More Discussion on Loaded Boxes

The existence of loaded boxes in the industry is not in question, and it never has been. Yet, after some rousing discussion on Twitter yesterday, things got a little bit more interesting in regards to whether or not we know the full story about them. I know I have always wanted an admission of guilt regarding the free boxes that are sent to Beckett and many of the blogs, but I have always just been told that the luck of the draw is the luck of the draw. Personally, I have had private conversations with people still employed in the industry confirming that loaded boxes are regularly sent out, but that Beckett is the only ones stupid enough to video tape and show them. So, the question becomes, do they know what they are getting ahead of time?

Before I answer that, I need to examine a few things that were brought to the forefront by Beckett yesterday in an arrogant post on their site. Obviously the employees are tired of having to deal with the constant backlash regarding their breaks, and they wanted us to rethink our position. For most of the people that have been to a few rodeos, it was a slap in the face to have Beckett post that the cards they pull on a regular basis do not deserve our ire and wrath. They wanted us to believe that because so many 1/1s are created every year, its not out of the question to believe that they would pull as many as they have. However, the 1/1s they pull are only part of the argument, and that’s where I don’t think they wanted to reveal the whole truth. If you go back and tally up ALL the amazing cards they have pulled, its absolutely crazy to believe that its luck. I mean, really go back. Yesterday alone they pulled close to $3000 worth of cards from two boxes of tribute and a few boxes of National Treasures basketball. In reality, they and their advertisers just want you to believe that you have the same chance they do at having those types of days. Of course we do, of course we do.

This leads us back to the original discussion on the loaded boxes themselves. If they exist, which is all but confirmed by everyone in the industry, does Beckett know what they are opening before they open it? This is where there is some debate, and I am on one side of things, and many in the industry are on the other. Steven Judd said some very interesting things on Twitter yesterday regarding this exact question, and its up to you whether or not you want to believe him. He has held just about every job in the industry, and it has made him enough friends and enemies for him to be warranted in saying what he said.

His first Tweet said, “So Beckett got a loaded box, big deal. I “packed” quite a few of them over the years. Get over it. It’s part of the business. Geez…..” From this statement, the discussion starts to materialize. He continues, “When the Beckett boards were more dominant. I would make a special “case” (I’d give the packout vendor a specific list of auto/mem hits to put in each box), have it sent to a buddy of mine a week prior to the release date, have him break the scan and scan all of the auto/mem cards and then post a box-by-box break on the Beckett boards around midnight on the night before the release date in order to get people excited about the product.I like to call it guerilla marketing.” Right, so the loaded boxes are pretty common, no news there, this time its just from someone who worked in the industry. This is where it gets to my questions, as Judd seems to think otherwise that Beckett doesn’t know what they are getting.

“Just to be clear, Beckett or the folks who work there have nothing to do with the “loaded” boxes they receive. It’s the PDT/marketing people at the card companies that plot and scheme to jerrymander the box/boxes.” Notice he doesn’t say that they don’t know what they are getting ahead of time, just that they arent involved in the scheme. See, im not sure if all of you know, but Beckett has its hands in just about every company that is out there. Certain reps from Beckett and Panini are actually such close friends that they participate in each other’s weddings. Hell, even the new brand manager for Panini Hockey is a former Beckett employee. Same with a number of other people at all three major companies. Beckett has people in their staff that worked in the industry too, so they are not free from the reverse of this instance. Basically, everyone in the industry knows everyone VERY well. Now, considering how close all of these people are, do you really think that no one sends emails back and forth explaining what needs to be done with the video breaks? Cmon. I don’t think anyone is that naïve. It’s the same reason why the people talk about certain cards before they are actually pulled in the break.

The companies have a responsibility to generate as much hype around their products as they possibly can, and this is the best way to do it. People say that pulling these types of cards would do nothing for a product, but obviously that isnt true, or Beckett wouldn’t continually get boxes. Are the companies wrong for creating this type of situation? Of course they are, its manipulative and unethical. But, its also expected. The companies have been rewarding their best customers and best friends for years. If you spend $100,000 a year on wax with a company, its understood that you are taken care of. When I worked at a shop one summer during high school, I witnessed it first hand. This industry is built on that kind of deception, and no one wants to believe its happening, because we want to think that we actually have a shot at pulling something when we buy a box.

The bottom line is this. Beckett general news reporting and their breaks do not present a realistic view of anything regarding the hobby, and it is the reason why they feel the need to try and justify everything they do. If they presented a realistic view of what is actually going on, people would accept it without question. However, people would also realize how crooked and terrible the industry can be at times, and that is where things would cause problems. Beckett caters to a certain type of reader, the reader with blinders on. The one that just wants the hobby to be a hobby, regardless of what goes on behind closed doors. They don’t research fakes, they don’t care about the negative things people say on message boards and blogs, they just want to be spoon fed the news and then buy their boxes free of concern. I am not like that, and many of the people who read this site are not like that. However, more and more people are becoming like me every day, and that is where Beckett and the companies are going to have major issues one day. It finally caught up with Upper Deck earlier this year, and I have a feeling its only a matter of time before it starts to surface in other places.

If Beckett wants to continue breaking boxes with an arrogant attitude that we are the bad guys for questioning the authenticity of their breaks, they are not going to stop hearing the guffaws from the crowd each time they pull something huge. As the FCC starts to crack down on the free product that media outlets receive, they may also need to adjust things before the government regulations catch up with them. Sure, there are a lot of 1/1s these days, but it is still ridiculously tough to pull them, especially if a normal collector broke as few boxes as Beckett does each year. I think its time that collectors stop kidding themselves, and its also time that both the companies and Beckett own up to the presentation of the products they get. Its not fair, especially when the uninformed part of the hobby that still reads their magazine, thinks that the hobby world that Beckett presents is the real world and not some ridiculous fantasy land.

I get that there is no way any of this goes further than this page, but it was worth the discussion among the few people that read this site.

Exploring the Nature and Reason for SCU’s Negativity

There is a lot to be said about the way that sports card blogs function in this hobby, especially the higher profile ones. One of the biggest aspects of the arguments against the nature of the blogs is the negativity we seemingly “spout” from our pores. If there is anything I get from anti-blog people who stumble upon this site, its that the overwhelming negativity that I bring on a daily basis is somewhat disheartening to the people who consdier this to be a fun thing, rather than something that should be breeding commentary and analysis. Right? Its just cardboard, why is it something that the blogs have taken so seriously in some cases?

Well, there are a few answers to that question, and most of it centers around the type of person one is. Since I can only speak for my own feelings, that’s all that I will do in this case. Ive only talked about SCU’s creation about a million times, but I think that a slight re-telling is definitely in order here, as it should spotlight some of the reasons I approach the hobby the way I do on this site. Rather than just telling you to click that tiny “X” every time you don’t like what you read, maybe its time to see it from the perspective that drove me to write four novels worth of text on a site that barely anyone reads (in terms of the grand scheme of things).

Back in early 2008, blogs were definitely not what they are now. There were no sponsorships, no exposure, and most of us were only read by our families and other bloggers. Most of the hobby action was taking place on message boards, mostly those at Beckett’s old website. Because the community was run by Beckett, and a good portion of the members still subscribed to their magazine, speaking out against the company was extremely frowned upon. As a whole, it was painfully obvious to a select few members that the view of the hobby presented in the magazine was like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when they only see the big Wizard’s head, and not what was behind the curtain. Beckett never addressed any of the hobby issues that a lot of us had major problems with, and it almost became a running meme on the site that fake patches didn’t exist and that everyone in the hobby was honest and fair. Because they were so concerned with a dwindling readership and the “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” aspect of the hobby that I hate so much, they didn’t want to cover anything that would scare people away.

If you look back around that time, even the daily blogs had a different demeanor about them, especially when it came to the industry itself. Because many of them had no other commentary available, the fluff filled reviews and previews that Beckett offered on a normal basis were seemingly accepted without rebuke. Then the boom fell, and people started to wake up, myself included. Although I hated the Beckett members who thumped their price guide like the bible, I never really put much thought into what responsibility they had to the collector to provide accurate and seemingly unbiased coverage on the hobby. After the famous Exquisite Box Break happened, something inside me snapped, both with Upper Deck for sending them the stuff, and Beckett for presenting it like it wasn’t an issue. Once I had the mindset to comb through their coverage with a different perspective, I saw exactly what was going on.

In April of 2008, I started SCU with the intention of finding a place to use my writing skills that I had grown to love, and to provide an alternate view of what was actually going on in the industry and the hobby. To cover the things that no one else would cover. From the beginning, many of those things happened to be negative, and my viewpoint became increasingly negative towards the scam ridden industry that we require as the lifeblood to our collections. As I honed my character on this site, and built up opinions on certain subjects, I found that it became incrementally harder to find interesting positive things in the hobby. It was rare that I found something great worth talking about, mainly because the negative aspects of what the companies did on a daily basis far outshined the positive things they did.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few things I definitnely took joy in. I loved getting on card signatures from my favorite players, and I definitely loved cards that fit the paradigm of what I thought a card should look like. Because SCU is and was 100% commentary based on my opinions, I never hesitated to speak my mind on anything, even if it didn’t put me in the best of light with the parts of the hobby who still sided with the people walking around with their eyes and ears covered. As it so happened, Upper Deck was the company that produced the cards that fit into my collecting habits the cleanest, and though my past feelings on their actions and relationships were negative, it was very hard to ignore the quality of the cards they produced. Routinely, they out performed just about everyone else, offering more in their products that I liked than any of the other two main companies. A new Upper Deck set became the one thing I looked forward to each month, and I really didn’t care that people absurdly thought they were paying me for my commentary.

Now, on this site, I agree things are probably more negative than they have ever been, almost exclusively because its gotten to a point where there is very little that excites me any more. I love low end Topps products, but that is only a fraction of the calendar now that Upper Deck is no longer producing licensed cards. That one thing I looked forward to is gone for the foreseeable future, and my likes and dislikes are going to take a lot of work on the side of card designs and product content to change.

On the other hand, I cant help but feel like this is all a moot point anyways. I have always been an overly opinionated and overly critical person, that’s just who I am. Its only natural that my writing about the industry and the people involved are reflective of my nature. Im not going to put on a show and act like things are peachy keen all the time, especially in an industry that has its roots in people who take advantage of the ignorance of the general populace.

You may hate that I am overly negative about something as menial as cardboard, but when you consider the amount of time and work I have put into this site, its not that menial to me. Then when you consider the other side of the spectrum, a site that focuses only on the positive and ignores the problems, which would you rather have? I can guarantee that the negativity “spouted” on this site is nothing compared to other industries, and though that isnt an excuse, it should provide you with a frame of reference. As much as I hate to do it, this is where I tell you that overly positive people probably wont find solace here at my site. Its not because I hate cards, or hate people, its just the way I am.

Now, there has been a lot of discussion on twitter and elsewhere over the way that Robert Power handled his purchase of the Strasburg superfractor. Most of our feelings are generally negative about the reasons he did what he did, especially when you consider how much publicity he sought out on his own. Although I think the way it was presented in Beckett is completely the opposite of the true reasons for his actions, the discussion is valid. Does negativity scare people away the way that Beckett has always thought it has? This is where I say that there is not a chance.

I will admit that I do get a handful of comments from people who cant understand why I act the way I do, but the majority of the emails I get are more geared towards finding out more regarding the things I talk about. Instead of getting scared away by the negative aspects of the commentary I write, many people visit the site to see exactly what MAY be happening outside of their frame of reference. Funny enough, even the people who spend a lot of time working against me, come and visit a number of times a day based on the tracking I have set up.
That’s pretty interesting to me.

So, to those of you who loud the negativity of this site, it might be in your best interest to consider what that negativity means to the betterment of the hobby and industry. Without the criticism provided by the end users of the products, how will anyone ever know to get better? Im not saying at all that I am responsible for that contingent of collectors, nor am I saying that this site has any impact on any improvements to the hobby. However, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t say what I think, even if it does probably focus on the poor aspects of a children’s hobby instead of only championing the few positive things that happen.

The Strasburg Superfractor Has Beckett Written All Over It

Because its so rare that I get worked up over something that happens in the hobby, I think its only natural that I comment on the recent sale of the Strasburg superfractor to Razor entertainment for a little over $21,000. This card sure has generated a lot of press, including national media outlets, and when I read about the sale on Blowout, I became awfully frustrated with the guy who paid the original ridiculous price for a ridiculous card. Of course, my frustration with Beckett followed suit, as well.

When Power, an accountant, purchased the Superfractor for 16,000 dollars, there was so much shock in the sale that a lot of us were questioning the motives of a guy who had just come back to the hobby. It didn’t look like he knew anything about the card, and really didn’t even look like he knew anything about cards in general. Then, after a high(er) profile interview on ESPN, he relisted the card, much to the dismay of all the collectors who originally supported him (and those who didn’t). The card sold again for much more than he originally paid for it, but much like everyone expected, the sale did not go through. The card was eventually sold to Brian Grey and Razor for around 21K to be used in an upcoming product as the holy grail.

Beckett, in all their infinite wisdom, decided it was worth their time to check in again with Power, this time to find out why he gave up on his investment so quickly. Personally, I could have told you the reason in one sentence, but they decided it was worth about 20 pages. Its pretty obvious to me that even Power understood that keeping a card like that was not going to be worth his time, thanks to the extreme popularity and potential surrounding Stras’ first few starts, and decided to get his money back plus some. However, Beckett thought that it needed more than a simple explanation, and showed just what the hobby can do to a new collector. The problem with that is not what Power experienced as a person who bought one of the most high profile cards on the planet, its what Beckett brought to his door, and that’s what I feel bears discussion.

First off, Power sites negativity as a main reason for his resale of the card. To that I want to call shenanigans, and offer this commentary. I mean, I just don’t understand what he expected to happen. Did he think that hundreds of people were going to praise him for choosing a baseball card over a new Honda Accord or something like that? With fame comes haters, and those haters have nothing better to do than try to make you feel like you are a douche. Haters are only successful if they get to you, which is why just about every person who has a hater posse just ignores them. I don’t even read comments from my hater posse anymore, I actually have a special spam folder set up for them. What is the point?

Secondly, why would you complain about how many messages you get when you are the one who gave that initial interview? Power easily could have remained in the dark, keeping the card he “had to have.” Instead he went on the main hobby news source, ESPN, and just about every other place to talk about his buy. If that isnt asking, scratch that, BEGGING for attention, I don’t know what is. My favorite part of this is that Beckett seems to take an omniscent narrator stance on this whole thing, like they had nothing to do with the negativity surrounding the card. If anything, I would say they are responsible for most of it. They presented Power like he was some sort of folk hero, and then did even more damage by giving the card the grade they did. In fact, I would say most of the negativity, at least now, surrounds Beckett’s biased grade of the card rather than Power himself. Maybe he needs to talk to them about the bad press rather than whining about how negativity spoiled his hobby rebirth.

All of that is just par for the course for Beckett, and I guess that Power really doesn’t have the hobby experience to know that. Five years ago, maybe this would have been a much different situation, but Beckett has done so much over that period of time to soil their reputation, that its become more commonplace to hate Beckett than side with them now. I remember when I first discovered online collecting and how many people loved each and every box break that Beckett did. These days, that’s not even close to the case, and I still laugh when people snark at a big pull with “those boxes were meant for Beckett.”

Hell, just writing this post has made it tough to avoid another huge rant on the grading business or Beckett in general, and I think that is just a testament to the polarization that Beckett propagates in this hobby. You either are or you arent, and its really too bad that Power didn’t have the forsight to realize that the Beckett “aren’ts” and fame stalkers wouldn’t let him have a pass. I guess that’s what you get with 15 minutes of fame, and for our friends in Texas to take a “hands washed” stance on it like they did is completely stupid. Nice job again Beckett. Even nicer job Mr. Power.

BGS “Discusses” The Strasburg Grade – FAIL

Its rare that a card like the Strasburg superfractor comes around. I have no idea why anyone would even think of grading this card to begin with, but the seller fell for Beckett’s black magic and submitted it. As I predicted ahead of time, despite obvious problems, the card received a 9.5. People who know grading, rightfully so, went ape shit because of the fact that the card was so obviously bumped because of its stature. As always, Beckett’s arrogance moved them to post this video on youtube for everyone to see. They actually thought they could prove the card was legitimately the grade it received, when really all it did was solidify everything that angry graded card collectors were saying. Basically, the Strasburg was not a 9.5, and probably wasnt even a 9. However, for a company that exemplifies everything that is bad about the hobby, it wasnt about anything more about making money and making themselves look good. Epic Fail all around.

Dont believe what I am saying? Think I have a bias because I hate everything Beckett stands for? Fine. You dont have to listen to me, but this supersized scan from the guy who pulled it originally speaks for itself:
No matter that the card is drastically off center, the edges are visibly frayed, and the corners are less than stellar, nothing on this card received less than a 9. Give me a fucking break. I have craps that could have gotten a better grade than this should have. Bottom line. Thanks for proving your irrelevancy to everyone all over again, Beckett. Love your work.

Discussing the Grading BUSINESS Again


I think its time to revisit the grading discussion, because this Strasburg card is about to get a lot of publicity for BGS, and I have a feeling they knew what the card’s grade was before it was even submitted. I have always been a person who has rallied against the grading of cards by organizations like Beckett and PSA, because so many people don’t see the obvious conflict of interests that are inherantly present in running things the way they are run. Grading is a business, and from what I have been told, it is the most profitable part of each of the companies that do it. The problem is, so many people refuse to question anything that is set in slab, and that is the main reason why I feel it is necessary for me to comment on this for the hundredth time.

Grading was started back in the 1990s to help combat fraud for people who were just starting to buy and sell on the dark ages of the internet and eBay, but has turned into something completely different. Because the service offers ABOVE mint grades for some reason, people have started to use it as a way to bolster value on a card that would normally sell for lower prices. Its rarely used for modern cards in a way that echoes the original intent of the service, but that can be expected from the end user. Its kind of odd that BGS has actually started to cater to that crowd in recent years, and that is the reason why things are getting so out of hand. It has everything to do with the fact that BGS is a subsidiary of a magazine that has no relevancy in the hobby anymore, and the grading BUSINESS is the one thing that can do for circulation numbers what a slab would do to a raw card.

Based on this fact, I want you to start to think about the conflicts of interest that creates. You need to create repeat customers, and how do you do that under most normal business circumstances? Without a doubt, you do everything in your power make the customer happy. How do you make the customer happy in this sense? Well if you have a customer that repeatedly sends in huge orders, why not give him a little bump, right? He has a bunch of cards bordering that elusive 9.5? Well, get him that 9.5 so that he keeps coming back. I remember a while ago someone actually did an experiment with PSA and found that larger orders averaged better grades on the same cards than a smaller or individual order. Its common sense that this would happen, so why doesn’t anyone consider it to be a problem?

The reason is because when you think of the perceived legitimacy of the slab itself, there is no reason to question a result, unless it is unfavorable. If you are lucky enough to get a 10 on any scale for your card, no person in their right mind would ever resubmit it just to check and see if it could be duplicated, right? So, if a company wanted to bump a few orders for a VIP, no one would ever come back to them and say what they think is actually going on. Where is the need?

I still havent gotten to the meat of the conflict of interest though, and here it is. Because there is no governing regulatory industry that offers inspections on the different services, companies have no responsibility to their customers to provide accurate services. Because the service is run and performed by humans in the first place, bias is unavoidable, and therefore puts doubt into the whole process. Ill give you an example. Look at the BGS 10 Montana that was the talk of the town last time the National Card Show rolled around. It sold for $19,900 more than a raw one and tens of thousands more than a 9.5. Its funny how that type of occurrance hits the news during the biggest card show of the year. Not only that, but who is to say that it wasn’t manufactured publicity? Its pretty easy to make a Montana 9.5 a 10, mainly because Beckett has singlehandedly created an above mint culture in the hobby. Can any normal casual buyer make a case why a 9.5 is a 9.5 and a 10 is a 10? No. In fact, there probably isnt a person that can make a case like that in most instances.

Then when you see the publicity it got for a company that desperately needed it, the conflict of interest that grading presents becomes much more clear. There is no agency that will come and knock down Beckett’s door if they grade the card “incorrectly,” so why not give yourself some free advertising?

I also think its worth mentioning that both services do offer crossover grading, which is basically a way for collectors to beef up their grade gotten from another service. Funny how that is. There has also been a surge in slab crackers, or people that take poor results and resubmit multiple times for better grades, in recent years. Because there is so much subjectivity and arbitrary situations that are part of the service, people like this can get the result they want if they try enough times. If grading was the service it advertised, that type of problem wouldn’t happen.

Although there is a standard of grading, or so Beckett and PSA say, there is no doubt in my mind that this Strasburg 1/1 will be graded at least a 9.5 for the exact reasons I just mentioned. No magazine without customer responsibility would invite that kind of negativity about a card that is so important to their success. However, due to the off centered print of the card, they may be asking for a lot of people to start shouting my concerns from the rooftops.

Is there a place for grading in this hobby? Sure. Beckett has created that on their own. People value graded cards. But those cards have holes, and its important that some people realize that before dropping thousands on a “pristine” copy of a card they love, because that pristine card may be pristine for a reason other than its condition.