Beckett’s Silence is Deafening

You Either Die A Hero …

Before I begin, let me just state that I am a friend and fan of Ryan Cracknell. His work with Beckett Media and years ago on his own site, Trader Crack’s, has always been top-notch and very entertaining. Furthermore, he turned the tide and made the Beckett Blog AKA news page fun and a must-read for collectors again. With all that said, there is a huge and potentially disastrous storm in the card industry and not only has Beckett Media stayed completely silent on the matter, part of the scandal involves their own employees that are part of Beckett Grading Services.

The F.B.I. are at #TheHobby’s footsteps  just 8 days from its biggest industry event taking place, the National Sports Collectors Convention, held this year in Chicago. None of this information and criminal activity would have been uncovered if not for the hard work and sleuthing of members from Blowout Cards Forum. Over the past few months, members on that forum have singled out wrongdoing by Beckett Grading Services, PSA, PWCC, Leaf Trading Cards, as well as many well-known and formerly reputable dealers in the industry.

Personally, I’ve been collecting for 29 years and never had any interest or need to grade a card but I have looked into it. No, I don’t need someone to judge the condition of any card I’ve ever owned but I liked the idea of an outside company marking a card as “authentic” because baseball cards and scandals go together like Jose Canseco and Steroids. This is nothing new. In 1989, a card company was formed that stamped all their cards with a hologram to prevent counterfeiting. Ironically, that same company has been accused of printing hundreds of thousands of extra cards of one of the most iconic rookies of that era. Not surprising, Major League Baseball revoked their license and made Topps Company the only “official” baseball card manufacturer.

As long as there are collectors spending millions of dollars every year, there will be greedy, unethical company heads and employees looking to get as rich as possible. Perhaps the biggest conflict of interest comes from the same company that publishes prices of cards also getting into the business of grading. That’s like the Department of Motor Vehicles opening up a used car lot. How long before one starts squeezing the other? Much like I haven’t had a need to renew my license or registration in almost a decade thanks to the internet, Beckett Media has struggled to keep their price guides in the physical hands of collectors. Yes, the entire magazine industry has suffered over the past decade but is there anything less relevant than a physical guide with late entries and outdated prices? It is almost universally accepted that in today’s world, it’s eBay Completed Auction figures that matter most. Pull out a Beckett price guide anywhere but an empty and dying card show circuit and prepared to get laughed at. The only place these guides hold value is at the local card show every third Saturday of the year. I’ll give them this, at least Beckett Media outlasted several card companies and the near extinction of brick and mortar card shops.

I hate to constantly do this but in my day, Beckett was the Bible of sports cards. It was a beloved and beautiful sight to behold during my first run of collecting from 1990 to 1999 and again in 2007-2008 before I realized that the collecting world was quickly moving on from a physical price guide. Even checklists were available online for FREE. It’s not until Mr. Cracknell’s joined Beckett that the website once again had a purpose. During better times, I would choose to spend whatever small amount of money I could find to purchase a few packs and the latest issue of Beckett Baseball. It was a $6 dollar sacrifice but it would bring me pleasure long after the few packs I bought were stored away into my collection. It would be nice to go back if I could to relive those days but there is no time machine and really, why would I want to go back to a time when the only information available for our hobby was slow and in monthly increments?

Sports Card News has been shinning the brightest light on this scandal. No other hobby related Twitter accounts with large followings has been as vocal. Perhaps it is because they stand to make a profit (ad revenue) or because of their outspoken and polarizing personalities, but there has been a backlash against SCN’s coverage. My personal opinion is that this news MUST spread to the masses to prevent more collectors from being ripped off. Do I agree with all of SCN’s actions? No. Should they be commended for their work? Absolutely. Love them or hate them, they have been pushing the buttons of SCAMMERS for longer than anyone I know and they deserve some credit for bringing this current scandal to even more collectors outside of Blowout Cards.

I don’t want Beckett Media to go under. I am not even hoping for the demise of card grading. What I want is something we have never had in this industry: TRANSPARENCY. I want the people involved in this scandal to lose their jobs and to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I want collectors who got conned to be reimbursed. I want card companies to publicly state their product’s print runs. I want company Twitter accounts to address more than just what’s new and being released that week. As for Beckett, much like the slugger featured in the issue below, your best days are behind you. This is not an opinion. There is no turning back the clock. You did a great service to collectors by hiring Ryan Cracknell but staying silent and not addressing the criminal elephant in the hobby room is the worst thing you can do. It tarnishes your reputation beyond repair and throws any journalistic integrity you had out the door.

The clock is ticking.

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A Sincere Thank You to Panini

As a young kid with a growing Jose Canseco collection in 1990, you didn’t have many options to choose from. There wasn’t 40 releases by Topps like you have in 2019. In fact, you pretty much had a choice between the flagship and Topps Big, an over sized horizontal style card which didn’t fit comfortably anywhere except in a shoe box. Donruss, Upper Deck, Fleer, Bowman, and Score all had their flagship as well and that was pretty much it. This meant the few cards each player was fortunate enough to have released got to marinate in the minds of collectors, for some, for a very long time. Needless to say, nearly 30 years later some of those cards and its accompanying designs grew to mythical and cult-like statuses with those kids who today are now facing middle age. Some of those cards became iconic, much like the 1989 Donruss MVP Jose Canseco.

This card doesn’t look like much today and younger collectors would probably be turned off by it’s green color and the loud font on the “MVP” text that any smart phone could replicate in 2 seconds but in 1989, this card was it, man. It shows a young and badass, not to mention true MVP on the front, looking hostile and ready to crush a ball 500 feet. Add the jersey colors blending in with the card design and one awesome, very-80s gold necklace with a cross and this card screams “Tony Montana of the 80s world of Major League Baseball”. I can’t describe how special and truly magnificent this junk-wax era Donruss baseball card is but any true Jose Canseco collector around my age (30s) most likely feels the same way I do.

At one point or another, Donruss died a painful death in our hobby. Much later, it was brought back to life by the corporate entity known as Panini America. Unfortunately, thanks to Topps’ monopoly stranglehold on the world of baseball cards, it meant that Panini’s resurrection of a beloved brand would come at the expense of MLB logos. For many, including myself, that was all I needed to hear. I didn’t need or want a bastardized version of my childhood brand featuring awful photos that could be retouched, making them look more like cards you’d pull out of a box of cereal as a kid. Donruss was a classy brand that teamed with Pinnacle in the late 90s to produce the single greatest insert the world has ever seen, 1998 Donruss Crusade.

Panini America is not Donruss.

…and then I saw the card featured below. At first, I was stunned. A remake of 1989 Donruss MVP but updated to include Chrome stock, a Refractor finish, and what appears to be an on-card autograph. Furthermore, for a moment in time I completely forgot that the design didn’t have MLB logos. This baseball card provided a time machine back to 1990 when I was just 10 years of age. Still innocent, still happy with my new-found hobby. Things were so different back then. I’ve come across many Panini cards that I passed on at card shows and many that I’ve bought online only because they were priced at next to nothing but this card right here, this gaudy, unlicensed piece of my youth with a touch of today’s technology is something I will run out to purchase immediately.

To be clear, nothing about this is new. The design comes from 1989, the insert, Donruss Signatures is from 1997. The photo used is from 19891990. Chrome baseball cards and Refractors made their debut in 1993. Pack inserted autographs way back in, you guessed it … 1990. The same year I pulled my ’89 Donruss MVP. Technically, Panini is not reinventing the wheel, just greasing the wheels of old men like myself that have one foot out of the door of the baseball card industry. We are now reevaluation our spending habits, our collections are gathering dust as we slowly prepare to say goodbye to a hobby we outgrew, or maybe it moved on without us. Everyone has a different story.

But for this particular card, Panini, you finally did right by the Donruss name.

Thank you.

Baseball Cards and an Aging Slugger

It’s a pretty well known fact that when Upper Deck entered the baseball card market in 1989, all other manufacturers had been asleep at the wheel for quite some time. Upper Deck came out swinging and took charge of the card industry thanks to bright, crisp photography and a classy design. It took Topps several years to respond but the wait was definitely worth it when collectors got their first look at 1991 Stadium Club. Unfortunately, Stadium Club never really lived up to the hype of its unbelievable debut and it is clear that when Topps introduced Chrome and Refractors in 1993, Stadium Club took a back seat. Things got even worse in 1997 with the debut of Bowman Chrome and prospect autographs (in the Bowman flagship and Best line).

While Stadium Club found success often with great-looking inserts, the Hobby train had left the station by the late-90s as collectors began to focus their attention to pack-inserted autographs and game-used relics, AGAIN, two innovations introduced by Upper Deck in the baseball card market. Eventually, Stadium Club fell so out of favor that it was retired by Topps in the early 2000s. Below are some examples of base cards from Stadium Club during what I consider to be the peak years of baseball cards (’96-’99). This is what Stadium Club was letting out during the years Pinnacle Brands and Fleer / Skybox were producing nothing short of baseball card magic year after year. It’s no wonder collectors stopped caring about Stadium Club.

1996 – lazy design, terrible photograph
1997 – Forgettable photograph
1998 – Another forgettable photo
1999 – Just another random photograph

After a long retirement, Stadium Club made a grand return in 2014. Unlike the hobby landscape of the past, there is now only one company that can produce licensed baseball cards and instead of 10-12 products a year from Topps, collectors are now flooded with close to 40 different releases per year. It’s easy to get lost in the pack these days but for some reason, Topps has actually given collectors something unique. Stadium Club is once again beloved for its photography. Yes, each set has Chrome, Superfractors, and certified autographs but many times it’s the amazing photography that is all that anyone is talking about in card forums and on Twitter.

I already wrote how 2018’s Stadium Club Jose Canseco card instantly became one of my favorite cards of all-time but what Topps did with his 2019 base card is simply on another level of greatness. Jose is still a mysterious figure these days. Part buffoon on social media and tragic figure everywhere else. Anyone who personally witnessed Jose’s rise to fame in 1988, the year he won the MVP and became baseball’s first “40-40 Man”, could never have predicted a fall this steep. From being banished from baseball a season away from 500 home runs, to multiple arrests, jail time, bankruptcy, multiple foreclosures, and even a strained relationship with his only child. There are days when I feel Jose’s pain will only come to an end when his own life does.

Which of course brings me to this card, featuring what appears to be a morose Jose Canseco walking into the dugout. What I see is Jose walking away from his fans who still love him and going into “the light”. Incidentally, Jose turned 55 years old yesterday. For a man who has abused steroids for over 20 years, realistically, Jose is living on borrowed time. Two guys who come to mind that probably abused steroids more than Jose are Randy Poffo AKA “The Macho Man” and James Hellwig AKA “The Ultimate Warrior”. Those two died of heart attacks at ages 58 and 54, respectively. Eleven years ago, A & E released a documentary on Jose titled ‘Last Shot’ in which it was revealed that Jose was already suffering from serious health side affects due to prolonged steroid use. I can’t imagine his health has improved much in over a decade but what I see besides sudden hair loss is Jose continuing to shrink in size and also looking red in the face at many public appearances.

Jose made a promise to his dying mother that he would do whatever it takes to make her proud and reach the Majors. He gambled his life away on Steroids and when that day does come that we see Jose’s picture on TMZ and all over social media, THIS is the card I will look at and cherish for the rest of my own days. Somehow, Topps Company has produced one of the best and most memorable Jose Canseco cards ever and would you look at that? No autograph or piece of game-used memorabilia was even needed.

Who’d a thunk it? #ThanksTopps