New BGS 10 Black Label Stirs Up Old Conflicts

I have never been one that has put any stock in the grading process business. I dont like graded cards, I dont make an effort to seek out graded cards, and I think people that pay astronomical prices for high grade examples, are really not seeing the whole forest or the trees. Of course, my feelings on the conflict of interest that it presents, or the human element involved in the review, have no impact on the rest of the hobby. Grading means a lot to a lot of people. It is arguably the only reason the Beckett media group still exists in a lot of ways.

One of my biggest gripes with grading is the above mint standard that BGS has perpetuated. No longer is a mint card the top valued condition available. Since the advent of BGS, now cards can be Gem Mint or even Pristine! No matter that the difference between gem mint and pristine is so small that any card could easily occupy both conditions. The subjective difference between many grades holds no bearing with most, as some collectors stake hundreds or even thousands of dollars for that difference. Well, now they have a new level of mint to chase. BGS has since released the all pristine Black Label graded card.

Here are some examples:

2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James RC BGS 10 Black

2014 Topps Chrome Johnny Manziel Superfractor Auto BGS 10 Black

2014 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Auto RC BGS 10 Black

2014 Topps Platinum Odell Beckham Auto RC BGS 10 Black

In case you are wondering, instead of just grading a card as a Pristine 10, a black label card is a pristine card that has all 10s in the subgrades. It adds another level of the chase for some people, and many of these cards are getting some ridiculous prices as a result. I understand the need for collectors to display the vanity that makes our hobby what it is, but this just seems excessive.

Grading was originally created so that someone buying a card before actually having it in hand could see a quantitative representation of the condition prior to purchase. This was in a time where digital cameras were insanely expensive, and the resolution of the photos were minor. Now, with each cell phone camera having such a high capability to take ridiculous pictures, grading has become the standard by which an anal collector can pick out the top examples in condition for each individual card. It has become a collection organizer in so many words.

My argument lies in the conflict of interest that exists in grading – being that not only does Beckett price and sell graded cards, but they also have a reason to provide preferential treatment to top customers. Even more than that, the human element at play only speaks to the subjectivity of the process. The difference in a 9.5 vs a 10 is so small, that whatever is decided becomes the bible. That is, unless it is unfavorable. There is a community of collectors that buy up “undergraded” cards, crack them out of the cases and resubmit them for a higher grade. The levels of success are so high, that people have made a living out of it.

However, if a 9.5 ever was graded a 10, there is no one that would be stupid enough to crack it out of the case and resubmit it just to make sure it really was the grade BGS said it was. Now, if that was a 9.5 that was graded a 9, it would be approached with a completely different process. Grading is a business, and a great one at that. It has transferred over to all sorts of industries, and taken hold as well as it has in cards. That wouldnt happen if it werent a crazy profitable business model. Many sets are produced with BGS in mind, mainly Chrome, as the entire product’s viability depends on its potential grades.

Similarly, there is no regulatory body to ensure that grading companies arent acting with their own best interests in mind. Not that I would expect there to be, but who is to stop them from going out and rewarding their best customers with better grades? At this point, because the reputation is already established, a few bad apples would do nothing to spoil the bunch. They could churn out half grades better treatment very easily, and no one would be able to call them out.

Again, adding this new “Black Label” does nothing but present a further departure from what the grading process should be about. Obviously, staunch supporters of the “objective” process will fight me to the bitter end on my feelings, but I find too much implied conflict to even come close to changing my feelings.

When you see that a Michael Jordan Fleer RC BGS 10 is worth almost 1000 times the value of a BGS 9.5, its easy to see why the conflict exists. There is too much power in the grade itself, and very little in the card that sits in the slab. That is wrong to me. Very wrong. Adding a new element to that is beyond unnecessary.

2015 NFL Draft: Top Picks and Hobby Outlook

Now that the draft is over, it seems as though the year is ready to start. With the top picks now aligned with their teams, we can finally get a good idea of what the value looks like for the main players of the year. Although some were going to be obvious, there were a few very big surprises. Here is a breakdown of where I think things ended up hobby wise.

Jameis Winston – #1 Overall, Buccaneers

I think this was expected as soon as the combine was over, and Winston’s pro day was ironed out. The Bucs didnt surprise anyone by picking him, which only helps to solidify his value for the year. It should also be mentioned that the Bucs’ jerseys are FILLED with some awesome patches, something that could provide a bit of a value boost for some of the crazy logos. Although Tampa doesnt necessarily have legions of collectors, Winston being a QB and the first pick will offset that.

Prices so far:

2015 Upper Deck Jameis Winston SP Authentics Auto

2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft Jameis Winston Silver Auto

2015 Upper Deck Jameis Winston SP Auto Variation

Marcus Mariota – #2 Overall, Titans

I was shocked when the Titans didnt trade this pick. I thought someone would pay their ransom, as Mariota’s stock continued to increase as the draft moved closer. Although I wanted Philly to eventually win the sweepstakes for the sake of the team value that comes with them, the Titans making the pick doesnt hurt TOO much. Like Tampa, the Titans have some great patches on their jersey, and should play nicely for the sword logos that are coming this year.

Prices so far:

2015 Leaf Metal Draft Marcus Mariota Superfractor Auto 1/1

Marcus Mariota Signed Hesiman Trophy Replica – PSA Cert

Amari Cooper – #4 Overall, Raiders

Although I think this is a very good team to draft a top guy, Cooper is going to be a top guy regardless of his team. I think he will have a better rookie season than AJ Green or Julio Jones, and Derek Carr has proven to be a serviceable starter. Not bad in terms of the hobby, as there are lots of people who really like the Raiders, even if I am not one of them.

Prices so far:

2015 Upper Deck Inscriptions Amari Cooper Red Auto RC

2014 Exquisite Amari Cooper XRC /125

Kevin White – #7 Overall, Bears

After trading away Brandon Marhsall for peanuts, White looks to be a good pickup for the Bears as his replacement. He wont have the same initial production, but he could develop into a top guy. The Bears have a ton of collectors, so White should be a big pull in 2014.

Prices So Far:

2015 Leaf Metal Draft Kevin White Superfractor Auto 1/1

2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft Kevin White Helmet Auto /5

Todd Gurley – #10 Overall, Rams

As shocked as I am that the Titans didnt trade out of number 2, I am equally as shocked that someone would draft a RB at 10 in this day and age. Very weird. Gurley will be an interesting case all year coming off his ACL injury. He may not get quality carries until a few weeks in, either, so be on the watch for spending too much on his cards early. There will be a lull as the season starts and he doesnt get the ball. Thats the best time to buy.

Prices so far:

2015 Upper Deck Inscriptions Todd Gurley Gold Wave Auto

Todd Gurley Game Used Autographed Georgia Gloves

Devante Parker – #14 Overall, Dolphins

Great pick by the Fins here, as Parker is a great player to fill the gap left by troubled Mike Wallace. Of all the guys in the reciever class this year, im most interested to see what happens with Parker. I wanted the Vikings to pick him up, but they went defense. Hobby wise, the Dolphins have a following, and their fans will be all over him.

Prices so Far:

2015 Leaf Metal Draft Devante Parker Auto Superfractor 1/1

2015 Upper Deck Devante Parker Die Cut Auto

Melvin Gordon – #15, Chargers

Two backs in the top 20 is nuts to me. That being said, there is not a better situation for Gordon this year, especially because Rivers is great, and the team isnt terrible either. Running backs need help from the passing game early in their career, and the more room they have the better they do.

Prices so far:

2015 Upper Deck Melvin Gordon SP Authentics Auto

Melvin Gordon Signed Sports Illustrated – PSA Cert

The draft is always one of my favorite events of the year, and though there wasnt as much action as I thought there would be, it was still a blast. Now onto the Rookie Premiere in late May.

On the Radar: 2015 Panini Prestige

Over the last few years, Prestige has been one of the worst looking sets that Panini has put out all year. With the advent of Score as their top pre-rookie premiere product, the team has left Prestige to rot on the vine. And rot it has. Prestige has housed some of the ugliest cards I have ever seen, and it seems to get worse with age.

Check out the dumpster fire that Prestige has become:

2014 Panini Prestige Johnny Manziel Auto

2013 Panini Prestige Leveon Bell Auto

2014 Panini Prestige Odell Beckham Jr. Auto

2013 Panini Prestige Cordarrelle Patterson Auto

Now that Panini has secured a CLC exclusive to use NCAA logos and uniforms in their trading cards, their pre-premiere products have gotten a shot in the arm. Up until this point, Upper Deck has had the exclusive since 2010. After seeing the previews for Prestige, the question becomes whether or not that shot in the arm was healthy or hurtful. So far, we have seen that Score will feature NFL logos on cards with college jersey pictures. That's the way it was done historically as well. I am completely fine with that, especially over using airbrushed shots like years past. Nothing looks worse than a helmet off, airbrushed sideline shot with a sticker auto.

Prestige, however, looks to be a bit different, unless they decide to change things up from the mockups provided. Instead of going the direction they took with Score (the right direction), they look to have decided to go full NCAA with many of the cards for Prestige. I think this is a terrible decision, especially if they decide to use stickers for the autographs. This product will come out around or after the rookie premiere, some months after players declared for the NFL draft. Considering that they are already going to release NFL logo cards for Score, I sincerely hope they dont go this direction for the majority of Prestige’s checklist. Its the wrong move.

Prior to 2010, there were elements of college licensing in many early sets, but the focus was always NFL. Panini seems to have a raging boner for using their newly acquired license, even at the detriment and dilution of their NFL branded sets. Listen, I know I want to wear my new shirt the day after I buy it too, but you cant wear that same shirt all week just because its new. You have to go back to your regularly scheduled wardrobe, or people would be looking at you like “AGAIN?!?” Same thing here.

If Panini invades their previously NFL brands with college logos everywhere, this is going to be an even longer year than I expected it to be. If they decide to take this path, it becomes more clear to me that their team does not understand the way the card collector market works. NFL is the top billing, and always will be. There is a reason why CLC never really made the kind of money for UD that they expected it to. NCAA cards are still a niche market, and there is zero reason to cater to it in a sport like football.

I remember back to 2009, when Upper Deck released UD black with College jerseys for the rookies. Because the cards were hard signed, they didnt have the turnaround time to get the pics on the card with pro gear. People came close to boycotting the set as a result. The NFL is why we are here, although we will forgive the use of college PICTURES in lieu of something else. Logos are different, as it adds a schism to the set’s branding.

That being said, I do like the look of the base rookie, with a border-less presentation that looks very appealing. Everything else pretty much has the theme of 2012 Playbook with college jerseys. Not very good at all. The autographs look especially horrible.

Again, we will have to hold back judgment to see if they shift from their mockup design to pro-uniforms, but until then, I question their hobby intelligence and business plan.

On the Radar: 2015 Topps High Tek Football

Topps has had a lot of success as of late with products being brought over from Baseball. One of the biggest surprise successes of last year was High Tek baseball, which brought some very interesting concepts to the calendar in a reboot of a set from a long time ago. High Tek combined lots of parallels, on card autos, and acetate together, and the collectors went nuts over the cheap packs and cool looking cards.

Check out the baseball version:

2014 High Tek Mike Trout Auto BGS 9.5

2014 High Tek Miguel Cabrera Auto BGS 10

2014 High Tek Ken Griffey Jr Red Auto /10

2014 High Tek Randy Johnson Buyback Auto

Topps previously announced at the Summit that this product was making the jump, and we got the first preview yesterday. From what I am seeing, this might be the first product with a majority of on card non-rookie autos that costs less than $100 in a long time. Too long. To get on card non-rookie autos in Panini, you have to spend a ton. For this, it looks like the baseball price point will hold true.

If you remember back to 2009, in Upper Deck’s last year, they also put out a low price point on card product in Philadelphia. Another set I think deserves a ton more credit than it gets. Great looking sets with on card autos rarely come cheap. Both Philadelphia and this look to be of that type.

I love the look of the cards in the mockup, but you cannot account for what Acetate stock will do for these cards. They are going to look incredible, especially if there is a checklist that is as good as it was for other on card sets that Topps has done recently.

My favorite cards in the preview are easily the bright horizons cards, which feature the skyline of the player’s home city. They look sharp as hell, and with on card autos there too, this could be a surprise hit that surpasses what was done in Baseball.

I remain so bitter about the fact that this is Topps’ last year in the business as it is beyond clear to me that they deserve the license so much more than Panini ever did. Alas, this is a world that money will always mean more, and Panini continues to be the only stable entity with that characteristic in their back pocket. Kind of like the guy whose parents buy their way into an Ivy league School instead of displaying the merit that would grant access without the money. Same situation here.

Eventually we will see the final products Topps will make after 60 years in football, and its good to see that they arent taking this lying down.

SCU Go Live Report: 2015 Bowman Baseball

As mentioned previously, this is easily one of the biggest baseball releases of the year. Its always a fun mix of the first big prospect cards and autographs, and a bunch of other rookie themed cards, and it drives people to rip packs like no other. Bowman continues to be one of the more polarizing themed brands in the hobby, only because of how people feel about prospects and their place in sets. That doesnt stop people from diving very deep on this product every single year.

Check out some of the bigger hits so far:

2015 Bowman Chrome Yasmany Tomas Auto RC

2015 Bowman Chrome Rusney Castillo Green Refractor Auto

2015 Bowman Chrome Nick Gordon Purple Refractor Auto /250

2015 Bowman Chrome Joc Pederson Refractor Auto /499

2015 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Purple Refractor

2015 Bowman Chrome Alex Jackson / DJ Peterson Dual Auto /99

Although many find it tough to invest in a player who has yet to take a swing or throw a pitch in the bigs, it is always responsible for the biggest chase cards of the year. In fact, its not even close. The aura of the rare refractor has even permeated to other brands, other sports, even other companies. People love them some Bowman, and the Chrome makes it king.

This year's draft class has its share of bigger names, but there isnt a rookie that has national attention like we have had in the past. Sure, guys like Bryant, Pederson and others still have a huge draw, but this isnt their first rodeo. For Bryant, its his third, making these cards desirable, but not as desirable as last year. Others like Yasmany Tomas and company are looking to pick up the slack.

As for the look of the product, there is a very 2014 Finest vibe to the cards, with more of a retro looking border than the typical white frame. Although I wasnt a fan of Finest’s look, this toned down version is much better. Adding in cards like retro rookie flashback cards with hard signed autos are easily some of the cooler cards I have seen in a prospect product in a while. No joke there.

Bowman has a rep, and that rep is one that really speaks to its place among the kings of cardboard. You cannot argue that the set has one of the largest followings in Sports Cards, and its longevity is a testament to that fact. This year, Topps is going a bit outside their normal confines, and Im okay with that. It works, and works well. Im not a breaker, so I cant speak to box value, but the cards are definitely worth taking at least one shot.