Analyzing A Killer Autograph

Let me start off by saying that I am not a fan of Chris Benoit. Obviously, I don’t condone or make excuses for what he did ten years ago. I was shocked but during that era it seemed like a notable wrestling death came monthly and wasn’t surprised to see Benoit join that group of wrestlers dying young. I remember attending a WWE PPV and sitting front row in 2002 while Benoit walked just feet from me and my sister. He was short but had the most impressive physique of anyone on that show. That includes young (at the time) wrestlers like Batista and Brock Lesnar. Simply put, it seemed impossible that his body was created naturally and as it turns out, it wasn’t.

I’m not here to talk about Chris Benoit, however. I simply want to analyze what is most likely his two best autograph releases. Unlike stars from the 80s who stuck around, Benoit died before The Hobby had a chance to absolutely destroy the value of his autograph. He may have 1 or 2 more certified autos on cardboard but essentially these are his two, main releases and believe it or not, they are still selling for respectable prices these days despite the horrific actions taken by Benoit in 2007.

First up we have this Heritage Chrome produced by Topps just a year before Benoit’s death and you talk about aging badly? Those loud, holographic sticker autographs that were all the rage by Topps during those years look absolutely awful today. For one, unless you have a bright, futuristic-style design … the holograms stick out like a sore thumb. Second, unless you have the most steady hands on the planet, the sticker won’t be centered/straight and it will be extremely noticeabled and distracting to many collectors.

While there’s no visible print run on these cards, odds are there can’t be TOO many considering that these sell for well over $100 on eBay. While, I have no idea exactly what Topps’ company is like, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find out that there are still sheets of Benoit’s signature in a vault somewhere. I mean, I bought a box of band-aids 6 years ago and I still have half a box left in my medicine cabinet. There’s no way Topps used up every last one of these. Just don’t expect to see them appear on new cards anytime soon.

On a side note, this set also features a now very-hot autograph from Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who succumbed to Cancer last month.

Now, when it comes to legendary sets in wrestling NONE comes close to the amazing. WCW/NWO release from 1998. With hands down the single greatest autograph checklist in wrestling trading card history, it’s no surprise that this set is still going strong on eBay nearly 20 years after its release. Featuring autographs from legends such as Sting, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho and Bret “The Hitman” Hart doesn’t hurt, either. However, it’s the deceased checklist that really hits home including autos of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Eddie Guererro.

What really sets these cards apart is the ON-CARD autographs which means at one point or another, these wrestling heroes (not counting Benoit) actually handled these cards. As you can see from the sample below, these cards look 100 times classier than the 2006 Chrome versions. Turns out all you really need for a memorable set is a great checklist and “less is more” design. You don’t believe me? Check out this Bill Goldberg from the very same set which recently sold for $1,000 dollars. That’s a grand for a card with no serial numbers, no parallels, and no memorabilia shoved into it.

As for the Benoit in this set, one recently sold for $350 which goes to show just why this set is still King of all wrestling sets and don’t be surprised to see it in the news again when other notable wrestlers pass on. Yes, I’m looking at you, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner. I’m not wishing ill on these three but if you’ve seen any of them lately they all look incredible frail and broken down.

So there you have it. Two of the most notorious trading cards in our hobby. It’s not often you will find cards signed by killers. Drug addicts, cheaters, liars, and men who batter women are fairly common but these two cards take the cake. I’ve long suffered the stigma of collecting a player who was hated by many. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been mocked at card shows and shops for even asking if they have Jose Canseco cards. I can’t even begin to imagine going to a card show looking for a Chris Benoit card.

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The Age-Old License vs. Unlicensed

During Wax Heaven’s heyday an entire decade ago (yes, it’s been a long time) one of the biggest issues I had with trading cards was unlicensed releases. To me, everything had to be Upper Deck or Topps and 99% of unlicensed cards at best looked cheap and at worst were laughably bad. Well, ten years is a LONG time and while I have admitted to missing a LOT of time … it appears not much has changed in this hobby. There are tons of cards being produced with even more parallels. Bats, gloves, and other items are still being destroyed and inserted into cards and there is now an insane amount of autographs (on-card and sticker) that you’d think would have killed the hobby. To me, in 2007 a Jose Canseco on-card autograph was something rare and truly worth chasing. There have been so many autographs released since then that I’d be more interested in a nicely-designed card or a retro-style re-release of one of his old cards. I just have no interest in a signed Jose Canseco card when there appear to be literally a million out there.

As always, to me card design is still the #1 reason for me to shell out my hard-earned money for a baseball card. For the record, it’s been almost three years since I’ve made a purchase but I’ve been lurking eBay now for three weeks doing my usual searches so I know sooner or later I’ll pull that trigger and then before I know it I’ll be knee-deep in baseball cards again. It’s an obsession that has never truly died. I’ve been a card collector most of my life and nothing has permanently stopped that. Not kids, relationships, fast cars, women, nothing. When the smoke settles, I will always run back to my 1,000+ collection of that washed-up, crazy old man who I fell in love with, figuratively, so many years ago before video games were as advanced, before the internet, tablets, smart phones, and Donald Trump as the President.

Below are two examples of high-end Jose Canseco cards. One is licensed, one is not. Both have those high-end gimmicks that collectors love and love to hate. However, one thing for sure is certain … they were a lot more pricey ten years ago than they are now. Don’t know if that’s all across the board or just for Jose Canseco in general but it’s interesting how inexpensive the best baseball cards the Hobby has to offer (as far as flash) have come down. I should probably celebrate because I can now afford all those insane cards I was never able to a decade ago but to be honest as nice as they look, they pale in comparison to a late-90s, extremely rare insert.

So let the competition begin!

2017 Topps Triple Threads

This card has it all. It features Jose in his prime years with the Oakland A’s. The particular photo used is probably from 1990 or ’91. It has a piece of a supposed, game-used bat and a well-designed spot for a sticker autograph. At least, it looks like a sticker to me. I’ve never seen these cards in person. Oh, and let’s not forget the pretty low serial number (47/50) and of course the ability to use MLB logos. Surprisingly, this card has a Buy It Now price of $39.99 or Best Offer.

Personally, I love the entire look of this card. Everything about it is in perfect place and the photo itself is awesome. I’d love to see a more weathered bat piece and not something Jose probably used to swat away paparazzi with but beggars can’t be choosers. Not that I consider myself a lowballer but I wouldn’t offer more than $25 for this card. You see, Jose’s autograph is just not very rare and that bat piece does nothing for me. To be completely honest, it’s not even worth a $20 but just to TRY to stay on the seller’s good side I would bid a little higher.

***EDIT***

Holy cow, I still got it. I see a completed listing for this same card sold for $20.75. Also, the ones #’d to just 99 sell for LESS than $10.00. Wow, that’s pretty shocking. Guess I was right about Topps’ flooding of the autograph market. Personally, I’d love to have this card for under $10 any day of the week even if it means it being numbered to 99 instead of 50.

– – – 

2016 Diamond Kings

Here we have Diamond Kings from what I’m guessing is Panini/Donruss. This card features two, small bat chips which I’m sure are certified as being game-used or Jose-touched or whatever. It also features what I’m positive is a clear autograph sticker and not as nice as Topps’ placement. But what this card lacks in that part of the aesthetic I believe it makes up in the art-style photograph it used on the card. It reminds me of a 1996 or 1997 Leaf product that I can’t quite recall minus all the gimmicks, of course.

This card is serial numbered to 99 and is on eBay for $24.99 with no Best Offer option. Compared to the Triple Threads, this one is polluting eBay on a much smaller scale. There are currently only two available with the other being more reasonably priced at $20.25. It’s at best, another $10 card.

***EDIT***

Once again, I hit the nail on the head. One identical copy sold for $9.49. To be fair, one did sell for $15 a few days prior. The thing is, that Triple Threads is a new Corvette and this Diamond Kings is a new Camaro. No way the Camaro sells for more, not even the Z28. For the record, I drive a Camaro.

So there you have it. Two recent, high-end, gimmicked to the stars, Jose Canseco cards. If I had to choose, I would easily grab the Diamond Kings for its retro style, memorabilia and sticker and all for under $10. It wouldn’t be a memorable purchase by any stretch but it is a nice addition to any collection for that price. The Topps card is just too expensive and to be quite honest, all those high-end brands have the same look and feel (from what I’ve seen). I don’t know how to describe it so I’ll just say they look like futuristic, Marvel X-Men cards. I’d even be hesitant to pay more than $15 for the one #’d to 50. However, if I could grab both for under $20 I’d be the happiest collector of all time!

…and so it begins (again)

It’s been 6 long years since I wrote a blog on the original Wax Heaven. A lot has happened since then. I am not here to bore you with the rise and fall, that’s for another day. Instead, I am writing the first post to say that, I really don’t care about baseball cards anymore. I barely even care about Jose Canseco. Yeah, I still have my thousands of cards but I have finally moved on. Well, I guess not really because here I am at Midnight writing a post about, you guessed it, Jose Canseco and a baseball card.

Just when I thought I was out …

Below is a card of Jose Canseco that belongs in my collection. No, not the insanely awesome Buyback Autograph but the orginal worthless Topps Ames card produced in 1989. Does anyone reading this even remember Ames? I do. I purchased my first Jose Canseco from one of their stores in South Florida in 1990. I thought I was buying a pack of playing cards but instead found a pack of Ames All-Stars and one card in particular stuck out to a 10-year old kid who never watched a game of baseball or knew who Jose Canseco was. I was more into wrestling but Jose’s bulging muscles looked better suited in the WWF (now, WWE) than in MLB, anyway.

The card below was released a year before my baseball card (and Jose) obsession began. It was worthless. This was the type of card you’d get in a trade or something you’d buy if you couldn’t afford a product like Upper Deck. The glossy finish was nice, if I remember correctly and the design is actually kinda neat 17 years later. Keep in mind I haven’t seen a baseball card design in about 2 years. Sometimes less is more. In this case, this card actually looks awesome despite the lazy photograph.

As for the 2016 version with Jose’s worthless signature. I mean, c’mon, he signs all the time …. I really don’t want or need it. I’m happy with my 1989 version for now. I used to be a “completist” but with the amazing custom cards being produced by Tan Man and the insane amount of parallels and rare cards released in the past 5 years, that mission is 100% impossible.

For now, I am back. I wrote 145 posts in October of 2008. That’s an insane amount of time to devote to baseball cards, which is why my ex left me. I now have a very good life and a beautiful daughter so don’t expect numbers like that ever again. I may post once a month, maybe more but for now, Wax Heaven is back yet again.

-Mario A.

2016

How To Put More Offenx into Topps Attax

Author: Todd Uncommon

It does seem like there is life in the hobby for those under 15, and some gravity has accumulated around Topps Attax.  On June 26th, national championships were held for Topps Attax baseball at Citi Field.  Ike Davis was on site, as promised, but how cool was it to have Keith Hernandez be the emcee?  I wonder if that was a surprise for the contestants.  And their moms.

These championships are a good idea, and should be kept up, and expanded, as long as Topps Attax continues to live on.  Since the brand started last year with baseball, Attax has expanded to include Pucks, Slams, Matches, and well, NFL Football most recently.  Topps appears to be committed to promoting and expanding the sports card gaming brand for the foreseeable future.

There may be potential for Attax to be the sports-based gaming card that can add new life to sports card collecting in general, especially with the younger generation.  Even with console games, television, schoolwork (really?), and every other activity kids have available to them today, many still choose to collect and play Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bakugan, and every other anime card game out there (Zatchbell, Pokemon, Digimon, Dragonball, and on and on…).  However, I think there are a few things holding Attax back from really competing on the same footing.

  • Round the corners, please.  The cards are a little schizophrenic; they’re not quite full baseball cards (no stats, numbering, etc.), but are expected to be used as game cards. Used as game cards = going to receive “wear”.  Sharp corners undermine its playability somewhat, like the card should be in a sleeve, case, or page only, and not play ready without wrecking its sports card “value potential”;
  • Durability! Every Magic or anime game card out there is more shaped like (rounded corners), and feels like (coated), a playing card than a traditional sports card.  They seem more durable and ready to play, rather than “will I ruin my card if I play with it?”  The Puck Attax game cards were made circular to avoid violation of the exclusive NHL license to Upper Deck.  If Topps didn’t make a [square sports card], but made a (round game piece) then they were in the clear.  Genius, really.  The got to make a card-like product with the NHL’s blessing, and also come up with a design that is, lo and behold, more durable to play with;
  • Add a greater element of the chase.  Every collectible card game (CCG) out there has a standard common, uncommon, rare, and super rare seeding process in every booster pack.  Make cards along that tier, and desirability goes up.  I’ve seen kids barter for rare anime cards (like I used to with baseball cards) with tactics that would make an Antwerp jeweler blush;
  • Make an easy checklist and number the cards, even on the front in mouse type, if that’s what it takes.  Attax’s ready-to-game status is hindered by the shape, but conversely, its status as a collectible also is hindered because you just don’t know what’s good to get, exactly, especially when a kid (and parent) is at Target, deciding whether to buy it or not, given neighboring alternatives. Yes, even those Bella Sara cards;
  • It’s the Attax UNIVERSE!  Now that there’s five different versions of Attax, it would be sweet to come up with rules to have a meta-game with their values.  Payton Manning vs. John Cena!  Vladimir Guerrero vs. Cristiano Ronaldo!  Given that the current releases have different backs (and shapes with Puck), that may be difficult.  However, that idea may open the door to plan ahead for cross-sport potential in future designs;
  • Use the sports property effectively!  Past editions of Attax with foil versions just aren’t going to cut it.  Let Panini do the foil thing; if they could coat LeBron James in foil and sell off slivers of him as relics, I think they might give that a try.  What about autos?  As far as I know, there’s no such thing as autographed anime cards.  Even artist-signed Magic cards are a yawner idea.  I was just thinking the other day, “If Topps has this fierce backlog of sticker autos they need to use, why not put them on a more budget “game” card like Attax, and add value and a chase factor to the product?  How much cooler would it be, as a kid, if you could slap down a Ryan Howard auto FTW?”

Topps Attax with autos! (But does it have a card number?) - image courtesy of dacardworld.com

It’s nice to see that there are some attractive autos in with the Attax NFL Football cards.  If we’re looking for innovation in the sports card business, some of it may be with Topps Attax.

So where’s the Keith Hernandez Topps Attax card with a Moustache hair relic?  I’m sure Keith’s ‘specialty’ value would be, like, 306.

“Say ‘hi’ to your mom…”

Chase the Base?

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.

Here We Go Again

Author: Todd Uncommon

Yeah, I know.  It’s been since the end of April, whether it’s Mario, Matt, or me posting on Wax Heaven.  What can we say?  At least we’re still here.

Although my team’s not doing very well at it this year, I still am enjoying being part of A Cardboard Problem‘s hobby blogger fantasy baseball league on Yahoo.  I just so happen to have Steepin Strapsborg on my roster.  Like a dork, I drafted the guy at the beginning of the season, and held him on my bench until the beginning of June.  At least I remembered to start him when the time came.

As it happens, I was making an early morning (Pacific Time) visit to my team page (Victorious Secret) today. Beside each player’s name is a folder icon, which sometimes has that little new-folder-bling version, meaning there’s recent news from the fantasy rumor aggregation mill.  Today, the updated news item about Strasburg included a tidbit about the Bowman Red Auto 1/1.  It looked a little something like this:

Sooprise, sooprise, sooprise.  Hot on the heels of an announcement that the 2010 edition of Strapsborg-a-thon might stop before the end of the season, now seems to be the time to sell one of the new important cards of the hobby. It’s hard for me not to smirk and be cynical about the auction, but at least you get the biggest images yet of the (curved) grading (just like middle school geometry, but with more money involved) that this specimen received from Beckett.  Its important-ness must have counted for 1.5 points of the total grade, at least.

Is this a sign of Strapsborgianism cooling off?  Is now the time to get in, or to get out?

Bummer, Topps …

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.