I think we can all agree that the baseball card market could use some more players. Maybe it's just because I grew up in the era of Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer, Donruss and a seemingly innumerable amount of off-shoot brands, but I've always felt that variety is the spice of life. I mean, Topps is the industry standard and, more or less, produce top-notch collectibles; however, competition breeds creation and innovation. As it stands, the market feels kind of... I don't know... stale?
Every year, for the most part, we get the same brands, the same players, a few ridiculously high-end sets, while the lower-end collector constantly feels forgotten. I think we can all agree that there's enough room in this hobby for some new content, products for both the uber high end and the dime box low end, and love for the Kris Bryants and Bryce Harpers, as well as the middle relievers and back-up catchers.
Sure, Panini and a rebooted Leaf have hung around to fill in some of this gap; but, since Topps has an exclusive license with Major League Baseball, they're logo-less products just can't quite measure up in full. Other upstarts like Platinum Series Baseball have come and gone, without being able to take foothold. Enter Honus Bonus Fantasy Baseball.
Taking their moniker from one of the most famed names in baseball history, fittingly, Honus Bonus Partners certainly has lofty expectations. Again, in an era of exclusive licenses, HBP does not have official permissions from the MLB head honchos; although, like Panini, they did manage to secure the MLPA's nod. As such, these new kids on the block seek to blend two bedfellows who actually don't seem so strange together: baseball cards and fantasy baseball.
Featuring a vast, 500-card checklist (with Career Milestone and Sketch Card inserts), Honus Bonus cardsare available as a traditional, pack-based product. However, as a fresh face in the market, their list of physical vendors is not yet expansive. As such, the easiest way to get your hands on this product (currently) is through their online store. Unfortunately, you're limited to a 24-pack box or 20-box case - too much of an investment for this guy to sample a product.
Luckily, for those who create an account on their website to play the fantasy game, get a free 30-card online sampler for their troubles. That's where the Kyle Hendricks "card" you see above comes from. Think of it as their very own version of Bunt.
The actual cards feature scratch-off codes which, when entered into their system, unlock that player and their digital card for use on your fantasy roster. Personally, I've never been much for fantasy sports - but, if it incorporates cards, it's going to attract my eyes. As you can see above, along with the reigning NL ERA champion, I got a thorough sampler, featuring one card for each of the 30 teams in the MLB.
There's a reason for that, in this fantasy game, one must play one player and one player only from each of the clubs. You can't stack your roster with both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with Jon Lester on the mound; nope, your roster must incorporate one member of the Marlins, Padres, White Sox, et al, as well.
Now, if you have a particularly keen eye, you might have noticed that I have 31 cards and two Philadelphia Phillies. That's because after you receive your initial sampler, you can request one additional, randomized free card, per request, in order to continue to build your roster reserves. They're doesn't appear to be a limit on those requests either. Since the physical product is fairly elusive in it's early stages, this could prove to be quite helpful to prospective players.
Luckily, the first period for official game play in Honus Bonus doesn't officially begin until May, so you have until April 30th to build those lineups. Whether you choose to do so with real or digital cards is up to you. For the full rules and regulations for HBP, I highly suggest you visit their official website, as there no way I can adequately condense them into this blog post. I will say that there are some significant monetary prizes up for grabs.
Here's a pair of short-term, former Cubs
As for the design of the game cards, they feature white borders, plus a nameplate and an inner frame which remind me of an olden days movie theater. The colors of this frame are apparently assigned at random, with no team correlation. Speaking of colors, the player pictured is actually completely devoid of color, gray-scaled on a full-color background. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this choice, as it really takes the focus of the observer away from the subject at hand. Perhaps a gray'ed out background with a colorized player would have been a better decision?
Furthermore, the fronts provide no first names or team affiliations for the players, not even the generic city designations provided by other, unlicensed products. I presume the physical cards will have these details on the backside, but the digital copies don't permit you to turn the cards over. At least, I hope this information is available on the real cards.
All in all, these cards feel a little jumbled, but I like the movie theater-esque borders. Not bad for a first effort, though some correlation on the colors used would have really been swell. At any rate, I can tell you that I'd like to sample the actual, physical product before I form my final opinion on Honus Bonus baseball cards.
One thing that the blossoming Honus Bonus Partners, LLC has going for it is their captain - Steve Charendoff. If that names sounds a touch familiar, that's because Mr. Charendoff also currently owns Rittenhouse Archives, Ltd., one of today's foremost entertainment-themed trading card companies. I think it's safe to expect that this mogul knows a thing or two about the market.
Whether or not this mashup of trading cards and fantasy baseball will succeed has yet to be seen (obviously). If you're a true fantasy guru, the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to simply build your roster through the online freebies. If you're a dedicated baseball card collector, obviously your interest would be piqued by the actual cardboard game "pieces." In the wise words of Dodgeball's Pepper Knight, "That's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off."
Perhaps the fantasy tie-in is the niche that HBP needs to corner it's own share of the card market, where other hopeful brands failed. No matter what, I'm certainly pleased to see something new pop up and you can expect a follow up post if and when I track some actual packs or singles down.
Good luck, new kids on the block! Just take things "step by step" and "please don't go."