Examining the Good With the Bad

In the past, I have done a five on five about the hobby, or a discussion of a few good things and a few bad things that I believe are relevant observations about what is currently going on. Since things have changed so much, even in the last few months, I think it bears a redux and re-evaluation.

Five Things That Are Great

1. Community

Since 2007, the online card community has become a staple of the industry to a point that it is taken into consideration when news is released. Not only do collectors participate in the discussion through message boards, facebook, twitter and blogs, but the companies have joined on as well. As of right now, all of the big three companies have facebook pages and twitter accounts, and two of the big three have a blog that covers relevant topics. As great as it is, those things are just the tip of the iceberg. Back in the early part of 2008, when SCU was founded, the amount of online participation was minimal compared to now. Card blogs were few and far between, and widely read card blogs were even fewer. Message boards were heavily policed and rarely produced anything but flame wars and mail day posts. Twitter was barely going, and facebook was for connecting with old friends. Since that timeframe, card blogs have become increasingly popular, message boards have gone so far as creating their own card sets, and twitter and facebook have become a staple of the community. As we saw with the turnout for the recent National show, many people from the community made it a point to meet up in Baltimore to put a face to the keyboard. It’s a great time to be a part of the hobby when it comes to online collecting.

2. Communication

When it comes to communication between the companies and their end users, less is more had always been the policy du jour. In a time where community is a key part of the process, communication has gotten to a point where collectors now have more of a voice in what is going on. If a company does something right, they hear about it from all sorts of different places. If a company does something wrong, they definitely hear about it, and in some cases they fix it. A great example of this was with the prevalence of the fake Rookie Premiere Autos from Topps, and their commitment to serially numbering the future cards to prevent fakes. On that same note, news on upcoming products, as well as announcements on new directions have become practical holidays on the net, and all is thanks to the way that the companies have started to communicate with the collectors. Is it all that it could be? No, but it’s a great thing that is going on in our hobby. As I said yesterday, the Topps panel at the national was an event that had good intentions at heart, but further improvement is needed. Regardless, a panel like that never would have happened a few years ago, and that is where we can see the progress.

3. Collectors Are Starting to Open Their Eyes

In terms of the soft underbelly of an industry known for defrauding its fans, the general collecting populace is starting to catch on that not everything is as peachy keen as Beckett makes it out to be. I remember a few system questioning topics being discussed on message boards when I first got back into collecting, and how much of a fight it turned into. None of the people who commented on the topics could fathom that Beckett or the manufacturers could manipulate them the way they were. Now, if you go on a message board and start talking about it, board members are quickly going to ask you if you have been hiding under a rock for the last three years. No longer do the companies have free reign to churn out questionable items or videos, as skepticism has become much more of a welcome feeling. Many of you may say this has contributed to a lot of negative aspects, but I disagree. I have never been one to want the wool pulled over my eyes, and I think its great that people are finally starting to see that all is not what it seems. Also, from a purchasing standpoint, a lot of collectors are starting to recognize the fakes that have been such a problem in the past. Whether its fake autos, fake patches or fake anything, someone is always there to jump on it. I cant tell you how happy that makes me feel, and I think its great that people are getting the point. They are surely a long way from where they need to be, but it is a million times better than it was.

4. The Hobby Is Receiving National Media Attention

For an industry profit marging that has deteriorated as greatly as it has over the last few years, national media attention is like a breath of fresh air. Whether it’s the sale of the Strasburg superfractor, or any number of other stories, news outlets are realizing how many people still care about sports cards. Hell, I have even seen the Million Card giveaway come up on MLB game broadcasts and morning news shows. When I attended the rookie premiere, an event usually reserved for card companies, the news stations from the LA area and even a few national services were there at the party. Because Topps, Panini and UD were the ones who had set up the event with the NFLPA, they were front and center when coverage of the event was broadcast. Although the hobby will never die, the industry does have a shelf life, and it is extended every time a story is covered nationally. That is definitely a good thing.

5. Things are Rebounding From the Recession

For a long time, the industry looked to be on its last legs because of crippling blows from the recession. Because of the way the manufacturers produce their products, card collecting success is in direct correlation to the amount of disposable income that is available to the nation. When the nation is in dire straits, so is the ability to buy cards, even more so than some of the other industries that were hit by the recession. Now that the nation is starting to recover, there was a looming cloud of doubt that surrounded whether or not the industry would be able to recover. As we have seen with the success of recent releases, as well as the completed auction tab on ebay, things are slowly getting back to the way they were. It may never reach full speed again, but its great to see that collectors are not giving up on the things they love.

Five Things That Are Bad

1. The Money

Baseball cards and money will always be interconnected, but its become ridiculous lately. I frequently blame entities like Beckett and their grading service and price guide for furthering the notion that cards are an investment rather than a fun way to pass the time, and I definitely think that is a good part of it. However, its not the entire story. So many people are solely in this for the money, and that’s a terrible thing. When looking at the reason they are in this for the money, I think some of it hinges on the ways cards are presented in a national perception of collecting. When new people come into things, the first thing they are usually exposed to is the question I see way too much of. “HOW MUCH IS THIS WORTH?” Instead of trying to collect things that make them happy, they start to collect things that will make them the most money. Then when Beckett presents such an unrealistic representation of value, it creates disappointment when the truth is realized. I will be the first to admit that I fall victim to this vicious circle as well, and I guess that comes with the territory. However, I think its time for cards to be presented in a way that doesn’t paint this hobby as a money pit. However, when the Strasburg super does what it does, that becomes practically impossible.

2. Creativity is DEAD

I have commented a number of times that there is no more creativity in this world of cards we love so much. Don’t believe me? Look at every product released under Panini since the take over. They might as well have been one continuous product. Topps isnt much better. Then when you see that a company like Upper Deck kicks themselves in the nuts and l
oses everything, the ability to foster new ideas dissapates. As much as I hate what Upper Deck did in terms of their business ethics and practices, their products were always the summer blockbusters of the card world. That is undeniable, especially when you see how a product like SPA or Exquisite compares to anything else in the same category of products. The boredom has become so disheartening, that many people are giving up based on the sheer number of emails I have received. Personally, I think it has more to do with companies focusing on packing as many relics onto a card as possible, rather than focusing on the simple beauty that cards had in the past. Design and composition has become an afterthought, instead of being the primary focus, and as a result, we have products like Topps Triple Threads and Panini National Treasures Basketball.

3. Scams and Fakes are Becoming Harder to Detect

It used to be blatantly obvious when something wasn’t right. The patch was perfectly centered, or the auto was ridiculously terrible. It was cut and dry, and the informed people never had to worry about getting taken. However, because of the way companies are trying to wow the collectors (a good thing), fakers have had an opportunity to exploit it (a bad thing). It’s a huge problem, and many of the manufacturers refuse to address that it is even happening, mainly because some of them don’t even have a clue as to the extent of how far it reaches. Although some of them take small steps into combatting fakes, none of them go the whole nine yards, either due to cost or due to time needed. They have gotten BETTER, but they are so far from GOOD that is fucking frustrating.

4. The Cost of Maintaining a Respectable Collection Is Getting Crazy

Part of it is due to the amount of money companies have to spend to get their products done, part of it is the nature of the business. The bad thing is that the cost of having a wow collection is getting unmanagable. Box price average is slowly creeping higher, and the content inside those boxes is not following suit. This leads to much higher prices all around, and much of it has to do with things out of the control of the companies who produce the cards. When the top players like Albert Pujols charge as much as they do for an autograph, it drives up the cost to produce a product that is filled with enough content to buy. Pujols doesn’t need the money, and neither do many of the players who sign, but yet they still feel that their signature is valuable enough to commit highway robbery. Then again, when they expect tens of millions of dollars to play a game we all think is nothing more than fun, I guess its expected.

5. Everyone is Using The Wrong Arguments For Why The Hobby Isnt Growing

Kids not collecting cards is not the problem. That’s pretty much it. That argument holds as much water as a generic brand baloon on a cold day. Kids are not the future of this hobby, casual sports fans are. When the collecting base is populated by as many twenty somethings as it is, the manufacturers should not be wasting their time trying to compete with XBOX and DVR. Kids are gone, and they are not coming back – at least until they start cheering for a sports team and buying their own stuff. Because that usually happens around age 16-20, that is where the focus needs to be. Kids spending 2 bucks on a base Topps pack at wal-mart is not going to drive the hobby to a point where it needs to be. Getting the billions of casual sports fans interested in buying AUTHENTIC autographs and memorabilia from their favorite sports players will.

As blogging is always about opinion rather than anything else, these are obviously mine. Im sure all of you have your own opinions, and I encourage you to voice them. However, when considering the things that you like and the things that you hate, remember that there is more to this hobby than bitching about redemptions. These highs and lows are more of a representation of intangible concepts that play into tangible products. When the intangible is corrected or improved, the tangible end results will improve. Bottom line.

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.

Beckett’s Box Breaks Arent Even Worth My Comment Any More

Topps Tribute has lived up to my under-billing and then some. Outside of the fact that the cards look as terrible, if not more terrible than last year, the box breaks have been some of the worst this side of Topps Paradigm we have ever seen. For the amount of money collectors are paying for these boxes the cards that are being pulled are complete junk. There was even a case break on blowout where one person pulled FIVE Duke Snider autographs. Not one, not two, but FIVE. Of course, Beckett’s two box break was a COMPLETELY different story. Par for the course, right?

First, a little history. A lot of you probably have started reading this blog after the first few months back in early 2008, understandably. But, back at that time, Beckett was breaking boxes almost daily, and they were never without an eyepopping hit or two, especially when it came to high end products. Even before the infamous Exquisite ass ream, they had a number of products that were so obviously loaded on purpose that it was tough to ignore. I mean, go back and watch their break of 2007 National Treasures. It wasn’t even subtle. The box they had that contained both a 1/1 ridiculous patch auto of Brady Quinn (who was a top rookie at the time) and two other awesome cards didn’t even come with the normal advertising info that comes in every single box. No checklist, no kodak thing, nothing. It was just the box and the pack. That’s only the beginning. They had one of the craziest cases of Topps Sterling I have ever seen, and they made it seem like it was all just their luck. Right, just like my scrub auto pull from Classics is worth high book.

Then the 2007 Exquisite break rolled around and everyone FINALLY caught on to their obvious deception, mainly in partnering with the companies to get boxes sent to them that contained cards that made the products seem better. Go back and watch, tally all the pulls, count the number of boxes they break, and then tell me its all LUCK. In fact, Upper Deck faced such a terrible reputation over that break, that they did not resume regular publicized box breaks with Beckett until the 2009 football season. Sure says a lot about what is going on with what Tracy Hackler refers to as the readers favorite part of what Beckett does. Cmon.

Fast forward to yesterday. Tribute is falling flat on its face, especially in the realm of customer satisfaction. Beckett posts a video of two boxes of the product supplied by Topps. In those two boxes, they pull one of the most coveted non-1/1 cards in the entire product, a bat of the most collected player in hobby history, a 1/1 of the best player in baseball, and another auto of a popular player. Two boxes. That’s it. Funny how that works. In fact, if you go back and tally the price of all the pulls of a lifetime Beckett has had, the total equals close to twenty thousand dollars. And they only have broken one or two boxes of every product. Some kind of luck.

In fact, if you go back and look over the cases that have been broken on all the message boards, there isnt a lot of evidence that collectors are pulling that kind of hauls out of entire cases, let alone two boxes. The main point here is whatever cards they pull are being taken out of the hands of collectors that actually pay for the products. I have said a hundred times before that it would not be hard to solicit collector breaks of the product and post those instead of their own boxes supplied by the company reps. They are purchased from real stores with real money, and considering that the collector’s reactions to the product will be more genuine, more realism will also be presented.

Yeah, I know, Beckett’s arrogance and their commitment to providing the most unrealistic view of the hobby possible will prevent this from ever happening. That is really too bad, especially for the schmucks that still believe every piece of info they put out.

Don’t get me wrong, Topps is just as much to blame, as the companies are. However, Topps has a bottom line to uphold and they are not the media source that is responsible for reporting on the product. It would be like Rolling Stone getting an album with three extra tracks on it and reviewing that instead of what the normal customer could buy on iTunes. The company will take whatever steps it can to pad its profits, and its up to the outlets to refuse the deception. We all know that Beckett is more than happy to trade morality for a few extra views on their video, so Im not surprised.

Its just absolutely terrible that people are still putting stock in their breaks.

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.

A Quick Response To Beckett’s Crap

I saw on Blowout that Beckett had opened some early boxes of Topps series two, and found that they were offering a program for people to create their own sketch cards. I think the program is cool, but I want to respond to the first part of their article, not the merits of the program. Their lead in touched on a few things that were obviously directed at the Card Blogger Network, and more specifically my April Fools Prank, I suspect. I think I need to say some stuff as a result.

They start:

Collectors often clamor for more interaction with trading card companies — feeling the need to tell them their demands while also telling them what they don’t like, telling them what they do like and more.

This is complete bullshit. Beckett is the only group of people I would expect this kind of arrogance from. Are they actually implying that we post “demands” on the companies themselves? I don’t think that could be any further from the truth. How about all those whining emails that were sent back when Mario got some exclusives for his site? Those don’t count? Cmon, don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house, boys.

The reason I say this is because for 99% of the blog posts out there, bloggers just post what they think and feel about different news items from the day. That’s what blogging is. No one is demanding changes, we are just expressing that we feel there are changes that need to be made, IN OUR OPINIONS. I mean, I think this is a pretty necessary interaction, especially considering the fluff pieces that Beckett usually writes on products. If there isnt anyone to challenge the status quo reporting, how will any feedback ever be exchanged.

Although Beckett has started to change a few of their ways thanks to constant and never ending badgering from people on the net, they are still far from offering any real opinions or commentary on things that need to be spoken about. So to criticize card blogs for “clamoring” for more interaction is the equivalent of saying “stay off our territory.” Well, fuck you. Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on. Card blogs are exploring all sorts of new territory, most of which Beckett wouldn’t touch out of fear of retribution. Beckett may be able to hold readership over the heads of their advertisers, but that doesn’t give them a pass for looking over the things that hurt the general hobby collector base.

Listen, my history with Beckett and their damage to the hobby has been well documented. They have even taken it upon themselves to come on this site and make aloof comments in response to my criticism. I have laid off lately, mainy because I have been bored with their path. Its basically SSDD with them all the time, and I don’t have the energy any more to respond like I once wanted to. There are more important things now, and yet, Beckett still shows how they loathe the existence of people who do what they do, and do it better. Not only do they do it better, but they do it without looking to pad their bottom line or please their advertisers. All opinion, all the time, no reason to pull any punches. Panini may use my posts as toilet paper, but that isnt going to force me to try to bring them on as an advertiser.

I do understand that most bloggers crave more interaction, but that interaction expands way beyond just the card companies. Its why there are trades, awards, and collector blog bat arounds, not just emails to Clay Luraschi, Scott Prusha, and Chris Carlin crying about lack of exclusive content for the site. We crave community, and if the card manufacturers want to be a part of it, any of us will welcome them with open arms.

I mean, did Beckett even care to think that maybe the companies crave more interaction with us? Why the fuck would they get on Twitter and Facebook the way they did if we hadnt pioneered it first? Think about it. It’s the same reason why collectors are starting to email us rather than looking at a Beckett, because they know we are going to give them a straight answer, no BS.

Beckett’s statements go on:

Sometimes, for varying ego-related reasons, individuals insist they should appear on a card inside a Topps wrapper, too.

Obviously Beckett didn’t get the memo on April 1st. Typical. I seriously want to know who is insisting that they should appear on a card. I don’t think anyone has even “demanded” that type of “interaction” even once. We would all love the honor of being on our very own Allen and Ginter card, but we arent offended by it not happening. We don’t think it’s a good idea to force collectors of those products into collecting cards of people that barely matter in the grand scheme of things. Yet, we are a fun bunch, and its easy to see why a prank like what we pulled resonated with so many people (both positively and negatively). The bottom line is that bloggers are gaining notoriety among collectors, which is further evidence of why the companies probably crave our attention as well as us theirs.

Also, I don’t really get these “ego-related reasons,” as I don’t think any blogger over estimates their worth to the hobby. I reach 1200 people a day TOPS, how is that even gum on the sidewalk to the overall number of people that collect? I was actually surprised how far my posts could reach back when I announced the rumors that Upper Deck had lost their NFL license. I think just about everyone else felt the same way, including Upper Deck. Does that mean I don’t matter? No, but it does mean that I (and we) have a long way to go before we actually have the power to make a huge difference.

That is where Beckett is correct, they have the interaction, they have the ability to “demand” and “insist.” However, the way they use it for the greater good is like Aquaman’s contributions to the Justice League. Instead of being the Hobby Superman, they instead act like Alfred, just tidying up after everyone, making sure Wayne Manor looks good for when Batman gets back.

Well, blogs may be the equivalent of Kick-Ass right now, but like his rise to fame, ours is coming via other channels. We may not have the super powers or the history that Beckett does, but we have a lot of unconventional ways to make ourselves known. Beckett can rest on their laurels from the pre-internet days of collecting, but their days are numbered due to the trends of the world. You know what I lose if I shut down this blog today? Nothing. I don’t lose a single thing. Beckett loses everything. Maybe they should keep that in mind before launching molotov cocktails from their crumbling pedestal.