I still remember the day like it was yesterday. It was 1999 and I was a good year removed from collecting. Out of curiosity, I picked up a Beckett Baseball price guide and found an ad for the most beautiful card I’ve ever seen in my life.
At the time, somehow, game-used relic cards were harder to find than certified autographs. Both gimmicks were still very rare but by year’s end this particular card was the most coveted of the year because it was so, quite frankly, controversial.
The idea of cutting up a game-used bat belonging to the “Great Bambino”, infuriated collectors and fans of the game. This was a very different time in the hobby because 20 years later, just about anyone can get their hands on a Ruth gamer.
Back in late 2015, it was reported that Leaf Trading Cards had come to terms with the estate of Babe Ruth. Ultimately, this deal lead to Ruth-themed products in 2016, 2017, and most recently again in 2019 with Leaf Metal Babe Ruth Collection.
Each three of the Ruth Leaf products featured game-used Ruth bats relics. The first, 2016 Leaf Babe Ruth Collection was aimed at retail collectors with a $30 price tag and 80 cards. The Ruth relics fell at just two per 20-box case.
The second Leaf Ruth-themed release came a year later with 2017 Leaf Babe Ruth Immortal Collection. This product claimed to source their relics from two different Ruth game-used bats. There were only 175 total cases with 10 boxes in each case.
I do not know what this product sold for during its release but today it’s almost impossible to find a sealed box for less than $400. Reading reviews online and in forums, 2017 Immortal Collection appears to have been very well-received.
This brings us to 2019 and another Leaf Ruth-themed product. This set was released recently and has been slowly making its way on Twitter & YouTube breaks. The entire set is done in Chromium, even the relics. It’s also filled with endless parallels.
This time around, however, there is no mention of how many bats were used to fill the product or even how many total cases or boxes were produced. As an outsider, it sure seems like there’s a lot more relics than any previous Leaf/Ruth release.
2019 Leaf Metal sells for around $150 per box and features just 6 total cards. Four of the cards are base cards, one is an undesirable “stadium relic”, with the final being a single, dual, triple, or even quad game-used Ruth bat relic.
With 3 Ruth-themed products in 4 years, as well as other Babe Ruth relics in many Leaf releases… there is a question I need to ask. What does this large flood of game-used Babe Ruth bats in the past 3 years do to the secondary market?
One also has to wonder just how rare Ruth game-used bats are? For a man who died nearly 80 years ago, it sure seems like companies have plenty of options available. We have seen Ruth relics from Leaf, Panini, Topps, Upper Deck, and Breygent.
I reached out to Brian Gray, someone who I haven’t always seen eye to eye with, for information on 2019 Leaf Metal Babe Ruth Collection. It would be interesting to know how many bats they had to work with this time around. So far, no response.
Speaking of Breygent, take a look at this! All jokes aside on the design, look at the back of the card. It features a PSA letter of authenticity and a photo of the bat used for the product. I know this was used in some baseball products in the early-2000s but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it. WHY AREN’T COLLECTORS DEMANDING THIS?
Companies like Topps, gouging collectors for thousands every two weeks with new releases, should include this information on all their big hits. It won’t prevent fakes from entering the market but at least it will provide some much needed transparency.
Breygent, a non-sports trading card company from Canada, appears to have left the market completely and is now focusing on their toy licenses. While many sports-only collectors may not have heard of them, clearly they were on the right track.
I mentioned on Twitter that due to MLB’s licensing fees, Topps Company is being forced to pump out new product at an alarming rate to help break even financially. There is so much new product that it appears we are in a new “junk wax” era.
Whether or not you think that’s a good thing is up to YOU. Every collector has a different perspective but one thing remains a FACT: Babe Ruth game-used relics have lost the aura and mystique that Upper Deck bestowed upon them in 1999.
Brian Gray’s deal with the Ruth estate has single-handedly lowered the value of every single, game-used relic of Ruth and has made the once impossible card easily-accessible to any collector who may desire one.
This brings me back to users of Blowout’s forum complaining about the original Leaf/Ruth deal when it was announced almost five years ago. Check out Brian’s response to the accusation that his company watering down the Ruth market.
Another fact is that card companies are in business to make money. As much as old school collectors want something different, at the end of the day, the goal is to create a product and sell out as soon as possible. There is no art involved.
Brian has made autographs of Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken Jr. affordable to those who can’t spend hundreds on a single card or even more playing the Hobby lottery. To me, 90% of his products hurt the hobby but that’s just one man’s opinion.
I have seen some great products from Leaf since they left the Razor Collectibles name in the dust but lately all I see are repackaged releases that feature actual Topps cards inside of Leaf boxes. I can’t think of anything worse.
Say what you will about Panini and by God, they are awful … but at the very least their baseball offerings are unique. Leaf started out the same way but have gone way off track. I really hope this is the final Ruth product they ever release.
Here’s hoping Leaf goes back to their 2014 Q days …