Archive for the Commentary Category

I am an attention-seeking hypocrite … there, I said it.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Hypocrisy is often something I wrestle with. I cannot tell you how many times a day I scroll through my Twitter timeline and either groan or shake my head at something that I see posted by one of the persons I follow. 

Every morning I can count on three things:

-Someone is bitching about a facebook post involving a card that appears to be grossly overpriced.

-Someone is posting about a shopping cart full of retail products they scored that morning; or conversely a picture of empty shelves.

-Someone stirring the pot about the collector versus investor/flipper.

It’s fucking tiresome. I stare at the stuff and wonder why folks post what they do, and almost always it comes back to one thing: Attention.

Whether you realize it or not, your decision to type 140 characters and hit the “send” button is often an act of self indulgence, an exercise to reassure that you have a space in this world, in this card hobby. Sure, every now and again your intentions are pure. Maybe you’ve got a question about a product or are seeking something. But when you’re posting random stream-of-conscious thoughts, pithy messages or even meaningful ones — particularly vague ones — or pictures of stuff you own, there is only one reason you do so: It’s because you need the attention.

And don’t get me wrong, I write this column KNOWING that I often do the same thing. I wrestle with this every day. There is indeed a desire for attention, but also an addictive quality to this whole social media phenomenon in which we participate and it’s good to call it out every now and again.

We love writing something that gets people talking; we love having a unique take or being the one to break news. We love the “like” and “retweet” notifications, and we get off on the number of followers we have.  All of this is part of what some deem a form of “social currency” — it gives us purpose, value in a world — digital or not — where it is easy to go from super popular to someone who gets lost in the shuffle. And at age 40, some 33 years into this collecting career, I fear this is where I am.

I’ve never been one to seek attention, yet here I am almost every day looking for a way to hold my space in this hobby. There is a real fear that I may in fact become irrelevant, and after being somewhat public for the last 12 years through my blog and Twitter, that is a reality with which I am having a hard time coming to grips.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve never believed that I was/am super important in this space. I’m just a dude in California who got into cards at age 7, spent a bunch of money over the years, amassed some desirable cards, retained a bunch of information relative only to this hobby, and decided to start a blog one day to chronicle my journey. But the blog got some attention, it was coupled with the birth of Twitter, and was taken to another level a few years later with some thrift store finds that opened doors to some magazine writing opportunities. All of this created this idea that the account “cardboardicons” was worth following for some of you; and with each of the likes, retweets and follows grew this notion of importance. And with that “success” comes this incessant desire to maintain it.

Where I struggle though is realizing that some of this forces me to be something I never was or really wanted to be: An attention seeker. And while I have days where I tweet whatever I want, whenever I want, I have many other days where I self edit because I can see myself groaning and shaking my head at some of the very things I begin to write. Because I know that I am indeed a hypocrite.

Having said all of this, I cannot say this changes anything. So much of the hobby experience — at least for me — these days is dependent on sharing thoughts and experiences with persons whom we have deemed friends because we follow each other on Twitter. And I enjoy this little space that I occupy in this hobby, even if it’s shrinking in relevance given today’s market and current practices. But the one thing I will continue to be is real, and that is why I felt it important to identify these feelings I am having. Hell, maybe some of you also feel the same way about hypocrisy and need someone else with whom you can talk to about them.

Is It Time To Buy or Sell? Answer: Both

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on August 19, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

The current state of the hobby is an interesting one. In some ways this feels unnatural since things that were irrelevant now matter (again), but at the same time there is a familiar feel of days gone by, a time when lots of people were talking about trading cards and telling stories about how they collected when they were young.

It’s a fascinating thing to witness as a middle-aged man, considering the last time this market was booming — early 1990s — I was an impressionable youth trying to find my way.

For those who’ve been here a bit, this quick-paced market now leaves some confused about about how to feel about things. Will this last? Is this a fad? Are were still on the upswing or are we peaking? Is it time to sell what I own, or is it time to keep buying?

None of us should be telling others how to feel about this market, our cards, or anything else. But in terms of reconciling the the latter part of that series of queries, I do have a recommendation: It is time to sell AND buy.

Yes, this is typical me, kind of being neutral, but hear me out. In my 33 years of collecting I cannot recall a time when this hobby was hotter. More eyes are on this field than ever, and social media has given us access to so many more potential selling/buying/trading partners than we ever had before. And what this means to us who have loads of cards just sitting around is that this is an opportunity to turn some of that stuff into something we want … or re-purpose that money.

Two and a half decades ago it was easy to take your unwanted cards and find trading partners, whether it be at the card shop, a card show or with others you knew. Trading still exists, but since a lot of it is done online there are associated costs, specifically shipping. You might have once agreed to trade your 1989 Donruss Don Mattingly for that 1988 Topps Kirby Puckett, but would you have done so if you knew the transaction would cost each of you the price of a stamp? Probably not. The result is that a lot of the stuff we owned became dead stock for us; it sat and sort of became useless and in some ways worthless.

But what’s old is new again. While the Mattingly for Puckett swap mentioned above still may not make since today’s market — they’re both worth about a dime each — there are surely other examples of items in your collection that have just been sitting for years and suddenly they are relevant again. This is the time to seize that opportunity and dig out all of that stuff and find someone who will appreciate it; someone who will give you a few bucks for a card that has been sitting in your closet for a decade.

Forget seeking the next flip online when your closet, basements and storage units are full of items that had been carrying little to no value for you. If you look at it the right way, that’s all “found money.”

In terms of buying, I’d say this is also a time to seek the items you always wanted. Take all that money from the aforementioned sales and sink it into an item (or multiple items) you once thought was (were) unattainable. And even if you’re coming into this era of the hobby with no card cache but with a wallet or account full of cash, don’t follow the trend and buy the new shiny hotness, unless of course that is all you know. Bottom line: If cards talk to you, find the ones (new or old) that make YOU happy and give them a new home.

And if you’re here just to flip? Then you keep doing you, and accept the results, both good and bad. There is room for us all.

Don’t Be Mad at the Project 2020 Middle Man for Plummeting Market, Long Wait Times

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on August 18, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

It seems there has been a lot of hatred over the last month and a half as it pertains to Project 2020, specifically in the area of returns and upset buyers who’ve yet to receive their items.

When the market got hot, lots of folks were buying multiples thinking they could either get their cards for free by selling the extras for a profit, or could straight up flip everything for a multiplier.

The result was larger print runs, slower delivery times direct from Topps and, as we see now, a soft market for certain Project 2020 cards. The cards were available direct from Topps for a 48-hour window, however some buyers decided to use resellers who offered the cards at a discounted level. These prices were usually a dollar or two cheaper than what you could get them for direct from Topps when buying multiple copies.

The deals worked out for collectors — ultimately they get, or will get, the cards they ordered for cheaper than it would have been direct. But for folks buying on the discount, hoping to also resell their cards for a profit of their own, that business model imploded as print runs grew and the bubble burst with the Keith Shore/Joshua Vides release day of Ken Griffey Jr and Nolan Ryan; those cards collectively sold about 150,000 units and forced Topps to change the stated delivery times.

And now almost two months after the sale dates of those cards, buyers who bought through middlemen/resellers are angry because they were out of their money immediately, they haven’t received any product and even when it arrives, they are taking big losses.

If you’re in this position and you’re blaming anyone other than the person looking back at you in the mirror, then you are wrong. You decided to buy at a discount and the only way that was possible was buying through a middleman, who is/was subjected to the same wait times direct from Topps, so you had to know that it would take even longer to get to you.

No one likes to lose money. I don’t enjoy it and I don’t wish it upon anyone else. But don’t take out your frustration on someone who was offering products to you at a rate cheaper than anyone else. You’re poor decisions and impatience are not vindicated by sending messages of hate, or wishing harm or death upon people.

Breaking Barriers: The vintage rookie cards that shaped the last 15 years of my collection

Posted in Cardboard Porn, Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Have you ever believed that certain things were impossible and then suddenly you accomplished a feat once deemed so insurmountable that it allowed you to rethink everything you believed?

These barrier-breaking moments can have huge impacts in your personal life. And in the right context, these accomplishments in our hobby can lead to reaching amazing collecting goals.

I’m a first-generation baseball card collector who broke into cards at Age 7 because two brothers in my apartment building took me under their wing and led me directly across the street to the card shop where I learned about the pictures of players printed on cardboard.

I collected a bit in 1987 and really leaned into things in 1988, and then 1989 blew my mind with the introduction of Upper Deck and that famed Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. I’ve been here ever since, save for a gap from the middle of 2003 and most of 2004, and this is where I pick up the story.

Upon my return in 2005, the hobby landscape had changed, and I had to adapt, so I really began looking at the things I enjoyed — rookie cards, which I had been collecting hard since 1997 — and seeing glaring holes from 1979 and earlier. This of course isn’t completely abnormal because vintage cards always seemed a bit out of reach for me as a kid, teenager and eventually as a young adult. The common theme for these ages is lack of resources.

By my mid 20s I had completed college and entered my first career. And one of the first goals I had during this “new era” of my collecting history was to obtain a rookie card of two players who cards seemed a bit undervalued by comparison to their peers.

I spent a few months going through the collection I had built to that point and sold off a bunch of inserts and the like. And in 2006, I acquired the two first big vintage rookies for my collection, the 1951 Bowman Willie Mays and the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax.

In my mind, both cards were underrated. Mays and Mickey Mantle were two names often discussed together and both have their Bowman rookie cards in the same set. However, the prices for the two were vastly different, and the Mays felt like an incredible bargain so I chased one down. Sure it, was a low-grade copy, but it was real and it was mine. This is a mantra I still preach to this day when someone wants to knock the condition of anything I own.

And the Koufax? Well … c’mon, it’s a Koufax rookie. I’ve always been enamored with footage of the lefty and owning that card, which had a $1,200 book value (when that was important) for like a decade, seemed grossly underappreciated.

Sadly I do not remember which of the cards came first. Hell, they may have come in at about the same time, because I remembering making the purchases and having this moment of overwhelming joy: “You finally did it!”

I still own that same Mays rookie today, about 15 years later, but the original Koufax I owned has since gone into another collection as I upgraded to a better-looking card.

When those purchases were done, it tapped into the addictive personality that I have. They were a gateway drug for me as the euphoria I felt when I held those cards in my hand made me seek a new high. I set my eyes on more players whose rookie cards were in the same price range (about $250 market value based on condition) and came up with two legends: Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson.

The first Hank Aaron rookie I owned was graded by some off-brand company and while it was clear the card was real, it was also obvious the right border was wavy as if it were cut with a pair of scissors. And the only Jackie Robinson rookie I could afford at the time was a 1948/49 Leaf card that had major damage and was ungraded. Both cards came into my collection and served as placeholders for about a year until I upgraded to the 1954 Topps and 1948 Bowman that currently live in the showcase across from my desk.

For about 18 months I felt like I had built a solid foundation of vintage rookie cards, so I started to look to the future and dabbled a bit in Chrome and signed prospect cards. (Insert major groan here.) My next major vintage rookie is really what got me thinking about this journey.

On Sunday night I tweeted a picture of my 1933 Goudey (high#) Lou Gehrig. Along with the photo I explained how that card made me believe anything was possible again. While the comment wasn’t wrong, it also wasn’t an entire thought as it neglected to mentioned all of the aforementioned, which is what lead to me writing this piece this morning.

I wasn’t feeling well on July 29, 2008, and decided to stay home from work. This was about four weeks after I started this blog and as such this is why I have this date documented. At some point that afternoon I sat in front of my computer looking at stuff on eBay and there was this auction for an SGC graded Gehrig. The card wasn’t as pretty as others available, but the price for the auction was trending low so I threw a nonsensical bid — $1 for every homer Reggie Jackson hit — and to my surprise I won. As you can see I’ve since had the card crossed over to a BGS/BVG slab for continuity in my collection. (Side note: I am a BGS/BVG fan and you can read about that here.)

To that point, the amount I spent on the Gehrig card was the most I had spent on any single card and that is why I see it as such a monumental acquisition for me. Buying this card raised the bar for me and led me to believe that if I really wanted to get to the next level — owning a famed Mickey Mantle Bowman rookie — it was possible.

I added several cards to my collection after the Gehrig, but I kept tabs on Mantle rookies all along. And in 2010, after liquidating a bunch of unwanted items in my collection, I used the money culled from that sale and acquired the Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie card that currently resides in my collection. Mint it is not. In fact it’s not even close. There’s some paper loss on one corner and the register is off … but as the saying goes: It is real and it is mine.

I won the Mantle rookie on Opening Day 2010 just as then-rookie sensation Jason Heyward hit a walk-off homerun. To date, the price I paid for that card is still the most I’ve paid for any single card. But that acquisition changed my mindset and furthered my goal of getting a rookie card (or tobacco era card) of every player member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And in 2012 I acquired a handful of them including my 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, because you can’t own Gehrig and Mantle and not own a Ruth. And once the Ruth was in hand, it lead to me chasing Joe DiMaggio, who is embodied in my collection through a 1938 Goudey Heads-Up card.

Having this idea of Four Pillars or Mount Rushmore of a certain team led me to do the same with others, and I’ve continued ever since, although I also dabble in a bunch of other things as well.

Over the last half decade, life has thrown several curve balls at me. I’ve swung and missed at some, fouled a bunch off and even went with a few and knocked them into right-center field for a base hit. But at some point here in 2020 or the near future, I’m hoping to take one deep — I’m hoping to use my collecting cache and acquire what has to this point seemed impossible to own, a 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews rookie card.

The Mathews to me is almost like the final boss of a 1980s scrolling video game. The Mathews is the last big “modern” vintage HOF rookie card that I do not own. And while it may not be the last card I chase, it surely is the one that is in the crosshairs thanks to a long line of purchases that made the next one seem possible.

Priced out and pissed off? Perhaps its time to pause and appreciate what we’ve had all along.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Three years ago there was a belief this industry was dying. Cards were not holding their value; ingenuity seemed to be fairly low, and if you spoke to non-collectors about our hobby there was some sort reaction akin to someone asking if you’d even had your first beer.

Alas here we are in 2020 — amid a pandemic, a time of social justice advances, and intense politics — and this card hobby grabs headlines and is hotter than ever.

If you’re like me then you’ve been around cards for a while, and even those of us who have lived through three decades of cards — and some of you much longer — you thought you had seen it all. But this current climate is proving us wrong.

Base cards are relevant again; early non-rookie releases of sure-fire hall of famers are commanding a premium, and parallels — not necessarily autographs — are what’s drawing folks to products. In short, history is repeating itself to an extent but I’m not sure any of us could have predicted anything to this level so quickly.

But when a hobby or market runs hot, demand for products are through the roof and with it go prices. And this is where things get super wonky for the die-hards because … suddenly nothing is easy to find, and most sealed products are carrying insane premiums.

Some have said — or at least thought — that they are priced out of the hobby. This would include me. And honestly, there has been a struggle about how I feel about this. In some ways I’m pissed. I mean how dare this rush of “new” type of consumer rush into this hobby and change the landscape for me and everyone else who has called this their own for years. But … BUT! … how can I/we really be mad when we have bitched and moaned for years about this industry dying; about the lack of respect; and it’s lack of … value.

If you’re in a place where you’re feeling priced out and pissed off, it might be best to pause and think about where YOU fit into this hobby. This, again, includes me.

I know that I cannot hang with the guys who buy into breaks seven days a week constantly gambling their money away until they hit big … and then sell the prized hit and repeat the pattern hoping lightening strikes twice.

I also know that I cannot justify spending $7.50 for a pack of flagship Topps baseball Series 2 — I saw that at an LCS this weekend — and maintain any sort of happiness.

I for damn sure won’t spend $80 to $120 on a blaster knowing that it cost $19.99 when it’s found in the wild. And yes, I know the blasters are impossible to find at times, which is why they command a premium, but I’m not your huckleberry at 4x or higher.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

This is a time for us longtime collectors to realize how good we actually had it all of those years. The times when we were tasked with a milk run at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night and wound up at Target buying the milk and a blaster or two. Those trips to the LCS when we walked in with $20 or $100 budget and walked out with a smile on our face and cards in our hands. The special feeling we had when you found out a distant relative, neighbor or co-worker collected cards and it felt like you were part of the same secret club.

Now is the time to look at your collection and appreciate what you already own. A time to remember why you got into this in the first place. Was it the actual cards? The thrill of the chase? The gambling element? Does the hobby give you a sense of inclusion? Are you carrying on a family tradition or looking to start a new one? The answer is personal for each of us.

I cannot control your feelings about the cards you possess, nor can I contain the emotions you may have for the ones you do not own. But I hope this time of change in our hobby — whether it be short term or not — isn’t pushing you out of the hobby. Because while packs are at a premium, singles are still as available as ever and you can still build a kick-ass collection without having to succumb to the notion that the only thing that matters is the shiniest card released this week of the hottest rookie.