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.