The Self-Destruction of the Card Industry

9 03 2009

I recall waiting in line for a Marlins game in 2008 and talking to a die hard Yankees fan. One of the subjects that came up was Mickey Mantle. The man, in his early 50’s, told me he owned over 20 Mickey Mantle autographs which he picked up throughout the 80’s at card shows.

He told me that back then you could find just about any broken down slugger needing to pay his bills at events signing away for hours at a time. Also, it didn’t cost an arm and a leg to get a signature. Sure, maybe your favorite player wouldn’t be in the greatest of spirits (he told me Mantle never once looked up, ever) but nothing takes away the memory of seeing one of your treasured baseball cards signed by one of the all-time greats. No cut signature necessary.

A month later, a hobby shop in Pembroke Pines, Florida announced on the radio that they were hosting an exclusive signing with Marlins superstar, Hanley Ramirez. I was thrilled and jumped on the phone to see how much and when. The guy on the other end told me it was $55 dollars for flat items and more for bats, etc.

As you can imagine, I politely thanked him and forgot all about it. This year I got Hanley to sign both a bat and a baseball card and didn’t pay a dime for it. Funny thing is, his beautiful signature which only comes out when being paid was nothing more than an ugly scribble.

Today, the card industry is self-destructing before our very own eyes. Upper Deck is dealing with massive layoffs in key departments, while U.D & Topps lost their basketball license to an outsider. Donruss, once a respected name in the Hobby is going through one legal hurdle after another and is currently fighting with Major League Baseball for releasing unlicensed cards that pushed the envelope just a bit too far.

Jump on YouTube and watch a few videos. You will find collectors young and old opening up boxes of product from as low as $50 dollars to as high as over $2,000 and complaining, not caring about their “hit”, or simply tossing cards on the floor or table in order to get to a little piece of cut up jersey or a sticker autograph.

A company, Razor, put out a $2,500 per pack item only to find out that one or more of the autographs were not authentic. Beckett Media, “The #1 Source in Collecting”, along with other enablers of such products, did everything they possibly could to sweep it under the rug. Without hesitation, Brian Grey of Razor has announced his latest baseball product, titled ‘Razor Distinction’, which he was quoted as saying, “It will unquestionably be the highest end, high quality prospect set ever made…”.

It seems that all companies care about today is pumping out one “high-end” release after another and have forgotten why kids collected baseball cards to begin with. No, it wasn’t to “invest” or to see what card they could throw on eBay first. Kids collected baseball cards for the appeal of the design and to flip through cards of their favorite players.

When you have to choose between $500 dollar boxes of Exquisite, $400 dollar boxes of National Treasures, and/or $2,000 dollar boxes of Oval Office, something is clearly wrong. I came into this hobby hoping for the fun it once brought me as a child and young adult but seeing the “behind the scenes” workings has seriously proven to me that this is a sinking ship that might not have a way to save itself.

My advice to the reader of Wax Heaven is to put down that box of Exquisite basketball and grab 2008-’09 Skybox. Drop that box of National Treasures box full of sticker autographs and pick up T-51 Murad to see what collecting is all about, and put down that Razor product and pay your mortgage before you end up with another signature done by an auto pen.

There is still some good left in this Hobby but the powers that be will continue to push the big money products because it’s what sells, despite the fact that it’s almost always impossible to break even and more than likely you will end up walking from that card shop feeling a slight sting of stupidity as you realize you just flushed $500 dollars of your hard-earned cash for a bunch of shiny cardboard, two tiny “game-used” relics, and a few sticker autographs of guys who may never amount to anything other than a Minor League All-Star team.

As for the card below, it’s a 1986 Topps Traded Jose Canseco rookie card which was signed by Jose in 1987 at a card shop in Florida for a measly $5 dollars. Keep in mind by November of 1987 which is the date of the signing, Jose had already won a major award (ROY) and had put together his second straight 30 HR/100 RBI season.

There was a time you could pick up a superstar’s autograph for $5 dollars.

I’d give anything to return to those days.