May 30, 2008

Stuff to Read & Monitor

To read

• Head over to Slate.com to read Darren Rovell's piece on the glory that is the '89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey.

• Start reading Sportscards Uncensored if you don't already. The writer has a voice that should definitely be heard. Also, as the title suggests, he likes to swear. A lot.

• Read Adam McFarland's Sports Lizard Rant. He's much more eloquent than I'll ever hope to be.


To monitor

• The general consensus is that Toppstown is going to be stupid. But let me say this: if and when I start buying Topps Series 2, I'm going to start entering codes, if only to see if I can find the secret hatch that makes the thing disappear. (By the way, if Toppstown is a hit, that probably means The Upper Deck ain't too far behind. Also, an enterprising card blogger would get him or herself in there on the ground floor and start the Toppstown alternative weekly. Call it something like The Michigan Test-Wax Tribune and I might have my anthropomorphic baseball cards read it.)

May 28, 2008

2008 and Out

Dear Reader,

I've decided that 2008 will be my last year at the helm of The Baseball Card Blog.

It's taken over too much of my life and the only way to save the both of us is if I bring in other writers or simply shut the site down. I've thought about this long and hard. It was not an easy decision to make.

When I started writing back in January of 2006, The Baseball Card Blog was the lone active card blog (Chris Harris' stellar Stale Gum was up but not active). 500 posts later and we're in the middle of a sports card blog renaissance. With so many good sites out there (Cardboard Junkie and Wax Heaven, to name just two), there's simply no need for me to continue to make frequent posts.

I thank you one and all for the attention–positive and negative–you've bestowed on this blog. As I said at the top, I will continue through the end of the year, then I will diminish my role as sole writer for 2009 and beyond.


Regards,

Ben


PS: I came to this decision a few months ago. Of course, I may change my mind as the year progresses.

Taking Bullshit to New Heights


Some heavy stuff 'round here lately, eh? Seems the hobby might not be as rosy-tinted as I'd like to believe. Lucky for me, the card companies are in an arms race for who can make the craziest bullshit cards. This has been going on for decades, but only now does it seem to be really out of control.

A few years ago I did an interview for Midweek's Take One where I said that I was waiting for a card of Johnny Damon's beard shavings from when he left the Red Sox to join the facial hair-less Yankees. And if not that, then a sweat-drenched card of anyone in particular, as that was the way things were going circa early 2006. So don't you love it when life answers your prayers?

First Topps included a strand of George Washington's favorite powdered wig. And now Upper Deck is taking it a step further: The Hair Cut Signatures series, to be released over at least two products (SP Legendary Baseball and Piece of History Baseball). You got your Babe Ruth, your George Washington, an Andrew Jackson, Abe Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton. What, no Chester A. Arthur?

Each card will include a strand of hair and a cut signature. See, I'd be more impressed if Upper Deck had built a time machine and sent a sunglasses-clad Richard McWilliam with Sharpie in hand back to get Hamilton et al to sign on the card. Also, it would be interesting to see if McWilliam's actions in the past changed the present enough to make Upper Deck disappear.

May 26, 2008

For the Love of Sitting Around and Flipping Through a Price Guide, Part 2

Let me be the first to say it: I didn’t realize that so many people feel the same way I do about the meaningless-ness of prices listed in Beckett and Tuff Stuff. Very interesting stuff.

Let me also be the first to say that I didn’t realize just how big an issue this assessment really is. There are lots of thoughts out there about how the apparent demise of the price guide affects collectors, ranging from very much (count me among this lot) to not at all.

In the last post on this topic, I brought up the idea of price guides as hobby infrastructure and claimed that without their consultation the hobby would be thrown into chaos. Tonight I would like to take this a step further. Tonight I want to examine…

A World Without Baseball Card Shops

Here’s the situation. The list prices in price guides have been deemed useless on such a massive scale that Beckett and FW have ceased their publication. With no widely available prices, the majority of collectors now consult eBay for accurate card prices.

Dealers do the same. And after they view the umpteenth autographed patch 1/1 card go for less than $20–pulled from a box that dealers paid a premium on to sell–they stop ordering high-end products from the manufacturers. The dealers understand that if they’re seeing these auctions on eBay, their potential customers are winning them.

So many dealers stop ordering these cards that the manufacturers have a difficult decision to make: finally listen to dealers and put more value in each box of product, or dismiss dealers altogether and work exclusively with big box stores like Target, Kmart and Wal-Mart. It comes as no surprise when the manufacturers go with the latter choice.

Because the majority of shops deal primarily in new cards, they start to close. Collectors don’t notice right away, as most of them are tuned to eBay. And besides, the hobby’s gone through this before and survived, so what’s the big deal? Also, everybody’s got a Wal-Mart near them, so who cares if one more shop goes out of business? Shops sell off their inventory and shutter.

Dealers at baseball card shows don’t feel the same pressure right away, though many of them do feel their brethren’s plight. Instead, without book prices to consult on every transaction, desperate, frenetic dealers result to using their best judgment. Collectors, fully aware of the situation dealers are in, refuse to be charged “judgment call prices.” Many dealers, citing lack of meaningful sales at shows, stop booking booths. What few shows remain shrink in attendance until they cease to exist. The National is the lone exception, chugging away, though it’s a magnet for news media to lament the hobby crisis. “Ain’t in the Card$,” is the New York Post headline.

Without dealers, the manufacturers are no longer in the dominant bargaining position. They’re at the whim of the big box stores. Product’s gonna be late? OK, we’re diminishing your shelf space. The manufacturers are not used to their role as ‘just another product.’ What happened to all those dealers they used to push around?


If I haven’t given my critics enough fodder already, here’s some more:

• The future of the hobby most certainly will not play out the way I’ve got it, though certain aspects of it are very close to happening now.

• No matter how much we distrust the prices within price guides, they’re essential to the well being of the hobby. If you’ve got a plan for injecting realistic card values into the hobby without killing hobby shops and show dealers off, please, I’m all ears.

• One last thing: I wanted to work graded cards into this somehow, but never found a good spot. If raw singles aren’t really worth their book value, what about graded cards? I know that entire price guides cater to graded specimen, but will/should these prices be combined with prices for unslabbed cards? Or would that negate the values assigned to those that have been slabbed? Also, why does it feel to me that dealing in graded cards is going to be what saves shop owners and show dealers?

May 25, 2008

Cardboard Mysteries

This post was inspired by an email from Reader Paul in Ottawa:

In 1966, an early checklist listed card 115 as Warren Spahn. This was corrected on later issues as Bill Henry and it is in fact the Henry card that is in circulation...but it begs the question, is there a 1966 Spahn card out there? Clearly Topps was expecting him to return to the Giants for the 1966 season, and it it also clear that his retirement created the switch...but if it was so late that SOME CHECKLISTS LISTED HIM AS THE CARD, is it possible that Topps has a stash of cards made that they didn't release into circulation? It is obvious that at least they would have had a plate for this card.

Anyone out there ever heard of such a card?



While I'm not sure what the answer is to this question, it made me think of other instances that I've dubbed Cardboard Mysteries.

• Where's Steve Carlton in the 1966 Topps set?

• What was the real reason Bowman almost released Ted Williams as card #66 in its 1954 set?


• How did Fleer get so many big names for their 1963 set? Or can we chalk it up to an especially talkative Jimmy Piersall?

• Topps has made at least five cards that are either post career-ending accident or 'In Memoriam' cards, including: Ken Hubbs (1964), Cory Lidle (2006), A. Bartlett Giamatti (1990), Roberto Clemente (1973) and Roy Campanella's 'Symbol of Courage' (1959). So why didn't they do one for Thurman Munson in 1980 Topps?

• Also regarding Munson, Thurman's 1971 Topps card is his second-year card, yet it's more expensive than his rookie. Are there other instances where this occurs?

May 22, 2008

For The Love of Sitting Around and Flipping Through a Price Guide

Today I walked down to the supermarket and for the hell of it bought the new Tuff Stuff– excuse me, the new Tuff Stuff's Sports Collectors Monthly. And while it was fun to flip through it, scan the ads and learn about cards from the Dark Ages of the hobby (1996 - 2005), I got to the point where I felt like I was deluding myself if I actually believed what was printed in the magazine's price guides. I found myself agreeing with the anonymous commenter on the "Toppstown" post: a conventional price guide has become the string quartet on the Titanic.

I'll admit, that's a dire read on today's hobby, but let's examine the situation. The hobby doesn't need price guides to exist, and yet would be chaotic without them. Beckett and FW Publications (publisher of Tuff Stuff) provide infrastructure for the secondary market. Dealers consult them when setting prices. You want to see a world without the consultation of book prices? Look no further than eBay.

With its low prices and open-source approach to assigning realistic value to cards and memorabilia, it's the new face of the hobby. It's slowly killing independent in-shop dealers. It's taken the bottom out of the value of game-used, relic, auto and other seemingly hard-to-find cards. That Poley Walnuts insert of the squirrel at Yankee Stadium from last year's Topps? Tuff Stuff has it at $40. Here are two eBay auctions: one's at $1.25, the other at $0.99.

I know I'm not the first person to bring this up, but have you really thought about what the hobby will look like in the next five years? I think it's fair to say that both Beckett Publications and FW have enough money to continue publishing their respective fleets, but what will be in those magazines? Or, more appropriately, what will be on their websites? Will there still be price guides? And if yes, will the prices they hold mean anything?

Ebay's not going anywhere. Beckett.com has a large community forum on the site, as does TuffStuff.com. Beckett's got guest columnists, Tuff Stuff's got bloggers...

With realistic pricing coming from a relatively unexpected third party, is original content the infrastructure of the future? Or can the Becketts and the Tuff Stuffs reclaim their relevancy in a traditional role in the hobby? And what about all the dealers who got into the industry only to watch their roles in it disintegrate?

The Baseball Card Book

Thanks to those who offered their assistance. I'll be in touch.

May 16, 2008

Does Jerry Turner Still Live in Toppstown?


I hope he at least keeps an apartment there. The place wouldn't be the same without him.
Toppstown

The King of Cartoons

KING OF CARTOONS WINNER: MIKE VAIL (51 votes)



2nd Place: Mike Krukow (48 votes)

May 15, 2008

King of Cartoons: Round 2

Round 2 WINNERS!

Group A WINNER (11 votes)


Group B WINNER (13 votes)



Showdown coming!

King of Cartoons: Group J (Rnd 1)

Group J WINNER! (8 votes)



Rest of Group J