Thursday, September 6, 2007

Good Times, Tough Times for McFarlane Sports Picks

Good times and bad times for the producers of sports figures. It's been a crazy month or so.

McFarlane struggled with their latest lines of baseball figures. The paint jobs on MLB Series 18 and 19 have been widely criticized by baseball collectors - sloppy paint jobs and paint smearing inside the packaging have been the largest complaints. On the flip side, McFarlane came up with one of their best Super Chase figures yet with the Albert Pujols figure in Series 18. Collectors also seemed to like the Rivera chase with the outfield wall behind him.

Collectors waited with great excitement for NFL Legends 3 - probably the most highly anticipated line of the year. It featured NFL figures (the most popular of any sport) that included Dan Marino, Roger Staubach and Bo Jackson. (I'm not jazzed about the Jackson figure but it was a big deal to many fans.) Sadly, the line has suffered several problems.

First, the choice of chase figures is questionable. Everyone expected a Dan Marino chase - none to be found. The regular figure is in the all white uniform and the line was screaming for a teal version, but it was not to be. Roger Staubach's chase amounts to a red stripe on a helmet rather than a blue stripe. This is more suited to a super chase than a chase - Roger should have been in a blue jersey. Earl Campbell is one of the least desired figures in the lineup, and his white jersey chase is suitably boring. And John Elway in a white uniform is ok, but this is a second figure for Elway. A chase of Marino or Jackson would have been much better received.

Like MLB 19, Legends 3 has suffered quality control problems. I've seen numerous posts showing sloppy paint jobs, missing jersey numbers, missing footballs, helmet stickers reversed - the pride of a McFarlane lineup is their quality, and there have been a lot of problems. Worse, Dan Marino's helmet is not historically accurate. It has stripes on it that were not used until after Marino retired. Dolphin fans are saying that the stripes aren't even the right color. Staubach's uniform is accurate except that the numbers on the front are either too low or too small. The helmet is the source of most Staubach problems. The facemask is too big and the helmet just doesn't look right. (Thanks to Mexicanfan for finding and clearly identifying these errors.) Staubach's hands are also poorly sculpted and his fingers have been described as "looking like sausages." These two figures are awesome poses and it's a shame that they've been poorly reproduced.

I'm going by what others have said regarding the quality issues on NFL Legends 3 because I haven't seen my figures yet. Why? Because NFL Legends 3 suffered a terrible blow when a large portion of the shipment was damaged during delivery. Several dealers reported most or all of their orders were crushed and they had very few MOMC figures, let alone cases. This was a disaster for good dealers like - those poor folks had to scramble to get enough sellable figures and they probably never will be able to fill all their case presells. This has meant collectors have been forced to wait for delivery on their singles, sets and cases. Not the dealers' fault, they've suffered a lot as a result of this.

I'm guessing McFarlane will be having to dump a lot of figures with damaged packages on places like Dollar General, Big Lots and Tuesday Mornings. Be patient and you may be able to get Legends 3 at a great price if you don't care about the packaging.

Mark with McFarlane has made some comments about working with different companies to produce the figures, and I'd be willing to bet that most of the troubles with Legends 3 - poor paint jobs, bad packaging - are the result of them going with a different manufacturing company that cut corners and weren't up to McFarlane's previous standards. Unfortunately these figures have a long lead time. Even if McFarlane wanted to change to a new company it would take several series for them to find and hire a new company and get their products produced and delivered from them. I'm afraid we may be seeing these quality issues for several months to come. I feel bad for McFarlane because I think they probably got hosed by the company that didn't deliver as promised. That's all speculation on my part but I refuse to believe McFarlane would go with a company, knowing that they would have to accept lesser quality.

It does appear McFarlane has been doing some cost-cutting measures, however. The newest figures' clamshells are markedly flimsier than previous packages. Lots of guys have been complaining about the high number of damaged clamshells.

In an even bigger move, McFarlane has decided to stop including nets with most goalie figures. This decision set off a firestorm of complaints with hockey fans, who are typically the most detail-oriented of the sports collectors anyway. McFarlane claims that this decision was made to allow them to use smaller packaging and thereby fit more products in the same shelf space in stores. This doesn't seem as plausible as them just wanting to bring the cost of goalie figures down. Goalies are the most expensive figures to produce anyway, so excluding the nets would help them along these lines. McFarlane is considering selling upgraded display stands with nets through their website for hockey guys who want the nets. It does make the figures more expensive to have to buy those bases, but it may be worthwhile if the bases are improved over the old ones and are closer to actual scale.

I told you there was a lot of crazy stuff going on!

The good news is that NFL Legends 3 is starting to get out to collectors now. NFL Series 15 is just about to hit and hopefully it will include better quality workmanship - I'm hopeful, at least. LOL The Vince Young and Tony Romo chase figures look really good. A lot of guys are complaining about Romo getting a chase, but Cowboys sell and I think it was a pretty easy decision on McFarlane's part to do one of him. October should be a good month as well with the Walter Payton 12-inch figures.

McFarlane isn't the only company to experience a rather turbulent time over the past six weeks. I'll have more on that in my next blog post.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Super Job on the Super Chase

Wow, it's been some time since I've blogged! You'll have to excuse me - we recently had grandchild #3 and things have been a bit chaotic here . . .

Well, I'm going to tackle a pretty straight-forward subject in this blog. McFarlane's MLB Series 19 recently hit the stores and with that came the announcement of a new Super Chase figure of Albert Pujols.

First, if you don't know what a super chase is you need to step away from this blog momentarily and read my writeup on regular, variant, chase, super chase, etc. figures and what qualifies as each figure type. You can view that here.

I'm not a fan of the super chase concept, personally. I'm a collector, not an investor. Anything that creates a perceived monetary value for one figure simply detracts from the rest. Worse, a super chase is a source of frustration; a guy who is a big Tom Brady fan has to pay big bucks to get all the variations of a Tom Brady figure as it is - but when you throw a Tom Brady super chase into the mix, it gets absurdly expensive for the collector.

That said, I understand that a lot of guys DO like the super chase figures and McFarlane has decided that they need to cater to this segment of their collector base. So the problem becomes, how do they create a figure that is enough different so that the super chase version won't just be ignored - but not so different that the collectors end up getting hosed or having major holes in their collection. Todd McFarlane has an approach to this that I think offers the best possible balance; he wants a super chase to be slightly different, but not so different that it has unique collector appeal just based on the difference.

Example: Ozzie Smith super chase had Smith exactly the same as the regular figure, but the glove was gold rather than brown. This was a minor difference, not a significant change like a different jersey or uniform.

TMP walks a real tight rope with this approach but I think it's the best way to appeal to the investors without alienating the collectors.

The Pujols super chase follows this same approach. It is the same as the regular figure except that 1) the shoes are white, not red, 2) the wristband is yellow, not red, 3) the patches on the uniform are for the 2006 All Star Game. The super chase commemorates Pujols' appearance in the 2006 AS game with these changes - but if you put the super chase next to the regular figure, you might not even notice the differences.

Excellent job on this figure. If I collected active MLB players, I could pass on the super chase Pujols. The differences are so subtle that they mean nothing to me. However, the changes are significant enough that the guys with dollar signs in their eyes can still go on their quest to get the super chase so they're happy as well.

Grade on this super chase? A all the way.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recommended Poses for Upcoming Lines

Given the recent focus on "unique" poses for sports picks figures, I thought I'd offer some suggestions for new poses that would definitely provide some freshness and creativity to the sports action figure lines. My complaint about the LT figure, for example, was that the pose wasn’t appropriate for the player; in today’s blog I’ll present some creative poses that do match up well with the player being depicted.

The first would obviously be Barry Bonds. Given that the majority of sports enthusiasts believe Bonds is a juicer, it would make great sense to capitalize on that and commemorate his commitment to pharmacological athleticism. I would recommend two different poses that would be huge sellers, for sure. The good news is that both figures would require little in the way of re-tooling; existing poses could be tweaked to make them even more popular with fans.

The first is a reissue of the Bonds 12” figure. Instead of leaving his hands empty, pointing to the sky in an apparent affirmation of religious faith (an absurd pose for someone who seems to have such little regard for the Golden Rule), I would instead use the same pose with a book placed in his hands. The book, The Steroid Handbook, would fit the pose, as well as the average fan’s perception of Bonds, very well.

The second would show the cork-headed ball cracker in the midst of his chemically enhanced swing. This figure would represent some true creativity and unique marketing opportunities for McFarlane. Using the sculpt for the “700th Home Run” Commemorative figure, McFarlane could simply remove the bat and drill a narrow hole into Bonds’ hands. Then, proud owners could insert the syringe they keep on hand for juicing or shooting up heroin into Bonds’ hands. This “Sultan of Syringe” Commemorative Edition would be a fun collectible and needle caddy at the same time and could be marketed effectively to barbell boys and junkies across the country.

The NFL offers some delightful opportunities as well.

Michael “And they call it Puppy Love” Vick could be the first in a new series of figures to cross product lines and incorporate components from Sports Picks AND McFarlane Military figures. Taking the dog from Military Series 4 Dog Trainer figure and matching it up with Vick’s two-pack pose results in a magical figure that is sure to delight sports fans and dog fight aficiandos as well. I can foresee a 3” version of this as a stadium exclusive for some Tijuana dog fighting arena as well.

Daunte Culpepper’s legacy at Minnesota will be long remembered – exciting football, hookers, sex rides on rented boats . . . just makes you proud to support the Vikings, doesn’t it? Well, McFarlane could come out with another cross-line release by merging Culpepper’s NFL Series 9 figure with the Little Red Riding Hood from the Twisted Fairy Tale line. Ahhhhh, Football and tawdry sex . . . a winning combination.

Many have recommended the Ray Lewis figure with butcher knife in hand so I won’t recreate that here. The new NFL 2” team sets could be expanded to include the Cincinnati Bengals in prison stripes. Not a new pose, but certainly a fun – and appropriate – new paint style. This same paint scheme could be rolled out to about half the players in the NBA as well.

OK, I’m just having a little fun with all this. The really sad thing is – each of these suggestions would be a more appropriate pose than showing LaDainian Tomlinson sitting on his ass on the bench!

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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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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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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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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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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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