A great essay about the baseball card industry

Wax Heaven reader and fellow collector Jason loves all things that are free and recently saw a contest that was giving away a Hobby box of 2008 Topps to the person who could write the best essay about why kids should start collecting baseball cards. His essay was pure genius, funny but to the point. I invite Jason to start his own blog or at the very least become a guest contributor to Waxheaven.com. We could use more writer/collectors like him. I am certain he could give Ben Henry a run for his money!

Below is the essay as submitted by Jason to http://www.sportscardfun.com:

“As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t anticipate winning the box of 2008 Topps. It’s not that I can’t effectively and articulately pen a response to the question at hand. I can. It’s not that I don’t want the box. Trust me, I do. It’s that my answer is controversial and may not be exactly what you’re looking for.

Kids shouldn’t start collecting baseball cards. They currently do not have a single reason to. And I don’t think it has as much to do with the competition for their attention as some might think. The Sports Card industry has become a convoluted mess of inserts, game used memorabilia, and endless variations. It is no longer a hobby for children in much the same way that video games are no longer made for 8 year olds.

The “targeted demographic” for sports collectibles are those guys that started out buying up Donruss with their allowance. Those that can afford the price structure that the hobby has evolved into. Who’s purchasing the new ultra violent PS3 games? Guys that used to play Super Mario while listening to New Kids on the Block. The kids that made these industries boom are all grown up now.

This creates another question. What made ME start collecting baseball cards as a kid? I have to answer that by saying that I know what made me, until recently, stop collecting. Price. Undecipherable variations. Bloated sets that made it impossible to “collect”. Professional grading. The magic has been lost in the marketing.

I am 28 years old with extensive computer knowledge. I have subscriptions to all of the major price guides to include Beckett’s Online Database. Yet, I have wrestled for over 6 months to figure out which variation I have of a 2007 Topps Co-Signers Hanley Ramirez. I pulled a Babe Ruth 2007 Goudey Immortals Jersey out of a retail box. My wife didn’t want me touching the jersey. When did the monetary value become more important than running my finger across a jersey worn by the Bambino? I attempted to copy and paste a list of all the Manny Ramirez cards in existence from Beckett into a spreadsheet. My computer crashed four times before I gave up. How could I even begin to create a master set of all of Manny’s stuff when 25% or more are all “One-of-Ones”

Why is there only one 2007 Upper Deck First Edition, yet you have Elements, Future Stars, Premier, Sp Rookie, Spectrum, UD Masterpieces, UD Black, etc. Tell me who that’s geared towards? Look at the pricing for these packs and then show me a kid that wants to spend their only $10 bucks for the week to get 4 cards. Card Manufacturers need to change their intent, not their strategy.

Finally, what made me start back? Almost a year ago, I opened my old shoe boxes to see what I could sell on eBay. As I sorted through the cards “one last time” I was amazed that I could identify the players on each card before I ever saw the name. Guys like Hensley Meulens, Bo Diaz, Luis Polonia, Jeff Blauser, Phil Plantier, etc. That is what made me come back home.

I don’t know that the industry, based on the question, can be fixed. I do know however, a 4 year old t-ball star sleeping soundly in his bed right now that is going to help me put together a hand collated set of ragged 1990 Topps sometime in the near future. I won’t have to market anything. I won’t have a strategy for convincing him of how fun it can be. I do have faith that he’ll understand the enthusiasm and the magic in my eyes. I trust that my son will hear the faint whisper of a hobby tradition long gone.”



  1. I can’t even begin to tell you how stoked I am that you featured this essay!! Man, I appreciate it so much! Thanks, Mario, and I look forward to contributing further in the future.


  2. That was very well put. Great essay! I would have to say that addresses most of the major concerns facing the hobby. I recognized all the names in the shoebox as well and started picturing their cards.

  3. This is the best expression of what has happened to the sportscard industry. Except for bulky double-packs, the cost-per-card ratio is ridiculous. Give kids a REASON to collect – straight-forward sets at a kid-friendly price. Excellent piece!

  4. Jason,

    Well said! The “hobby” has no longer become a hobby anymore, but an investment. I didn’t collect multi-colored 1988 Score because I thought they’d be worth something, but because it was fun to do!
    I can also totally relate to the Beckett checklist/computer crashing phenomenon, as it happened to me a few times as well before I finally got my Rickey checklist downloaded.

  5. Well said! I wish there were packs available that kids could afford (and that I could justify picking up every time I went to the store). I have a lot of great memories of when I started collecting in 1987, but it seems like it would be difficult to get started now for someone in it for fun only. I don’t collect a lot now because it’s so expensive.

    I know Topps created Topps Total a while back, but they couldn’t resist the urge to put in inserts, and it just wasn’t the same. Plus I didn’t see the packs in stores much at all. The major companies should put out a base set that isn’t all fancy in material (card stock, foil, refractors, etc.), and one that is FUN and affordable. I think that would be one of the best things for the hobby.

  6. I agree 1000%. My mother bought me a few packs of cards when she took my sister to dancing school in the last 1970’s. I could not wait to find out if I had any Steelers waiting for me in themI guess that’s why I love to buy old packs from eBay and open them as soon as i get them. It would be nice if Topps just put out one set of cards again. I can’t stand all the levels. It makes me not want to buy anything new, which is rare for me these days. For the $70-$150 per box of new cards I have a older card of Hall of Fame player that I worshiped when I was 12.

  7. Wow, great work! I agree completely. What happend to the Collectors Choice and Bazooka 10 to 15 card packs for 99 cents? Pure Genius.

  8. I like the essay and agree with a lot of it, but I want to point out that just because there are extremely overpriced sets out there, it doesn’t mean that you have to collect them in order to enjoy the hobby. Since I’ve gotten back into the hobby, I take a look at each new set when it comes out, and consider the cost of a pack/box, how much I like the design of the cards, what players are in the set, and other factors, and then I decide if I want to collect the set or not.

    Now, if I was a kid, I’d have less sets to choose from because I’d have a much smaller amount of spending cash. But I’d still have sets like Topps, Topps Heritage, Upper Deck, and a few others that are affordable and fun to collect. I could even buy single cards of my favorite players from the more expensive sets and not spend a lot of money. I could even buy single autos and game-used cards cheaply these days.

    If I was a kid today, I might even be able to have more fun than I did in the 80s when only the Topps, Fleer, and Donruss sets were around. And the cards of today might not be completely worthless in 20 years because they’re not quite as overproduced as they were back then.

  9. I have to join the crowd and commend the author for a beautiful essay. When I was a child in the very late ’80’s to mid ’90’s, I used to spend every bit of money I had on cards. You could buy them at every gas station, right next to the candy bars and lighters. But I was too young to work and my family too poor for a real allowance. So buying a pack of cards was a real treat. At fifty cents a pack I could afford one or two a week, but at the end of the day I watched my collection grow into the hundreds while many kids’ were growing into the thousands.

    I didn’t care. These were my cards. And because a pack of cards was pretty much a pack of cards, I had my share of special ones. And mostly I just wanted as many Cub cards as possible, and I did okay there, too.

    But in the mid ’90’s companies like Upper Deck had shown that special, super-glossy rarities would sell as well as the cheap packs, and just about the time I started earning enough money to buy a decent amount of cards, they were no longer affordable. So I stuck with the older cards to help complete my collections.

    Recently I ran across a pack of Topps cards at Jewel for fifty cents. They only came with seven cards, but fifty cents is less now than in 1990 so you can’t complain. And it had that hard piece of gum that made you feel like you were chewing one of the cards themselves.

    As I bought up ten packs and suffered through my first piece of bubble gum card gum in Lord knows how long, the little ten year old boy came back to me. I opened the tenth pack with complete fear and apprehension that half of them might be ones I already had, or worse, a stupid checklist card!! Will I get a Cub?? Will I get a rookie that I have not heard of and probably never will again?

    These weren’t special cards, they were just the average, old, run of the mill, look at a picture and statistics cards that I loved and cherished so much.

    And it reminded me of a time and innocence when baseball was all that was important in the world. When you could play a full nine with only two people and play catch with yourself and the pocket schedules had double-headers and the last thing you used to measure a treasure was the amount of money it was worth.

    I was free to live that life again because regardless of what I got, I had only spent half a buck.

    So I hope these “plain” Topps cards start popping up everywhere.

    But if not, at least I had one more go.

  10. Wow, Jason sure unleashed something special with this essay. I am going to have to get on my knees and beg now to get him to write for Wax Heaven!

  11. Mario,

    What’s the pay looking like? hahaha… One thing that kinda frustrates me about not winning is that in the mind of most, I didn’t really “answer” the question. It appears that I just added to the tirade of complaining about a problem with no clear-cut and concise solution to the problem. But, that’s the beauty of the pessimism behind my response. Fix the problem, and kids WILL COLLECT AGAIN!! That is the point I intended to illustrate. Not how fun it is. Take away the things that make it “not fun” and kids will slowly get back into it. Anywho, just venting here… Congratulations to Dave Alcox for his prize-winning essay. I’m coming for you on the next one, though, buddy…lol…


  12. This is a great essay, but there is one missing piece of blame for the current condition of the card industry: the collector.

    I’m another one of those who recently came back to the hobby after several years. I stopped collecting as pack prices went up and inserts became so important.

    When people would open a pack, they didn’t look for their favorite players or favorite team. They looked for the insert card. Base cards meant nothing.

    It seems like this has become even more extreme now. With packs becoming so expensive, it’s like playing the lottery with slightly better odds, but more disappointment if we don’t “win”. We feel like we have to get our money’s worth based on the value of the inserts we get. When everything was base cards, we got our money’s worth with almost every pack. We might not have got our favorite player or team in every pack, but we would usually get a card that we didn’t have yet so we would be closer to completing our set.

    As for no more products like Collector’s Choice, again let’s blame the collector. If these types of products were profitable, companies would produce and sell them. I remember when Stadium Club and Ultra and Flair came out, I wouldn’t buy them because they were too expensive. I continued to buy the cheaper cards. But those cards didn’t appreciate in value and weren’t popular so card shops didn’t really push them and companies stopped producing them.

    I haven’t bought a pack since I came back to the hobby because I don’t want to play the gambling game. I collect my favorite players and that’s it. It’s not good for the industry, but it’s good for me.

  13. Right on! I collected Kenny Lofton before I got out back in 97 – 98. I was more stoked to pull an Indian’s base card that I didn’t have rather than an insert of someone I didn’t care to have. A couple of months back I pulled the Hillary SP from Upper Deck. I cleared a little over $600 on eBay. I couldn’t care less about the card. EVERYONE I told about it, to include my wife’s 60 year old aunt, wanted to know what they should buy at Wal-Mart to get the card so that they could sell it on eBay. Collecting has way too many prospectors nowadays.

  14. I am 10 and a huge Red Sox fan. I was just elected Red Sox Kid Nation Captain. Anyway I only collect Red Sox cards because they have been my team since I was little. I loved them even before they won the World Series. I don’t care what company makes the cards or if they are game issues I just LOVE Red Sox baseball cards from all years. I don’t buy the big sets because they cost too much. But sometimes I spend my allowance on eBay buying cards. I just bought Tony Conigliaro, Billy Conigliaro and Rich Gedman cards for $1 each. YEAH! I look at my collection all the time. And if anyone has it I’m looking for a RemDawg card because I’m going to get to meet him soon.

  15. The essay is well written, but with all due respect, let’s focus on Victoria G and her one dollar ebay discoveries of Red Sox cards….Nowadays, you have to look harder to find deals…but they’re still there.

  16. My brother and I started collecting cards for the gum. We never cared about the condition of the cards. We would put the players that we didnt like in the spokes of our bikes.

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