a perennial retro set, has included short print chrome refractors in their boxes.
We have Topps Finest to thank for all of this development and innovation in the chrome market as they are the set that got this ball rolling. They are also a set that is still carrying on some 25 years later as their 2018 Baseball product released last week. It is only fitting that I picked up a box to share with you and celebrate the grandfather of chrome. Surprisingly, the Topps Finest Super-Refractor of Ohtani was pulled the same week the product was released so there won’t be a big chase for that regardless of the long term prognosis of his injury. Knowing that it won’t be in my box, let’s solemnly push through this review. I kid, of course. I can’t wait to see what these cards look like this year!
As has been the case over the last few years, Topps Finest has a configuration of 2 mini boxes with 6 packs in each box. The packs contain 5 cards per pack and there is 1 autograph per mini box.
This is a base card in Topps Finest. This is a chrome card that features Young Superstar Didi Gregorius of the New York Yankees. As you can see, the cards feature only the player photos and no other background from the actual photo. The background is a potpourri of stars and lines.
Cody Bellinger was one of the Rookie Darlings of 2017 but he is off to a slow start this year with a .235 average and 12 home runs.
The king of the hot corner in Colorado is Nolan Arenado. Not only is he smooth with the leather, he is also hitting a sweet .314 with 12 home runs on the season.
Freddie Freeman is the local Atlanta Braves veteran superstar. The Braves are having a surprising but exciting season so far in 2018. Freddie is a big part of that start, hitting .340 with 12 home runs and 45 RBI. The Braves have a lot of young talent in Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson but also have a great mix of veterans with Freeman, Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte.
Manny Machado may be the most talked about player in history when it comes to trade talks. Everybody wants him and his .312 average. He also has clobbered 18 home runs and has knocked in 50. He has an amazing arm and should be a star for years to come. I certainly wouldn’t mind having him in Atlanta.
Here is a RC in the set, Francisco Mejia, who only has 11 major league games on his resume. He was called up the same day I wrote this piece, June 12, but optioned right back to AAA some 6 hours later when the player he was set to replace cleared X-Ray’s. He is listed as a catcher but is getting a lot of innings in the outfield in Columbus. He is MLB’s #7 prospect and is expected to contribute in Cleveland very soon.
Another rookie in the set is Rhys Hoskins. He played 50 games in 2017 and hit 18 home runs but is off to a slow start in 2018. He has already played 54 games but only has 7 home runs and is hitting a paltry .235. He still has a lot of potential and his career is far too young to hold 54 games against him. Phillies fans and collectors are both hoping he rebounds soon.
Another hot player from 2016 and 2017 is off to a horrible start and was recently benched for a few days to try and get things straightened out. Sanchez is often overshadowed by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gregorius but if he can return to the Sanchez of 2017, he will make that lineup even more dangerous.
No doubt future Hall of Famer, Yadier Molina, is nearing the end of a stellar career. He is still hitting .272 on the season and plays defense as good as any other catcher in the majors. His career .284 average, 8 Gold Gloves, 8 All-Star Appearances and 2 World Series Rings will certainly have him in the Hall of Fame very quickly after he becomes eligible.
There may be no player as hot as Mookie Betts at the moment. He has been a favorite in Boston and with collectors for a few seasons but he is now hitting .354 (leading the league) and has 17 home runs and 13 stolen bases. This kid is playing lights out right now and may be establishing himself as a force for years to come in the hobby. His rookie autos are selling for great numbers and unlike some other “prospects” of today, he is proving his worth on the field.
Here is a Nomar Mazara base (left) and base refractor (right). You should be able to see the rainbow effect in the card on the right. The backs of the cards do not have a discernible difference so you have to study the fronts to find the refractors. Sometimes this is easier said than done.
Here is a look at the 2 colored refractors I pulled from the boxes. The first is a Joey Gallo Green, numbered to 99. Gallo is known for his tremendous power but low batting average. He hit 41 home runs last year while only hitting .209 and he’s on pace for similar numbers this year with 17 home runs and a .202 average. Rob Deer anyone? The other is a highly rated rookie for the Boston Red Sox. He is a third baseman who hit .284 with 10 home runs in only 58 games last year but is struggling so far this year with a .231 average and 9 home runs. This is a Purple Refractor, numbered to 250.
The first insert cards I pulled were these “Corner Stones”, featuring players who are just that for their teams. I also pulled Nomar Mazaro and Noah Syndegaard. While I initially thought the gold on the Olson card made this one a variant, I quickly found out it was a team color as Syndegaard has orange and Mazaro, red.
Another insert is this “Finest Firsts”, which features a first moment for the player on the card. For Robles, the card features his first start with Washington, where he got his first hit, first double and first RBI to help beat the Phillies 3-2.
I really like this insert, “Sitting Red”. The two cards I pulled were Bryce Harper and Edwin Encarnacion. This set features elite home run hitters in the game and backs that up with home run stats in paragraph form on the back of the card. This is a good looking card.
My first hit was this Dustin Fowler, outfielder from the Oakland A’s. This is a RC of Fowler, who moved over from the Yankees to Oakland for 2018. He has appeared in 26 games thus far for Oakland, hitting for a .247 average with 4 home runs.
The Big Hit in this box was this awesome Rafael Devers Orange, numbered 10 of 25! First off, this is a great looking card. But Devers is also a well regarded rookie in Boston. Players for the Red Sox have a great collecting base and are often in high demand. I consider this a rock solid hit in the box.
I like 2018 Topps Finest and will probably try another box or two. I will likely have to buy those boxes before Archives comes out because that is my favorite baseball card set each year. My focus is solely on Archives once it comes out so I have to get all of this set I can before the tunnel vision sets in. The cards do have a pretty distinct smell, which makes me wonder if they will smell like 1993 Topps Stadium in the years to come. But overall, the cards are thick, well designed and the autographs are on-card, which is always a plus. I have seen some really cool retired players pulled in breaks as well. What do you think of 2018 Topps Finest?
Trading Card Storage Box. Holds 400 cards. 6-3/4 x 3-3/4 x 2-3/4″ (inside). Cards store horizontally. Made from 200-lb-test white (outside) corrugated cardboard. Just fold together – needs no tape or glue.