Taking Issue With Beckett Media

Author: Mario Alejandro

No, it’s not what you think. I am not back to blogging full-time, nor is this another jab at Beckett Baseball’s editor, Chris Olds. Actually, since my departure from the blogosphere, Beckett’s blog has become a daily visit for me, believe it or not. While my days of collecting are behind me, I still have an interest in The Hobby, which is why I have become an avid reader of that site.

I no longer have time to keep up with the “inside” info great forums like Freedom Card Board provide, or from reading the hundreds of collector blogs so Beckett provides just the right amount of information for someone like me who wants just the facts sprinkled with the images and details. That way I can kinda sorta pretend like I know what I’m talking about on the rare occasion I log into my Wax Heaven Twitter account.

That being said, something Chris Olds said in a recent blog really irked me. Forget about the fact that I wrote about a very similar story well over a year ago. What really gets me is his assumption that many collectors “cringe” when reminded of Fleer’s Metal Universe line from the late-90’s. Yes, the cards were not as valuable as other releases from that year but are they any worse than today’s sets because it lacked relics and autographs and were a little, well, over the top? Absolutely not.

I challenge any collector to purchase a box of Metal Universe from the few years it was in production (I believe ’96-’98) and tell me what they think. First off, notice how much more enjoyable (and valuable) parallels are when they are actual tough pulls and not 10-12 per box. Second, look at the base cards and tell me when was the last time a card company put that much time and effort into their cards.

Just go out and bust a box of the uberhot 2010 Bowman and tell me how much fun you have if you don’t pull a Stephen Strasburg base or parallel. Yes, the cards are well produced, feature above average photography (most of the time) and the Refractor parallels are beautiful but how much time did you spend looking through your duds AKA commons?

With every card in Metal Universe, you had something great to look at and it didn’t matter if you just pulled a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Billy Ripken. In a day and age in collecting when parallels consist of an extra border or reflective film on a card, Metal Universe was a step in the right direction by a company that was clearly on its last legs.

No, I’m not calling for The Hobby to go back to the “good ole days” when base was everything, relics didn’t exist and autographs in packs were only done by Upper Deck; I’m just saying that a forgotten brand like Metal Universe deserves a little respect by Beckett Media since it is clear that collectors on eBay, browsing forums, and writing blogs already have plenty of respect for this unique brand from yesteryear.

For more coverage on Metal Universe, click HERE.

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.

The Wax Heaven Official Brand

While I’m not exactly thrilled to be walking away from Wax Heaven, I have to say I am somewhat relieved that I won’t be able to do my End of the Year special, titled ‘The Waxxies’. It’s just a lot of work.

Rather than focus on the best of 2009 I figured it would be good to write about the best product of all-time, in my humble opinion. While it would be hard not to give the award to Pinnacle Brands for their many great releases, I’ve decided to think outside the (wax) box.

I believe the best brand ever to be released came from Fleer / Skybox. The first release came in 1995 and was simply titled ‘Emotion’. The following year it was ‘Emotion-XL’ but it was in 1997 that they really came into their own as E-X 2000.

To this day, I have never seen a trading card quite like it. It truly is one of the greatest, most artistic releases to come out of The Hobby and although Upper Deck now owns the name, I don’t think they will ever be done “right” again.

You can check out a box break of 1997 E-X 2000 HERE. You can also more coverage here. E-X returned in 1998 with a design that was way over the top and not quite as great as the years before. Although the magic was clearly gone, parallels from the 1998 release make a killing on eBay.

Below is a sample gallery featuring the ‘Emotion’ brand. Each year is represented and today you can find unopened boxes hovering for around $40 dollars on eBay and sometimes even less at card shows. If you love great photography and truly unique card designs, any of these four issues are sure to please.

Old School Until the End

If there’s been one constant theme during the 2+ years of Wax Heaven, it has to be the love and appreciation for old school 90s wax. Sure, odds are you won’t find a certified autograph or game-used relic card but there is still a lot of treasure to be found in forgotten wax.

Circa Thunder wasn’t that special, even back in 1998. The cards were flimsy, the design was gaudy, and the card backs, which featured Hip-Hop slang, were embarrassing. Still, it hasn’t stopped player collectors from spending a fortune on the Super Rave parallels #’d to 25 copies.

Recently, a member of Freedom Card Board named ‘Boomo’ purchased a box of ’98 Circa Thunder for a measly $35 dollars. You can imagine his surprise when he found a Super Rave, an extremely tough pull back then. The problem? It was of one-hit wonder, Dave Nilsson.

Alright, Nilsson, born in Australia, wasn’t exactly a one-hit wonder. He was actually a reliable, power-hitting All-Star during his 8 years in the Majors but ultimately chose to leave America to play international ball. By the time he tried to return in 2003, he lost his love for the game and retired.

You would think that a guy with 105 career home runs wouldn’t be much of a hot seller, right? Well, not according to the final selling price on that Super Rave “Boomo” pulled and wasn’t too pleased with. Who could blame him, right? Just another reason to never doubt the madness of player collectors.

Below is a small gallery from 1998 Circa Thunder to give you an example of what one might pull if they were to purchase a box. For those brave souls looking to gamble for a chance to pull a Super Rave parallel, there are currently two unopened boxes on eBay for under $40 dollars.

All I can say is good luck, you’re going to need it!

Forgotten Wax – 1996 Fleer Ultra

Thanks to the price of the average Hobby box going through the roof and a long-slumping economy, collectors have suddenly found new interest in those forgotten wax boxes from the mid-90’s, in hopes of pulling rare inserts.

By 1996’s standards, Fleer Ultra was nothing special. Even back then, brands like Topps Finest, Select Certified, and SPx had all the collectors buzzing thanks to true “high-end” technology.

It’s only now, thirteen years after its release, that one can truly appreciate the greatness of 1996 Fleer Ultra. For starters, the checklist is 600-cards deep and features pretty much everyone who suited up for a game in 1996.

The parallel is flashy and a bit over the top but you won’t need to track down fifteen different versions. It’s simply an exact copy of the base card but with a thick, gold background.

Each base card features not one or two but three photographs of the player featured on the card. Find me one single release in the past three years that even has two photographs on the card back, let alone three.

Where Ultra really shines, however, is with the inserts. You could bust an entire case (doubt you’d find one today) and still not get tired of the inserts as there are 18 different kinds to pull.

While some of those 18 inserts have not aged well, many of them still look and feel fresh, like the ‘Hitting Machine’ insert. Seeded just 1:288 packs, the 10-card checklist features superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

Fleer Ultra is almost perfect except for the fact it’s missing two very popular elements collectors can’t seem to live without: autographs and game-used relics. Aside from that, I’d highly recommend this product to any collector and fan of the game of baseball.

As for the Ultra brand, it was last seen as a disastrous “high-end” release in 2007. Since then, Upper Deck, who bought Fleer when they filed for bankruptcy, has retired the name in their baseball line-up.

Who else thinks that 2010 is a perfect time to resurrect the Fleer name and tradition? If they can follow in the steps of 1996 Ultra and not the terrible 2007 version, they could have a surprise hit on their hands next year.