Speculation, RCs and “Hits”

October 23, 2010 at 3:12 PM Leave a comment

From RCs to Memorabilia
When I first began collecting baseball cards with my cousin in the late 80s and early 90s (the height of the Beckett era), I always wondered what the big deal with rookies were.  They always cost me a lot more to obtain and were often priced out of my reach (1989 Ken Griffey Jr. and 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas come to mind).  After all, it was just another card of a player that could be found in sets of subsequent years, the only differentiating factor (if you can call it that) is that RC years were the first year a player’s likeness graced MLB/NHL/NBA/NFL licensed cardboard.  This factor, in my mind, doesn’t justify an exponential increase in the “value” of the card, and might also explain why I don’t own the rookies of some of my favourite players like Gretzky, Ray Bourque or Roberto Clemente.

Of course, as with most kids collecting back in those days, I got swept up by the rookie card craze, and soon began disregarding pretty much all other aspects of card collecting like set building or player collecting.  I loved opening packs, but became disappointed when I didn’t break a big money rookie, even if I pulled cards of stars like Mike Schmidt or even Wayne Gretzky.  And I suppose that’s where the hobby began going downhill – with the money.  Soon, the RC craze gave way to the insert-mania of the 90s, arguably the darkest period of speculation seen by the hobby.  The super premium sets like  Finest and SP began the $10/pack price point and by the 2000s, we were eyeing triple digit pack prices justified by the “hit.”  Autographed and  memorabilia (in some cases both) RCs of even highly irrelevant players began commanding ludicrous prices on the secondary market.

I am, admittedly, guilty of getting swept up in the “hit” craze too.  I had all but forgotten why I got into the hobby in the first place, which was finding cards of my favourite players in packs.  For me, it was never about set building, but rather about player collecting.  However, I had given up on player collecting and just began hoarding cards of the most promising minor leaguers and memorabilia cards.  This took out much of the joy in the hobby for me, and I soon left, feeling disgusted by $100 packs and the glut of greedy 40 and 50 year-olds at the hobby stores buying up boxes and cases of products like Triple Threads.

Don’t get me wrong – I feel that there is a place in the hobby for everyone regardless of age (and even for memorabilia cards when done right – more on that later), but greed is bad, and it has driven away the lifeblood of the hobby – kids.  Priced out of the market and faced with an underwhelming choice of low quality product, kids have decided to spend their time playing video games and playing TCGs like Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh (which, oddly enough, is also exorbitantly expensive, yet somehow has maintained a kid heavy player base).  I for one actually do miss the presence of excited kids at the hobby shop (make what jokes you will), and as a school teacher, I am considering trying to get students into collecting by offering up packs of product like Score or Victory as incentives in my classroom.

On Memorabilia Cards
As mentioned before, I myself did get caught up in the memorabilia craze, and do have a small number of these cards in my collection.  While I do enjoy and find it neat to own cards of Willie Mays and Roger Maris with pieces of their jerseys on them, I can’t help but feel that what we’ve gained in memorabilia cards, we’ve lost or desecrated sacred pieces of the game’s history.  Jersey cards are the hobby equivalent of putting a jersey into a wood chipper, and I feel that the swatches of cloth on my cards might have served a better purpose if they were kept intact as whole jerseys.  After all, the Willie Mays jersey hanging in someone’s house or even in a museum or gallery probably has more value, both monetary and aesthetically than a square inch of it pasted to a baseball card.

I do however, feel that there is a place for memorabilia cards in the hobby.  Some of the memorabilia cards that I enjoy most are the more esoteric ones which feature pieces of the game that are less personal than jerseys and more interesting than a sliver of bat.  2001-02 Topps Heritage Hockey had this:

2001-02 Topps Heritage #OSA-GH Stadium Seat Relic

And 2005 Topps had this:

2005 Topps Touch 'Em All #TEA-AP Base Relic

I like memorabilia cards like these which showcase more obscure items and paraphernalia from the game.  I think these are relic cards done right, without having destroyed a piece of the game better preserved whole.

A Final Thought on Autographs
The late 90s saw the beginning of the autograph boom, and I remember being wowed by Pinnacle’s Be a Player sets with their one auto per pack ratio.  At the time, I didn’t have the money to buy packs that costly, but I ran into some packs at a shop several years back and decided to give a few packs a go at something like $5 per.  My favourite card (and the best one) that came out of those packs was this:

1998-99 Pinnacle Be a Player Die Cut Auto #150 - Kelly Buchberger

Buchberger is one of my favourite lunch pailers/grinders of all time.  He was a hard nosed and gritty player, and as much as I like him, it’s not exactly what I was looking to pull in an autographed card.  This card illustrates how the demand for autographs at a one per pack ratio (never mind one per box) diluted the autograph pool so immensely that players you’ve never heard of became the majority of autograph sets.  It’s no fun to pay $10-20 per pack only to open an autograph of Jarrod Skalde.

This is why I’m applauding the way Panini is handling the autographs in their retro Score product for 2010-11 hockey.  They’ve seeded the buybacks at one per case odds with a tightly edited checklist of players that you’d actually want an autograph from – Patrick Roy, Brett Hull, Denis Savard, Bryan Trottier, and on the lower end of the spectrum, you still have solid players like Trevor Linden and Keith Primeau.  Finally, you can’t argue with the $0.99 price point.  That is how much a pack of cards should cost.

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Gimme Gimme Gimme Memorabilia Card Trade-off!

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