Recapping The National — from Cardboard Icons’ perspective

I flew all the way across country for a four-day mini work-vacation and all I came back with was the shirt off someone else’s back and a piece of cardboard made in Japan.

OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but for the most part this is true.

Usually when someone travels so far to attend a collectors convention, they come home with a bunch of stuff.  Not me.  My luggage was actually 3 pounds lighter when I checked it Sunday night as I left Baltimore, home of the 33rd annual National Sports Collectors Convention.

So why did only come home with so little?

Because that’s all I needed to being home with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I did some spending.  I actually opened a box of cards each night that I was at the convention.

Thursday, Beckett Baseball Editor Chris Olds and I opened on camera a box of 1989 Upper Deck low numbers that I purchased from Baseball Card Exchange for the experience.  I wanted to pull a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card for myself.

I’ve owned about a dozen of them over my 25 years of collecting, and even have one that is essentially gem mint except for the pesky hologram on the back.  As it turned out the box contained one alright … only I was not the one who pulled it.

On Friday, I purchased a box of 2012 Topps Mini, which was being sold exclusively through the Topps booth.  Along with the box, you got a five-card promotional set that includes Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish, Roy Halladay, Matt Kemp and Stephen Strasburg.  The sets were selling instantly on eBay for $25-$35.  I opened my box off camera because Beckett Football/Hockey editor Susan Lulgjuraj (@yanxchick) and Contributing Editor Dan Good (@Dgood73) were all ripping items they purchased with their own money from Blowout Cards.  My box was mediocre, but it was fun.  My hit was a Brandon Beachy relic.  But I did get five gold parallels (which are all serial numbered to 61 copies) and a Black/Platinum Scott Rolen, a parallel set that is limited to 5 copies each.

On Satuday, after I had an amazing experience meeting Earl Weaver – more on that in a bit – I decided to go buy another box of Topps Mini.  I figured I’d buy the box, throw the promo set on eBay and consider that a discount on the box price.  However, by the time I got to the booth, they were out of promo sets.  They said they’d get some more on Sunday.

But I did manage to find a box of cards to open that night … one dealer had random sports items priced relatively cheap.  Among his mound of treasures was a box of 1986 Donruss baseball.  It was $10.  I opened that on video as part of a Thrift Treasures post but truthfully, the box break was so long and uneventful I ended up scraping the video break.  You can all thank me now.  It’s called self editing, folks.

And of course on Sunday I woke up and walked over to The National early on to get another Topps Mini box since they promo sets were back in stock.  I bought box and proceeded to open it on video.  It was a damn good one, if I don’t say so myself.  No Harper or big autograph.  But my gold cards (remember, they are serial numbered to 61) were good – Stephen Strasburg, Alex Rodriguez, Freddie Freeman, Addison Reed and a Vladimir Guerrero checklist.  The Black/Platinum parallel serial numbered 5/5 was of one of the game’s biggest stars right now … Mark Trumbo.  That’s a big win considering that there are 661 cards in the set.

At this point you might be asking yourself: Now Ben … err, Cardboard Icons … how did you buy four boxes of cards this weekend and take so little home?

The Answer?  I stripped the 1989 Upper Deck and 1986 Donruss boxes of every star card and decent rookie card and left the commons in their prospective boxes for someone else to enjoy.

I then took said stars and rookies and added them to the contents of my two Topps Mini boxes and packed them into a 550-count box which I … submitted to Checkout My Cards.

Actually, that box was one of three that I submitted to COMC just before I left the Convention Center on Sunday.  I brought a 550-count box and a half of stuff to the show to submit to the consignment site (If you’re not using them, you should be …) and then managed to fill another box and a half with the contents of the aforementioned boxes and about 250 cards that I purchased as part of my Thrift Treasures series.

On that note, you should see the videos – all three of them: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3.   I could have done a fourth video showcasing some of the items that I purchased on the last day, but I was running out of time.  I actually bought about 40 good rookies and refractors for $25.  I could have bought more, but my COMC boxes were so tight that I actually removed cards from penny sleeves so that I could get the last few in.

This is getting quite lengthy, so let me touch on a few bullet points:

Earl Weaver

So in the lede to this piece I spoke of the shirt off someone else’s back.  Well, the item I was referring to was my game-used Earl Weaver jersey.  I brought the item from the Bay Area to Baltimore just to have Earl sign this thing.  That experience was amazing.  I wrote a piece for Beckett.com   detailing the meeting. It was unbelievable.  And to add to this craziness, Yahoo Sports Blog “Big League Stew” linked to the Beckett piece.

Freedom Card Board

Big thanks to Chris Gilmore for inviting myself, Olds, Susan and Dan to the meet up dinner.  It was a pleasure meeting you.  I’m hoping to be more active on the boards there.  I know I signed up and posted a few times, but not so much over the last two years.  I’m rarely in front of an actual computer … most of my online interaction is via Twitter because I have access to that via my telephone.  But … there is an FCB App … downloaded. Done.

Topps  Q &A

I attended the annual question and answer session held by Topps.  It was interesting mix of folks and attitudes toward the hobby and each other. But the one thing that really sticks in my mind has to do with the Bowman brand.  Topps continued to praise itself for the Bowman brand which in all of its types (Chrome, Platinum, etc) has been welcomed by collectors.

But what kind of rubbed me the wrong way was the answer (or lack there of) to my simple question as to whether or not Topps had considered some sort of buy-back program in which they could re-acquired vintage Bowman rookies from the 1940s and 1950s.I didn’t really get a straight answer.  The product manager, who has only been around for six months, said “You’d know better than I.”

What does this mean?!  Does he not know that Topps spokesman (even posthumously) Mickey Mantle’s REAL rookie card hails from Bowman, which was a brand that was NOT under the umbrella of Topps at the time the card was produced in 1951?

If I do know more than he, then let me continue to teach.  Bowman was also home of rookie cards for Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson (also has a 1949 Leaf), Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Phil Rizzuto, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Satchel Paige and a bunch of other legendary players whose existence on cardboard essentially assisted the hobby grow to insane heights in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It was a simple question.  And if you ask me, the product touted as “Home Of The Rookie Card” would have a MASSIVE swell – as if the brand could get any bigger – if the company re-purchased some of these iconic cards and re-distributed them to collectors through redemption or other means.

Big Purchase

I’ll wrap this lengthy commentary with addressing the second point I touched on at the beginning – the Japanese piece of cardboard.

For years I’d been seeking a decent priced Sadaharu Oh rookie card from 1959.  I’ve seen a few of them on eBay already slabbed and priced in the range of $275-$400. But I still hadn’t seen  one that I considered the one for me.

Well, as I meandered through the showroom floor on Friday I located Prestige Collectibles, which specializes in Japanese cards.  I asked the dealer how he has acquired so much  — damn near everything in the booth was Japanese – and he stated that he goes to Japan quite often.  During the conversation he revealed to me that Japanese baseball collectors don’t dabble a whole lot in vintage cards.  This initially amazed me.  Maybe because I am fascinated with the way baseball is revered in that country.  But in reality, the attitude, at least according to this dealer, is on par with  the way things work here.  A lot of people are just not turned on by old cardboard.

Anyway, the reason I stopped at Prestige Collectible was because as I was walking by, I happened to glance down and recognize a card.  It was a 1959 Murakami  JCM 31c Menko Sadaharu Oh rookie.  The card was ungraded – it has some creases – but I knew it was authentic.  And it had a price tag of $175.

I surveyed the card, looked it over once, twice or maybe five times.  And then handed it back to him.  I did not have $175 cash on me.  He of course advised me that he accepted credit cards.

I walked away from the table.  I advised him that I’d consider the purchase.  About 30 minutes later I returned.  The Oh HAD to be mine.  It’s a good thing that I returned when I did.  Apparently someone else had looked at it moments before and also needed some time to think about it.

And after a swipe of a credit card – I had built in some wiggle room in my personal National budget for a purchase like this — I became the proud owner of an authentic Sadaharu Oh rookie card.  LOVE THIS.

Lastly, I’ll just say I had a blast.  The only thing I would change is building in more time to be social.  I spent the after hours time writing so I didn’t really hang out with the other collectors.

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