Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where I was...

NOTE: I posted this on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I will continue to post this each September 11th.


Here's a story that, outside of immediate friends and family, I've never shared with anyone before. Indulge me for a moment, as it is, somewhat, card related.

After weeks and weeks of endless "phone tag," a date and time had been set. At 1:30 PM that afternoon, Lloyd Pawlak (the guy whose facsimile signature is on the reverse side on all of your Fleer autogamers) and Jim Stefano would be interviewing me for a potential opening with Fleer Trading Cards.

This was the opportunity I've been waiting for my whole life. I mean, me, the ultimate card geek, was about to interview for a card geek's ultimate "dream job." Not only that, but their headquarters were only a short twenty minute ride up I-295!

As the days slowly ticked away, I planned out everything I would do that day right down to the millisecond. First, I was going to get up bright-and-early (well, 6:30 AM anyway), and call my boss with some BS "I'm sick" excuse. Next, I was going to hit the Wawa for my daily cup of joe and a doughnut. Finally, I would pick up my "interview suit" from the dry cleaners.

I was so amped with excitement, that I was able to accomplish all of these items by 8:15 AM. Still, I had five hours to kill until the interview. What to do?

At around 8:30 AM, on a total whim, I decided to "preemptively celebrate" my all-but-assured future sports collectibles career, by treating myself to breakfast. But not just any breakfast, but breakfast at the greatest greasy-spoon in the whole world: the Waffle House in Elkton, Maryland. (Yes, we have Waffle Houses up North now, and from time-to-time, when I need my fix; I make the pilgrimage down I-95 to Elkton.)

I think it was around the time I was on the down slope of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, approaching the $3 toll, when Ba-Ba-Booey interrupted Howard with news that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center.

It was all an accident. No big deal, right?

I think it was around the time I was finishing off my waffle and about to tear into a ham-and-cheese omelet plate, that the Waffle House's manager informed his staff, and the half-dozen-or-so customers, that the other WTC tower and The Pentagon had been flown into as well.

It was at that moment it all started to sink in. These were no accidents, or isolated incidents. These weren't just merely acts of "terrorism," whatever that word meant on September 10th. This was an act of war against the United States of America. For the first time in my life, after hearing twenty-seven years worth of stories about Pearl Harbor, I now knew exactly what my grandparents felt on December 7th, 1941.

While I continued to sip on my half-full and quickly becoming half-empty coffee mug, contemplating what was happening a hundred or so miles to the immediate Northeast and Southwest of Elkton, it occurred to me. How the hell was I going to get home? I still had to cross over that bridge. If those bastards -- keep in mind we still didn't know al-Qaida was responsible, or if there were any other "flying bombs" still left in the sky -- targeted the Twin Towers and The Pentagon; then the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the keystone of the Washington-to-New York transportation corridor, might be the next logical target! What was I to do?

After a few moments of contemplation and reflection, I slammed down my coffee mug, left a $20 bill underneath my half-eaten omelet platter, and high-tailed it back to South Jersey as fast as my '91 Mercury Capri could take me. I had to get home before they closed that bridge. Or worse.

I think it was around the time I arrived back home and turned on Channel 6, came the news that a fourth plane had crashed in some place in Pennsylvania none of us had ever heard of before. And then the first of the Twin Towers collapsed. And then the other. The look on Marc Howard's face after seeing the WTC towers vanish in front of all our eyes, is an image that will be burned in my memory forever.

My mother, as well as the rest of the Eastern Time Zone's labor force, was let out of work early, arriving home at around Noon. I immediately gave her the biggest hug a son could possibly have given to his mother. Her immediate concern was that the Air Force might recall me back to active duty and send her oldest son off to war. (I left in '99, but the USAF had until October of '02 to recall me. I never got the call, but if Uncle Sam needed me, He knew where to find me.) I had never seen my mother acting this way before. I can't think of the right word to say it. I wouldn't call it hysterical, but not quite despondent either. But as we embraced, I just kept whispering to her, "It's going to be all right. We're Americans. They're never going to get us here. It's all going to be all right."

At around 1:15 PM -- minutes before I was scheduled to have my dream job interview -- I called Jim Stefano to cancel. I got his voice mail, which leads me to believe that Fleer closed shop early as well. A few days later, I attempted to go to what was being called "Ground Zero" to pay my respects, but got no farther than Jersey City as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels were closed. I rescheduled my Fleer interview for the next week, and wound up not getting my "dream job" after all. But that story is for another time.

Hard to believe that it's been five years, eh? I invite you to share your 9/11 stories in the comments section.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Box Break and Review: 2014 Donruss Series 2



My thoughts on 2014 Donruss Series 2 ...

1) The base set violates The First Commandment of Baseball Card Product Development.

(In case your wondering, Our Lord and Savior, Jefferson Burdick, was given these Commandments by God Himself one day while he was out on a stroll on the banks of Lake Onondonga.  It's in The Bible, trust me.)

The First Commandment of Baseball Card Product Development: Thou shalt not short-print thy base cards in a Flagship product.

Between the 30 Diamond Kings (of which there were already 30 in Series One), and 25 Rated Rookies, over a third of the base set is SPed.  And we're not talking one-per-pack SPs either.  You only get ten in a 24-pack Hobby box. Which brings us to point #2

2) The base set is way too small for a product like this.

155 cards (100 if you subtract the SPs) for a flagship product.  I mean, really?   Why even bother with it then?

MEMO to Panini: If you want collectors to keep ripping packs, don't gimmick-up the base set.  MAKE THE BASE SET BIGGER!

3) Haven't we seen these guys before?

As I document in the video, many of the same players who had base cards in Series One, also have base cards in Series 2 -- which kind of defeats the whole purpose of a second series, doesn't it?

Look, I see where Panini's thoughts were.  Series One was such a hit with collectors, it made sense for them to release a second series -- even though they had no plans for S2 originally.  And since there are only so many players who switched teams in the interim, and only so many rookies that got called up, they couldn't just fill out the rest of base set with a bunch of Ham & Eggers.

Hopefully for 2015, Panini will plan out their checklist better and avoid a repeat of this year's repeats.

4) Donruss Elite needs to come back as a standalone product.

In lieu of releasing it as its own distinct product, each pack of S2 has one card from a 100-card Donruss Elite set.  These foil-fronted cards are, hands-down, the highlight of Series 2 and it makes you wonder why Panini didn't release Elite on its own.  Maybe for 2015 we'll get a proper Donruss Elite Baseball.

Speaking of Elite ...

5) Did we really need four different "Elite" inserts?

In addition to the one-per-pack "Elites," there's also "Elite Dominators" and "The Elite Series" ( continuations of the Series One inserts), and "Elite Series."  I get that The Elite Series is the "Donruss" insert and Elite Series is the "Elite" insert, but come on!  They couldn't think of anything different?  And it's not as if there aren't any Donruss Elite inserts from the past collectors wouldn't want to see back again (Title Waves, Primary Colors, Passing the Torch, Back to the Future, et al), am I right?

6) Tracy Hackler is The Man, and you know it.

For one week, I want to be Tracy Hackler.

Or two.

Or ten.

Or 1000.



Don't get me wrong, I like this product.  It's not the "flagship" product I would have preferred -- it's more "Donruss Archives."  But for all it's faults, 2014 Donruss Baseball is still better then anything Topps has made this year.

RATING: 3 Gumsticks (out of 5).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Video Box Break: Four Six-Pack Hanger Boxes of 2014 Panini World Cup Prizm

Ever since it "streeted"* I've been wanting to get my hands on a box or two of 2014 Panini World Cup Prizm.  Little did I know that they made a retail version.

For the last month I've been trolling the Walmarts and Targets of the Mid-Atlantic region on a quest for the four-pack Hanger Boxes the retail edition was distributed in.  Here are the results of two such conquests.






Product of the year?  I think that's an understatement.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Well, I finally did it.

I did it.  After holding out for two years, I (willingly) bought 2012 Topps Baseball.  As much as I hate the insert bloat, bland design, and intelligence-insulting gimcracks, I just couldn't turn down a good deal; especially on a product that, for all intents and purposes, has become a Junk Wax product.

And so this past Saturday, at a cramped Days Inn ballroom in Lancaster, PA, I forked over $13 and bought 26 Hobby loosies of 2012 Topps Baseball Series One.


No, you are not seeing things.  I bought 26 packs of 2012 Topps One for a fourth of their $1.99/pack MSRP.  I suppose there wasn't enough "added value," huh?  Or squirrels?

Anyway, as feared, the product ranges from mediocre (base set) at best, to bland and soulless (inserts) at worst.  Take a look at the piss-poor design of these inserts.


You can tell that these cards are designed first as BIG MOJO HITZZZ!!!1!!, then retconned into inserts with a team logo and/or seal; and that big-ass logo/seal makes them look like shit.

And what's with all the "Gold" anyway?  Gold Standard, Golden Moments, Gold Futures, Golden Greats?  What's the point of having all these inserts anyway?  Just about every pack I opened had two inserts in it.  Does anyone at Topps seriously think that this "adds value?"  Do they understand the concept of Diminishing Marginal Utility?


I did manage to pull this purely Lagniappe Michael Pineda letter patch which, unlike most letter patches, is not manufactured.  It was cut out of the warm-up jersey he wore at the 2011 All-Star Game.  Not a manu-relic, but not exactly "game used" either.

So there.  It took me two years, but I've finally crossed over to the dark side and I feel a bit dirty for doing so.  Now if you will excuse me, I need to look up the nearest Free Clinic.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Why Cee Angi Matters

Cee Angi represents to me the kind of "consumer" Topps ought to be marketing to: a fanatical baseball fan, who used to collect in her early years, went away for a while, and now wants to get back into collecting again.  

All of which leads me to a question I posed on Twitter last week.
Just imagine for a moment, that you haven't opened a pack of cards since before the 1994 Strike.  You probably remember parallels, but you'd probably wonder why a product has to have 14 of them.  You exited right at the peak of the "insert mania" of the early-90s, but what to make of all the hundreds of inserts?  How can you collect them all?  Is it even possible?

And we're not even at autographs & gamers, gimmicked variations, manu-relics, and other such lagniappe.

The number of collectors actually buying, much less collecting, their products is steadily declining, and it doesn't seem to me like Topps even cares.  It's easy to discount the wants of your customers when you're a monopoly.  In order to survive in the long-run, Topps needs to A) retain the collectors they have, and B) bring lapsed collectors back into The Hobby.  They're not exactly doing a great job with "A," and if you're not winning over people like Angi, then they're not doing such a great job with "B" either.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Broken Resolution, and a New Focus

My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to blog more.  Well, it's February 4th and I'm only getting around to writing my first post now.  I know, right? Sue me.

To be honest with you, I've been wondering what to do with this thing.  As you've undoubtedly noticed, the number of blog posts I've written over the last few years has declined, and I proportionally blame this, in part, to the quality of Topps' recent baseball products.  (If they don't give a shit anymore, why should I?)  But even if things were all hunky-dorey in The Hobby, I doubt I'd be blogging much about it.

About ten years ago I went through the same lull where I took a few years off from my "webzine" (remember them?).  I was burnt out and needed a break.  All life is cyclical; everything evolves from The Great Magnet.

(OBTW, if you actually want to read the "old" Stale Gum, and trust me you don't, you can find it if you know where to look.)

It was only after I discovered the blog format and began reading cardblogs like Ben Henry's Baseball Card Blog and the Cardboard Junkie that I was inspired to re-launch Stale Gum in the blog format; which, in turn, probably inspired others to start their own cardblogs.  (I shouldn't say "probably." The e-mails, personal messages, and cardshow shout-outs I've received over the years proves it.)  I'm not going to take the credit for the late-2000s boom in cardblogs, but if there was ever a "Golden Age" of card blogging and of Stale Gum, I'd say the years 2006-2010 were it.  For the first time since the days of Jefferson Burdick's mimeographed newsletters, the collector had a voice this Hobby; a voice that you just didn't hear all that much from in the Mainstream Hobby Media.  It also helped that most of the card products were still somewhat collectable.

I guess I'm in the same rut now that I was in 2002-04.  When the King of The Bloggers declares that "Blogging is Dead," maybe it's time to this puppy to sleep, give yourself a pat on the back, and move on.  Besides, the cool kids have gravitated towards Twitter doing when used to be called "micro-blogging."

Twitter is a great tool and had it been around in the early-2000s, I doubt this blog would even exist.  But there are some things you just can't compress into 140 characters -- or even a series of 140-character Tweets.  But then again, there are some things just not worthy of a traditional blog post.

So tonight, in this, the Fourth Day of the Second Month in this Foul Year of Our Lord, Two-Thousand Fourteen, I'm giving Stale Gum a new focus. The 800-1000 word blogposts won't be entirely gone, just less frequent.   In its place, I'm going to try to write a series of 50-100 word posts -- maybe once a day or a couple of times a week.  Or, like, whenever.

Always Be Collecting

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fifteen Years of Stale Gum

The year was 1998. 

Crackheads roamed the streets.

Roided-up monsters were taking over baseball. 

And The Hobby Media, compared to where it is today, was in the toilet. 

That year a certain "Baseball Card Monthly" magazine crowned a company that would be out of business by the end of the summer, its inaugural (and only) "Company of the Year."  The news was met with a mixture of amusement and outrage on the nascent internet card collecting community.

In September, a card collector serving his country in the Armed Forces was fed up. He realized that in the traditional Hobby Media, an important voice was not being heard. 

The voice of the collector.

And so one day, he got drunk -- as he usually did -- and came up with the crazy idea to start a newsletter, written from the point of view of an actual baseball card collector, for his fellow baseball card collectors.

Over time, the newsletter (which thankfully has been lost to history) evolved into a webzine, blog, and now Twitter handle.

The Hobby has changed into something none of us would have recognized in 1998.  Certainly, the Stale Gum Media Empire has changed into something I wouldn't have recognized in 1998.  But there's one thing that will never change. 

I will continue to give you my unbiased, snarky, honest-to-God, takes on baseball cards, without fear or apology. 

I thank you for your continued support.

Friday, August 16, 2013

NSCC Pick-Ups: The Emergence of Cragislist Reseller.

It took me a while to hook-up my old scanner to my dying laptop (the old one, not the new one), but I'm finally ready to show off some of the goodies I got at the NSCC.

The anticipation must be killing you, I know.

EVERY SINGLE CARD you will see in this post was purchased for a dollar or less. Yes, I am a cheapskate. But for those of us who collect cards from the 1990s and early 2000s this is golden time and we have one website to thank for it.

Craigslist has become a dumping ground for ex-collectors looking to get something (anything) for those old cardboard boxes in the attic.  Sure, many Craigslist offerings are of Junk Wax Era cards, but every once and a while you'll come across a listing that might have some good stuff.

And we're not the only ones who have noticed.  There's a new class of dealer that begun to pop up at shows over the last few years, and until somebody else comes up with a better name I'm calling him "Craigslist Reseller."  Craigslist Reseller pours over card lots that potentially MIGHT have decent cards, buys them in bulk, then rents a table at a card show and has collectors (like me) have at it for a low fixed price (usually $1 a card).  Craigslist Reseller usually doesn't bother actually looking at all the cards before buying them, or at best, samples a handful to see what he has.

One Craigslist Reseller whom I overheard said that every once and a while, one of his dollar boxes will yield something like a 89 UD Griffey RC or a low-numbered 90s insert.  And if somebody happens to find such a card in a box full of Juan Gonzalez and Mike Mussina rookie cards?  All the better because he's made a customer for life.

So thank you Craigslist Reseller.  Because of your efforts, 1990s card collectors are happier than a pig in shit.

And on that note, take it away Bixby Snyder.

 

1991 Stadium Club Charter Member Membership Card (paid $0.25)


To Mr. Jeffrey Batt, wherever you are, thank you.  I thank you for having the foresight of signing up as a Charter Member of Topps' Stadium Club over 22 years ago.

You may remember that two years ago at the NSCC, I bought the 1991 Stadium Club Charter Member set for $10. It had the keychain, the Nolan Ryan ingot, and the 50-card box set, but it was missing one piece: The Charter Membership card.  Missing, until I found Mr. Batt's card two-years later in a quarter box.

What exactly did you get with this card anyway?  10% off NSCC admission?  Buy-one-get-one free at Papa John's?  Airline miles?  Was Karl Malden a closeted card collector and did he "Ever leave home without it?"  I wonder if any famous people were Charter Members, and how much their cards would be worth.

A pair of 2001 Donruss gimmicked "Rookies" (paid $0.25 each)


Another two to cross off the ol' checklist.  At this rate, my 2K1 D'Russ Master Set will be completed sometime in 2132.

A shitload of Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez 90s inserts (A buck each).


To give you an idea of just how many Frank Thomas inserts I pulled out of ONE DOLLAR BOX, the above photo is a fistful of top-loaders, spread out on my scanner.

I had TWO MORE FIST'S FULL OF BIG HURT INSERTS.

Let me repeat: I paid ONE UNITED STATES DOLLAR for each card.

And it wasn't just The Big Hurt, either. The same table had a dollar box of ManRam's.


The ManRam box had a dozen 1994 Leaf Limited Rookies Phenoms (serial-numbered to 5000) and a dozen more 1994 Sportflics 2000 Rookie/Traded "Rookie of the Year" SPs (case hits). There wasn't much variety, compared to the Thomas box, but I did manage to score some decent cards.

By far the best dollar box find I had at that table was this beauty.


That may LOOK like a 1995 Leaf Frank Thomas base card. But if you had a Sega Genesis, you know that this is the 1995 Leaf AKKLAIM Frank Thomas.  Each copy of Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball -- the third best Genesis baseball game released in 1995 -- came with one.
  Forty 2001 Upper Deck Pinstripe Exclusive cards (paid $0.25 each).



For the uninitiated, Pinstripe Exclusive is a pair of 56-card sets, one of Joe DiMaggio the other of Mickey Mantle, released in various 2001 Upper Deck baseball Hobby boxes -- the estates of both players were exclusive to Upper Deck that year, hence the name. Selected Hobby boxes had a three-card Pinstripe Exclusives pack inserted as a box loader -- and if I recall correctly, the DiMaggio's were in UD's "higher end" sets (SP Authentic, SPx, Sweet Spot, et al), while the Mantles were in the more mass-produced boxes (i.e. MVP, Series Two flagship, and the like). There were also game jersey, game bat, and cut signature cards also inserted into these packs.

This is a set I've gradually been piecing together over the last dozen years. I picked up over a third of the set for ten bucks. Not bad.

1996 Collector's Choice You Crash the Game Redemption Mickey Tettleton (paid $0.25)


Yeah, I know. It's Mickey Tettleton, big whoop.

Big whoop? Do you know how tough it is to find ANY of the 1996 You Crash the Game Redemption cards?

Oh, you do? Never mind then.

1997 Donruss Elite Turn of the Century Derek Jeter (serial-numbered to 3500 copies; paid $1)



About a couple of weeks before the NSCC, an eBay auction for a mid-90s Donruss Derek Jeter insert, (not unlike this 1997 Donruss Elite Turn of the Century insert) was brought to my attention.  It was the 1997 Donruss Preferred Staremaster and it was professionally graded a Mint "9" by PSA.  It was a nice card that I needed for my set, but had been bid-up to a point that was too expensive for my budget.  (Besides, I don't do graded cards.)

What was outrageous was what the seller threw-in a bonus: Five additional '97 D'Russ Preferred Jeter Staremaster's ALL RIPPED IN HALF.

The justification for ripping-up a card I would have easily paid $20 for (in tact) was to artificially decrease the supply -- the supply of a card that was serial-numbered to only 1500 copies.  What an asshole, I mean who RIPS UP A $20 CARD?

What does this story has to do with the Turn of the Century Jeter insert I found for a buck?  I don't know.  But someone on Twitter (I think it was Gellman of Sports Cards Uncensored) asked why Panini continues to use the "Turn of the Century" name as an insert in their handegg sets, when the Century "turned" 13 years ago.

Maybe it's the legacy of this 16-year old Derek Jeter insert?

1997 Flair Showcase "Row 0" Alex Rodriguez (paid $1)



My, my, how the mighty have fallen. If you know anything about 1997 Flair Showcase, then you know just how TOUGH this card was to pull. Even after a decade-and-a-half, and even after the PED allegations, this SHOULD still be a $25-$30 card.

The day after the NSCC closed, A-Fraud was given his 211-game suspension. I don't know if the dealer was preemptively dumping his A-Fraud's, or if this one just slipped through the cracks, but I was more than happy to take it off his hand for 100 pennies.

A pair of 1999 Upper Deck Ovation Tier 3 ReMarkAble Moments inserts (paid $1 each)


Speaking of 1990s Hobby superstars whose inserts have been devalued by PEDs ...


These may look like a pair of (pardon the pun) unremarkable Mark McGwire inserts from 1999 Upper Deck Ovation, and on the surface they are.  But these are cards M13 and M15 in the set.  Why is that important?

The first five cards in the 15-card ReMarkAble set were seeded into packs at the rate of 1:9.  The next five at 1:25.  For the last five cards (M11-M15), the ratio was 1:99, or, one in every five boxes.

Yeah, it's Mark McGwire; but it's also a pretty damn tough late-90s insert, and I got two of them for only $2.

1998 Donruss Crusade (green) Abraham Nunez (given to me for free by Chris Thomas)


Don't you just love it when someone buys a rare insert on eBay only to discover that he already has it? And then they just give it to you for nothing?

... and finally.

2012 Upper Deck MLS Quad Materials Sebastien Le Toux and three other stiffs.



Is that not an AWESOME card of Sebastien Le Toux or what?

I heard the other guy on the left ain't too shabby either. The two on the right? Pure shite.