Archive for the Commentary Category

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.

TSC and A&G Chrome?! Did we need this? Who cares, bring them to us!

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on February 25, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Topps announced today that during this calendar year we will see two new baseball products on the market, Allen & Ginter Chrome and a new version of Stadium Club Chrome.

Do we need them? No. Did anyone ask for them? Maybe. Will they be awesome and heavily opened? Absolutely.

Allen & Ginter Chrome has been sort of a running joke among some for years, especially those who know that the Ginter brand has kind of run its course and know that Topps has a history of adding Chrome to products to attract the crowd that simply loves flashy stuff. It’s going to be scrutinized as a waste of a product but it’ll have its market. Player and team collectors will enjoy chasing the cards, even more so if the cards are etched like old school Chrome, and not the phony Chrome that Topps been releasing in Bowman products over the last decade.

The Stadium Club Chrome hit me right in the feels since I’m such a nut for Stadium Club. I got a text from a friend advising me this was a thing before I saw it published anywhere and my immediate thought was “Take my money.” That said, we have been here before. Stadium Club Chrome was a thing as a standalone product in 2000. Also during that time we had lots of competing interests, and that product did not include autographs or relics, just Chrome base and refractor parallels, and various inserts. So it was one and done at the time. Of course Topps has brought back Stadium Club Chrome as an insert in recent years and while the secondary market does not suggest those were a hit, they certainly look damn good — especially the refractor versions. The twist to 2020 Stadium Club Chrome seems to be that it’ll be updated with 100 additional cards, likely to incorporate rookies and veterans who did not make it into the base TSC set. I’m a fan of this idea.

These new Chrome versions may not be your cup of tea and you may be inclined to crap all over the effort immediately. Your opinions are yours and they are not wrong. I mean surely they will certainly cost you more money if you’re chasing every version of a certain player or team. But nothing says you have to buy any of this, not immediately or ever. You have a choice.

But isn’t this what we wanted? Didn’t we want more product from which to chose instead of constantly opening Series 1 or 2, or Heritage, or turning to Panini products to scratch an itch halfway through the season?

The time has come yet again for you as a collector to draw a line in the sand and decide what you want. And if that decision does not include these products, that doesn’t mean this was a bad idea. It just means you go about your business and keep doing what you’re doing. Personally I’ll be chasing my PC guys in Ginter Chrome and I may eventually work on a TSC Chrome set — but probably not right away unless of course the price is right.