Why the Best Year in Baseball Cards Couldn’t Save This Collector

As a baseball card collector, I was what you’d call a die-hard from 1990 up until early 1998 and again from 2007 for about three years. That’s only about 13 years total yet I have collected Jose Canseco religiously from 1990 up until about 2015. That means for most of those years, I only collected Jose and stayed away from everything else. However, I will never forget the year 1997. In the 3,000+ Wax Heaven posts I’ve written, I would not be surprised if a third of the posts were related to 1997 releases. It was the single greatest card schedule of my life and in my not so humble opinion, the best year to be a collector, ever.

Ironically, despite one perfect release after another … the end of the 1997 calendar year wound up being the very last for me as a collector for an entire decade. In fact, if it weren’t for me discovering Ben Henry’s Baseball Card Blog in 2006, I may have never again collected non-Canseco cards. This has nothing to do with the card industry in any way as it was simply due to the fact that I began collecting as a 10 year-old kid and by 1998, I was officially a “man” and outgrew baseball cards. In its place, work, girlfriends, and a social life. Besides, as an 18 year-old … money was just too tight to spend on trading cards when I had to pay for gas, dates, and clothes all on my own.

If there was one negative thing about collecting in 1997 and into ’98 was the growing list of parallels being introduced by companies. Even as late as 1994, it was still a realistic goal to pick up every single card of Jose Canseco put out by each card company. This was years before the invention of game-used relics and at a time when pack-inserted autographs were insanely rare and Jose had yet to be included in any checklist. By 1998, however, companies like Donruss, now owned by Pinnacle Brands, made it impossible to cross off your collecting checklists. Keep in mind, this was before the days of eBay and online trading. You had to literally buy your cards at a hobby shop, retailer, or a monthly card show.

The cards below belong to the current Canseco King, Tanman. It is a sample of parallels put out in one release by Leaf. I am still missing several of these cards even 20 years since their release. Not only are they costly cards to come by but because they are so old, many collectors consider these sets obsolete and therefor are almost universally forgotten. There’s currently only two on eBay at the moment and both are the base version. That means the odds of finding the much more rare parallels in person at a show or card shop is nearly impossible. Even with all the information on the Internet, there is still no real information on the stated odds of even pulling most of these cards.

As a collector in 2018 who is stuck in the middle of a Topps monopoly and is on the fence about Leaf Trading Cards and Panini America, I am unsure about my own future in this hobby. On one hand, I absolutely love many of Topps’ products like Bowman Chrome and Finest but on the other hand I have been bored to a decomposing death by their lazy design and horrible photography selection. And just when I am ready to jump on the Panini America train, a train that carries the legendary Pinnacle Brands license with it, I find things like this that make me question everything about this industry.

All I want is competition among the card companies, including MLB licenses for Panini America, Leaf Trading Cards, and even Upper Deck but with a real commitment on better customer service, stricter quality control, and overall less products per calendar year to keep the market from being flooded. Besides, it’s 2018 … do we really need 15-20 products by each company like we saw in the late-90s? As much as I love baseball cards, the slogan by the industry now should be “LESS IS MORE“. Just look at the change in the magazine industry. You either adapt and overcome, or die a very public death.

Imagine 3 licensed card companies with 5 releases per year. A set-up like that would leave collectors with several options by different companies with different financial entry points at each turn. It would also retire brands that have grown stale and would make every release on the calendar a huge deal. Of course, that’s not how businesses run and Topps not only has to make money to pay their employees but they also need to work off the MLB licensing fee which likely keeps them in a hole year in and out and their printers from ever going into sleep mode.

Finally, with Panini America not only having the rights to both the Donruss and Pinnacle Brands license, I am ready to throw my hard-earned money into their products if the day ever came that Topps’ awful MLB monopoly came to an end. That’s not to say I wouldn’t support Leaf, as they are making absolutely insane trading cards right now. I guess in 2018, my vote for a true Topps competitor is leaning towards Panini America and not Upper Deck simply because my dream of a true, MLB-licensed Pinnacle Brands baseball return seems realistic.

Hey, a man can dream …