The “Good Old Days” Are Long Gone

It takes a lot for me to come out of lurk mode in a card forum. However, recently, one topic did just that as it posed the question, “what does our hobby need?” There really is no simple answer. Today, baseball cards are obsolete. I began collecting in 1990 when things were a hell of a whole lot different. We didn’t have Internet, modern gaming machines like we do today, or anything close to smart phones. Times were so different that a hobby like collecting pieces of cardboard could blow up and boy did it ever. In my city, there were 4-5 card shops within a 7 mile radius. There were card shows every other weekend. Non-traditional stores even carried all major brands, like 7/11 and Walgreens.

Unfortunately, the card industry saw nothing but green and over-saturated the card market, first with millions of cards and later with several dozens of new products, each getting more and more expensive until they flat out pushed the kids out of this hobby. Today, there are even boxes that cost $7,000+ dollars. What kid is really going to spend that much when that kind of money could get you an automobile? Sure, the older collectors will have no problem if they are in that tax bracket but how long before they get married, have children, go through divorce, or have other more important affairs change their life completely? We have collectors coming and going at the speed of light.

I’ve seen it happen over again. Jose Canseco “Super Collectors” who spent upwards of $10,000 on cards within a couple of years and then are forced to unload collections at 1/3 the price. I had one collector and friend who one day surprised me with a box of 400 Jose Canseco cards filled with Refractors, game-used cards, and much more, choosing to sell the high-end stuff to help pay his mortgage. I’ve often been jealous of these Super Collectors any time they show off those amazing cards that I don’t even bother bidding on. I’ve obsessed over the 1998 Donruss Crusade but to this day have never even seen it in person due to outrageous prices but if you play the waiting game, the collections are always broken up.

Back to the innocent early 90s. We were absolutely clueless. We didn’t have preview images, let alone full checklists available months before a product was released. Most times, if a shop didn’t have a pack sample somewhere, we basically went into a product blindly hoping for the best outcome. Today, we have the Internet where everything is made available and we no longer have to buy a pack of cards hoping our favorite player is in it. When Topps Heritage was released, I checked the list of players and when I saw my guy missing, I took my money elsewhere. We have a choice today that we didn’t back then and it killed the card market, while eBay killed the brick and mortar card shop.

Then of course, there is “high end”, which looks amazing but unless you’re an absolute card addict, no box of cards will ever compare to say, a brand new Xbox 1 gaming system. This is coming from a hardcore collector who doesn’t just buy cards but reads up on them for hours and hours on end, who studies cards, and who spends years writing about them for FREE. The industry needs to find a way to bring back the youth but without bullshit products like Donruss’ Triple Play or Topps’ Bazooka. You can’t unring a bell. The hobby of collecting has been turned into a business thanks to grading companies and high-end products but there is still hope.

If MLB is really serious about saving the hobby, limit card companies to 7 products per year. That could give us, say, 2 high-end, 3 mid-end, 2 low-end products per company. How about giving limited licenses to Leaf, Upper Deck, and Panini America? Again, maybe 5 products per year with all sorts of products to choose from. The problem of course is no company wants restrictions. Topps wants to put out as many products a year as possible. Maybe they have no choice in order to survive. What’s survival without a market, though? When will the industry realize that it has chased away 90% of their customers? You can’t blame the 1994 strike or steroid scandal any more. It’s 2015!

In closing, below is a Bowman Draft Picks Red Refractor autograph of Mike Trout with an asking price of $55,000 dollars. For those considering any card for that amount, ask the previous collectors who purchased similar Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg cards how they feel today? Or how about the guy who paid $5,000 for a Joba Chamberlain Superfractor? No baseball card of a 23 year old is really, truly worth that kind of money but if you want to learn the hard way, by all means, be our guest. This hobby of ours will never truly be dead but until Major League Baseball realizes it, there will never again be a popular era or bubble, if you will. Everything will continue to slowly die: collectors, card shops, and the companies themselves.

If you have an opinion on how to bring our hobby back to its glory days, spread the hashtag #SaveBaseballCards.


Categories: The Hobby | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The “Good Old Days” Are Long Gone

  1. Interesting points. I think it just shows how the hobby is geared to and caters too the guyswho pay a lot of money on product and individual cards.

    I do agree with you about how collecting was in the early ’90s.You’d get some preview images in Beckett, but not much more. Cards were everywhere too. I used to ride my bike down the street to CVS to get a pack when I had a buck. Going to the LCS was a treat after I had some birthday cash.

    1996 Bazooka was one of my favorite products ever. I think packs were a quarter. They only had maybe 5-cards per pack (plus gum), but they were affordable, and offered the rare “Red Hot” insert. That was enough to keep me buying. I miss products like this.

  2. CK

    I’m fascinated by this topic and could talk about it for hours (fair warning if this response gets long). I agree completely with what you said, and unfortunately, I don’t know if there is an answer. I don’t know if kids will ever get into it the way we did (I started collecting in 1986). How can something as quaint and old fashioned as cardboard picture cards compete with smart phones, computers, gaming systems and whatever else kids do today?

    For me and my friends back in the day, a big component to collecting baseball cards was value – perceived current value and potential future worth. I wasn’t one who thought I’d one day sell my ’87 Topps to fund my college tuition, but I did think my cards would continue to appreciate, which made it so much fun. I clearly remember the (mild) hysteria in middle school over Gregg Jefferies ’89 Topps Future Star which got up to $3! That was a lot for a prospect then. And I think you could argue that cards really were worth what the price guides said, because that’s what you had to pay. Without the internet, every dealer at shows or stores would charge BV, but at least you felt like that’s what your card/set was worth. Now, most cards/sets can be purchased for much less on the internet than what their stated BV is.

    So I think a big deterrent is that cards do not hold their value. Sure, some 1/1’s and other rare parallels may hold up, but I’m talking about the general population of cards. And yes, you could argue that ’80s and ’90s cards haven’t held up well, either, but at least for a time, they did. Now, it seems a card’s lifespan is only as long as the time to the next product. So if I’m a kid, do I want to spend my money on something that will almost certainly not appreciate, or buy more iTunes or video games that I can play right now?

    The only way to create demand and try to influence some lasting worth would be to cut production dramatically. Limit the releases and print runs; but this is something that the card producers would never agree to. Furthermore, how many cycles can this last before the secondary market prices out kids anyway? Once dealers figure out the print runs, they would jack up the prices on new releases due to the perceived scarcity and price out kids anyway.

    I hate to say it, but I don’t really see any way to successfully get kids back into baseball cards, and then keep them in.

  3. Wish I had a solution to offer. Only thing I can say is that I totally agree… our hobby will never truly die. There will always be a group of us around to collect. On the flipside… if I were a betting man, I would guess that baseball cards will one day be similar to collector’s plates and Kenner SLU’s. There are still people who collect both of those things… just not nearly as many as a decade or so ago.

  4. Sadly in order to pump out as many sets as the companies do they are forced to get autographs and relics from fringe players who sit at the end of the bench and sell popcorn between innings.

    Nobody liked spending $100+ on a box that will give three autographs; a middle-reliever, the bench warmer and the traveling secretary. I would love to see products limited with a solid autograph list than 20-25 products loaded with ten parallels of each card, short prints of short prints, “Event” used relics and autographs of a guy who spends three years in the Minors before quitting to sell used cars. Not that this will happen but if the hobby continues with the super high-end product and base sets that look the same year after year than regular collectors are going to be priced out eventually or loose faith and move on to collecting something else.

  5. Everybody is always complaining that the 1990s was “overproduction”, yet it was clearly the best era in the hobby’s history. The way to fix what’s wrong in the hobby is: #1 to get cards everywhere again. The more people who have access to cards, the more people buying cards. #2. Get the focus back on base cards. Nowadays most people only care about the “hits”. When I started collecting (1988) there were no hits. Then the big hits were holograms (which I still love).Then the autographs and relics started, and it’s been downhill from there. And that leads to #3- pricing. The prices on the boxes are ridiculous. I love cards. Not just my cards but all cards. When I went with the NBA for the first time, one of my proudest achievements was having a card (or more than one, usually) of every major set in NBA history. And then they started with the $500 for 5 cards boxes. I did a couple and I felt ripped off. I stopped getting them but the holes it left in my collection, combined with a couple other things, drove me away from the NBA side of the hobby from 2006-2012. The whole high-end concept played a large part in my lack of enjoyment from that time period. Looking at my list of sets missing from my collection, ( most of them are high-end. It’s frustrating, discouraging and in the end, it takes away from my enjoyment of the hobby. And I have no kids, no wife or girlfriend, no debts, the only thing I have to pay for is the medicine that keeps me alive, so I imagine I have more to spend on the hobby than many people. #4. The exclusive contracts. These are the worst thing(s) to happen to the hobby in the 2000s. More card sets is a good thing. and one when company and one only has the license there is no real impetus to do a good job, be innovative or even cover everyone in the league. They (the card companies) know that those of us who love the sport enough are going to keep buying cards, even if we may not be happy with what the card company is doing…because if we want cards, we have no other option!

  6. Thank you for all the comments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all all of them.

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