Monday, December 27, 2010

17" of snow

I should be in Florida right now...

...but my flight was canceled.

I really didn't want to go to Florida anyway.

Lucky for you, because canceled flights equal more Robot Theater!

Gone Fishin'

Stale Gum is taking a well deserved vacation and will not be back until the New Year. Don't worry, we'll be back in 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Robot Theatre: Behind the Scenes at Topps (Episode Two)

I can not take credit for this. Someone on FCB made this. Looks like the talking robots struck a nerve with The Hobby?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

128 Years.

97: Number of years before they won their first title.

28: Number of years before they won their second title.

10,162: Number of losses.

Yes, I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed BOTH of my team's only two World Series titles in 127 years. But in-between 1980 and 2008, there was the losing.

Lots of losing. Oh yeah, I remember Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose and Steve Carlton. But I also remember Rick Schu and Scott Servais and Andy Ashby. I've seen a franchise let the talents of Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen waste away, only to be traded for Omar Daal, Travis Lee, and a sack of magic beans. Oh sure, there was that one brief magical summer of '93; where for one moment anyway, my team was America's Team. A bunch of misfits and throwbacks fighting battle against those invading Canadians.

But they are what they are, the losingest team in the history of major professional sports. And dammit, they're my team.

You have no idea what loss is unless you're from around here. You have no idea to pine for something, something as important to say, if only for one year, that your city and your team is the best.

I come from a unique place. At one time we were the second most important city in the English-speaking world -- the largest in the Western Hemisphere. We were the political, cultural, and financial capital of the New World. We gave you both the Declaration of Independence AND the Constitution.

Ben Franklin lived here.

The political capital moved south to a rancid cesspool of a city that I can not wait to escape from. Chestnut Street was replaced by Wall Street. We now look to a plastic city in the middle of a desert for our culture. All along the Boston-New York-Washington Power Axis, we've been forgotten. (How many sitcoms have been set in Philadelphia? How many in New York?)

So on a night when my team re-acquired the Ace we should have never let go in the first place, and has assembled greatest starting rotation in decades, I think we've earned the right to stick out our chests and gloat a little bit. And if you don't like it, you can all shove it straight up your $2500-a-box-seat asses.

Oh, and Welcome Back Cliff!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

2010 Gummie Awards

Oh yeah, I haven't forgotten.

The Gummies are still on.

Just do me a favor and give me a couple of weeks to finish my academic work.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

National Returning to Baltimore.

More Fear and Loathing in the Charm City? As posted to their Facebook account about half-an-hour ago:

"National to Return to Baltimore! The success of the 2010 National at the Baltimore Convention Center caused National exhibitors to request that the event return there for a future show. As the result of a special ballot overwhelmingly approved by exhibitors, the 2012 National will be held in Baltimore, August 2-5, 2012. The 2014 National will be held in Cleveland (the originally scheduled 2012 site)."

This is, of course, great news. I had a blast this past summer, and Baltimore seems to be the right kind of place to hold The National. I can't wait!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stale Gum on Card Corner-Club Radio (again).

The first time was such a raging success, they've asked me to do it again.

Yep, I will be guest-hosting the Card Corner Club Radio Hour, this Friday evening at 11pm ET, 10pm CT.

Joining me and Doug Cataldo will be the one, and only, Ben Henry!

Yes, that Ben Henry.

And we'll also be joined by Card Corner Club contributor and former Washington Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young.

Doug Cataldo, Ben Henry, Dmitri Young, and me on the same show. This may be the most epic one hour of audio your ears will hear this year!

That's this Friday, November 19th at 11:00!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Card-ola: 2010 Bowman Chrome

A special shout-out to Topps for giving me this box to review, and to the Plank Road Brewery for making Icehouse Beer.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hobby Paper: First Draft.

Here it is folks. I'm turning this in this evening. It's only a rough draft, and it's far from finished, but I'd still like your feedback. Please!

Chris Harris

On August 6, 2009, MLB Properties (MLBP), the licensing arm of Major League Baseball, granted Topps Chewing Gum a five-year exclusive-license for the production of baseball cards beginning with the 2010 baseball season; effectively giving Topps the monopoly-power it previously had from 1956-80. In 1981, Topps lost their monopoly after a competing firm sued and won an anti-trust case and was granted a license. After a decade-and-a-half of increased competition, which saw as one point as many as six different firms producing over 100 different MLB-licensed baseball card sets a year, “The Hobby,” as it became known, boomed. But after the boom came the inevitable “bursting of the bubble.” In the three decades since, through a series of mergers & acquisitions and liquidations, the number of firms producing officially-licensed baseball cards went from one, to three, to six; then four, two, and now back to one.

This paper will analyze “The Hobby” in the increasingly competitive boom years of the 80s and early-90s; the crash years of the mid-to-late-90s; the relative stability, despite the exit of some firms, of the mid-to-late-2000s; and the rationale behind MLBP’s decision to grant Topps monopoly power again.
In the Beginning…

The baseball trading card industry as we currently know it can be traced to the years immediately after World War II. In 1948 two competing bubble gum companies, Leaf and Bowman, issued the first modern baseball card sets. In the years prior to WWII, trading cards (not just of baseball players, but of athletes of all sports) were often tied to another product as a special “insert” or premium – usually cigarettes, candy, or chewing gum; so it was natural that the first post-War entrants were chewing gum firms. Both 1948 Leaf and 1948 Bowman Baseball were packaged with a stick of chewing gum in each pack, and in both cases, the main selling point was the gum and not the cards. After releasing a second series of cards in 1949, which was an extension of the ’48 set, Leaf quickly exited the industry leaving Bowman the sole firm. That is until 1951 when Topps Chewing Gum entered and issued their first set. 1951 Topps Baseball resembled playing cards and was not successful as Topps hoped. A year later Topps dropped the playing card element for a traditional trading card set, resulting in their landmark 1952 Topps Baseball, featuring the famed Mickey Mantle card. For the next four years, Topps and Bowman competed, not only with each other for the loose change of America’s pre-teen boys, but with the Major League players themselves, signing them to lucrative, company-exclusive contracts. For example, the aforementioned Mickey Mantle was in both the 1952 and ’53 Topps and 1952 and ’53 Bowman Baseball sets, but was only available in Bowman in 1951, ’54, and ’55. From 1952-55, Jackie Robinson was exclusive to Topps. Willie Mays was in 1951 Bowman but not ’51 Topps; and was in 1953 Topps but not ’53 Bowman. Stan Musial’s asking price was so high, that neither company could afford to sign him for their 1954 or 1955 sets. By 1956 Bowman was hemorrhaging money and sold out to Topps, ending the competition, and for the next 25 years (with some exceptions) Topps would have a monopoly on baseball trading cards.
Although both the Federal Trade Commission and other potential entrants would sue, all efforts to break Topps’ monopoly would prove unsuccessful until 1980. Five years earlier, Fleer, a competing chewing gum manufacturer, filed suit charging that Topps’ use of exclusive player contracts had constituted an illegal restraint of trade. One tactic Topps employed as a pre-emptive strike against potential new entrants like Fleer was to identify the top minor-league prospects and sign them to “Steak Dinner” contracts. In exchange for selling their trading card rights, on cards packaged with or without gum, exclusively to Topps for the first five years of their Major League career (that is, if they ever made it to the big leagues), the player would receive a check for $5 – “steak money” as it was known. The contract also provided for an annual payment of $125 per year, once they reached the Majors. In 1963, Fleer attempted to enter the baseball card market by aggressively signing those Major League players Topps had passed on in the minors (notably 1962 National League Most Valuable Player Maury Wills) and some established stars to a contract intentionally worded to by-pass Topps’ “with or without gum” contract by packaging it with a “cookie” so low in sugar content that it did not legally fit the definition of a “confectionary product.” Low sales (kids complained that the “cookie” tasted like a dog biscuit) and threats of legal action against Topps, forced Fleer to exit the market after only a single 66-card release. In the mid-70s, Fleer approached the nascent Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) with an idea to market over-sized satin “patches” with the faces of baseball players. (The patch was seen as an “end-around” Topps’ baseball card contract.) Fleer was turned down, and sued both Topps and the MLBPA.
After five years in the courts, Fleer would win and was granted a license to produce baseball trading cards beginning in 1981. A third firm, Donruss, at the time a division of General Foods, was also granted a license; and in 1981 three competing firms (Topps, Fleer and Donruss) all produced baseball trading cards packaged with chewing gum. Later that year, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that Topps still had the exclusive right to produce baseball cards either with confectionery products or as a stand-alone product, and for their 1982 releases Fleer inserted an MLB team logo sticker and Donruss a piece of a jigsaw puzzle into their packs.
Competition at the beginning of Oligopoly.

The 1980s marked a beginning of a change in card collecting, not just because there were now three times as many sets to collect. The 80s also coincided with the concept of the baseball card as an investment. The values of the 1950s Topps cards of old began to grow, and this led speculators to stockpile the “rookie” cards of current stars. After all, if a thirty-year old 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle can sell for $4000 in 1982, who knows how much Ron Kittle’s 1983 Fleer rookie card would fetch in thirty years’ time?
During this period, the “Big Three” (as they came to be known) competed little on price, but more on player selection and inclusion of valuable “rookie” cards. Both 1981 Fleer and 1981 Donruss Baseball did offer more cards per pack in 1981 (17 and 18, respectively) and Fleer included two additional packs (38) per display box; but by 1982 all three firms priced their cards roughly the same: 30 cents for a 15-card pack. Price would remain about the same for all three brands for the remainder of the decade, usually increasing by about a nickel-per-pack every other year.
One way Topps attempted to compete against their new rivals was the re-introduction of the “Traded” set. Twice in the 70s (1974 and 1976), towards the end of the baseball season, Topps re-released their baseball card set, but replaced the cards of selected players who had changed teams during the season with new cards of the player in their new (usually airbrushed) uniform. In 1981, Topps took this concept one step further with their first Topps Traded set. Released at the end of the 1981 baseball season as a 132-card extension of the 726-card 1981 Topps Baseball set, and intended to feature those players who had changed teams, what made 1981 Topps Traded so unique was its distribution. Topps Traded was sold exclusively as a full 132-card set and only available through Hobby dealers – the first example of a “factory set” and a “Hobby Only” product.
Donruss and Fleer initial sets, meanwhile, could best be described as lackluster and amateurish. Both 1981 Donruss and 1981 Fleer Baseball were rushed and riddled with quickly-corrected errors. However, it was precisely those errors, and their perceived scarcity, that got collectors to notice the new firms. For example, New York Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles’s name was accidentally misspelled as “Craig Nettles” on the back of some copies of his 1981 Fleer card. Fleer was able to correct this error early in the print run, but some of the “Craig” cards did find their way into packs and were selling for as much as $10 on the secondary market – an unheard of sum for a new card in 1981. A year later, Fleer tried to catch lightning in a bottle again with a scarce error card of Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky that some hobbyists believe was intentionally made and intended to drive sales. But collectors weren’t fooled though, and Fleer quickly abandoned this strategy.
By 1984, both of the new firms struck back by increasing the quality of their products, and reducing the quantity. After back-to-back mediocre sets in ’82 and ’83, Donruss drastically cut production of 1984 Donruss Baseball. And in a nod to the growing fad of rookie card speculation, included a 20-card subset of “Rated Rookies.” The addition of more rookie cards and the cut in production made 1984 Donruss Baseball one of the landmark baseball card sets of the era, and the ’84 Donruss Don Mattingly card one of the more valuable rookie cards of the decade. Fleer, which like Donruss, improved the quality of their cards, and cut down on the number of errors, took Topps’ idea of a post-season supplementary set one step further with Fleer Update. Like Topps Traded, 1984 Fleer Update was a 132-card set sold only as a factory set and only through Hobby dealers. Unlike Topps Traded, Fleer Update would be focused not just on players who changed teams, but on rookies who had made their Major League debut during the season. Unlike Topps Traded, ’84 Fleer Update featured the only rookie cards of Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett and one of the few cards of Pete Rose as a Montreal Expo. 1984 Fleer Update was also short-printed, compared to other card sets, and remains one of the benchmark sets of the 80s.
New Entrants

Topps, Fleer, and Donruss were not the only baseball cards to collect. Throughout the 70s and into the 80s, Kellogg’s issued an annual set of officially licensed “3-D” baseball cards, randomly inserted into boxes of their cereal. Topps never thought of the Kellogg cards, or any of the other “food” sets, as a competing product since Kellogg’s annual set wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as Topps (33 cards compared to the 660-card set Topps made), and never brought legal action. Unlike Topps’ cards, the Kellogg cards were not made by the issuing firm; rather, production was outsourced Optigraphics, a Texas-based printing company known for their use of lenticular printing – allowing multiple images to be seen by tilting the picture by the use of a ribbed plastic lens. Kellogg’s issued their last set in 1984, and in 1986 Optigraphics received the licenses to produce their own trading card sets. Optigraphics’ first set, 1986 Sportflics, was seen less as a competitor to “The Big Three” (Topps, Fleer, and Donruss) and more as a novelty product. Two years later, Optigraphics would unveil Score, a traditional card set designed to compete with The Big Three. Optigraphics would later spin-off their trading card brands into a new company, known as Major League Marketing (later known as Pinnacle Brands) and would continue to produce both Score and Sportflics until 1990 when Sportflics was discontinued.
During this period, new start-up trading card companies were being created and receiving licenses from the other major sports. From 1988-1991 the number of firms producing officially licensed National Football League trading card sets mushroomed from one (Topps) to eleven. Up until 1990, Topps had a pre-1981 baseball-esque monopoly on hockey cards. By 1990, there were four firms in the hockey card market. The market for basketball cards was so non-existent, that for three whole years in the mid-80s (1983-85) no NBA cards were made. By 1991, there were also four firms -- one of which, Skybox, was partially owned by the NBA itself.
Other firms bypassed the licensing altogether, and released “Draft Pick” and “Prospect” sets of young stars and hot rookies depicted in their high school or college uniforms. Some of these companies would go on to get some sort of license; others issued a sole product and were never heard from again. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association’s licensing arms were more cautious, and when a new start-up firm called The Upper Deck Company approached in 1988, they were told that MLB had no intentions of issuing a fifth license until 1992 at the earliest. However Upper Deck was able to acquire both MLB and MLBPA licenses by creating a new kind of baseball card: A better baseball card.
Upper Deck

Whereas the trading card business was changing all around them, the cards themselves had changed little. Topps was still using the same “cereal box” gray cardstock it had used since the 50s. While the designs on the front were different, the backs of Fleer and Donruss’ cards changed little. Topps, Fleer and Donruss still packaged their cards in wax paper, which, when carefully opened, can be easily resealed allowing unscrupulous collectors to tamper with the contents of a pack (i.e. open a pack, pick out the stars and rookie cards, replace them with a less desirable cards, and reseal the pack with a hot roller or curling iron.) Score pushed the bar forward a little bit in ’88 by printing the first full-color card backs and fin-sealed, tamper evident packaging – but not tamper proof as the cheap plastic used in the wrapper allowed the contents of the pack to be seen without even opening it. 1989 Upper Deck Baseball changed the trading card business with the use of higher-quality cardboard and modern printing techniques. The problem of pack searching was dealt with tamper-resistant, fin-sealed, foil-lined wrappers. Finally, with counterfeiting becoming an issue, each Upper Deck card would be stamped with an impossible to duplicate hologram. Although Upper Deck’s cards cost almost twice as much as the competition, ($0.99 for a pack of 15 cards; where Topps, Fleer, Donruss and Score were priced at around $0.50/pack) collectors embraced the “premium” card concept espoused by Upper Deck.
There is no doubt that 1989 Upper Deck Baseball changed The Hobby forever, and the reaction from the four legacy firms was different. In 1989, Topps revived the long-dormant Bowman brand-name by issuing a second full set of cards. Although Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and Score had all issued some sort of late-season “Update” or “Traded” set to supplement their main card sets (all of which were issued around the time of Spring Training), never before had a trading card company released a second full-card set in the same year. 1989 Bowman Baseball was not well received by collectors however, and cannot be considered a true competitor to Upper Deck’s “premium” card set as it looked, and felt, like a Topps card. The first strike was launched by Donruss with the release of 1990 Leaf Baseball. Like Upper Deck, Leaf was printed on a higher-quality cardstock with metallic inks and full-color backs, and packaged in tamper-proof packs. It was also produced in lower quantities than Donruss Baseball, or any other competing set issued that year for that matter, and sold for $1 a pack. 1991 brought Fleer’s Ultra Baseball which, like Leaf, was also printed on better cardstock, with full-color backs, and fin-sealed, tamper-proof packs.
Topps struck back by repositioning their Bowman brand towards rookies and prospects. Unlike their competitors, who were bound to the MLBPA’s Group Licensing Agreement (GLA), Topps still was allowed to sign players to individual contracts. The MLBPA’s GLA only allowed Fleer, Donruss, Score, and Upper Deck to include those players who were on a Major League 40-man roster, and therefore, members of the PA. Since Topps pre-dated the establishment of the PA, they were allowed to continue to sign minor-league prospects to “Steak Dinner” checks, and include these players in “Major League” baseball card sets; thereby, putting them at a competitive advantage when it came to issuing valuable rookie cards. Although, from time-to-time, Topps would fail to sign some players (Alex Rodriguez did not appear on a Topps card until 1998, four years after his Major League debut), throughout the 1990s and 2000s hundreds of players had had their Major League rookie cards issued by Topps, often in their Bowman brand, years before they actually made their Major League debut – that is, if they ever even made to the big leagues.
But the full effect of Topps’ repositioning of Bowman as “The Home of the Rookie Card” would not be felt for a few years. Their immediate response to Upper Deck in the premium baseball card “wars” was Stadium Club. In much the same way 1989 Upper Deck Baseball “changed The Hobby forever,” 1991 Stadium Club Baseball upped the ante further. Stadium Club created a stir in the hobby upon release with its dazzling, photo-quality, full-color, borderless pictures; slick, glossy card stock; and gold-foil stamped design elements. The first series of ’91 Stadium Club was sold at a suggested retail price of $1.25 for a pack of 12 cards; but caused such a sensation in The Hobby that market prices reached an almost unheard level of $8/pack. Other firms followed by adjusting their existing product lines to copy Stadium Club (i.e. By 1993, Fleer’s Ultra and Donruss’ Leaf would all adopt the Stadium Club “look”) and introduced their own “premium” card sets.
In addition to creating new “premium” quality product, another way the trading card manufacturers competed with one another was through so-called “insert” cards. An insert is a card that is separate and distinct from the main (or “base”) set that is pulled from the same packs as those base cards. While card makers had included many different extras in their wax packs almost from the start, from stamps to tattoos to mini-posters to small sets of cards, it wasn't until 1990 that the term "insert" came into its own. That year, Upper Deck created a special 10-card “Baseball Heroes” set of Reggie Jackson – whom at the time was a member of Upper Deck’s board of directors. The Baseball Heroes cards were numbered as a distinct set and randomly inserted into packs of 1990 Upper Deck High Series Baseball at the rate of one in every ninth pack (roughly four “Reggies” per 36-pack box). While that wasn’t special – Fleer had included inserts as early as 1986 – something else Upper Deck did, was. Inspired by a viewing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, an Upper Deck employee had the idea to have Jackson personally autograph 2500 of his Baseball Heroes cards. The autographed cards would then by randomly inserted into packs, along with the regular, un-autographed, Baseball Heroes.
The chase for the “Golden Reggie Tickets” was on, and Upper Deck struck gold. Soon, the other firms quickly followed suit with varying degrees of success. 1991 Donruss Baseball had the “Elite” inserts, with each card serial-numbered to 10,000 copies – at the time, a scarce number. In 1992, Fleer combined the insert with the rookie cards with their hyper-popular “Rookie Sensations.” Available only in 35-card “jumbo” packs, the stated odds of finding any one of the 20 Rookie Sensations were 1:4/packs. The Rookie Sensations caused such a sensation that at one point, 1992 Fleer Baseball jumbo packs (which had a $1.99 price tag printed on the wrapper) were selling for as much as $5, and the Frank Thomas Rookie Sensation was selling for $150 straight out of the pack. With the ’92 Rookie Sensations, for the first time, a collector could buy a brand new pack of baseball cards and have a reasonable expectation of pulling a very valuable card.
Another innovation was the advent of the “parallel” insert. Parallels are inserts that are almost identical to the base set except for some small variation. The first parallel as we know them today were the Gold cards in 1992 Topps Baseball. The Topps Gold cards were identical to the regular Topps cards, except that it had a Topps Gold logo on the back and the front had the player's name and team name embossed in gold foil. At first, demand for these cards was very high because they were pretty scarce (792 cards in the set, with just one Gold card per 36-pack box). Donruss followed with Leaf Black Gold, a very attractive black-bordered parallel to the 1992 Leaf base set that was inserted at the rate of one Black Gold per pack. Parallels still abound in the form of different foil or ink colors, design elements, die-cutting, or photo selection. They are a cheap way for trading card manufacturers to “add value” to a product, all the while saving on the design cost of producing a whole new set of cards.
With the growth of premium card sets, it was only natural that manufacturers would push the bar higher with “super-premium” brands. In 1993, Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck would release the first “super-premium” card sets: Finest, Flair, and SP. 1993 Upper Deck SP Baseball, which had a suggested retail price of $3 for a pack of 12 cards, is noted for its very limited production, die-cut Platinum Power inserts, and the most valuable rookie card of Derek Jeter. Fleer’s 1993 Flair Baseball was distributed exclusively in specially encased "hardpacks,” that resembled a pack of cigarettes. Flair cards were made from a heavy board-like cardstock twice as thick as a standard trading card, and slathered with copious amounts of high-gloss laminate on each side. But by far, Topps’ 1993 Finest Baseball set the bar for what a trading card set could be. First, Topps publicly announced that only 4,000, 12-box, cases would be produced, the first time in the history of The Hobby that a major manufacturer publicly released production figures. Cards would be issued in seven-card, fin-sealed, foil packs that carried a suggested retail price of $3.99. But what made ’93 Finest so ground-breaking were the cards themselves. Printed on a chromium-based stock, the super-shiny Finest cards were a smashing success upon release with pack prices immediately soaring well above the $20 barrier on the secondary market. What’s more, approximately one card in each 18-pack display box contained a Refractor parallel. Refractors have a Fresnel lens embedded into the card that, when held under direct light, especially sunlight, "refracts" a bright rainbow sheen onto the card – a spectacular visual effect when combined with the chromium stock card. The legend of 1993 Finest Baseball has continued to grow throughout the years. The ‘93 Finest Refractors are still sought-after, and their never-confirmed-nor-officially-denied print run of 241 copies remains a benchmark for scarcity.
The Decline
From 1989-96 the baseball industry would remain stable at five licensees: Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Pinnacle Brands (the former Score) and Upper Deck. In 1993, Pacific Trading Cards, one of the many aforementioned start-ups that had acquired a license to produce football cards, was given an MLB/MLBPA license to produce bi-lingual baseball cards in English and Spanish. Pacific released only one or two bi-lingual card sets a year, are were not well received by most non-Spanish speaking collectors. As an industry, “The Hobby” as it came to be known, was at its peak. A 1991 study commissioned by Action Packed, a manufacturer of NFL, NASCAR, and minor-league baseball cards, had estimated that the annual combined revenues of all trading card manufacturers had reached $1.2 billion. This figure included all trading card firms from all sports – although baseball cards still counted for the lion’s share of business (about 85%). At this point, two forces conspired to send The Hobby on a long, drawn-out, decline.
The first was the bursting of the bubble of trading cards as a speculative investment. With the ever-increasing value of “vintage” cards (such as the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, and the 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner), a popular adage was, “I’d be a rich man, if only my mom didn’t throw away my baseball cards.” By the late 1980s, not only did mom not throw away their kids’ cards, it was moms and dads who were the ones collecting them. Baseball cards ceased being a childish diversion and cards became traded almost like penny stocks. Hobby magazines like Sports Collectors Digest, Tuff Stuff, and Baseball Hobby News regularly had advertisements from Hobby dealers offering 10, 25, 50, even 100-count lots of the same player’s card. (This collector recently came into possession of a lot of 1354 1987 Topps Andres Galarraga cards. Don’t ask why, it’s a long story.) As more and more collector/speculators were entering The Hobby, manufacturers began printing more and more cards to keep up with the perceived demand. With the exception of 1989 Upper Deck, 1990 Leaf, and 1992 Bowman most baseball card products from the era stretching from 1988-1992 were grossly over-produced and currently have little monetary value. Even the rookie cards of future Hall of Famer players like Jeff Bagwell, Tom Glavine, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Jim Thome will probably never be worth more than $5 or $10 because the sets they were included in were massively over-produced. Realizing that their 500-count lot of Casey Candaele rookie cards, and that unopened case of 1990 Topps probably wouldn’t be enough to put Junior through college, many of the collector/speculators that entered in the mid-to-late-80s, began to exit The Hobby in the early-90s.
The second was the devastating strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series. Ironically, it was largely baseball cards, and the royalties paid by the baseball card firms to the MLB Players Association, that allowed the PA to accumulate a large “strike fund,” which in turn, provided a financial incentive for the players to strike. Needless to say, the 1994-95 strike hurt baseball on all levels, but especially The Hobby, as many long-time baseball fans who collected for fun and not for profit also exited.
By the time of the strike, many of the five baseball card firms had diversified and were able, in the short-run, were able to absorb the hit. In 1994, Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck all had licenses with the other three major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, and NHL) and their respective player’s unions. Pinnacle Brands had its hands in the baseball, football, and hockey card business, and had just entered NASCAR trading card market. Topps was also still in the candy and gum business. (Marvel Entertainment, which purchased Fleer in 1993, spun-off the gum business shortly after acquiring it.) The big loser was Donruss which only had MLB/MLBPA and NHL/NHLPA licenses. The baseball strike, combined with the concurrent NHL work stoppage, crippled Donruss and in May 1996, their Finnish parent sold the company to Pinnacle Brands.
The post-strike years: Competition and Innovation.

After the strike, The Hobby went through a transition period. Those collectors who entered The Hobby in the 80s, hoping to strike it rich, exited as quickly as they entered. Others, who came-of-age in the early-80s collecting Topps, Fleer, and Donruss Baseball, got confused by the dizzying array of new, more expensive, super-premium products, felt like they couldn’t keep up, and moved on. Others felt betrayed by the strike, and quit baseball all together. By the mid-90s, all that was left were the die-hards, the cardboard junkies, and other hardcore card collectors. This is reflected by the sales figures for new cards. At its peak, in 1991, the five MLB/MLBPA licensees sold an estimated $1 billion worth of baseball cards. By ’94 that figure had fallen to about half that ($480 million), and half again a year later ($280 million in ’95). In an effort to stem the tide of declining revenues, the card companies began to increase the number of card sets, but cut back on their production.
As previously discussed, the early 90s saw the introduction of first “premium” (i.e. Stadium Club, Leaf, Ultra) brands, then “super-premium” brands (i.e. Finest, Flair, SP). Although Pinnacle Brands was late to the game, the strategy was for each company to produce one “base level” brand, usually in two series, followed by a post-season “Update” or “Traded” set; one premium brand, also issued in two series; and a super-premium brand at the end of the baseball season. By the early 90s, it was becoming commonplace for card companies to split up their “base” and “premium” level products into different series. For example, rather than releasing the whole 825-card 1993 Topps Baseball set at once, Topps released the first 396 cards as 1993 Topps Baseball Series One, in December 1992, and the remaining 429 cards in Series Two that June. This was the first time in 20 years, Topps issued their “flagship” Topps Baseball set in multiple series. 1993 Stadium Club Baseball was a 750-card set issued across three separate series, with a series released before, during, and after the MLB season. Topps’ entry into the new super-premium price point, 1993 Finest Baseball, came in August. And finally, 1993 Topps Traded would be issued in November.
Topps was not the only firm employing the multiple-series strategy. In 1993, the five licensed card companies issued 16 different card sets, but spread them out among 30 product releases. After the strike, things changed dramatically. In 1997 those same figures mushroomed into X card sets among Y product releases. While those products were produced in smaller quantities than the “junk cards” of the late-80s and early-90s, collectively, the manufacturers were still printing just as many cards as before – just across more and more different brands.
By 1994, just about every firm’s “base-level” brand (i.e. Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and Score) had improved quality-wise to the standard of Upper Deck. Ultra-glossy coatings, gold-foil stamping, and tamper-proof packaging had become industry standard, and a $1/pack price level was the minimum. By 1994, both Upper Deck and Donruss had re-positioned their “flagship” products (i.e. Donruss Baseball and Upper Deck Baseball) to the “premium” level to compete with Stadium Club, Ultra, and Pinnacle. Both firms would not abandon the “base-level” market, as Upper Deck and Donruss introduced Collector’s Choice and Triple Play, respectively. (Triple Play was introduced in 1992 as a $0.50/pack “sub-base” niche product designed to appeal to children. The “kiddie card” concept was not successful, and by ’94, Triple Play was reconfigured to a conventional baseball card set. Triple Play would be discontinued after the strike.) The Hobby would continue to introduce new “super-premium” brands, with 1994 seeing the debut of Topps’ Bowman’s Best, a hybrid of their rookie-laden Bowman set with their popular Finest brand, and Donruss’s Leaf Limited. Pinnacle Brands, which was the last to fully embrace premium cards, also took a while to issue their first super-premium brands, waiting until 1995 to unveil Select Certified and Zenith Baseball. Both products were well received. Perhaps the ultimate “super-premium” product was introduced by Donruss in 1996 with the release of 1996 Leaf Signature Series Baseball. With a suggested retail price of $9.99 for a pack of four cards, Leaf Signature was the most expensive pack of baseball cards ever produced to date. However, each pack contained one card personally autographed by a Major League Baseball player. And while the types of autographs being pulled from Signature Series were of the “middle-inning reliever” and “backup catcher” variety, it was a hit with collectors.
Whereas in the 1980s, rookie cards drove the secondary market, by the 90s, although rookie cards would continue to be important, inserts would take center stage. In order to exploit the demand for inserts, one strategy employed would be to create different inserts for different pack types, and different outlets. For example 1993 Upper Deck Series One Baseball contained a 15-card “Triple Crown Contenders” insert exclusive to 15-card packs sold directly to Hobby dealers. 15-card packs sold at mass-market retail outlets (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and the like) had their own exclusive insert: a 27-card set featuring the photography of Sports Illustrated’s Walter Iooss. While 27-card Jumbo packs had the exclusive “Home Run Heroes” insert. Other firms would soon copy the “Hobby/retail” insert scheme. Other firms would make inserts scarcer, tougher to find in packs, and exclusive to specific pack types. By the mid-90s, just about every baseball card set issued would have at one insert set.
Companies also competed on innovation and new technologies, none more so than Upper Deck and Pinnacle Brands. In December 1992, Pinnacle introduced the trading card world to a printing technology called Dufex in their 1993 Select Baseball. Dufex is a unique printing technique developed by a British company that involves taking an aluminum lined paper sprayed with special ultraviolet transparent inks. After the ink dries, the cards are then hand engraved giving them their trademark "etched foil" design. Different materials were also being used, most notably by Donruss. Throughout the mid-90s, Donruss would print inserts on wood, canvas, nylon, leather, and other materials. Other companies would follow suit with their own “materials” cards.
In 1996, Press Pass, a manufacturer of NASCAR cards took race-used lugnuts taken from a car’s tire, cut them up, and mounted them onto a card. The licensed baseball cards firms were slow to pick up on “game-used” cards, mainly due to the costs of acquiring such items, and the additional capital costs of cutting up and mounting the items on cards. Upper Deck cut up a bunch of game jerseys, and randomly inserted them into 1996 Upper Deck Football and 1997 Upper Deck Baseball. But for the rest of the 90s, game-used cards would be what autographed cards were in the beginning of the decade: a novelty “Golden Ticket” item that initially were tough to find, but became gradually commonplace.
Not all innovations were accepted by collectors. And then there were the gimmicks. Pinnacle Brands was notorious for coming up with one outrageous gimmick after another and many blame them for contributing to their demise. Part of this was due to necessity: The purchases of Action Packed and Donruss left the company in over $300 million in debt. But part was to maintain their share in a competitive, but shrinking, market. One such product was Pinnacle Mint. Released first in football in 1996 and in baseball a year later, Pinnacle Mint was designed to “cross-over” two different hobbies, but in the end satisfied neither. Packaged inside each pack Pinnacle Mint were three trading cards and two (non-legal tender) coins depicting the same players on the cards. The cards did not appeal to coin collectors and the coins did not appeal to card collectors, and the product is largely seen as a failure. Another product largely seen as a failure was the re-configured 1998 Zenith Baseball. Dubbed “dare-to-tear,” each pack came with three over-sized cards, with a standard-sized card embedded inside. In order to see what standard-sized cards were in the pack, collectors had to (literally) rip open, thereby permanently destroying, the larger card. Perhaps the most egregious gimmick Pinnacle came up with at this time was Pinnacle Inside. Introduced in 1997, the main selling point wasn’t the cards; but the 24 different novelty soup cans they came packaged in. In order to get to the cards, collector’s had to open the “pack” with a can opener.
Pinnacle Inside cards themselves were nothing special; in fact, most of the products Pinnacle made during this time weren’t either. In an effort to retain market share and pay down their debts, Pinnacle quickly rushed new product after new product, most of which followed the same formula. While some new products (like 1996 Select Certified Baseball, and its multiple levels of scarce parallels) did sell well, and their “flagship” brands (Score, Donruss, and Pinnacle) still had their devoted collectors, most of the new brands introduced were largely ignored and by the beginning of 1998, the firm was on shaky financial ground. They would file for bankruptcy and be liquidated by the end of the summer.
The Hobby, after Pinnacle

In retrospect, Pinnacle Brands’ spectacular demise was inevitable. By 1998, The Hobby as a whole (all sports) was about a third the size as it was at its 1991 peak. Foolishly, Pinnacle continued to operate Donruss as a separate entity (complete with paying for additional licenses). This, combined with the acquisition of football card manufacturer Action Packed, and the production of numerous gimmicks and sub-standard card sets, would lead to Pinnacle’s bankruptcy in the summer of ’98.
Pinnacle’s MLB/MLBPA licenses would be transferred to Pacific Trading Cards (who had held a partial license to make baseball cards, but only if they were in Spanish) and their trading card assets (including the valuable “Donruss,” “Leaf,” and “Score” brand names) would be acquired, at a bargain-basement price, by football card manufacturer Playoff Inc. Playoff, which had rechristened itself “Donruss-Playoff,” was allowed to issue two baseball card sets that were “in the pipeline” at the time of Pinnacle’s bankruptcy in December 1998, but were turned down for a full MLB/MLBPA licenses. For 1999 and 2000, the number of firms licensed to produce and distribute Major League Baseball trading cards had been reduced from six to four: Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck and Pacific. On December 31, 2000, Pacific Trading Cards’ MLB/MLBPA licenses expired. Citing the ever increasing cost of producing baseball cards, and a desire to concentrate on their football and hockey lines, Pacific chose to exit the baseball card industry. (Pacific would eventually close its doors in 2005). Two months later, Donruss-Playoff was granted licenses by both MLB and the MLBPA.
Despite the exit of Pinnacle (and Donruss), more and more card sets were still be cranked out, to a smaller and smaller base of collectors. The “Home Run Chase” of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did create for a brief time a small spike in interest, which caused the card companies to produce more sets in the late-90s/early-00s. But those collectors who were left were still avid and loyal collectors and most of the “flagship” base and established premium and super-premium level managed to sell. During this period the surviving firms continued to push the proverbial envelope in innovation and
After a decade where inserts were all the rage, rookie card collecting entered a bit of a renaissance in the late-90s/early-00s. One strategy to lure what remaining collectors there were was to purposely print fewer copies of said rookie cards and include more of them. Topps was still cutting “Steak Dinner” checks to Minor Leaguers, and putting some (but not all) of them on “Major League” rookie cards in their Bowman brands. The other card companies were still bound to the MLBPA’s GLA and could only include those players on a Major League 40-man roster. (The 40-man roster differs from the 25-man roster. The 25-man roster is a subset of the 40-man roster and includes the 25 players on the active Major League team. The 40-man roster also includes those players who are signed to Major League contracts, but have been “optioned” to the Minors. On September 1st, the Major League rosters expand to 40 active players, and those players on the 40-man roster are eligible to play. During the off-season, teams will place their best young players on the 40-man roster in order to protect them in the annual Rule V Draft. Therefore, it is possible for a player to be placed on the 40-man roster, and not ever play in a game.) Topps’ competitors, by now reduced to Fleer, Upper Deck and Pacific, exploited this loophole by issuing cards of players often within weeks of their being placed on the 40-man roster. In most cases, the player’s “true” rookie card was issued by Topps years earlier, but it didn’t stop them from flooding the market with rookie cards that weren’t really “rookie” cards.
Another strategy would be to intentionally print fewer rookie cards, as compared to the rest of the set – in effect, “short-printing” the rookies and making them almost like inserts. While this did increase the secondary-market value of star rookies; the practice of purposely short-printing, coupled with the aforementioned 40-man loophole, usually meant that the chances of pulling a truly valuable rookie card out of a pack were remote and the rookies they did pull were often marginal prospects who (as it turns out) would never amount to much in the Major Leagues. It also made collecting a complete set nearly impossible for the average collector.
For example, take Upper Deck’s 1999 SP Authentic Baseball. (Upper Deck renamed their SP brand SP Authentic a year earlier, as each 24-pack box was guaranteed to yield an “authentic” autographed card.) Like most “premium”- level brands, the set itself was small (135 cards) and concentrated on the big stars and hot prospects. The first 90 cards were all veterans, the next 30 were the “Future Watch” prospects, and the last 15 a season highlights subset. The Future Watch and season highlights cards were all short-printed to only 2700 serial-numbered copies. A collector who bought a box of 24-packs, while easily able to complete a 90-card “short-set,” would only find two Future Watch cards and one season highlight. And although the Future Watch subset does include such future stars as Troy Glaus, J.D. Drew, Carlos Beltran and Roy Halladay, none of the cards are “true” rookies (Roy Halladay’s rookies were all in 1997-issued Bowman-branded products.), and most of the other 26 players would never amount to much. Soon, other manufacturers followed suit, and began to short-print their “prospects.”
In much the same way autographed cards drove The Hobby in the 90s, card firms turned to game used cards as the big chase item. As more and more card companies began to include autographed cards, the players, perhaps exploiting the situation, began charging more and more for their signatures. Although the up-front capital costs of acquiring, then cutting up, a jersey, then mounting them on cards was immense, it was actually lower than producing autographs. A game-used jersey of a Major League player can, if cut up correctly and depending on the jersey’s size, yield about 1500 to 2000 usable swatches. For example, a typical game-used jersey of a current star player, the caliber of Manny Ramirez, can sell for about $1200. Buying a Ramirez jersey for $1200 and cutting it up into 2000 swatches is a lot cheaper than having Ramirez sign 2000 cards at his normal fee of $50 each. Card companies did not abandon autographs all together, but they focused more on rookies and prospects (whose signing fees run typically around $5 per signature) and more affordable players; leaving the costly superstars for their super-premium brands.
But the demand for autographs and game-used cards of the superstar and Hall of Fame players among some collectors was there and the card firms would satisfy this demand with more-and-more “high-end” products. In 1996, Donruss cracked the $10/pack barrier with 1996 Leaf Signature Series – the first baseball card product to guarantee an autograph in every pack. It took only five years for Upper Deck to break the $100/pack level with the debut of 2001 Ultimate Collection Baseball. Each four-pack box of 2001 Ultimate guaranteed the collector one autographed card serial-numbered to 150 copies, two game-used jersey cards serial-numbered to 150 copies, four short-printed rookie cards serial-numbered to 1000 copies or less, and a game-used card of rookie sensation Ichiro Suzuki serial-numbered to 250 copies or less.
For the rest of the decade, the remaining card firms played this game of one-upmanship when it came to premium content. In 1999, Upper Deck made news when it purchased one of Babe Ruth’s bats for $23,000 then cut it up. While this did get Upper Deck, and The Hobby, lots of publicity in the news media (much of it negative), Ruth’s bats are not especially all that rare and the one Upper Deck purchased was damaged. It was a little different a few years later when Donruss-Playoff paid $264,210 for one of only three known Babe Ruth game-worn home Yankee jerseys; then, cut it up into 2100 one-inch by one-inch pieces for use in their ever-growing roster of $20, $40, $50, and $100/pack card sets.
2001: The tipping point.

2001 would be the year that set the stage for the decisions that would happen later in the decade. It was a perfect storm of events that, for a while it seemed, appeared to lift The Hobby out of its slump. For the first time in ten years sales of sports cards (across all sports) had increased, and most of this had to do with baseball.
By 2001, the number of different card sets being produced had grown, with many of the new products of the $10/pack and up variety. While Topps continued to sign Minor Leaguers to Steak Dinner checks to load-up their Bowman brands with rookie cards, their competition continued to exploit the 40-man rule and issue dozens of “rookie” cards of marginal Major Leaguers. According to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly’s annual “Rookie Card Rolodex,” 552 players had their Major League rookie card issued in 2001. But what drove The Hobby throughout the year were two rookies: Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols.
The entrance of two Hall of Famer-caliber players into baseball wasn’t that unusual; however, the fact that neither had a rookie card previous to 2001 was. Ichiro had spent his entire career in Japan, and was not eligible for inclusion in an American card set. Pujols spent only one season in the low-level Minors, and although considered a top prospect (ranked the 42nd best prospect in Minor League Baseball according to Baseball America magazine) was thought to be years at least two years away from the big leagues. When both players made their respective teams opening day rosters, and both players putting up MVP-caliber statistics, it created a historical accident. Never before in the post-Upper Deck era of The Hobby had there been two rookie players whose Rookie of the Year seasons coincided with the issuance of the rookie cards.
Pujols and Ichiro would only be two players of what many consider to be the best rookie card “Class” in baseball card history. Topps was still dealing out Steak Dinner checks left-and-right, was were able to issue rookie cards of perennial All-Star Chase Utley, future MVP Justin Morneau, and future Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Fueled by the post-season additions to each team’s 40-man roster, Fleer, Upper Deck, and Donruss were able to sneak into their late-season sets rookies of Mark Teixeira, Victor Martinez, and Mark Prior. Unfortunately, the quest to jam as many short-printed rookie cards into one set as possible meant that for the average collector was more than likely to get David Brous, Esix Snead, or Corky Miller.
And therein lied the problem of issuing too many rookie cards. By jamming as many rookies as possible into their 2001 releases, they cannibalized their 2002 products – especially their early-season 2002 sets.
2001 marked Topps’ 50th anniversary in the baseball card business, and went all-out throughout all of their products. Perhaps most significant has the debut of Topps Heritage. 2001 Topps Heritage Baseball was designed to evoke the famed 1952 Topps Baseball set in terms of both design and composition. At 407 cards, it matched the size of ’52 Topps, and was printed on the same “cereal box” gray cardstock. Although 2001 Topps Heritage was released in only a single series, the last 97 cards were short-printed and seeded into packs at the rate of 1:2, perfectly complementing the “high-number” series of ’52 Topps. Unlike other contemporary products that had short-printed base set cards, the SPs in Topps Heritage were not all rookie cards. (In fact, it is the sole 2001 baseball card set without a rookie card of either Albert Pujols or Ichiro Suzuki.) And by seeding the 97 SPs at the rate of 1:2/packs, instead of 1:4, 1:12, or 1:24 packs as was common practice, Topps made it feasible, albeit still challenging, for collectors to build a complete set.
2005: MLB Pulls Donruss’ License

But most of the gains from 2001 were lost shortly thereafter. By 2004, total revenues had shrunk to $260 million. The card firms, fighting for survival, began issuing more and more products, if only to maintain market share. In 2004, the four MLB/MLBPA licensees had released 84 products. The secondary market had become crowded and great deals of products were collecting dust due to lack of interest.
2005 would make a year of transition and the first shoe to drop was in May when Fleer Trading Cards filed for bankruptcy. Upper Deck would purchase the rights to the Fleer brand name at a bargain basement price and continue to release baseball cards under the Fleer brand names for the next few years.
To limit the number of brands and sets, MLB and MLBPA would only issue two licenses for 2006 and beyond. Topps and Upper Deck would be chosen, and Donruss-Playoff was out. Topps and Upper Deck would also be limited to 17 baseball card releases per year. By limited the number of releases, it was hoped that the “shelf-life” of each individual product would be extended. The most radical change would be in the issuance of rookie cards. For the first time, only those players who actually appeared in a Major League game either in the present or previous Major League Baseball season would be permitted into a set. Those rookies appearing on a trading card for the first time would have a cross-brand, cross-company, “ROOKIE CARD” icon printed on all their cards. The new rookie card rules closed the “40-man loophole” that allowed Upper Deck to issued late-season “rookie” cards of players who had yet to appear in a Major League game, and prohibited Topps from including “Steak Dinner” contract signees from having rookie cards years before their Major League debut. (Topps was still permitted to sign Minor Leaguers to Steak Dinner contracts and to include them in their Bowman-branded products as inserts; and many collectors continue to treat these as rookie cards.)

2009: Topps’ Monopoly Restored

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Card-Ola: 2010 Absolute Memorabilia Football

So, now that Tracy Hackler is working for PanPlayRuss, or whatever they're calling themselves now, I now have two (count 'em, two) different card companies sending me unsolicited wax boxes.

Since I only collect baseball cards, I had been five years since I ripped any wax from this company -- not including Panini World Cup stickers, of course. So with this box, I was curious. Donruss-Playoff baseball sucked, and I was glad when they had their MLB/MLBPA licenses pulled. But have they changed in the five year's since?

More rainbow foil. More gimmicked rookies. More mindless parallels. New name, same ol' Donruss.

Memo to MLB Properties and the MLBPA: Please do not give this company a license. Ever.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What to do with a box of porno cards?

WARNING: This video box break is of an adult nature and is for adults only.

I wound up busting the rest of the box, and you didn't miss much. The collation was so awful that I'm still two cards short of the full 100-card base set.

Think about that. There are 360 cards in this box, and I'm still missing cards #99 & #100. But at least I have seven "Danielle Dangerously's."

There's also one other thing about this box. I have no interest in keeping ANY of these cards in my collection. Don't get me wrong, I LOVVVVVE the ladies; and yes, like most men my age, from time-to-time, I like looking at pornography.

But I don't like going to the kinds of places where many of the subjects of this card set are employed. The DJ's are annoying. The drinks are overpriced. And, like Chris Rock said, there is no sex in the Champagne Room. None.

But what I really don't like are the employees; i.e. the kinds of women depicted in this card set. I don't like skanky women.

I don't want these cards; but as a card collector, I can't bring myself to throw them away. They are trading cards, after all.

So, I throw this question to the floor: What should I do with a box full of porno cards?

1) Put 'em on eBay.

But who the hell is going to want only 98% of a set? And does anyone really, really, need eight Regina Price "rookie" cards?

2) "Bip" people with them.

But then if I Bip the wrong person, I run the risk of seriously offending the recipient. And the last thing I need is to be placed on a sex offender registry.

3) Send them all back to Tom The Ripper.

This is the easy way out, and the path of least resistance. Just ship 'em all back from whence they came.

4) Bite the bullet and just throw them in the garbage.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Help Wanted: My Paper on The Hobby

As many of you know my "day job," (if you can call it that) is that of a graduate student at George Mason University. Currently, I'm taking a class in Industrial Organization being taught by Professor Tyler Cowen. Yes, that Tyler Cowen -- he's one of the reasons why I went to Mason.

For this class I've decided to do something I've always wanted to do and write a paper that's Hobby related. But there's just one problem.

Very few serious academic papers have been written on The Hobby, and what little that has been published is just laughable.

So, this is where you, especially those of you in "The Industry" who read this site, come in.

Before I continue, let me show you the proposal I sent in a few weeks ago.


On August 6, 2009, MLB Properties (MLBP), the licensing arm of Major League Baseball, granted Topps Chewing Gum a five-year exclusive-license for the production of baseball cards beginning with the 2010 baseball season; effectively giving Topps the monopoly-power it previously had from 1956-80. In 1981, Topps lost their monopoly after a competing firm sued and won an anti-trust case and was granted a license. After a decade-and-a-half of increased competition, which saw as one point as many as six different firms producing over 100 different MLB-licensed baseball card sets a year, “The Hobby,” as it became known, boomed. But after the boom came the inevitable “bursting of the bubble.” In the three decades since, through a series of mergers & acquisitions and liquidations, the number of firms producing officially-licensed baseball cards went from one, to three, to six; then four, two, and now back to one.

This paper will analyze “The Hobby” in the increasingly competitive boom years of the 80s and early-90s; the crash years of the mid-to-late-90s; the relative stability, despite the exit of some firms, of the mid-to-late-2000s; and the rationale behind MLBP’s decision to grant Topps monopoly power again.

Got all that? Good. Here's where I need your help.

Before they were bought-out by Pinnacle Brands, Action Packed conducted an annual "State of The Hobby" survey. Does anyone happen to have any copies of this survey lying around?

What was the name of the Federal case that broke up the Topps monopoly in 1981? I know Pete Williams' 1995 book Card Sharks discussed this case in great detail; unfortunately, my copy is lost somewhere at my parent's house in New Jersey.

What was the rationale behind MLB Properties decision to grant Score/Sportflics/Pinnacle Brands and Upper Deck licenses in the late-80s? I know Upper Deck had an "Ace in the Hole" named DeWyane Buice, but how did Score get theirs?

Finally, Stephen Strasburg notwithstanding, what have been the effects of Topps' exclusive license on the baseball card market in 2010, and beyond?


Chris Harris

Card-Ola: 2010 Pro Debut Series Two

Since Topps didn't put much effort into Pro Debut, I didn't put much of an effort into this video.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The 2010 Finest Football Drinking Game.

It's real simple to play. Here's what you'll need:

* One Hobby Box of 2010 Finest Football

* A six-pack of the brew of your choice

* A fifth of Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea-flavored Vodka (with the mixer of your choice)

How to play:

* Everytime you pull a Refractor, take a drink of your beer.

* Everytime you pull an autograph, drink some Jeremiah Weed.

I recently played this game with a box of Finest Topps sent me. For some reason, I stupidly recorded it for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Harry Leroy Halladay III

I have nothing additional to say that is neither relevant nor true.

Just enjoy the last batter.

Monday, October 04, 2010

UPDATED: Token NLDS Blogger-to-Vlogger Wager

In much the same way mayor of cities place token "wagers" on the results of a playoff game/series, Tom The Ripper has called me out.

But wagering my Phillies against his Reds in the NLDS is a lot like putting $100 on Secretariat in the Belmont. So in order to make it fair, we've arranged the following terms:

If the Reds win the NLDS: Tom receives from me, the contents of this box of 2010 Triple Threads that Topps just sent me.

If the Phillies win the NLDS: I will receive from Tom a box of...

And yes, I WILL video-break this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Junk Box Break: 1986 Donruss

Part One:

Part Two:

Base Set: 388 of 660 (58.79%)
161 Doubles
6 Triples

1 Full 63-piece Hank Aaron puzzle.

And to think, I got all these cards for about the price of a Blaster!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Junk Box Break: 1998 Topps Stars

Paid $35

Base Set (Reds, serial-numbered to 9799): 52 of 150 (34.67%)

Bronze (Numbered to 9799): 54 of 150 (36.00%)
Silver (Numbered to 4399): 24 of 150 (16.00%)
Gold (1:2, numbered to 2299): 12 of 150 (8.00%)
Gold Rainbow (1:46, numbered to 99): 1 of 150 (H. Nomo)

1 Rookie Reprint (five cards, 1:24): M. Schmidt

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now that the 2011 Topps checklist is out...

A few more takes on 2011 Topps.

You know that super-cool die-cut card of the 2010 NL Cy Young winner and NL MVP that Topps leaked to Beckett last week? The one that gave The Hobby a collective boner over the possibility that Topps might be bringing back some of the design concepts of the mid-to-late-1990s? You know this card?

Well guess what? You will not be able to find this, or any other "Diamond Die-Cut" card in any pack of 2011 Topps Baseball.

Let me repeat that. The Diamond Die-Cut inserts will not be in any pack of 2011 Topps Baseball.

The only way to get them is through the glorified video slot machine known as the Topps 60th Anniversary Diamond Card Giveaway website.

Yes, you'll have to redeem code cards in order to have a chance of getting a Diamond Die-Cut. And since there will be plenty of leftover "Cards Your Mother Threw Out, But Don't Really Want Back Anyway," chances are, you'll probably get five cards the caliber of an '87 Buddy Biancalana before the Transmogrifier grants you one of these.

But wait, it gets worse.

That's because the size of the Series One Diamond Die-Cut set is (and I'm not making this up) 150 cards.

One Hundred and Fifty Freaking Cards! Assuming that another 150 cards will be added for Series Two and TU&H, and you'll have to redeem twelvity-five thousand code cards and make elevity-seven bazillion trades in order to complete the full 450-card set. It's almost as if Topps just created an insert set that IS LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO COLLECT, EVEN IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT.

But let's suppose you've redeemed those twelvity-five thousand code cards and made elevity-seven bazillion trades and completed that 450 card set. You're probably going to want Topps to deliver that set to you, right? Assuming that the shipping & handling remain unchanged from this year's Million Card Giveaway, then ZANG!!! $240 in shipping charges!

Seriously, how could Topps fuck up something this potentially epic, this badly?

The rest of the product follows the same tiresome, phone-it-in, formula we've seen for the last few years. A way-too-small 330-card base set, the same numbered parallels, a autogamer in every Hobby box, et al. Even the inserts are pretty much the same as 2010.

Plug in "60 Years of Topps Reprints, Topps 60, Kimball Champions, and Diamond Duos" in place of "The Cards Your Mother Threw Out, Peak Performance, Turkey Red, and Legendary Lineage," and there really is no difference between the structure of the 2010 and 2011 Topps insert programs.

Speaking of Kimball Champions, I'm going to ask this again: What the hell are these doing in 2011 Topps? If you're going to make 2011 Topps a massive celebration of Topps Baseball, then make it a celebration of TOPPS BASEBALL! Besides, you got to start thinking ahead for 2012 Topps, right?

Yes, there will be (again), whether you like it or not, "Veteran Variations." Or, more accurately, there will be Veteran Variations whether Topps is even aware if you actually like them or not.

The fact that Topps devotes one line, in very small type, on the sell-sheet and doesn't even bother mentioning them at all on the checklist, says a lot about how ambivalent collectors have become to these gimmicks -- and I think Topps is beginning to notice. Topps could (and should) drop these cards the week before pack-out, and collectors wouldn't notice nor care.

2011 Topps Series One Checklist.

It's 2:40 AM, and I just finished uploading the 2011 Topps Series One checklist to the wiki. (You're welcome)

Still lots of TBDs, and still a work in progress; but it you want to see the provisional checklist... ... Series_One

Friday, September 24, 2010

Memo to Topps...

Relic: (noun) An antiquity that has survived from the distant past.

In other words, something none of these Topps cards are.

Why does Topps continues to call these manufactured relics, "Relics?"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Play the Braves off, Keyboard Cat!

Six down, with nine left to play; IT'S OVAR!

Good-bye and thanks for playing Atlanta, we have some lovely parting gifts backstage for you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Card-Ola: 2010 Topps Platinum Football

Base Set: 111 of 165 (67.27%)
Vets: 68 of 110 (61.81%)
Chrome Rookies (two-per-pack): 43 of 55 (78.18%)


3 Rookie (thick) Variations (55 cards, 1:6): T. Tebow, J. Skelton, E. Decker
2 Chrome Rookie Refractors (55 cards, 1:16, numbered to 999): J. Gresham, J. Graham
1 Chrome Rookie White Refractor (55 cards, 1:34, numbered to 499) D. LeFevour


1 Autographed Chrome Rookie Refractor (55 cards): A. Dixon /900
1 Autographed Chrome Rookie Red Refractor (55 cards, 1:1575, numbered to 10): M. Easley
1 Autographed Patch Chrome Rookie Refractor (55 cards): R. Gronkowski /800


I don't ever recall a set were the "short-printed" rookies are actually easier to find than the base cards. Can you?

I still don't get the plain foil veterans and chromium rookies. And what's the deal with scattering the foil cards with the Chrome cards throughout the set?

Is it possible that an single "event-worn" NFL player jersey can yield 800 usable swatches of patch material?

Product Rating: 3 Gumsticks (out of 5)

Monday, September 20, 2010

And all for 50 cents

There was a cardshow in Tysons Corner this past Sunday -- think old school show from the 80s; 30 tables in a hotel ballroom. That kind of show.

Normally I don't do these "what I got at the cardshow" posts, but there was this 50 cent box and you will not believe the shit I got out of it.

The Rookie Card of the greatest footballer America has ever produced. (Sorry, Landon; but she's actually won a World Cup -- two in fact.)

Hmmm. I never knew Richie Ashburn was in 1998 Collector's Choice. Turns out, he wasn't. This was part of a wrapper redemption thing that UD did at the '98 SportsFest show.

For the uninitiated, SportsFest was a National-caliber show promoted by Krause Publications back in the late-90s/early-00s. There were actually three SportsFests a year: One in Philly, and the others in Chicago and Anaheim.

I was living in Nebraska at the time, which, not coincidentally, is where Ol' Whitey grew up.

A Platinum Medallion of Cap'n Cheeseburger, serial-numbered to 50. That's like a penny for each serial-number! Pretty cool how I figured that out, huh? Anybody know any CC-Supercollectors?

A dead Allen & Ginter Rip Card of some San Diego clown. It's almost as if Topps wants you to rip open this card.

For some reason, I'm beginning to collect dead Rip Cards. I guess I can show my grand kids some of the dumb things card companies used to do. No big deal, right...

And over in the next column of the box was this. But this ain't no ordinary Chipper mini.

Take a look at that card number. Yepper, that's the Rip Card-exclusive Chipper mini. A $40-$80 card, sitting there for the taking in a 50 cent box.


My Blog Bat Around Post

If I...

Were Commissioner of Baseball, you know what I'd do?

1) Abolish all drug testing. This is not a joke. I'm dead serious. I want to see Gonzo baseball!

Forget the speed of Aroldis Chapman's 105 MPH fastball. I want to see Aroldis Chapman throwing his fastball, while ON speed. How many bases can Michael Bourn steal after a fistful of downers? Will Dock Ellis' record for LSD-influenced no-hitters ever be broken?

Think Albert Pujols is so great now? What about Albert Pujols all hopped-up on Anabolic steroids, Novocaine, NyQuil, Darvocet, Xanax, horse tranquilizers, and crack cocaine? If Barry Bonds can hit 73 HRs on "The Cream" & "The Clear," Pujols on the gas CAN BREAK THAT RECORD BY THE ALL-STAR GAME!

Besides, we all know drug testing is a joke and will always be one-step behind the cheaters. So, why not make it all out-in-the-open and legalize it? The players aren't stupid enough to NOT know the long-term health risks. They know who Taylor Hooton, Lyle Alzado, and Chris Benoit were. And if you had the chance to win a World Series ring in exchange for dying five years earlier than you otherwise would, you'd do it, too. (Don't lie, you would.)

2) Expand the American League to 16 teams. The A.L. can use some extra teams out west. So to the good people of Vancouver, B.C. and Monterrey, Mexico; if you've got a deep-pocketed billionaire with a large ego, and elected officials with even larger egos who love spending hundreds of millions of other-people's tax dollars on "community redevelopment" projects that never seem to get past Stage One (I'm looking at you, St. Louis and your "Ballpark Village"), you too can have Major League Baseball!

3) And when the A.L. expands to 16 teams, we can finally get rid of the damn Wild Card by realigning both Leagues into four, four-team divisions.

A.L. North: Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit
A.L. South: Tampa Bay, Texas, Kansas City, Mexico
A.L. East: New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore
A.L. West: Seattle, Vancouver, Oakland, Anaheim

N.L. North: Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee, Colorado
N.L. South: Atlanta, Florida, Houston, St. Louis
N.L. East: New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh
N.L. West: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona

4) Interleague Play: Purists hate it, but fuck 'em. If "The Purists" had their way, Ryan Howard would be playing first base for Kansas City -- the Kansas City Monarchs, that is.

Here's what I propose for Interleague Play 2.0. Do what the NFL does, and have all four teams in each American League division play a three-game series with all four teams in an opposite National League division every year. Rotate the divisions every year, so that each team plays a three-game series against all the other teams in the opposite league once every fourth year, and a three-game away series every eighth year.

Now, take each A.L. team and pair them with an N.L. "geographical rival" and have them play six-times a year. In a way, this is already happening (i.e. Yankees & Mets; Indians & Reds; Giants & A's et al). But some teams do not have a natural rival (i.e. Arizona, Colorado, Detroit, Toronto and others.)

Here's a list of existing Interleague rivalries who already play a home-and-home each year.

Cubs-White Sox

You can add to that, these two new pairings who should be playing six-times a year.

Phillies-Red Sox

And here's some "New Rivalries" that'll be created by expansion.


Wouldn't an annual Arizona-Mexico series would be, like, totally AWESOME! Maybe they can play for "The Joe Arpaio Cup?" Colorado-Vancouver would give all the dirty hippies in Boulder (and believe me, Boulder has a LOT of hippies) an excuse to stock-up on B.C. Bud -- you know, the "good" stuff.

As for Atlanta-Toronto? Fuck Atlanta and Fuck Toronto.

Nobody in Atlanta gives a shit about the Braves, because no one in Atlanta is FROM Atlanta. The Braves are just a summertime diversion until college football season starts anyway. Toronto can suck a racehorse's cock with Heinz tomato ketchup for 1993. Atlanta and Toronto are two cities that were just made to play six meaningless Interleague games a year.

5) In fact, we should just kick the Braves & Blue Jays out of the Majors altogether and go to two, 15-team Leagues divided up into six, five-team Divisions with Interleague play every week!

(Just kidding.)

6) Change the revenue sharing formula by giving small-market teams a financial incentive to win. 2010 will be the 18th consecutive losing season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. How did this happen? Two words: Revenue sharing.

Imagine, if you will, you are the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every year, in addition to the shared-revenues that all 30 teams get (i.e. TV rights, licensing from the sale of baseball cards, et al), you also get a no-strings attached "revenue sharing" check. This second check comes from "big market" teams (i.e. the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies) who all have massive local radio and TV contracts, and more lucrative stadium deals ($2500/seat tickets). The less revenues you generate on your own, the more "welfare" you get from the other owners.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that under this system there's no incentive for the Pirates to improve their on-field product. The more they lose, the less revenue they generate on their own, and the greater their "welfare check." Why do you think they keep trading away their best players? The Pirates have become the L.A. Clippers of baseball; a joke.

So, as Commissioner, I'd share those revenues a little differently. The system I advocate would base shared revenues on on-field performance. It's a system that the English Premiere League already has in place, and it rewards those clubs (even the "small-market" ones) who actually put an effort into winning.

Here's how it works: The EPL receives a massive amount of shared-revenues (mostly from the lucrative TV contracts from Rupert Murdoch). Each one of the 20 clubs gets a share of this money; BUT, bonus moneys are paid BASED ON PERFORMANCE.

For example, in the 2007-08 EPL Season, Derby County, which finished last, still took home £29.1m. Manchester United, who won the Premeire League that season, got almost double that (£49.3m). Blackburn Rovers, who play in one of the smallest "markets," (Population of Greater Blackburn: 137,470) finished a respectable seventh in the table that year and cashed a check for £40.2m.

Now if you're a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you should be beating down the doors of Bud Selig's office with pitchforks and torches and demanding such a system be established in MLB. If such a system existed, the Rays might have enough money to keep BOTH Carlos Pena AND Carl Crawford after this season.

All of which dovetails into...

7) The establishment of a "Salary Floor." Just as there are in the other major American sports leagues, a salary cap that guarantees both the players and owners a certain percentage of revenues, there must be a "floor" that guarantees that each team will spend a set amount of money on player salaries.

8) An annual independent financial audit of all 32 MLB teams. If you've read "The Deadspin Papers," you know how the Marlins just raped the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County to the tune of $2.4 billion for a taxpayer subsidized stadium currently being built on the site of the (now demolished) Orange Bowl. This despite the fact that the Marlins turned a $37.8 million profit. So, as a gesture of goodwill towards fans and taxpayers, all 32 MLB teams should submit to an audit.

...and finally

9) A weekly, half-hour, baseball collectibles show on MLB Network. You've got a 24-hour-a-day TV channel at your disposal, and you need cheap programming during those times when there aren't any games on. So why not a 30 minute weekly show on The Hobby? THIS IS SUCH A NO-BRAINER! You can even let Michael Eisner produce it -- I heard he has some experience in the TV business. Want to "Get kids into The Hobby?" Make it a cartoon and call it "Bazooka Joe and His Cardboard Posse," and air it on Saturday Mornings.

Baseball cards + MLB Network = RATINGS GOLD!