Flashback: The Musial Dump and Leaf’s Response

Originally published at Wax Heaven 2.0 on April 13th & 14, 2015

A few weeks back, I wrote about Stan “The Man” Musial signing autographs way too late into his life. As a result, in my opinion, he wound up tarnishing his hobby legacy and lowering the value of all his certified autographs. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered Leaf’s Heroes of Baseball, featuring (1) Stan Musial sticker autograph per box for around $30-$40 a piece. This was two years after Stan’s death. The problem is that if you think you’ve seen some awful Musial autographs recently, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Do some quick research on eBay and see for yourself. These leftover stickers used by Leaf for their Heroes of Baseball set look like rejects that Musial’s estate likely sold off to the highest bidder. Much like the awful sketch cards Leaf has released in the past, they should be ashamed to put their company’s historic name on these clearly unacceptable autographs. The tragic part is that the other cards in the set look great. Clearly, a lot of time and resources went into photograph selection and overall design. Unfortunately, in today’s “hit” obsessed market, Leaf’s Heroes of Baseball would likely be a failure without the stickers included.

When I returned to collecting earlier this year, I was ecstatic about Leaf’s potential products after purchasing the amazing ‘Q’ Jose Canseco card. What I found on social media, however, was lots of negativity being thrown Leaf’s way almost on a daily basis. My opinion was starting to sway but was saved by Gregg Kohn, Leaf’s VP of Product Development. Gregg pulled back the curtain and gave me a small peak at some of Leaf’s upcoming products. We recently learned about a deal with the Babe Ruth estate; could a Ruth set, similar to the Musial set, be in the works? Probably.

The problem is that much like Jose Canseco and Pete Rose autographs, lately, prices are hitting all-time lows due to mass production from companies like Topps, Leaf, and Panini America. There are already WAY too many Musial autographs in the wild and these less than stellar Leaf stickers have basically killed their value moving forward. Was it worth it? I personally don’t think so but I’m also not aware of how business runs in the world of sports cards.

Much like Panini America has hit their stride with the resurrection of Donruss Baseball and what will likely be a huge hit in 2015 Prizm, I expected the same from Leaf Trading Cards. I’ve already given up on Upper Deck ever producing a licensed baseball set again and was looking for a challenger to Topps’ throne. It appears that I was wrong in expecting Leaf to be the “chosen one”.

Obviously, I trust Gregg’s word but someone should have stopped this disaster of a product long before it hit the presses. Don’t get me wrong, I typically love these kind of products and still cherish ‘The Jose Canseco Story’ set from the late 80s, which came with a Canseco-branded card binder, 20 licensed cards, and a mini record featuring an interview with the still green Jose, destroying the English language. This, however, feels different. Seeing these autographs come out of any product, retail or hobby, feels wrong.

Surely, someone at Leaf would have noticed that these stickers were in no shape to use for any product, right? I would have hoped Brian or Gregg would have realized that releasing seemingly thousands of poorly signed autographs of Stan Musial into the market all at once would absolutely flood and destroy the value of ALL Musial autographs, even after his death?


A sample Musial sticker from Leaf

— — —

The following day, Brian Gray, CEO of Leaf Trading Cards, contacted me. Brian wanted to respond to my article with only one stipulation, that I post his response without any editing. Below, is the exact response that was emailed to me.

The Rebirth of Stan Musial (and why it is GOOD for the Hobby)

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Mario’s column. It is refreshing to see someone passionate about the hobby. This can sometimes lead to forgetting the business side of the equation, but even then I see Mario making major strides to adapt to the realities of the hobby.

Today, I read a column by Mario and frankly I felt very strongly that it was a one-sided view of a release that unarguably presents a more than one-sided reality.
Leaf released exclusively through Target, 2015 Leaf Heroes of Sport Boxes. This release was designed to do two things: (1) provide the market its most inexpensive way ever to collect the autograph of the man that was the last of the golden era and (2) to supply an opportunity for collectors to collect legends products inexpensively in blaster form.

Why does the hobby need inexpensive Musial autographs? After all, the man signed for the hobby for nearly 20 years. The fact is that the only collectors who realistically had a chance of ever obtaining a Musial autograph from a pack are those collectors in the hobby who buy $60-500 “HOBBY” products. We sometimes forget that the “HOBBY” consists of far more people than those collectors purchasing non-retail products. In fact, I would argue that the growth of our industry will be directly driven by the collectors who transition from “RETAIL BUYERS” to “HOBBY BUYERS”. Like our Rose release before this, this set is a HUGELY positive thing for those “RETAIL” buyers who will never get value like this from a retail product.

I think it’s about time , as an industry, we accept the fact that we will not be fans of everything released. That is why we get to vote with our wallets. However, for many less advanced collectors, this is the PERFECT chance to enjoy a GUARANTEED opportunity to acquire the autograph of a true legend at the best price ever available to these customers.

With all this being said, I additionally disagree about the implication that these were reject signatures. Stan was a very sick man the last several years of his life. FOR COLLECTORS, he continued to sign despite the great difficulty he had. What the original post fails to recognize is that this is the same Musial autograph you would have pulled out of a $100-400 box of cards during his last few years as well! The attached images show exactly why these signatures are typical (not atypical as the implication was made). Moreover, we made the decision not to use over 1000 signatures that we found unacceptable.

My personal opinion would be to recognize the good heart of the man willing to sign despite his illness, rather than essentially criticize, berate and insult him for not being able to sign any better due to illness.

If Leaf had not acquired and utilized these as it did, they very well may have been acquired elsewhere and ended up in your favorite $60-500 hobby box instead. Maybe Leaf did the hobby a second service (in addition to value at Retail)?

In summary, I appreciate those who support our brand. In making an item like this, we do carefully consider the result of our efforts. The item has been VERY successful at retail and I have every confidence it will achieve its end game of bringing more people to buy “HOBBY” products in hope of finding desirable autograph cards.

For these reasons, I believe Leaf has done the hobby a service that deserves applause for its good for the “Hobby” rather than unfair criticism based on a far too narrow perspective of the product and its reason for existing.

Brian Gray,
CEO, Leaf Trading cards

(images below provided by Brian Gray)


6 thoughts on “Flashback: The Musial Dump and Leaf’s Response

  1. I’ve been reading a few arguments on both sides of these signatures after seeing some of these Leaf cards show up in some repacks lately. I respect everyone’s opinions on the issue… but that doesn’t change the way I feel when I see these signatures. Whether or not he wanted to sign these cards… it makes me feel sad looking at them.

  2. First off… love your articles! You are so knowledgeable on the hobby! Second… love the two arguments made for and against these cards being put out into the market. Honestly… seeing the autographs just makes me sad. I would rather remember Stan “The Man” as the pillar he was instead of a weak older gentleman. Keep up the good work!

  3. Thank you, Jerry.

    Since I posted this in 2015, my opinion has changed somewhat. I still don’t like the autos but I agree with Brian that Topps would have likely purchased the stickers and put them in super premium $500 products.

    I guess I’ll accept the lesser of two evils.

  4. Pope John Paul II developed Parkinson’s Disease in 2001, yet remained Pope until his death in 2005. I recall reading an article that he did so as an example to all that approaching and accepting one’s death is a part of life. Stan Musial was a devoted Catholic and may have been following that example. Mr. Musial’s autograph, in whatever shape, is a personal connection to him at whatever stage of life he was in at the time of that particular signature. I have a 2012 Panini Cooperstown Signature of Stan Musial (on card, limited to 50, only slightly better than those above) which I cherish in knowing how hard Mr. Musial tried to sign so that I would have that unique memory of him at that time of his life. The photo is young Musial and the autograph is old Musial, bookends so to speak. Brian Gray of Leaf demonstrates that he understands the respect that was continued to be shown to Musial in his old age.

  5. When an author/filmmaker/artist turns low quality work, their their reputation takes a hit. This has been going on for years now with card makers and I truly believe that its the reason that so many people like (like the author of this great blog) prefer to buy things from the 90’s rather than dropping thousands on new product which is bound to lose value.
    If companies can’t adapt to our needs they are going to see a shift soon of collectors abandoning new product in favor of creating custom cards or sticking with the quality stuff made in the late 90’s early 2000s.

  6. In 2012, Panini contracted with the Baseball Hall of Fame to put out a set of cards of only elected members. The parallel autograph set contained almost every living member of the hall. Exceptions were three under exclusive Topps contracts (Aaron, Mays and Koufax). From memory, only two elderly members declined (Irvin comes to mind).

    Musial hand signed fifty of those cards. The choice to do so was his. The impact of how he would be remembered for doing so (feeble old man versus legend still trying to please) was his. There is no exploitation as he earned that right.

    This is the golden era of hall of fame autographs. One day the hobby will have enough former players that scribble their name or have ceased signing altogether due to their seven year multimillion contracts that folks will look back and recall guys like Musial who, to their dying day, did their best to sign their whole name for the hobby.

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