Chase the Base?

10 08 2010

Author: Todd Uncommon

Contained in responses to a “state of the hobby” thread today on SCU, the discussion largely turned again towards whether the hobby would do better to market directly to kids, or to just assume that someone older always buys the cards.  Is it true that kids today don’t buy them with their own money, and might get them only in some sort of trickle-down effect of collectibles?

It is very hard not to extrapolate personal experience as a kid too far into the present. The target market for cards had always been kids, at least until 1989. I think it is safe to say that Upper Deck’s debut with premium cards at premium prices started the end of the kid-budget era.

In 1981, whatever money I got as a kid–allowance, small job, gifts, recycling proceeds, even found change–easily would pay for a fistful of card packs at the counter of my local supermarket or drug store. 25, 35 or 40 cents didn’t take long to add up to buy just one.

Back when 30¢ could get you 15 best friends (and a sticker!). For a while. Maybe.

Today, “retail” options are pretty much limited to discount mega-chains like Target and Walmart, and that same fistful of packs basically come prepackaged in a blaster for $20. Even accounting for inflation, those prices (for arguably less desirable product than hobby edition) are out of reach for any frequency on a kid’s budget, so I am convinced that it is more often some adult’s money that really is the revenue source.

I have to give credit to the card makers for actually trying to make lower-cost products in an attempt to get closer to kids’ budgets: Upper Deck Victory, First Edition, Topps Total, Opening Day, etc. to name a few.  As much of a nostalgic note as it strikes with me to have 99 cent pack options on the store shelves, there is also one inescapable truth. Nobody wants these products.

Why?  Well, the allure of pricier brands is strong, and their lottery-style hits are glitzier than those from these budget brands, even if the cheaper sets have them at all.  Add the fact that with some of these lower cost products, you really can see the quality reduction to meet that price point. UD First Edition is an awful product; it’s basically the standard set, but with the attractive life in it sucked out so it could be sent back in time and sold into Cold War-era Bulgaria.

In trying to think as a kid, I can see why they might spend their three bucks on one pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! or M:TG with a guaranteed rare / shiny / powerful card in the mix, compared to three packs of stodgy, limp looking cardboard.

Hi! Magicians and clowns use me for flash paper at birthday parties!

Topps Total sometimes felt like it was printed on notebook paper, the cards were so thin.  Who wants these when somebody’s richer friends are getting at least flagship to high-priced and shiny cards from their mom, dad, or designated guardian?

I think the secret is not in finding a cheaper price for kids to afford.  What needs to happen, and I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point, is to make base cards desirable again.  Let’s face it, base cards are basically packing material for wide distribution of the hits these days.  Decoy support.  No better than gum, stickers, puzzle pieces, team logo holograms, or lenticular trivia cards used to be.

Now that overall populations of hits like autos and relics are in a glut, to the extent that you can get 4/$10 at your local card shop, the status of the base cards, even in the priciest of wax boxes, has fallen even further.

What "mojo hitz" looked like when your uncle was a boy.

To use my frame of reference as a kid in the 80s, finding the ’81 Fleer Fernand(o), the ’84 Topps Mattingly, or the ’85 Topps Gooden in a  40 cent pack *was* the hit.  Sure, that aspect of getting a lottery hit was present, even back then.  However, today, the lottery ticket appeal is actively marketed, rather than being a market effect of its own accord based on player or team popularity.

The last great base card?

Is making base cards the new chase cards even possible? I think the last time base cards were desirable on their own was 1990 Leaf.  If you got a 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas, you were doing really well.  Since then, chase cards, inserts, parallels, autos, and relics have all come and gone as gimmicks, taking our eyes off the mark of collecting “base” cards just because we like them, not because of what we think the inserts might be worth to someone else.





Bummer, Topps …

30 04 2010

Some readers of Wax Heaven may have noticed that in the few instances that I have been blogging, more often than not it’s about wrestling. You see, having had a baseball-loving wife for four years meant that I spent 99% of my time following the sport with her by my side. Now, it’s just no fun doing it alone so rather than follow my Florida Marlins and Andrew Miller, I’ve begun watching WWE and TNA wrestling to pass the time.

Unfortunately, it’s just not as grand as it once was when I was a kid or even young adult. Quite honestly, it’s brutally bad and embarrassing at times, especially the shows being pumped out by Total Nonstop Action, unless your idea of entertainment is watching your grandparents battle it out in a steel cage till one is left bleeding to death over a piece of jewelry (WWE Hall of Fame ring).

Anyway, it’s not all bad. There are some wrestlers who I enjoy following. For example, Ted Dibiase Jr. is now sporting his daddy’s Million Dollar Belt, which is not only awesome for nostalgic reasons but it also makes up for his lack of any personality and skills in the ring. In the 80’s, that was without a doubt the coolest of all championship belts, even if it meant nothing.

Chris Jericho is also still a blast, despite not being anywhere near as cool as he was in the late-90’s and early part of this decade. That’s what he gets for doing all those VH1 “I Love” specials. Randy Orton is perhaps my favorite heel (AKA bad guy) today but without a doubt the only wrestler that keeps me tuned in week after week is CM Punk and his Straight Edge Society.

Unlike most WWE creations, Punk lacks the size and cartoon-like muscles to be the main guy at WWE (although he came close) but that’s just fine with me. Currently he’s playing the role of tormentor to Rey Mysterio Jr. and what he did to his family on the birthday of Mysterio’s young daughter will go down for  me as one of the best promos I’ve ever watched in over 20 years of being a wrestling fan.

You can watch the whole thing here.

Anyway, Topps has released an early preview of 2010 Topps WWE and while the autograph checklist is a huge improvement over 2009’s list, I think it’s time Topps finally scraps those loud & obnoxious holographic stickers once and for all. Yes, the sound you hear is that of me beating a dead horse but you gotta admit he had it coming.

In the past the stickers have worked with some releases like the futuristic Finest brand but really, enough is enough. Look at what Tristar is doing with their stickers. For the first time ever I can honestly say Tristar is doing much better work than Topps when it comes to the wrestling licenses. Yes, I know stickers suck but if you are going to do it, at least find a way to execute it without destroying the work of the design team.

Come to think of it, why are these even stickers in the first place? Unlike football, baseball, and other “real” sports … wrestling has no off-season. These guys bust their ass 365 days a year and none will ever see the type of money that a prima donna like Alex Rodriguez will get so why not have these hard-signed?

Below is a preview of what is most likely CM Punk’s first certified autograph. Aside from the terrible sticker autograph and the fact that he’s been paired up with someone who won’t be around in a year’s time … the card itself doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of this Punk fan.

You can see a full preview of 2010 Topps WWE here.





This Card Makes Me Sad

21 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

Take a look at this dual game-used memorabilia card featuring the Bash Brothers from 2010 Famous Fabrics. While it’s the card several collectors have been waiting for, it’s an absolute FAIL on so many levels.

Let’s ignore for a moment that the two pieces of fabric, while larger than normal pieces you’d find in Topps and Upper Deck most of the time, is plain and boring. There’s not a single photo anywhere on the card.

Yes, there’s a little graphic of a hitter (a lefty no less) but it’s clearly something pulled from a generic image program and bears no resemblance to “Mr. Truth”, Canseco and “Mr. Denial”, McGwire.

This is exactly why so many of us are mourning the imminent death of Upper Deck. What other company had the balls, err … intestinal fortitude to give player collectors new cards of Pete Rose and Jose Canseco without fear of a backlash?

Topps certainly won’t touch those two despite strong sales on the secondary market for both players and a very strong demand as visible through card trading message boards and blogs.

For those interested in this card (and there are some desperate few), you can check out the eBay auction HERE. It’s currently up to nearly $30 dollars with three bids.

Hey, there’s a sucker born every minute …





The Transformers (Poll)

20 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

Keeping with the Wax Heaven theme of ‘Trading Cards and Pop Culture’, I’ve decided to follow-up on the immensely popular top ten lists I’ve done in the past, this time on the greatest toys of all-time, Transformers.

Having come to America in 1987, I missed the great G1 invasion of these wonderful toys but thanks to a very thrifty mother, was able to find many of the originals at less than desirable shops across South Florida.

So if you were lucky (and old) enough to own some of these magnificent toys, which ones would you classify as the best of the line? Also, what makes these toys so desirable to young and old alike?

You can check out an impressive G1 toy gallery here.

You can also see previous Wax Heaven Top Ten lists here & here.





Examples of Pinnacle Backdoored Cards

19 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

While my latest article talks about the possibility of Upper Deck cards being backdoored if the company goes under, I didn’t have a chance to show readers examples of some legendary and very expensive backdoored cards from the final days of Pinnacle Brands.

Unlike Upper Deck, which in my opinion had an average year in 2009, it’s clear that Pinnacle Brands were in their prime when the doors closed and the printers were shut down for good. While these cards may be a little “busy” to some, I can attest that in person they are as breathtaking as Elaine Benes.

You can read more about these cards and see more images HERE.





Is Upper Deck Headed to ‘Wax Heaven’?

19 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

As a collector of trading cards, it’s now almost impossible to not read about the almost guaranteed demise of the Upper Deck Company. Beckett Media and the New York Times are reporting on it, bloggers are having a field day, and even card shop owners can’t avoid the subject.

Alright, before we throw a sympathy party it should be noted that Upper Deck brought this on themselves. From the crazy stories in the book ‘Card Sharks’ to the Konami and MLB lawsuits, the more you play with fire the better your chances are of getting burned and boy are the flames high in Carlsbad, California right now.

While I would hate to see U.D. go, what happens if the company officially closes shop? Could we see a boatload of backdoored cards hit the secondary market much like in the final days of Pinnacle Brands? What if 2010 Goudey cards of Derek Jeter mysteriously hit eBay one day? What kind of demand would that card bring?

If Upper Deck doesn’t survive this storm (and it’s looking bleak), we could realistically see some unlicensed cards hit The Hobby at an alarming rate. Much like Dick McWilliams gave MLB the middle finger when U.D. lost the MLB license, a move to release cards through the backdoor could be Upper Deck’s final “F-U” to Major League Baseball.

Of course, this is just speculation from a Hobby outsider. For all we know, U.D could make amends with Major League Baseball, sit out for a couple of years and make a triumphant return someday but what if …?

How much would YOU pay for a Derek Jeter autograph from 2010 Goudey, assuming one exists? I know if the Goudey Jose Canseco ever hits eBay, it will easily hit $500+ dollars thanks to the insane Canseco collectors out there.





Topps’ Lawsuit Ends Canseco’s Comeback

15 04 2010

Author: Mario Alejandro

Last year after Upper Deck lost their MLB license I remember having a somber conversation with a U.D employee. In a story I wrote, I labeled the new Upper Deck as “underdogs” but was told that now without MLB breathing down their necks they would have more freedom to produce cards collectors really wanted.

I found out just what they meant when I broke the news that Jose Canseco, baseball’s whipping boy for exposing cheaters in the game, would make his official Hobby return in 2010 in Upper Deck’s very popular Goudey line. While Jose has had a card in a Razor and Creative Concepts brand, to a true collector it’s just not the same unless it bears a Topps or U.D. logo.

Well, I just received the sad news that not only is Jose’s return to trading cards cancelled, the popular Goudey line will also not see the light of day. This now means that Upper Deck’s best two retro-themed lines, Masterpieces and Goudey, are now history. While collectors still go gaga over Topps’ Allen & Ginter, it would have been nice to see Upper Deck respond with their own version even in these clearly tough times.

When I left my full-time blogging position at Wax Heaven, Upper Deck had lost baseball and basketball. Since my part-time return, I’ve seen Upper Deck lose football (sorry Gellman) and have heard really scary rumors about the future of the company, including tales of a looming bankruptcy. While I knew this year would be a rough one for the guys in Carlsbad, California, I never imagined it would come to this.

In sports, every once in a while we are treated to shocking victories by the underdog. My all-time favorite is “Buster” Douglas’ knockout win over an undefeated and in his prime Mike Tyson and the spanking the New York Yankees received at the hands of my Florida Marlins in 2003 (can’t buy every championship, guys). Unfortunately, more  often than we’d like to remember, the underdog puts up a good fight but ultimately succumbs to the giant, which in this case is Topps Company.

I’m not saying I’m giving up on Upper Deck just yet but if 2011 rolls around and all I see is Topps MLB trading cards on my Target shelf (what’s a card shop?), it wouldn’t be the biggest shock of my collecting lifetime, which by the way began in 1990 with a Jose Canseco Upper Deck card I still own.