Project 2020: Now a collection now driven by FOMO?

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on May 27, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

When Project 2020 launched in March I had zero intention to purchase any of the pieces. I had not done any research about the project, was not familiar with the artists, and as a whole am not overly intrigued by Online exclusives.

Then I saw the mock up of the Ken Griffey Jr. piece by King Saladeen and everything changed. It felt like a must-own item and the style was appealing to me. That day I purchased the Griffey, and just before checking out I added the Mike Trout by Ermsy. It’s not that I loved the Trout, but conventional wisdom told me to grab it as well because … it’s Mike Trout. Also, I liked the idea of having them shipped together.

That was exactly two months ago today.

Today I sit here with 10 cards in hand, another 22 different ones on the way and am daily on the Topps site checking for new releases and spending a fair amount of time tracking the secondary market for these cards as they have become a national talking point.

That initial $40 purchase (or investment if you prefer that term) could in theory net me about $4,000 on the secondary market today. That’s for the first two cards that I bought. And although I did not get into this for the money, I’d be a damn fool if I didn’t at least entertain the notion that I could make a handsome profit.

The economics around these cards changes daily, and for different reasons. What’s important to remember is these are not merely like every other baseball card on the market. I mean it is a picture printed on card stock like other cards, but the vast appeal and demand of these far exceeded the expectations of anyone. While a print run of 1,500-2,000 of a normal card seeded in packs may seem high, such numbers here has proven to be extremely low.

After purchasing my Griffey and Trout, I fell in love with the Roberto Clemente by Mister Cartoon but balked at making the purchase. I backtracked and wound up buying it a week later on eBay for a small mark up. At that time, the Clemente cost me $30 shipped, which was a palatable penalty for me since I missed the window to buy direct.

From that day forward I really used a simple adage to help make my purchase decisions: If I liked it, I bought it. In theory the $20 price point had proven to be a mark at which I could not really lose. And so I did. I looked at the site each day to judge the art. If the art work grabbed me, I made the card mine. Others merely did not appeal to me and I marked them as “not for me.” Now, at this point I was looking at this as art … not as a card investment opportunity,

Of course as we know things changed. I still log onto my device each day to see the newest release and to judge the artwork for myself. But I find more and more that my decision to buy or not has been increasingly driven by FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, as the act of checking the secondary market has almost felt like following a sport.

There had been pieces I passed on before, and the resell market has had me banging my head against a wall, as I am sure many others have as well. But over these last three weeks my judgement has been clouded by the almighty dollar.

I routinely am asking myself if I am actually enjoying the art, or enjoying the idea that I might be getting in on the ground floor of something that may just now be taking off.

As a card collector for 33 years there is a part of me that wants to jump off this ship with as much gold as possible before it sinks into the ocean. This feels very unnatural. But it’d be foolish of me to not at least think that this may actually be bigger than baseball cards and some of the logic in that hobby may not fully apply here. There are people outside of our hobby circle who have taken an interest in this, and that is a factor for which I cannot fully comprehend.

Will this trend of increasing prices continue? The answer to that question shouldn’t matter to me if I am collecting; if I am sticking to what brought me to this point. The decision should be simple: Buy what I like and pass on what I don’t. But it’s not that simple. It’s just not. And every day my judgement and decision-making is put to the test. And when that happens, the bigger questions start to be asked internally: Do I enjoy these that much that I am passing on crazy money being thrown at some of the early ones I own, and could I be missing out if I pass on something today solely because it did not hit my pallet the right way?

The struggle continues today with the release of Mariano Rivera by JK5 and Cal Ripken Jr . By Don C.

Over the weeks I’ve taken a liking to JK5’s pieces — they’re so complex and there is so much to see and interpret. Don C’s two pieces to date have fallen into the “not for me” category right off the bat.

Today I marked myself as “out” on both, but there is a part of me that is still on the fence for the Rivera. And when you’re in for one card, you have to consider the other as well since there is a small discount when buying the daily pair.

Money shouldn’t be driving my decisions with these; it should be about enjoying the piece. But clearly, money is always factor, no matter how you look at it.

A plea to Topps: Project 2020 needs a anti-counterfeiting measure

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on May 21, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Since the time I started collecting cards in the 1980s I learned that whenever large amounts of money are involved, there is a good chance someone is nearby looking to take advantage of someone with a fake.

We all know there are thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of fake (or modified legitimate reprints) t206 Honus Wagner cards on the market and almost no one in their right mind would touch a raw one outside of special circumstances.

In the 1980s we saw mass quantities of counterfeits of the 1963 Topps Pete Rose rookie, the 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie, the 1984 Fleer Update Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens cards, the 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco, … the list goes on and on. Hell, we have even seen fake 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout rookie cards.

And it’s only a matter of time before today’s hobby darling, the Topps Project 2020 cards, start to see their own.

The newer releases are being produced in larger quantities so they may be less susceptible to counterfeits, but those early ones — the ones that have commanded major premiums on the secondary market and helped spark the current fervor surrounding the project — are the ones that concern me. No one truly expected to see a $20 On-Demand style card skyrocket to more than $400 in less than three months. With all of the technology in the world now — and the lack of security measures for the cards coming from Topps — it’s only a matter of time before the fakes start hitting the market.

The cards are printed on 130-point card stock and merely placed in a One-Touch (or snap case as we’ve seen recently) and then a Topps sticker is placed over the top. But we’ve already seen artists peeling stickers to sign and sell signed versions of their own card; and we’ve seen some folks re-holder their cards in premium magnetic cases and on occasion replace the stickers.

There are no security measures in place, and that is scary.

There are surely ways this issue could be handled, and all will likely increase cost on the production end. But perhaps the easiest and classiest way is to print the backs with the same technology used for the Topps Now cards. Those cards feature a holographic Topps logo on the rear — it wouldn’t detract from anything, yet would give collectors a sense of security.

As stated above the newer releases are less susceptible to fakes, but even for cards that draw at least $20 on the secondary market, there is some appeal for con-artists to ruin a good thing.

Topps Project 2020: The product I never thought I’d chase

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

I’m not going to pretend that I am an art expert. Hell, I passed my Art History class in college 16 years ago by showing up exactly five times — which is to say I was there for the first and last days of instruction, for the mid term and final exam, as well as a spot in between to turn in a term paper. Not that I am proud of it, but that is solid C work.

So yeah, art and I have a history … but I don’t have in my brain the history of art, ya dig?

That said, you don’t need to have a degree, special training or any other skill to be able to tell when you like (or dislike) a certain piece. When you look at a design, a drawing, painting, photo, or other type of creation does it make you think or feel a certain way? Do you like it, do you not, do you not care?

Art is subjective. There’s no right or wrong way to create, or appreciate. I don’t always seek out art, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate talents that I do not possess.

When Topps launched the Project 2020 line a few weeks ago, I admittedly did not do a lot of research. Hell, I had no intention to buy anything. The first wave came and went and I thought nothing of it. The second wave brought a controversial version of Mike Trout’s 2011 Topps Update rookie card as re-imaged by Ermsy. It appealed to be on some level — I enjoyed the odd comic-style and the color scheme — so I mulled it over and then pulled the trigger the next day when King Saladeen’s take on Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Topps Update was released. That Saladeen hooked me immediately; and to this point his art in this series has become ones that I will absolutely buy, regardless of who is being depicted.

I suppose it was at that point the Project 2020 release became must-see morning viewing for me. It’s not that I had this idea of collecting every card, but it was really a test for my senses. Would there be a piece today that would evoke an emotional response from me? Seeing as how I own(ed) the original copy of almost every card used as inspiration in the series, I wanted to know how each artist was going to interpret the card/image and present a new version to the world.

I had no clue how the secondary market would take to this, and honestly I didn’t care. This wasn’t a money-making venture on my part; this was a if-it-makes-you-happy-then-acquire-it type of situation. And at the price point of $19.99 in this time in history, there was a direct correlation between blaster money turning into a limited edition personal collection addition.

And now as the weekdays pass I check out the Topps.com site each morning with high anticipation to see if the mood strikes me; will there be a design that speaks to me, or not?

As it turns out, I’ve found myself being infatuated by everything King Saladeen has done in this series. For one reason or another, I’ve decided that I will own a copy of each of his pieces. And I’ve also taken a liking to Blake Jamieson, Mister Cartoon, Ben Baller and Matt Taylor — although I probably won’t buy them all. Those are the five artists to whom I have gravitated, but that’s not to say the others aren’t good in their own way.

I try to refrain from saying certain piece aren’t good. Few things bug me more than when someone just says “the piece sucks.” They may not evoke emotion for me or you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good to someone else. It merely means that the piece isn’t for us.

The one artist in this project whom I think got a raw deal early on was Joshua Vides, whose first piece was not explained and merely looked as though he took a black marker to hard edges and added a few scribbles. I know I mocked it early on, and as it turns out, it was indeed more than what was shown and I was wrong. His pieces are textured, and that is not just black marker on a copy of the card, it’s akin to puffy paint on a plastic coating over the top. I wish I knew this before hand because that, to me, changes how I can appreciate his work. If I had known that before hand, I would have purchased his first piece, the Rickey Henderson, and others might have as well.

At this point more than 60 cards into the set and I’ve got six in hand, two in the mail, and another 8 or 10 that should be shipped soon. This is not something I imagined I was going to embrace in the way that I have, but it’s certainly given me something to enjoy each weekday in a time where we are seeing almost no new card releases due to the ongoing issues regarding Covid-19.

It’s worth nothing that the sales figures for everything in this project are starting to increase as the project gains more attention. That Ermsy version of Mike Trout as mentioned above eclipsed the $500 mark earlier this week — which is a hell of a return on the $19.99 investment — so its hard to not let some resell talk enter your stream of consciousness.

Finally, I will say this: If you like these cards I recommend you BUY THEM DIRECT FROM TOPPS. Look, I enjoy saving a few bucks here and there — and that is possible if you buy them from a bulk re-seller on the secondary market. (Hint: They’re buying in bulk at like $15 each and reselling for $18, which is good money when doing bulk sales.) But when you buy direct from Topps you are giving yourself a chance — a chance! — at receiving a special 1/1 version, which can be re-sold for thousands of dollars. When you buy on the secondary market, you’re saving about $5 in some cases, but you also give yourself no chance at that receiving the lottery ticket. Additionally, buying on secondary market will certainly add an extra few days to your delivery time as your seller is essentially a middleman. If neither of these latter points bother you, then by all means do your thing and support the resellers and save a few bucks on a piece you’ll enjoy. Its a personal preference, just like art.

Embrace these times; things won’t always be this good

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

For about 20 years, we’ve been talking about the rise and fall of the hobby since the days of the Junk Wax Era. We have shared and embraced story after story discussing the great times we had during the 1980s and 1990s as this hobby rose to stardom.

We discussed the simplicity as well as the ingenuity of the time. We discussed chasing rising stars who eventually flamed out on the big stage, or never even got there. We discussed a time when base cards and simple parallels or inserts carried massive premiums only to be forgotten as interests shifted to relics and autos.

Then of course we discussed how that all attention had waned, and how seemingly almost everything from our youth became worthless. Simplicity was for the most part thought of as over-produced rubbish that many discarded at thrift stores, or even burned in their backyard bonfires.

But due to various influences (both people and circumstances) here in 2020 we have arrived at the summit of the collecting world again. Business is booming — it actually has been fairly healthy for the better part of a half decade or longer — and now our hobby has national eyes on it again. The folks who collected in their youth are returning to recapture the feelings they left behind when they discovered other interests, or because life took them in a different direction. And then of course there are folks who see dollar signs and view cards as an area for investment.

Like many collectors, I cringe when I hear that folks are treating these cards as investments. I don’t have an economics background, but I know from experience that the investment piece of this hobby/business is real, but also is an area that is ripe with scams, con-artists and really is something built on the notion that others believe in the idea that “he’ll only get better” and plays on the character flaw of FOMO, the acronym for “fear of missing out.”

Where things have changed recently for me is a shift in mindset about these so-called newcomers. It’s still frustrating and mind-boggling at times to see the big numbers thrown around at cards we considered to be forgotten or relatively worthless, but I’ve been trying to be more accepting of these folks. In reality, this isn’t all that different that the boom that many of us 30- or 40-somethings had a part in when we joined this world of baseball cards. I mean it’s not like folks were always spending hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars on cards, let alone a singular card.

Instead of pushing back against this new type of hobbyist, we should to some degree be embracing the voracity with which folks are enjoying ANY aspect of this hobby. I don’t chase prospects anymore and can’t see the allure to spending hundreds of dollars on unproven players, but others do. And it is because of their dedication to breaking that stuff that small businesses (online breakers and even some brick and mortar stores) are enjoying success; it is also why other cards filter to different types of collectors at prices that don’t always make sense. Their “loss” is other persons “gain.”

At some point we can expect there will be some sort of regression, and with it a lot of finger pointing and laughing because that’s just how some folks are, but for now we should understand that this hobby/business/market is no longer just about the old school curmudgeons who love splitting hairs about hobby definitions and can’t see past the idea that folks with different mind sets might also enjoy cards, even if their type of enjoyment or their reasons for being involved is not the same as our personal reasons.

There isn’t just one way to sort a stack of cards; to organize your collection; or to protect your cardboard assets. Then it is wrong for us to assume there is only one way to participate in this world of sports cards.

A defining moment for a generation of kids

Posted in Commentary, Dad Life with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

For weeks we’d been hearing about the developing “Coronavirus” and how it’s been impacting persons around the world.  We’ve been urging folks to wash their hands more frequently and for people to stay home if they are sick.

It was real, we knew that was the case. But the time at which things become real for each of us is different. That time for me came on March 11, 2020, when the sports world came to a screeching halt.

Before I get to much further I will say that this piece is my personal perspective and my view of things through my experiences. You can dismiss it as me being naive; me being petty; me being selfish, etc. But this isn’t meant to be an all encompassing piece. This is the account of the my experience in this time.

Just over a week ago the world looked much different. We had sports to distract us from the trials and tribulation of life; they brought strangers together every day.  And on that Wednesday,  a day after the NHL had postponed its operation, we still had an evening of NBA basketball to distract us. 

I had my kids that day and we spend part of the afternoon running errands and watching my nephew play some Little League baseball.  As we headed home from the field, I received a text from my brother in law telling me that the NBA season had been postponed due to the threat of the Coronavirus/COVID-19.

I relayed this information to my 9-year-old son, who has become a big fan of the sport in recent years. And who can blame him, he’s growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area which has seen a great amount success with the Golden State Warriors’ five straight Finals appearances.

He asked a lot of questions during the drive, but took solace in the fact that there was still one game being played — the Mavericks game — and there was still one more on the schedule, which featured Zion Williamson playing in Sacramento.

We sat down that night in front of the television watching Luka Doncic dominate during the final quarter of the game, but that Breaking News banner kept flashing on the bottom of the screen — a reminder that this would be one of the final games for the foreseeable future.

As the network switched to the Kings-Pelicans game, they kept talking about the seriousness of the virus; about Rudy Gobert testing positive, and how asinine if felt that the next game would tip off.  And as we know now, that game featuring the NBA’s biggest rookie never would begin.

The players started warming up and then they left the court. We learned that one of the referees scheduled to work the game had worked a game recently that involved Gobert and ultimately the game was postponed.

The networks showed fans perplexed; fans booing; fans leaving. And then there was the “money shot” showing a young girl crying, seemingly upset the game was being canceled.  I looked at my son and he was quiet; no emotion on his face.

I asked if he was OK and he just stared at me, looking at me with his brown eyes, silently seeking answers, none of which I had. I opened my arms and told him to come to me and then he let out all of his emotion. It was at that moment that all of this became real to me because … it had become real to him. The side effects of this pandemic were impacting my kids.

That was a Wednesday night. He was a wreck for a while and wound up sleeping in my bed because he was scared. And when morning came, he woke afraid because he had a nightmare related to all of this. He hugged me almost tighter that morning that he ever had before.

He stayed home from school that day, but my 11-year-old daughter went to school also having questions: Her main inquiry was whether her fifth grade science camp — for which recently purchased supplies — would be canceled. 

As it turns out, that may in fact be their last school day for the year. School was formally postponed on Friday; the science camp was obviously nixed out of precaution — a bummer for my daughter who has been talking about this trip since the third grade. There’s also a real chance that my daughter may not get to experience her promotional ceremony as she starts middle school next year. Its unfortunate, but we get it.

This Coronavirus has been around for months, mostly being spoke of as impacting those in other countries. But it is now here impacting us on a personal level, and this is a moment that will define their generation.

As I think about what it must feel like to be a child during these times — full of uncertainly and having lots of questions — I am reminded that there are some parallels to my own life.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and my world was changed when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989. I had some family drama (parents separated) I had dealt with before that, but the earthquake brought everything to a halt, including the World Series that year which featured our two local teams, the San Francsico Giants and Oakland Athletics.

I remember being home with my younger sister and a friend when the quake hit; I remember us ducking under a table immediately as we had been taught in school, and once we realized we were physically OK, there was concern for others, including our mother who was on the way home from work,

The streets were dark that evening as power had been out due to structural damage; and the only news we had immediately was that buildings had collapsed and persons had been injured and killed as a result of the temblor. School was postponed for about a week if memory serves me right, but that natural disaster was a moment that defined my childhood — there was a clear loss of innocence for myself at that time and while I had many questions my mother could not answer, I remember her being there for all of it, being strong and making sure we were safe and fed.

Its too early to say how the Coronavirus will impact the kids of this generation.  At present my family is doing its best to keep the spirits up for the kids — we’re trying a semi-structured home schooling effort coupled with walks around the block and some free time.  But it if you ask me, this certainly will be a time they will never forget, and it is our duty as parents and adults to make sure that the kids who turn to us feel as taken care of just as our parents did for us during our times of crisis.

Collecting Kershaw: Near-Rainbow of 2006 Bowman Originals

Posted in Collecting Kershaw, Misc. with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

A week and a half ago I secured a deal for a blue border 2006 Bowman Originals Clayton Kershaw Card serial numbered /249. It was what I thought was the final card I needed for the “rainbow” of one of Kershaw’s earliest cards.

Of course what I failed to recognize is that there is a red parallel limited to just one copy.

I don’t anticipate ever acquiring that card, let alone seeing it, so I’ll just roll with the punches and not diminish this feat.

Here are the base, black /99 and blue /249 border versions of the Kershaw Bowman Originals Card.

For those not familiar, these cards were released in an odd pick out. Topps created this product which essentially contained a two buy-back Bowman autos that were inside a snap case case (like Magnetics for the time), then surrounded it by a handful of unprotected cards. The product was expensive for the time and really isn’t much different than Archives Signature that we see today.

The saving grace, as it turns out, we’re these prospect cards. The auto checklist was littered with mediocre signatures and there was concern about forgeries being placed inside the cases.

In 2006 I attended my first show after a two-year hiatus and the hobby had changed so much during that time frame. I spent two hours wandering the showroom floor looking for something to buy. I wound up grabbing a pack of Bowman Originals and it contained signatures of Fausto Carmona and Brandon Phillips … but had a blue border Evan Longoria, which was a great card for the time.

The Kershaws to me were somewhat elusive, mostly because I felt they were too expensive. The prices have come down a bit in recent years and now I’m proud to say I own these three

Card show bargain bin find brings back a fond memory

Posted in Memory Lane with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Last week I managed to make it to the first night of the annual GT Sports Marketing show in Santa Clara, California. One of my favorite things to do it dig through the bargain boxes while everyone else is clamoring over the newest, shiny cards in the show cases.

As I dug through one dealer’s dollar box, I stopped dead in my tracks when I came to a stack of Frank Thomas cards because there in my hands was a copy of a card that I honestly called the second best card — second only to my my 1993 Elite Eddie Murray — I had ever pulled to that point in my life.

In 1994, I was a freshman in high school and my parents had been separated for about five years. My father was living with his girlfriend in a city about 15 miles away and on the weekends I would go to his house and spent time fishing and just hanging out. In that small town there was a card shop run by a gentleman who smoked cigars while customers browsed the shelves and showcase.

That year 1994 Score caught my attention because for the first time the brand had created parallel cards (Gold Rush) that were seeded one per pack and at the time that was a big deal. I bought a fair amount of Series One and completed a base set and had a partial set, so when Series Two was released I was excited.

I had no money, but my cousin — who is a year younger than I — had $10 and said I could borrow it if I promised to pay her back. You know I was down for that deal, and so she gave it to me and I plunked the cash down on the counter and asked for nine packs of 1994 Score Series Two — it would have been 10 packs if not for taxes.

I ripped pack after pack and somewhere in the middle of the session came out a 1994 Score “The Cycle” Frank Thomas card. It was one of 20 cards on the checklist, and the cards were seeded 1:72 packs, which was a common ratio for rare inserts of the time. And Frank Thomas was no slouch — his popularity in the hobby was on par with Ken Griffey Jr. at the time; they often traded top positions as the top player on the Beckett Baseball’s monthly hot player list.

When the cards were priced in Beckett, that Thomas — and the Griffey — were listed at $75. The Thomas I owned went right into a four-screw, 1/4-inch screw case for maximum protection — sans penny sleeve of course.

That Thomas stoked a great passion of mine to chase that entire set. I spent much of the fall trading various football rookies — Heath Shuler and Trent Dilfer to be specific — for various cards on the checklist, mostly the lower end guys. Dealers were more than happy to take the hot quarterback rookies for these inserts.

I never did finish the set as a kid, but it is something I have half completed at present time and intend to finish at some point.

Although I already owned a copy of this Frank Thomas card — it’s not available even for $75 — I could not pass on the chance to obtain another at such a low price. It’s not that I needed the card for my collection, but I needed it for my collecting soul and so that I could revisit that story and share it with you.