Flashback: The Hobby Death of Stan Musial (and Leaf’s Response)

Originally published April 13th, 2015 at Wax Heaven 2.0

Not long ago, I wrote about Stan “The Man” Musial signing cards way too late into his life and tarnishing his hobby legacy, not to mention the value of his autograph. You can imagine my shock when I discovered 2015 Heroes of Baseball, featuring a Stan Musial sticker autograph per box for around $30-$40. The problem is that if you think you’ve seen some lousy Musial autographs before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Do a quick search on eBay and see for yourself. These Leaf cards look like Topps rejects that Musial’s estate likely sold off to the highest bidder. Much like the awful sketch cards Leaf has produced in the past, Brian Grey should be ashamed to put Leaf Trading Cards’ historic name on these monstrosities. What’s sad is that the base cards in the set look great, featuring great photographs and a clean design. Unfortunately, in today’s market not a single box would sell without the guaranteed autograph of a beloved Hall of Fame legend like Musial.

When I returned to collecting early this year, I was ecstatic about Leaf after purchasing my amazing ‘Q’ Jose Canseco card. I was surprised when I started seeing nothing but negative comments towards the company’s other products. My opinion was saved by Gregg Kohn of Leaf after he divulged that his company had some huge plans for the next two years. We already know they made a deal with the Babe Ruth estate, could a similar Ruth set be in the works? Probably.

The problem is that much like Jose Canseco and Pete Rose autographs, prices are hitting all-time lows due to mass production from companies like Leaf and Panini America. There are already WAY too many Musial autographs and these less than stellar stickers Leaf is releasing have pretty much put the nail in the coffin. Was it worth it? I don’t think so but I’m also not an expert on how business works in the trading card world. I am sure at the end of the day, a profit will be earned and that’s all that really matters to executives.

Much like Panini America has finally hit their stride with the resurrection of Donruss Baseball and what’s likely going to be a huge hit with 2015 Prizm, I expected the same from Leaf Trading Cards. I’ve already given up on Upper Deck re-entering the baseball card market and was looking for a challenger to Topps’ throne but it appears that I was wrong by expecting Leaf to be “the one”.

Obviously, I trust Gregg’s word and what he says but someone should have stopped this disaster of a product from happening. Don’t get me wrong, I love these kind of sets and still have ‘The Jose Canseco Story’ line from the late 80s which came with a mini Canseco binder, 20 unofficial but licensed cards, plus a mini vinyl record to play on your home stereo featuring an interview with the still green Canseco ripping up the English language. This, however, is much different.

Surely, someone at Leaf would have known that these autographs were in no shape to be used for any product. Someone, maybe even Gregg must have gone to Brian Grey and pleaded with him not to release such a shoddy autograph sticker set with their name plastered on each card? Someone must have known these horrendous autographs would bring down the value of all Musial autos, right?



Yesterday, I wrote a piece on Leaf’s Heroes of Baseball product which features questionable Stan Musial sticker autographs. Unexpectedly, it caught fire on Twitter which caught the attention of Leaf Trading Card’s CEO, Brian Gray. Below is his response, 100% word for word and unedited.

— — —

The Rebirth of Stan Musial (and why it is GOOD for the Hobby)

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Mario’s column. It is refreshing to see someone passionate about the hobby. This can sometimes lead to forgetting the business side of the equation, but even then I see Mario making major strides to adapt to the realities of the hobby.

Today, I read a column by Mario and frankly I felt very strongly that it was a one-sided view of a release that unarguably presents a more than one-sided reality.
Leaf released exclusively through Target, 2015 Leaf Heroes of Sport Boxes. This release was designed to do two things: (1) provide the market its most inexpensive way ever to collect the autograph of the man that was the last of the golden era and (2) to supply an opportunity for collectors to collect legends products inexpensively in blaster form.

Why does the hobby need inexpensive Musial autographs? After all, the man signed for the hobby for nearly 20 years. The fact is that the only collectors who realistically had a chance of ever obtaining a Musial autograph from a pack are those collectors in the hobby who buy $60-500 “HOBBY” products. We sometimes forget that the “HOBBY” consists of far more people than those collectors purchasing non-retail products. In fact, I would argue that the growth of our industry will be directly driven by the collectors who transition from “RETAIL BUYERS” to “HOBBY BUYERS”. Like our Rose release before this, this set is a HUGELY positive thing for those “RETAIL” buyers who will never get value like this from a retail product.

I think it’s about time , as an industry, we accept the fact that we will not be fans of everything released. That is why we get to vote with our wallets. However, for many less advanced collectors, this is the PERFECT chance to enjoy a GUARANTEED opportunity to acquire the autograph of a true legend at the best price ever available to these customers.

With all this being said, I additionally disagree about the implication that these were reject signatures. Stan was a very sick man the last several years of his life. FOR COLLECTORS, he continued to sign despite the great difficulty he had. What the original post fails to recognize is that this is the same Musial autograph you would have pulled out of a $100-400 box of cards during his last few years as well! The attached images show exactly why these signatures are typical (not atypical as the implication was made). Moreover, we made the decision not to use over 1000 signatures that we found unacceptable.

My personal opinion would be to recognize the good heart of the man willing to sign despite his illness, rather than essentially criticize, berate and insult him for not being able to sign any better due to illness.

If Leaf had not acquired and utilized these as it did, they very well may have been acquired elsewhere and ended up in your favorite $60-500 hobby box instead. Maybe Leaf did the hobby a second service (in addition to value at Retail)?

In summary, I appreciate those who support our brand. In making an item like this, we do carefully consider the result of our efforts. The item has been VERY successful at retail and I have every confidence it will achieve its end game of bringing more people to buy “HOBBY” products in hope of finding desirable autograph cards.

For these reasons, I believe Leaf has done the hobby a service that deserves applause for its good for the “Hobby” rather than unfair criticism based on a far too narrow perspective of the product and its reason for existing.

Brian Gray,
CEO, Leaf Trading cards

Leaf’s Stunning Coup

I’m never going to fully jump on the Leaf bandwagon. To me, the original Leaf that died in the late-90s, along with its parent company, Pinnacle Brands, is long gone. Most, if not all of Brian Grey’s version of Leaf, has been lackluster at best. They are already in the hole due to not being able to use team names or logos but when you suffer from very amateurish graphic design work and cards with photos of jerseys instead of actual players, well, that puts the proverbial nail in the coffin as far as my interest in their products is concerned. Leaf performs wonders with their celebrity autographs but as far as baseball, it’s a no-go for me.

My dislike of Leaf products doesn’t change the fact that the card above is an absolute monster for the 2021 release calendar. If you are a fan of either disgraced slugger, a collector of Oakland A’s, or even just a fan of the 80s, this card is a must-have. The tales of McGwire refusing to sign anything with Canseco on it goes back more than a decade. Big Mac hates Jose so the fact that this card even exists is thanks to Brian’s ingenuity and the magic of sticker autographs. I am certain Mark had no idea (or even cared) where the stickers were going to once the Leaf check cleared the bank.

What’s funny about this card … and so on par for 2021 and modern collecting, is that despite the dual being clearly a “one of one”, there appears to be multiple “one of one” versions released from this product. That is hilarious because in essence, even a one of one is no longer a one of one. Check out this Red version of the card you see above. Kind of makes me wonder how many colors of the rainbow Leaf decided to bust out for this somewhat-rare card. You can add that to the list of things that just don’t make sense in collecting modern trading cards. Your “one of one” is really a one of 4-7.