Saturday, June 30, 2007

McFarlane NFL 16: Major Disappointment

I was very excited to hear that we would get to see the first photos of the NFL 16 figures yesterday. The prospect of getting a new LaDainian Tomlinson figure – hopefully in a better pose than the previous mediocre versions – was the biggest part of that excitement.

What a terrible disappointment the pictures turned out to be. I really expected NFL 16 to be superior to an average NFL Series 15, but it’s even worse.

The series includes two repaints, which is fine. TMP has to use repaints to keep the products economically viable. Unfortunately, the choices TMP made on these repaints resulted in figures that are, at best, forgettable.

Steve McNair – one of the worst quarterback poses ever, all black uniform looks bad, player choice ok but not great. Grade: F.

Terrell Owens – horrible player choice, good team choice, awful novelty pose that showcases the arrogance of this dirtbag. Grade: F.

Now we get to the original sculpts.

Frank Gore – Good uniform choice. Awful pose. Another novelty pose, showing Gore spiking the ball. It’s awkward and gratuitous – a wasted figure. Grade: D.

LaDainian Tomlinson 4 – Let’s see. LT just sets the single season touchdown record, he’s an incredible offensive force, one of the most exciting players in the game . . . let’s pose him benched on his ass, drinking Gatorade. How absurd is that? LT1 was a good pose, LT2 was ok, LT3 was lame – I was really hoping for a super pose for LT4 and this is just not it. I mean, for crying out loud, this is the first time they’ve gotten LT’s visor right and he’s not even wearing the helmet! Worse, the sculpt doesn't really look like him.
I really LIKE the bench pose for a figure. I think it’s cool, great novelty concept. I just think it’s a horrible choice for LT, like posing Reggie Bush as a punt returner. To sum it up, LT is great player choice, horrible pose selection, ok uniform – Grade: A very disappointing C.

Brady Quinn – Five players into the lineup and we FINALLY get to a new pose showing a player in a play. Quinn is a questionable choice for inclusion in the line but I think TMP had good reasons for picking him, especially since they had to make the decision so far in advance. Good choice on the uniform. The pose is pretty close to Drew Bledsoe’s pose, but overall it’s ok. His biceps look like Quinn has been raiding Barry Bonds' medicine cabinet though. Grade: B.

Champ Bailey – Great player selection. I love the uniform, especially with the curved orange lines on the legs. The pose is similar to Series 5 Jerry Rice but it’s pretty good. I’m really glad it’s not on posts. I think it could have been a more energetic pose and not quite so static, but overall it’s pretty good. Grade: B+.

All in all, it’s an underperforming line – Three of the six poses are either celebrating or sitting, and not playing the game. That’s an awful percentage. We only get two new legitimate in-action poses in this series, and neither of them are great. Overall grade should be a D+ but I'll bump it up to a C- for now because McFarlane tried to be creative at least.

Unfortunately it gets worse. When you take Series 16 and throw in the regular figures from Series 15, you have four out of 12 figures wasted on non-action poses. Take out the repaints and we end up with only six of 12 figures with new, in-action poses, and only one of them is a defensive player. The collectors edition figures don't exactly enhance the NFL offerings either - Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher figures that are pretty much reissues from the past. 2007 looks to be a dismal year for NFL Sports Picks. Thank god for the 3-packs and the Legends.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Babe Ruth Marks a Super Debut Baseball Vinyl Figure for Upper Deck

Upper Deck recently released photos of their upcoming Babe Ruth All Star Vinyl figure and I'm giving it a big thumbs up.
For player choice in a baseball product line, you can't find someone better than Ruth - especially for larger-than-life figures like the All-Star Vinyls. Even better, Ruth starts a new line of figures called "Best of the Bronx" that will include legendary Yankees. I'm not a dedicated Yankees fan but you can't dispute that no other team has a legacy for legends like New York does. Think about a series of figures that includes Yankee greats - I'm hoping to see Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra . . . THAT is a powerful series that would be fun to collect. Larger than life player, larger than life team - a perfect match for the vinyl figures.
The concept artwork that was previously released looked promising and the photos did not disappoint. Ruth is shown with bat in hand, tipping his hat to the crowd. The pose offers a nice contrast to the "just standing there" look we've seen in the NHL figures. An alternative to this might have been the "called shot" pose; that's been done quite a bit but it would have been a worthy choice as well. The facial sculpt itself is probably the weakest aspect of the figure; Ruth ended up with a somewhat piggish nose that doesn't look very good. The rest of the sculpt looks just fine, however.
The regular figure shows Ruth in home pinstripes, always a popular choice. Rather than going with the away gray flannel uniform for the alternate version figure, Upper Deck gave the limited edition figure a sepia finish. Another winning choice. Hopefully all the alternate version figures in the Bronx line will have the sepia finish.
Great selection, great pose, great uniform selection . . . all in all, a great figure. I collect very little baseball stuff but I am seriously considering getting this one, with the intent of buying all the figures in the Best of the Bronx line. I'll give this figure an A- . . . fix the pig snout and it bumps up to an A!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gracelyn Re-plays - You Don't Call, You Don't Write . . .

Dealing with Gracelyn regarding background information about their company and their Re-plays product line has been a source of frustration. I've sent them a half-dozen emails and faxes to get information from them, and the silence of their responses has been deafening. Frankly, based on this lack of communication I'm starting to wonder if the company is run by my ex-wife.

This website is a superb source of FREE advertising for the companies. I don't get anything from McFarlane, Upper Deck or anyone else to keep this site running - so all the 2,500+ pages of this site do is GIVE them the kind of promotion they normally would have to pay a fortune for.

Which makes me scratch my head a bit about Gracelyn. I mean, if they want McFarlane to continue to kick their ass in the marketplace, that's up to them. I'm assuming they would like to actually grow their business and for that reason it would behoove them to respond to legitimate media inquiries from folks like me.

If you manage to find a way to communicate with someone at Gracelyn - where they actually communicate back - would you be so kind as to refer them to this site and ask them to contact me?


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Monday, June 18, 2007

We Need Defensive NFL Sports Picks Poses

Looking at the upcoming Ray Lewis figure this afternoon, I was again reminded that we have a serious shortage of good defensive poses for NFL Sports Picks from McFarlane.

If you haven't seen it yet, Lewis is rearing back in an absurd pose that depicts him hamming it up between plays, something he has a nasty penchant for doing during games. If you read my post below on Heroes, you'll know that I despise hot dog players who insist on turning a football game into Saturday Night Fever with their lame dances between every play. If I don't like it on the field I sure as hell don't like it in a figure. (I know I'm a minority on this, but I'll stand by my desire to get decent in-action poses instead of silly ones like this.)

I hate this situation because we have a limited number of NFL Sports Picks every year and it's a shame to see one wasted on Lewis imitating a member of a Big 10 Marching Band. But adding insult to injury, Lewis is a defensive player. We don't get enough defensive players as it is and to have one wasted on this nonsense is just awful.

McFarlane has a tough job with defensive figures, I get that. They typically don't have the ball so it's tougher to come up with a single-figure pose for a defender that doesn't look strange. Of course, I've also been lobbying for greater interactivity between the figures' poses so this issue doesn't carry as much weight with me. Make more interactive figures and you'll have good defensive poses, both problems solved.

That said, we desperately need a better selection of defenders. What we're getting isn't very good right now. Reggie White looks kinda silly without an offensive lineman to stand him in front of. We see the same hunchback pose used for many players - Brian Dawkins, Roy Williams, Troy Polamulo, etc. It's an awful pose but just like herpes, we can't seem to get rid of it. Urlacher 2 isn't very good either - Urlacher 1 is much better but Mark from McFarlane has made cryptic references to the original being given to Urlacher, so they can't use it again.

More defensive players are needed, in better poses. Ray Nitschke was excellent, Mean Joe Greene was very good. How about a player going for a fumbled ball, for example? More poses in line with these figures would fill out the line beautifully.

And for God's sake, please don't waste any more figures - especially defensive players - posed like a reject from the Rockettes kickline.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

NFL 3-Packs: A Second Look Now That Pictures Are Out

Earlier this month I opined on the NFL 3-packs from McFarlane based on the descriptions released from the company. Now that photos are out, I'll "revise and extend" my remarks.

The Eagles 3-pack is a disappointment. McNabb is a straight re-release of the NFL Series 12 figure. Why didn't they do this figure in the white jersey? I guess they just wanted to have at least one figure with the green jersey but it is a missed opportunity. Dawkins looks good in the black jersey but it's a reissue of that awful, awful hunchback defensive pose that McFarlane uses way too often. Westbrook looks very good in his white jersey.

I had planned to buy this 3-pack but now I'll probably pass. One good new figure, one awful pose new figure, and a straight reissue. This 3-pack gets a C-, primarily because of Dawkins. Slightly better than last year's 3-packs, but poor pose choice and the questionable jersey pick for McNabb make it a weak offering.

The Dallas Cowboys 3-pack is much, much better. The star of the lineup is a double-star; Troy Aikman in the Cowboys' Double Star jersey. it looks spectacular. Tony Romo's figure looks great as well in the blue alternate jersey. Staubach is a duplicate of what is planned for NFL Legends 3 - but that's no problem. I can skip buying the single version and just get the 3-pack. That's 3 new figures in a 3-pack and that rings up cherries for me.

This is a definite buy for me. I'm not a Cowboys fan but I have tremendous respect for Staubach and Aikman - Romo has great potential and I hope he pans out. I'm hoping there will be a blue jersey chase of Staubach in Legends 3; otherwise, I have to wonder why they didn't put him in blue for the 3-pack. This set earns a B+ from me; that bumps up to an A- in Staubach gets a blue jersey chase in Legends 3 because I can then understand why the white jersey was used in the QB set.

The last 3-pack set is the Elite Club Running Backs. Larry Johnson looks great. Not a lot you can do with Chiefs figures - red or white jersey, red or white pants. That's pretty much it. I like the pose and I love the fact that it's different than what has been previously issued. Shaun Alexander looks very good as well. The white jersey looks even better than the teal one, to me. I don't like this pose though - without a defender there it looks incomplete. It's like clapping with one hand - it just doesn't work. Worse, it's on posts and I HATE posts, especially when they're used gratuitously as they are here. TMP should have gone with the first Alexander pose rather than the second.

Finally, LaDanian Tomlinson . . . great player choice, obviously. Standing ovation on the uniform choice - everyone has been clamoring for the powder blue uniform. One of the most popular TMP exclusives is the LT Powder Blue figure from the Super Bowl and the uniform is a big reason for that. All that said, the pose (LT3) is not good. I understand why they didn't use LT 1 as that is what they used for the Super Bowl Exclusive. But why not LT2? Much stronger pose. And for crying out loud, why doesn't he have a visor? Is this something the NFL wouldn't allow? Does LT plan to abandon the visor next year? Collectors have been fussing about the missing visors on LT from his first issue and it never seems to get fixed. I'm hoping there is a good reason for this.

All that said, the Elite Club 3-pack is a keeper. Three new figures help to make it a winner. Lots of missed opportunities with this pack though. I'll give it a provisional B- pending feedback on the visor. If the visor is included or there's a good reason for it not being there, the grade goes up to a B. Better pose choices and a visor would have earned this 3-pack an A rating.

Earlier I gave the three 3-packs a B. Now that I've seen the photos . . . I'll drop it slightly to a B-. That's still a big, big improvement over last year.

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Friday, June 15, 2007


While I'm talking about my perspective on sports collectibles, I think it's appropriate to talk about my perspective on sports and athletes - that certainly influences my views on what I collect as well.

In 1991 I was in the military, stationed in Texas. Desert Storm had just finished, but we still had thousands of troops in the Middle East, including a friend of mine who was guarding Iraqi prisoners. He was a devoted Yankees fan who thought the sun rose and set on Don Mattingly. At that time I was also doing a lot of freelance writing for sports hobby magazines, and I was lucky enough to score an interview with Mattingly.

I met Mattingly in the locker room before the game and did the interview. At the end I asked him, "I've got a friend of mine who is serving in Iraq right now - would you sign a ball and say hi to him on tape?" Mattingly was thrilled to help. He signed the ball and recorded a message, something to the effect of, "This is Don Mattingly. Thank you so much for doing what you're doing for us. We all appreciate you and love you and I hope you get home safely."

I gave the ball and tape to his wife, who gave it to him later that year. This big, tough security policeman, this warrior who just returned home a war-hardened soldier, heard the tape and cried. It meant so much to him that he had received this message from his hero. What an amazing gift for a soldier who had given so much for his country.

THAT is a hero. That's an athlete who understood what an incredibly powerful role he assumed when he accepted all the wealth, fame and trappings a star athlete enjoys. Mattingly spent 15 seconds, thought about someone else and used his fame in a way that served others. He was someone worthy of being looked up to. He was a hero.

Athletes have been our heros, our champions, for centuries. We find commemorations of early Olympians' exploits in the relics from ancient Greece. A thousand years ago Mayan athletes represented their cities in epic games of Pok-A-Tok, or The Ball Game, where the losing team's leader was put to death as an offering to atone for their community's loss of face. (Something I've considered reinstating for the Texas Rangers, incidentally.) During the middle ages, knights battled to the death in jousting and sword competitions to represent their kingdoms and the winning knights were viewed as the kings' champions. More recently and in the United States professional sports started out with locally rostered teams serving as representatives of their home towns all around the country in the late 1800s.

The legacy of the athlete and the hero has continued on since. Have we not all seen the photos of Babe Ruth with children all around, relished in the story of the Babe promising a home run to a sick child to encourage him back to health, heard the tragic legend of the boy who summarized the terrible hurt of the Black Sox scandal when he pleaded to Shoeless Joe Jackson, "Say it ain't so, Joe"?

At their best, athletes inspire our children and the best child-like qualities within all of us. I remember reading the biography of Johnny Bench where he talked about his childhood and how he used to imitate his hero (and fellow Oklahoman) Mickey Mantle, as he practiced and developed his playing skills. Military guys like Roger Staubach, David Robinson, even Chad Hennings, who embodied patriotism as well as athleticism. And my god, Pat Tillman . . . can anyone dispute his deserved status as a hero?

There are so many more. How many famous athletes looked up to the heroism of people like Jackie Robinson and literally changed the face of Baseball because of his courage? Willie Mays, Joe Morgan, Hank Aaron all have pointed to Robinson as a role model for them. The same could be said for Roberto Clemente as well, someone who is seen as being almost god-like to Latin American ballplayers that followed him.

George Will, the famous columnist, author and political thinker, once said that professional sport is unique in that it is the only thing to which people can devote total commitment without consequence. I have to disagree with him on this. There are dramatic consequences to sustaining a passion about sports, good and bad results depending primarily on how the athletes respect their game, their fans and themselves.

If you think about all the positive consequences I've described in the examples above, you'll find that they can typically be boiled down to one word: Hope. A young boy in Binger, Oklahoma watches Mickey Mantle dominate Baseball and says, "maybe I can do it too" - and becomes Johnny Bench. Jackie Robinson didn't simply open the door to blacks in the major leagues; he showed that it could be done. He gave hope. Every game we watch is hope because until the last pitch is thrown or the last second ticks off the clock, there is a chance at redemption, recovery and victory. Think of the greatest moments in sports - Kirk Gibson hitting that home run off Dennis Eckersley, "the catch," "the shot heard round the world," etc. They are snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, they are proof that we can overcome adversity and prevail. They are hope.

This whole concept is what made "Field of Dreams" such a great film. This isn't just a baseball movie. It is about baseball as much as "Wizard of Oz" is about red shoes or tornadoes. "Field of Dreams" is about redemption and heroes and belief and faith. It's about hope.

"OK" you may be asking. "What about all the people who don't succeed when they've been inspired? What good are heroes to them?" Fair question. For every player who is inspired to greatness, there are 5,000 who are inspired but don't achieve greatness; you can look at those 5,000, though, and find that every one of those lives have been enriched and improved by the hope they gained from their hero. Dreams don't always take the form we originally envision for them but they do compel us to become better than we were, better than we would have been without them. I submit that every person who devotes their passion to a worthy hero ends up a better person themself for doing it.

Johnny Bench was my hero when I was a child. I never amounted to much as a ball player, believe me. But I did learn from him and I was inspired by him. I cheered his victories and cried in his defeats, and many of my most enduring memories are of the times I watched the games or followed his play. I learned a lot about hard work and discipline, which I applied to music and to writing - and I was successful as an adult in both of those arenas as a result.

When I was a child I lived far from any major league ballpark, and never got to see Johnny Bench play live . . . not until 1983. By that time I was in the military, stationed in New Jersey, and I went to see his last game in Philadelphia in 1983. Rankled by injuries, Bench didn't even start the game. He came in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning . . . and he hit a home run. I had my own "Kirk Gibson" moment there. Bench didn't know it, but he hit it for me. It was my gift for my devotion to and belief in him for all those years. He was still my hero.

While I'm typically a very pragmatic person I am utterly idealistic when it comes to the subject of heroes, as you can tell by what I've written here. They have tremendous power to affect so many. This is why I like Upper Deck All-Star Vinyls, by the way. I think they capture that whole "larger than life" image that we love in athletes who actually rise to that challenge. And that idealism is why I hold athletes who ARE good role models in such high regard. They receive great rewards but with those rewards come great responsibility; these guys recognize that and respect it.

By the same token, that idealism is why I DESPISE athletes who fail as role models. Barry Bonds, the dirtbag, who is defiling the Giants, Major League Baseball, and most importantly, one of the most hallowed records in the game, is a prime example. Shame on McFarlane for selling Bonds figures. Charles Barkley who doesn't want to be a hero - "I ain't your dad" - but by god he wants you to buy his shoes and his collectibles and all those products he's PAID to endorse. Michael "dog fight" Vick . . . need I say more? Ricky Williams who is more devoted to smoking pot than to the game that gave him everything. Ray "the knife" Lewis, the group of Minnesota Vikings and their hooker boat, half the Cincinnati Bengals' team, Pete Rose and his gambling, and on and on. All of these losers are "anti-heroes" . . . they sap hope from people because they spit on the game rather than elevate it and push people away from the ideals they should be espousing.

This is why I am disgusted by showboats like Terrell Owens as well. Besides his BIG mouth . . . he has to choreograph little dance routines when he scores touchdowns. Someone needs to explain to him, "this game isn't about YOU, Terrell. That's backwards - you should be about the GAME." Every time he dances around in one of his self-indulgent little routines he is putting himself above the game and spitting in the face of his opponents. The moment he ran out to the star in the middle of the Cowboys stadium to mock the Dallas fans was one of the most despicable things I've ever seen in sports. I don't even like the Cowboys and I loved it when he got knocked on his ass later on when he tried it again. His own team mates should have been the ones doing the knocking.

TO is not the only one to engage in this absurd self-gratification, not by a long shot. This problem is so bad now that it seems like we have to break into 15 seconds of Saturday Night Fever after every play; someone has to be dancing around and drawing attention to themselves because they made a tackle, ran for seven yards or blocked a pass. Where is the sportsmanship?

Like I say, I'm idealistic about athletes. I think being a hero is part of the job description; if they can't handle that, they shouldn't do the gig. That legacy goes back 3,000 years and it isn't going to change because some jock feels like snorting coke or betting on games.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Here's Where I'm Coming From . . .

For you to understand my reasoning when I review different products, it would be very helpful if you had an explanation of what my priorities are and what kind of collector I am. For that reason, in today's blog post I'll categorize myself in a few different ways so you know where I'm coming from.

By Sport

In the 1980s and 1990s I was almost exclusively a baseball collector. I had very little in the way of cards or other collectibles of NBA, NFL or NHL players or teams. At that time I was not a toy collector; about all that was available was Starting Lineup and those figures were never good enough for me to be interested in. I stepped away from collecting for several years, returning to the fold in 2005. What brought me back was the McFarlane NFL Sports Picks. They were so cool and so accurate that I got motivated to return to collecting just so I could get them.

The accuracy, relatively now price point and cool factor of the Sports Picks brought me back, and I've been a rabid collector ever since. I collect 90% football, 8% baseball and 2% hockey right now, give or take a few points on each. The non-football figures just aren't accurate enough for me, they haven't been able to get the faces right. The exceptions to that are the hockey goalies, and I have a decent assortment of goalie figures because they are very well done. I also have some baseball figures of players I really like, mostly the Cooperstown figures, even though the faces just quite there.

All that's to say, I'll cover the hockey and basketball figures but won't have the detailed opinions of them because I'm not a big fan of either sport. I know quite a bit about baseball and I have some of those figures, so I probably will be inclined to address them periodically. NFL is the big deal for me and I'll focus on them quite a bit.

Investor vs. Collector

This categorization is the one that separates me from most collectors and will probably piss off the most readers. It affects my views in many ways.

I am completely a collector. In my closet are about 70,000 baseball cards that frequently remind me not to view sports action figures as investments. I have star and rookie cards, errors, wax packs and rack packs, all cloistered away in boxes where they're safe and ready to subsidize my retirement. I keep watching for their value to rise on Ebay so I can cash in and traipse off to Bermuda for my golden years. My investment scheme isn't working out, however. That must-have Pete Incaviglia card from 1986, the Sandy Alomar rookies that were going to put my son through college . . . they just never really panned out.

That just isn't a hobby to me. If I want to focus on their investment value, wouldn't I be better served by putting the money into stocks or something more reliable?

Sports action figures are collectible toys. I believe in buying them for fun, as a way of deriving some enjoyment as I separate myself from my disposable income. Not as investments.

Because I'm a collector and not an investor, I really don't care about "value" other than how it affects what I pay for a figure, or how it helps or hurts me in getting the figures I really want. I'm going on the assumption that the new chase that costs $40 on Ebay right now will probably not be worth near that amount in 10 years. Look at most of the chases and how they sell on Ebay. They go up higher, then after several months they tend to drop in price and stay there. There are some exceptions, but that's the general rule you can expect. So value means very little to me because it's 98% hype with only 2% historical precedent.

Likewise, I really don't give a damn about exclusives or limited edition figures - I don't define the success of my collection by whether or not I have things that others can't have. For that reason, I don't like exclusives, small edition sizes or chase figures in their current implementation.

That's why Upper Decks black edition figures irritate the hell out of me. They only produce 250 of each one, and then 233 of those end up in the hands of dealers and scalpers who will just jack up the price and hawk them at Ebay. I think there's a difference between free market trade and shameless opportunism, you know? If you're going to do an event exclusive, at least produce enough so that they won't cost an arm and a leg three days after they're released. McFarlane produces 3000 event exclusives - that is too many for a figure priced at $100, but there should be more than just 250. With a larger edition size I don't have that much of a problem with event exclusives, but I'd prefer a collector club or website-only exclusive instead so that they're available to the most avid collectors at all locations.

I'd prefer larger edition sizes on the regular All-Star Vinyls as well. Right now they have 1500 home and 500 away figures at $50 each. If they doubled that to 3000 / 1000 figures they could sell them for $25 or $30 each. Right now the figures are selling out in three hours or less - doubling the edition size and dropping the price wouldn't cause the figures to be left on the shelves gathering dust, I believe.

It sounds as though I'm picking on Upper Deck but McFarlane isn't blameless here. The limited number of chase figures means that store employees or flea market dealers will grab 90% of them before they make it to store shelves, and then off to Ebay they scamper to jack up the prices artificially. I don't think that serves the hobby, ultimately. I love the idea of having alternate versions of figures, but they're under-produced. McFarlane could sell more figures by creating home and away versions in closer to a 50/50 split - maybe 75/25 or 60/40. A lot of people would buy both versions in this scenario, rather than just buying one and getting irritated because some Hot Wheels dealer paid a clerk to hoard the chase version for him to sell online. That means fewer regular edition peg-warmers ending up in clearance bins, and that's a good thing for the line.

Along those lines, super chases mean nothing to me. I like how McFarlane does them though; they make the super chase different in a way that isn't too significant. It's not like making the only version of a player's figure a super chase. Leaving off a helmet, putting snow on the ground, coloring a glove gold, those are inconsequential differences that still offer something different to the guys who still believe these figures will have enduring monetary value. In this way McFarlane caters to exclusionary collectors ("I only want it if you can't have one too") and the hobbyist collectors as well. Thumbs up to McFarlane for the way they handle super chase figures.

Two more aspects of being a collector vs. an investor bear mentioning.

First, I have little interest in variants. (Not to be confused with chases - read this article for an explanation of the difference between variants and chases.) I don't care if Tiki Barber's socks are red or blue, or whether Vinitieri's face mask has two bars or three. I'll take either one and be happy with it.

Second, I'm an opener, as opposed to the MOMC collector (who leaves the figures in packages, and considers the condition of the package when evaluating the worth of a figure itself). If you collect as an investor, you can't be an opener - you are "devaluing" the figures by 50 - 75% if you remove them from their packaging. That would be like winning a gold medal and having it bronzed - kinda self-defeating.

I collect figures, not boxes or clamshell packages. Many of the figures are unassembled in their packaging, so you can't even enjoy looking at those figures without removing them from their clamshells. In most cases I think MOMC fans just squirrel away the majority of their figures in boxes to keep the packing in pristine condition; what's the point of that? Some MOMC fans hang their figures up. Personally, I don't think the packaged figures display well - hang them up around the room and your display looks like an aisle at Toys R Us. I love how they look, on display as they were designed to be displayed, outside of the packages. I love to go into my room and see the rows of figures all lined up, it's very cool.

Upper Deck has created packaging that displays well. You can also take a figure out and put it back without destroying the packaging, so Upper Deck wins out in this category. McFarlane has issued a few of their figures in boxes and those look ok. Some of them, like the Mickey Mantle Collector Edition, isn't assembled; that defeats the purpose, to me. McFarlane has also changed their clamshells such that they have built-in bases so they stand up well on a shelf. I thought that was very, very smart even though it didn't appeal to me personally.

The whole opener issue has been tough for me. Every time I open a figure I know I'm reducing its value. When I've paid $50 or more for a figure off Ebay, that can be tough to do! I made a conscious decision when I started collecting again in 2005 that I would NOT get caught up in the hype or the investment mania, and I force myself to do it. I do understand the thinking of people who don't open their figures; I just try to stick with my original mandate of being a hobbyist, and enjoying the figures as much as I can. That means I liberate the little guys from of their plastic prisons and let 'em breathe!

Anyway, that's where I'm coming from. . . Chances are, you're going to disagree with some or all of the points I made here. That's cool - it just means you are a different kind of collector than I am. You don't have to agree with me . . . but it does help if you understand my way of thinking so you recognize what I base my reviews and opinions on.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

All-Star Vinyls: Very Cool, But Get Them Moving!

I don't know about you, but I really enjoy the Upper Deck All-Star Vinyls. It took awhile to get used to them, to let go of my focus on realism and accuracy, I admit. But once I got past that I started looking forward to every new release.

Here are some of the aspects to All-Star Vinyls figures that appeal to me:

They're BIG - I started collecting McFarlanes because I wanted to get the 12" figures. The larger figures are naturally more appealing to me. At 11" tall the All-Star Vinyls tower over Sports Picks and most other sports toys.

Player Selection - So far I think Upper Deck has done well with player selection, although it hasn't been too tough given the limited number of editions they produce.

Mixed Uniforms - I like the fact that most figures are released in home and away uniforms. I don't really care for the fact that they issue 500 of one and 1500 of the other; they could produce 3000 of each and it would be fine with me.

Collector Club - Dave with Upper Deck says there will be a collector club and that's great news. I want to throttle Todd McFarlane or whoever has ignored the whole club concept with Sports Picks. That will be the subject of a whole blog post some day . . . but for now, the promise of a club for All-Star Vinyls earns them brownie points.

Excellent Packaging - The packages are designed so that you can remove the figures and display them, then put them back in the box if you want. Very, very good idea.

Quality Construction - These things are solid, very well built. Good paint, good grade of plastic to make them. A couple of them (Favre, for example) don't stand up very well but other than that, the quality is great.

They're Fun - Well, they are. Sports Picks are cool and impressive, All-Star Vinyls are cartoonish and fun. I mean, I'm not dancing them around my coffee table or playing Barbies with them, not fun in that way. They capture the whole larger-than-life aspect of sports heroes and they don't take things seriously, and that offers a nice change of pace from Sports Picks.

That said, some day when I'm feeling particularly ornery I'm going to take some figures to a sports bar and recreate plays with them as I watch a game, just to see the looks I get from the other patrons. Some old geezer with a grey beard playing with toy men in a bar . . . a video of the other people's reactions to that would be perfect for Utube . . .

But I digress.

Those are some of the things I really enjoy about All-Star Vinyls. There are some aspects to these figures I don't like, however. Some of them are serious enough to where I think they undermine the long term success of this product line.

Immobile Poses - I understand that All-Star Vinyls are all about attitude, I get it. That said, after a few figures of guys just standing there, looking at me with a smart-ass look on their face, I'm ready for something different in the way of poses. Enough with the sideline poses! They aren't called "inaction figures." Kobe Bryant's figure was a refreshing change. At least he was dribbling the ball. And of course, Ben Roethlisberger was passing the ball. But the rest of them . . . they look like cocky Oscar statues, for crying out loud. I'll buy a figure of a player I don't care about if it's cool, and conversely I may pass on a player I like if the pose is lame. So far I've passed on Ovechkin, Wade, Iverson, Crosby and I'm about to pass on Sakic as well. I'll get Brodeur but that's a unique pose - the samurai pose is very, very cool. I really think this has contributed to some guys giving up on the vinyls and selling off what they've bought, along with a couple other factors. Cmon Upper Deck, get them moving!

Black Figures - No, I'm not being racially insensitive here. Upper Deck has started putting out a home and away version on release day, then selling a black and gold (sometimes called Raw) version at some trade show. I like the black edition figures, they're very cool. I just don't like how they're marketed, for a couple reasons. First, if a collector wants these things he has to 1) find people all over Canada and the U.S. who will trek over to the trade shows and buy them for him or 2) get hosed on Ebay. They already cost $100, which is bad enough, but then to have to pay scalper costs on top of that just sucks. Yes, McFarlane puts out event exclusives, but they release 3,000 exclusive figures, not 250. That's the second problem with black edition figures. The edition size is too small, the price is really high and they alienate collectors from around the country who can't get them. Upper Deck needs to get that club going and let their collectors - the guys who have been with them from Day One - buy the exclusives that way. They're breeding ill will this way.

More, More, More - The current release schedule of two players per month is too slow. They started this line with great hype and fanfare, got a lot of people talking about them. It's tough to sustain that buzz when the figures come out so infrequently, however. This is another reason why some guys are dumping their collections - not enough figures to keep the buzz up, not enough information to keep the discussion forum going, just not enough.

Price and Edition Size - At $50 each for the regulars and $100 for the exclusives, the figures are just too expensive. I'm very devoted to the hobby but I can't see dropping that kind of cash to get all the figures so I have to pick and choose. Upper Deck could put out more figures, sell them at a lower price and accomplish the same thing.

Two Packs - On release day, you can buy the regular figure or you can buy a two pack of the regular and alternate uniform figures. You can't buy just the alternate figure. I don't like the two packs. I don't want to have to buy two figures just to get one. The alternate jersey figures on release day should be available individually . . . increasing the edition size as I've mentioned above would help this to work as well.

That's it for now - Lots of pros and cons to the Upper Deck All-Star Vinyl line. The bottom line is that I really enjoy these figures and hope Upper Deck makes a few changes so the line will last for a long, long time.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cooperstown 5 – Following a Tough Act, But Not a Tough Act to Follow

When TMP was trying to create a lineup for Cooperstown Series 5 that would be well received, they were performing an almost impossible task. They had set an impossibly high bar to beat with their Cooperstown 4, which was the strongest, most powerful lineup in McFarlane’s history. How do you top a lineup that includes Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Bench, Steve Carlton, Ozzie Smith and Roger Maris? OK, Maris didn’t belong on this list but he’s a Yankee so they had to stick him in there. But the rest of the lineup was just unbelievable. So how does McFarlane create a lineup that meets or beats Cooperstown 4?

Well, the short answer is, they don’t. Let’s try to be fair and take Cooperstown 4 out of the comparisons . . . Cooperstown 5 is a decent lineup, probably better than Cooperstown 1, but weaker than any other Legends lineup that has been put out.

Cooperstown starts out strong with probably the most requested baseball player on the Spawn board, Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank is a no-brainer. The true home run king in baseball history, Aaron is widely admired by baseball fans for bringing class and integrity to the game, for his phenomenally consistent performance over his long career and for being the only player to legitimately break Babe Ruth’s home run record – one of the best known and most highly regarded records in the history of the game.

The #2 figure in the series is Ty Cobb. Another excellent choice, many consider Cobb to be the greatest all-around hitter in baseball history and he’s well known as well. Some collectors will get their panties in a wad over Cobb’s severe personality disorders and his overt racism and believe he shouldn’t have been included. If a player today held Cobb’s beliefs openly, he’d be drummed out of the majors. But Cobb lived in a different time and I don’t think you can judge the morality of a person from 1918 by modern standards. So I agree that Cobb was a great choice for Cooperstown 5, as most collectors probably do.

Here is one point where I’ll disagree with most collectors regarding Cobb. Most guys will want Cobb shown sliding into third base or flying through the air at a catcher with his spikes up in the air. Those are trademark poses, I agree. I don’t like it for the figure, however. If you take the other players out of those images, Cobb’s poses lose their impact. (Literally and figuratively.) I like the very famous pose of Cobb in mid-swing, with his hands separated on the bat. That would be a much better pose in my opinion. I bet I lose on that one though – I’m guessing we’ll see Cobb in his slide.

You can see the images of Cobb that I’m talking about at

The next most significant figure in Cooperstown 5 is probably Mickey Mantle 2. Lots of Spawn boardies griped about a second figure of a great player in only the fifth Cooperstown line, but I like the selection. DiMaggio has already been done in his trademark pose, as has Ted Williams and Willie Mays. Part of Mantle’s mystique was that he was a great switch hitter, so a second figure of him on the opposite side of the plate is not inappropriate at all. I’m sure there are some economics involved here as well; it probably cost a bunch to get Mantle’s license and TMP will likely have to put out more than two figures of him to recoup those costs. When you think of how many plates and figures Sports Impressions and Salvino released of Mantle, I don’t think TMP will have any problem selling out of a second version now.

From this point Cooperstown 5 fades pretty fast. We have Ryne Sandberg in the #4 slot. I really liked Ryno a lot, great player and a class act. I just don’t think he has the appeal of many other players. He’s like Ozzie Smith without the backflips. Great player, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but not a legendary star. If TMP wanted to do a Cub, they should have done Ernie Banks before they did Ryne Sandberg.

Dennis Eckersley . . . again, a great pitcher, historically significant because he was responsible for elevating the position of relief pitcher to one of great prominence on the team. I just don’t think he has much appeal to collectors. Don’t bitch at me – I agree, it isn’t fair that punters, kickers, linemen, relief pitchers and guys in positions like that don’t have the same enduring fan following as your quarterbacks and home run hitters, but they just don’t. Eckersley doesn’t really have much of a hook either – hell, even Rollie Fingers had a funny moustache to remember him by. In the 1980s he would have been popular; in 2008 I don’t think he will be. I can think of about 30 players who would have broader appeal then Eckersley. Maybe they were able to get the contract with Eck pretty cheap, I don’t know. I just don’t think he has a place in a Cooperstown lineup until a lot of other guys have been done. Cooperstown 15, maybe. Not Cooperstown 5.

Finishing out the series is a repaint of Mike Schmidt. I don’t blame TMP for this one. They had another player lined up for Cooperstown 5 but they couldn’t get his contract done in time. At the last minute they had to choose a repaint of a figure they’d already done, and they chose to do a Mike Schmidt in pinstripes, using their new technique for creating pinstripes that looks really good. I think this was the best choice they could make; the pinstripe uniform is probably the one best associated with Schmidt anyway so it makes sense to get one done with him that way. I would have preferred Johnny Bench in gray uniform, but for the widest selection of fans Schmidt was the best pick.

So that’s Cooperstown 5 – two great new figures, a very good second version of a previously released player, a mediocre choice, a poor choice and a repaint. I’d give this series a C+ on the strength of Aaron and Cobb.

How could they make Cooperstown 5 better? Well, we haven’t seen the poses yet. Great poses would raise the grade. Better player selection would have been helpful as well. Here are just a few guys who would have improved this lineup:

Lou Gehrig
Stan Musial
Rogers Hornsby
Cy Young
Honus Wagner
George Brett
Joe Morgan
Whitey Ford
Sandy Koufax
Willie Mays (Negro leagues surprise chase)
Christy Mathewson
Ricky Henderson (I don't like him but he has more noteriety and name recognition)
Tony Gwynn
Wade Boggs
Eddie Murray
Dave Winfield
Robin Yount
Jim Palmer
Paul Molitor
Jim Rice

Etc., etc. I could name several more, but you get the point. I'd rather see any of these guys in Cooperstown 5 than Eckersley, and many of them instead of Sandberg.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Some Nice Exposure for Sports Action

Sports Action recently received some very nice exposure. This site was recently featured on the home page of with the following info:

Sports Action Figures Site Bulks Up
He's the go-to guy for McFarlane and other types of action figures but Jeff Schaefer isn't trying to be Wal Mart. He'll settle for being the official librarian/historian/documentarian.

That then linked to a copy of my a story on how sports action has hit the 2,500 figure mark in its search database. That's great! Those write-ups can only help bring more people to these pages, and perhaps add some collectors to our hobby as well.

By the way, if you own a website that is geared to sports, sports action figures, toys, collectibles, etc. I hope you'll contact me about a link exchange. These exchanges help both of us. Search engines rank our sites on a variety of factors, including who is linking to us. Inbound links from relevant websites place you higher in search results. Like Paris Hilton, it's free and easy. Also it's effective in building your website traffic . . . it's common sense, folks. For more information about a link exchange, visit the link exchange page of this site.

Other news - Congratulations to the Anaheim Ducks for winning the Stanley Cup!

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

NFL 3-packs: A Big Step in the Right Direction

When McFarlane (a.k.a. TMP) recently announced their NFL 3-packs in May, that announcement was met with many complaints from the Spawn board members - no original sculpts, no new players, another Cowboys set, etc. etc. I have to admit, I was surprised at how many people badmouthed these figures. I don't think the 3-packs are perfect, but I do think they are a big improvement over last year's 3-packs.

First, let's review the fiscal realities of the NFL 3-packs. NFL 3-packs are an "add-on" to the regular series of figures. They are sold only through Toys R Us, which means they have a significantly reduced distribution network over regular figures. This means that TMP can't spend as much on each 3-pack figure as they can on each regular series figure.

So what does that mean? It means that 3-packs won't have any original sculpts. They will be comprised of reissued and/or repainted figures from previous series. This limits TMP's flexibility on what they can put into the 3-packs.

The challenge to TMP becomes even more difficult than that. TMP's greatest strength - its devotion to accuracy and detail - makes the 3-packs' rosters even more difficult to fill. There are no generic poses. A figure of one running back can't simply be repainted as another player in many cases. The body build of each player must be considered. How tall the player is, how stocky or slender his frame is, etc. plays a huge part in determining whether that player's figure from an earlier series can be repainted into someone else. Helmet and facemask styles are different; collars, pads and sleeve lengths vary from player to player; gloves, socks and shoes are all different as well. And if TMP failed to consider these factors, the same guys who are upset about the 3-packs now would be screaming like raped apes about how inaccurate the new figures were.

One more limitation on the 3-packs: These are TRU exclusives and the lineups have to appeal to TRU corporate types, which means they have to be teams and/or players with obvious national appeal. There may be some great players on regional teams like Cincinnati or Seattle, but those memorabilia for those teams just doesn't sell as well as swag for the Cowboys, Steelers and Giants. I hate it - I'm a Jacksonville Jaguars fan so it definitely works against me - but it's true.

So those are the limitations. Repaints or reissues, players and teams with national appeal. TMP's hands are tied pretty tightly on what they can do.

Now, look for a moment at what TMP did last year. They issued four 3-packs, team packs for the Cowboys, Giants, Steelers and Patriots. The Cowboys pack included one player who had not been done as a Cowboy before, and two straight reissues. The Giants included one player who had never been done, and two straight reissues. (Actually there were minor, inconsequential differences in these figures but they were basically reissues.) The Steelers were like the Giants - one new player and two reissues. (Putting gloves on Hines Ward just doesn't qualify as a new figure to me.) Finally, the Patriots, the best of the four . . . two repaints that had never been issued and a reissue of one chase figure.

For three of the four 3-packs, you bought three figures to get one new one and two reissues. At least with the Patriots 3-pack you got two figures that were in different uniforms than had been previously released. The reissue in this box was a chase Tom Brady from NFL Series 11, which probably pissed off the guys who had bought that chase but at least it wasn't a straight reissue of a regular figure.

When these 3-packs were announced the spawn board members were outraged, and I was right there with them. These packs sucked, and it was completely unnecessary. All four of the 3-packs could have been done in alternate uniforms or mixed uniforms to give established collectors a reason to buy them. TMP said that the 3-packs were for "casual collectors" rather than the serious fans, but that was still silly. With better uniform choices the 3-packs could have appealed to casual and serious collectors alike.

For example, in the Cowboys 3-pack all the figures had white jerseys even though two of them had been previously released that way. TMP could have done Julius Jones and Roy Williams in blue jerseys and Drew Bledsoe in white - three figures to appeal to serious collectors as well as the newbies. Same with the Giants' 3-pack. The Steelers pack was tougher based on previous releases, I'll give TMP some slack on that, but they could have recreated chases rather than regular figures. They can't say it was wrong to reissue a chase figure - they did it with the Patriots 3-pack, and they can't have it both ways.

Clearly, the first round of 3-packs thoroughly sucked and TMP (deservedly) got an earful from the boardies because of them.

Compare that to this year's 3-packs. All three of the 3-packs have two or more figures with uniform combinations not previously released. I won't buy a 3-pack for one new version of a figure, but I will (grudgingly) buy it for two. I will probably buy the Eagles 3-pack, which two new uniform combinations.

There are other improvements as well. The Cowboys 3-pack (yes, another Cowboys pack) has two new uniform combinations, and it also features two retired players and one active. Up to now, the 3-packs included only active players. The Cowboys 3-pack is also based on position, as it features Dallas quarterbacks through the years - previous 3-packs were based on team only. I like these precedents a lot, even though I'm not entirely thrilled with their implementation - putting Tony Romo with the likes of Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman is about like comparing a new college graduate with Donald Trump and Bill Gates. I do like the concept, though, and I hope it continues.

The third new 3-pack is an even greater departure from last year's releases. This pack is based solely on position (running back) and has players with three different teams. That's exciting - it opens up a lot of possibilities for future 3-packs that will appeal to old and new collectors alike. Even better, this 3-pack features all new uniform combinations. THAT is what we need to see with these.

Some people still complained about these 3-packs. They didn't include any new players. They were just repaints of existing figures in different uniforms. Frankly, I don't necessarily want new players in 3-packs . . . I don't want to have to buy two figures I want just to get one I do want, simply because it's the only way to get that player. I wouldn't mind if they saved the new player releases for the series figures.

As far as not liking repainted figures in new uniforms - what is the difference between your typical regular and chase figures? That's right - the difference is that the chase is usually a repaint of the regular figure, in a new uniform. People love these chases, so why gripe about getting the same thing in a 3-pack? They can't do new sculpts in there . . . what else do you expect them to do?

As for having another Cowboys set, at least this set has two great players in it. Staubach is a god here in Dallas / Fort Worth and Aikman isn't far behind. An Aikman in a new uniform would be a wonderful atonement for that christ-awful Hall of Fame exclusive TMP had last year. Guys, TMP has to do box sets that TRU believes are nationally popular. That means lots of Cowboys.

To sum it up . . . Last year's 3-packs were atrocious - I would have given them a D grade which would have been even lower except for the Patriots 3-pack. This year's 3-packs get a B from me. Definitely a big improvement in one year's time thanks to the new uniform combinations, a mix of HOF and active players and multi-team packs.

What would get them up to an A?

  • Unless you have new players, there should be three new uniform combinations in each 3-pack. Don't make me buy figures I already have.
  • Interactivity - how about a 3-pack with a quarterback handing off (Brees pose) to a running back (Tomlinson 3 without the football) and a blocker in front of them (Ogden pose)? Or a receiver going up for the ball (Tory Holt pose) with two defenders around him (Maybe the Chad Johnson pose without the ball or the Joey Porter pose)? They don't have to be on the same base but they could be set up with bases that can be put together so the figures interact. These are 3-packs, guys - not 3 singles packs. Let them work together.
  • As TMP issues more Legends players, I love the idea of mixing them in with the current players. We really need a Packers 3-pack with a Ray Nitschke in white jersey, a Brett Favre in a throw-back uniform and another player - maybe a Bart Starr, who should be in a future series?

Click here for more information about the NFL 3-packs.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Opinions on Sports Action Figures

I have avoided expressing my opinions throughout the rest of because those pages are provided as news and reference resources. Whether I like a new series or not isn't relevent in that setting - all that matters is that I provide the details.

That said, I do have definite opinions on many aspects of the sports figure hobby and would like to be able to express those views somewhere!

For that reason I've created this blog, where I will discuss my opinions about various aspects of sports action figures.

I hope you'll check back regularly and share your thoughts as well!