Death of a Legend: The Non-Auto Jersey Card

Back in the mid 1990s, cards were not what they are today. Certified autograph cards were so incredibly rare that many collectors didn’t even consider them to be an option in their collecting habits. Then, as if with a strike of lightning, Upper Deck released it’s UD Game Jersey card in 1996, and everything changed. Since then, Jersey cards have gone from the rarest of the rare, to the crappiest part of many collector’s box breaks. It has gotten bad enough that many products have base cards that are now worth more than the jersey cards, a sad fact of the overabunance of the way these cards are created. Due to this fact, I will say something that I have said many times before, non-autographed jersey cards need to go.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always exceptions to this rule, but for the most part they are a part of this hobby that needs to be taken out of the equation – at least in terms of the “hits per box” part of it. I don’t want a product to go around claiming four hits per box, when only one of them is an autograph. Jersey cards are so worthless these days, mainly thanks to companies like Panini/DLP, that its not even worth mentioning in product solicitation. I DON’T CARE, and from what the sales numbers are showing, neither does anyone else.

Hell, even the patch cards don’t break 10 bucks these days, and that is a true testament to what is going on in the hobby today. Companies like Panini need to understand that you cant continue to create products the way they do, its not 2003 anymore. This goes even further into the debate over rookie relic content as well, because even the presence of “RC” in Beckett’s off base and stupid price guide cant help get more value for these cards on the secondary market. I have talked at length about the reason collectors are pissed these days, and product content is a big reason. No one likes opening a $100 box and getting $20 worth of cards, its human nature. Even though EVERY box cant have 100 bucks worth of stuff in it, EVERY box should have SOMETHING. When Panini, Topps and UD overload products with scrub autos and crap jerseys because the cost of big name autos and licensing has become a huge problem, that’s where a change needs to be made.

It is actually quite unfortunate that game used jerseys don’t carry more weight anymore. Its even more pathetic that a piece of something so close to the game we love has no value to people. It should have value, as just about every collector collects because they love the players on the cards themselves. Game used relics are the truest connection we have other than a signature. Yet, because of exploitation of a good idea, the stale scent of desperation has started to waft over many of the products that hit shelves. The pieces in the cards still matter, it’s the way they are created that has been a major factor in the demise of this concept.

Not every jersey card is worthless, but 99.9% of non-autographed jersey cards are. For every Jim Thorpe swatch card, or every Lou Gherig, there are 10,000 like the ones that are 2-3 of the box hits in 95% of Panini’s product calendar. Even their top product of the year, National Treasures employed THOUSANDS of horrifically designed jersey cards that carry little to no value. This is in a product that costs over $400 MSRP, completely inexcusable.

Bottom line is that there needs to be a shift or the ability to create good affordable products will disappear. Once this happens, it will be a short time before the industry dies. Although the hobby will always be around, the industry has a much more definite lifespan for this reason. The solution comes in the form of both product content, checklist and most importantly design, as poorly designed cards that opt for cost savings over quality damage everything that is built by good products. The phrase is “you have to spend money to make money,” but not everyone gets how deep this concept runs in the process. As long as a lazy approach reigns supreme in any company, the death certificate of the industry has another letter transcribed on it. How much longer until the whole document is filled out?

I don’t mean to be Chicken Little here, but we are getting to a point where a sky falling mentality is becoming commonplace over Beckett’s “ALL IS WELL, DAMMIT!!!” approach. Perception is reality in most industries, and I would say that perception and reality are slowly moving closer to each other.

15 thoughts on “Death of a Legend: The Non-Auto Jersey Card

  1. I agree that they shouldn’t be considered “hits” anymore, but I would say the same thing about sticker autos. I think jersey cards, as an insert, are great. As the #1 (or #2 when autos are present) selling point, I think they are oversold. There’s also the problem that Topps refers to manupatches as “relics” which is completely false. I think jersey cards should be considered like any other insert. Personally, I would like if companies moved away from listing the number of guaranteed hits and let it all be random. Sure, the guarantee has made the worst boxes a little better, but it also makes the best boxes a little worse.

    On a company specific note, the effort level on the Panini side for many jersey cards is really killing their relevance. Using jersey cards as a parallel is kinda stupid, because I think the base card should be designed such that the picture is too important to cut a hole into. It wouldn’t be too hard to make them an insert set.

    Another part of the problem is Beckett/Book Value. Too many people rely on it in the first place, but then add to that the seemingly unwritten rule that all relics start at $8 BV. It creates an artificial expectation for the low end cards.

  2. I read a lot of your posts on SCU and 99.6% of the time I agree with your blogs and comments. Looking at most of the Game-Used cards of Vets, the material used, especially the white material, is prestine and white. Where’s the dirt? Where’s the grass stain? Where’s the blood? I am sure they have to wash each jersey Panini, UD Topps, etc etc but still it is difficult to get those type of stains that players get while playing football. Topps pledges to bring me closer to the game by inserting an authentic Game-Worn piece of material. The only real Game-Used/Game-Worn card that as ever brought me closer to the game is a 2010 Mike Williams Press Pass Game Day Gear Gold Insert card, it actually has a grass stain on it. But for some reason nobody is interested, as if I went outside and rubbed the card in the grass or something. Different strokes for different folkes but still??? I guess you buy $100 box and hope to get a top 10 Auto Rookie I guess???

  3. You should do more research outside of eBay. The first GU jersey cards for baseball came in the 1997 Upper Deck product, not 1996 Upper Deck. That listing you are linked to is listed incorrectly. Despite that, I do agree with you to a point.

    I know you are mainly a football collector, so I can easily see why you are so jaded. Football and Basketball products are flooded with ‘relics’ from their respective rookie photo events. This phenomenon has not yet reached the shores of baseball cards, although you do get many more GU cards from irrelevant players. That’s the one thing that Football/Basketball has correct. The actual GU pieces in their products actually are from relevant players usually.

    Hopefully, given time, each industry will mature correctly, just as it is currently with going back to on-card autos. In basketball/football, one of the companies will make an effort to put actual GU material of rookies in one of their later season products and if collectors react properly and flock to the product, we may begin to see the end of the photo shoot materials. Similarly, if another licensee eventually gets a MLB license, we may see less Rich Hill GU pieces.

  4. This is why, for the last 3 years, I have exclusively collected only HOFer, on-card autographs. I’ve been stronly considering paring down this collection even more recently. It’s just so sad to see the industry ruined by the idiots who claim to be providing a service to collectors. Last person out, be sure to get the lights…

  5. I agree with you completely,especially about the lame jersey cards Panini puts into the 400 bucks a box NT. This is what has completely turned me off from buying boxes anymore. You get little to no value for the money you shell out. I love busting boxes as much as the next person,but when most of the time you wind up with a bunch of jersey cards (usually scrubs),it just isn’t worth it. I’ll stick to buying the singles that I want. Great article,btw…

  6. The one thing that has bothered me more recently the past few years is the ambiguity of what the relic or swatch actually is. That’s why I like older products with game used cards because they at least stated if it was a jersey, pants, shorts, warm ups etc, and one thing I liked about Donruss and even Fleer in some products was them actually showing a picture of the actual item they used to make the cards. I never understood why companies wouldn’t be more upfront and give as much details as they can, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the value in my opinion. Nowadays you get a relic card and you assume it’s a jersey but really it could be anything because of the vague COA on the back.

  7. The problem is there is no way fix this problem (As you would probably agree because in the entire article you offer no advice on how to change things). The only reason Panini is getting by is from the rookie premiere where rookies sign ten thousand stickers and throw on 200 jerseys for twenty seconds.

    In retail, they say you can only pick two of the following three: Good, Fast, and Cheap. If you want Good and Cheap, then be prepared for one, maybe two sets all year, which might be the only way to decrease costs.

  8. Agree with LD…box prices for everything are so high that I haven’t busted a box for several years. And although you point to jersey cards as being a major thorn in the side, I would also note that many products are also filled with worthless autographs of scrubs (yes, Topps, I’m looking at you) as well as annoying and meaningless parallels.

    Bottom line is that most boxes are filled with junk I don’t want, thus making it both easier and more cost-effiecient to buy what I want on Ebay.

    Are you listening, manufacturers?

  9. This post has been bothering me since last night when I read it, you all asked for this. You collectors could not get enough of the game used crap, so they flooded the market with what collectors wanted, now that it got old and stale it’s too late. I’m surprised Adam you did not bring up bat chips still being used as a hit, that is just a complete fail in 2011 as a hit. Collectors created a monster with jersey hits, they just have to deal with the companies dishing out worthless crap.

  10. I strongly agree with this post.

    I know the volume of these cards is huge right now, but why not dial it back a bit and then consider the following:

    a) (obviously) do away with “event worn,” etc. and make all relics from actual games


    b) IDENTIFY THE GAME THE JERSEY WAS WORN IN. I think that this could change everything. I collect basketball, and I don’t want to buy a box and pull another Al Jefferson jersey swatch. If that same card, though, listed the game it was worn in and I could go check the box score and learn something about the game, then I might actually value the card differently.

    The jerseys from a player’s big games would be really, really cool to have.

    This would have been possible in the late 90s, as today’s volume would seem to rule it out. At the very least, however, ID’d game jerseys could make for a great insert set.

  11. JL…collectors never “asked” for any of this crap. Certainly they didn’t mind that it was included in products, back in the days when it was done in reasonable quantities, but collectors never “asked” for anything like what they are being deluged with. Like everything else, limited production inserts were an idea that was once pretty decent, but spiralled out of control once manufacturers lost touch with their customers.

    Jeff…great idea, but you forget that manufacturers get much of their stuff from second and third-hand sources just like collectors do. The chain is ownership is so long that there would be no way to verify that a specific relic came from a specific game, just like nowadays their is no way for a collector to verify that a relic came from the player it is pruported to be from.

  12. Well said as always sir. GU card have become just another insert and in no way are a “hit” unless they are a multicolor patch card.
    Awhile back I did a post suggesting the tiered structure of continuing to include GU cards i.e.:

    $50 and under- single color swatch
    $51-75 two color
    $76-100 3 color patch
    $100+ 4-color patch

  13. The one thing that I would like to point out is that all modern cards are basically crap. What’s the difference between a jersey Jordan or Kobe auto when these guys will be signing their names on cards for the next 30 years or like Larry bird. All that really changes is the card that they sign it on. It seems like every year there’s at least 10 different Kobe auto cards from every manufacture. Basically if you don’t want to waste your money then collect only vintage cards with a high grading.

  14. It blows my mind that I have a Dirk Nowitzki piece of jersey card numbered to 99 and its only worth $8. Also Sidney Moncrief autograph #d to 25 only worth $10…complete bullshit. If I pulled an auto #d to 25 in 2000 I would’ve freaked out whether it was ed o’bannon or tim duncan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *