Make Baseball Cards Great Again

It seems just when Panini America starts to do something right in the baseball card market, they decide to go and shoot themselves in the foot with a cannon just to make sure said foot never, ever functions right again. This year alone I’ve been enamored with some of their nostalgia-inducing products, which is not something I am exactly known for. As much as I bash Topps Company, their products most of the time are well-produced and of the highest quality. Okay, maybe not ALWAYS. But never this bad.

Before I begin, I want you to look at the “baseball card” above. Don’t just look at it, take your time to really study it. It comes from a product called ‘National Treasure’ and if anyone in baseball was ever a legit treasure, it most certainly was Mickey Mantle. He was a mythical athlete who smashed over 500 career home runs without the aid of steroids, modern supplements, or workout techniques. He also played through injuries and more than likely a fair share of hangovers and STD outbreaks in his 18 years with the New York Yankees.

The card above is a booklet, meaning it is shaped like a traditional baseball card but then opens up like a book to reveal extra layers of cardboard goodness. In this case, the card comes with two, well-designed outside layers with embedded pieces of supposed game-used bats once belonging to Mantle. If these two particular sections had been separated and released as standalone cards, I would be applauding Panini for producing some of the best-looking, unlicensed Mickey Mantle cards I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately for Panini America and those suckers who overpaid to purchase boxes of National Treasures at around $500+ or even chose to participate in group breaks … Panini thought these cards needed a little more bang so they included an autograph of Mickey Mantle. That probably wasn’t an easy task considering Mantle’s corpse has been rotting away going on 24 years somewhere in Oklahoma as of today. At some point, Mantle’s beautiful autograph began to dry up much like his damaged liver did.

Thankfully for collectors, “The Mick” had financial issues after his baseball career ended which caused him to sign a lot of baseball cards, photographs, and just about anything that was placed in front of him in exchanged for U.S currency. Keep in mind, there are pack-inserted, on-card autographs of Mantle produced by SCORE and UPPER DECK but today most companies have no choice but to find a Mantle autograph for dirt cheap and cut it into pieces to insert into a modern and “new” baseball card.

In my example pictured above, it actually works. I’m not a fan of booklets but the piece I showed off is certainly a special card that any Yankees or Mantle fan would be lucky to own. Again, unfortunately, that’s not the issue. Now, take a look at this card which was pulled from a break recently. Panini embarrassingly used two different Mantle autographs, clipped them, and inserted each onto the card. This instantly ruins the magic and yes even the value of the card.

Second, what steps were taken to authenticate these pieces? Panini isn’t known for their quality control and if such little effort went into producing these cards (THERE ARE 7 OF THEM!), what are the odds that one of more of them are known fakes? Even Mantle’s own family say that most of his autographs were fake. Imagine pulling this once in a lifetime card only to find that the “Mickey” is authentic but the “Mantle” is a forgery and you are now out $500, $2000 (case cost), or more.

One of the biggest tragedies in baseball cards was the day the real Donruss company went under in 1998. Since then, they have had their reputation tarnished by Playoff Corporation and now by Panini America, which continues to produce unlicensed baseball cards under the Donruss name. It’s a real tragedy that baseball card collectors who have spent their entire life in this hobby now have only one choice for licensed cards. You either go with Topps Company or settle for Panini America.

My advice to you, as a collector for 29 years is to stop buying Panini America baseball products. Stop supporting them because it is clear they do not care about you. All you need to do is fire up your Twitter app and see the countless collectors complaining about missing hits, damaged cards, etc. to their customer service department and the silence on the other end. It’s up to you as a collector to take a stand. One day soon, hopefully, Upper Deck will reclaim their license but for now, it’s Topps or nothing for me.

As for Mantle, you can find pack-inserted and certified signed baseball cards in packs of 1994 Upper Deck and way back in 1991 Score. You’re going to want a third-party authentication like PSA or BGS but AVOID high grades which can add thousands to your already expensive purchase. These two cards below and a few others are the only true Mantle autographs on baseball cards you need to ever own. Avoid Frankenstein-like cut cards that Panini, Topps, Leaf, and even Upper Deck have offered.

 

In my opinion, despite the term “Junk Wax” and the negative connotation it brings up, the mid-90s to me was the golden era of collecting. Major League Baseball gave collectors choices from the likes of Topps and Upper Deck to Donruss and Fleer and other lesser-known companies. The supposed complaint to return to a monopoly was to prevent a flood of products. I do not know your personal feelings but I’d rather have 5-7 licensed products from 4 companies than 45 releases per year from one.

Save your money and do yourself a favor and look into baseball cards from yesterday. Back when pack-pulled autographs were rare and all companies put their resources into producing well-designed products that featured the best photography you could find. We didn’t need 7 autographs in a box, pieces of supposed game-used chunks, or a hundred serial-numbered parallel cards to enjoy ourselves. Yes, I sound like a bitter and old “Boomer” but I do miss 1997 and the magic of that year.

I would like end this with a BASE card from 1997 Fleer/Skybox.

Do players ever “fake it”?

Let’s face the truth for a minute. For the most part, famous athletes have a lot better things to do than sign trading cards. While there are a few who embrace the Hobby (Pat Neshek), most just look down on it as “child’s play”. Of course, that won’t stop them from signing every single card placed in front of them if the money is right. Still, you have to wonder how much work they actually put in before one of Roger Clemens’ pool parties comes calling.

Below are two examples from different sports of autographs that make you wonder just who signed these cards. The first is a 2008 Topps Stadium Club Johnny Cueto mock-up created by Topps using Cueto’s signature. To the right is a Cueto autograph from Upper Deck SP Authentic that looks remarkably different than the first. Is this simply a case of Cueto working on his penmanship or something worse?

Check out the second example of football player, Brandon Marshall. These two autographs were sent to my attention by reader R. Groat who noticed that something just didn’t look right. Both these cards are Upper Deck products but the signatures look completely different.

So how often, if ever, do you think players have someone else sign cards for them?