AMOUNT SPENT ON 2012 TOPPS BASEBALL: $0.00

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dual Video Blaster Break: 2010 Topps 206

Friday, August 27, 2010

COLLECT: Join the Movement.



And the original...




Print 'em out and stick 'em anywhere.

Special Comment: Transparency in The Hobby

And now a Special Comment...



We all know that the trading card business can be a competitive one. So when I read this morning on A Cardboard Problem that Leaf, the trading card company formerly known as Razor, was withholding the final checklist (so as not to tip-off their "competitors," i.e. Topps) on its debut mixed-martial arts trading card set.

Leaf/Razor, of course, is a non-entity in The Hobby; as if buying a dormant brand name somehow adds credibility. "Leaf" is not the same company that produced Frank Thomas's rookie card 20 years ago. It's still the same ol' Razor -- a marginal trading card company with no real licenses, relegated to pseudo-sports and repacking other company's cards.

But sadly, the secrecy they employ is commonplace amongst other, more respectable, trading card companies. Upper Deck lost their MLB license months ago. Yet attempts by your humble correspondent to get Upper Deck to reveal the complete list of 2010 "Double-Take" variation cards, have been for naught. Despite the fact that UD no longer has a baseball license, they still refuse to reveal what the variations are. To their (partial) credit, six months ago, just days after they settled their lawsuit with MLB Properties, they did issue a checklist of what 25-cards are in the set. They have still yet to visually identify what the variations are.

What reason is there for UD's secrecy? Why haven't they identified what the variations are like they said they would?

But Upper Deck no longer has a baseball license. Topps still does, and when it comes to "stealth" inserts and other chicanery, Topps is a serial offender.

Case in point: The "World's Biggest" inserts in year's Allen & Ginter. Are these on the checklist? Were these mentioned on the sell sheet? How about Topps' pathetic excuse of a website?

No. You will not find any mention of these cards. Anywhere. No thanks to Topps, it was us, the collectors, who had to discover for themselves that the first five cards in the set were exclusive to Blaster and retail boxes and the other 20 are only in gravity-feed loosey packs.

Sadly, this is only one example. Remember "Scoreboard Abe?" Topps didn't make any mention of that card until March -- almost two months after the release of Series One Topps.

Why do card companies do this? Why do they keep giving us, the collectors, the people who support them and pay their salaries, "The Mushroom Treatment?"Is it asking too much of Topps, UD, Leaf/Razor, et al, to actually tell us what is in their products, before we buy them? Why do they continue to disrespect collectors like this?

I'm Chris Harris on this, the 386th day since Upper Deck lost their MLB license. Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Charm City. (part four)

For Part One, click here...

...Part Two...

...Part Three


"I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore... It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." -- John Waters

Saturday Afternoon: Day Four (continued)

Later that afternoon, I finally met up with Chris Thomas and we made our way back to the FCB booth. I introduced Chris to Sooz and Marie of A Cardboard Problem and we jointly asked them if they wished to join us later that evening for drinks in Fells Point. They politely declined our offer, and to be honest with you, I can't say that I blame them. In retrospect, "Chris & Chris invite the ACP girls for drinks" sounded almost like a double-date offer; totally unprofessional and more than inappropriate for the situation. Then again, maybe they were on to something. Maybe they already knew about Darf.

Darf is the biggest piece of shit I've ever had the misfortune to meet. A total asshole. He's the kind of guy who'll drink your beer, eat your food, make fun of your ethnic heritage, grope your date's rear-end and proposition her to perform acts that are still illegal in The Bible Belt, then challenge half the bar to a fistfight. By the end of the evening Darf usually winds up with a broken nose and passed out in a pool of various bodily fluids and excrement -- not all of which is his own. When Darf arrives anywhere, the police are usually not all that far behind to take him away.

We all know someone like Darf, and I know him a bit too well. Unfortunately, we both happen to share the same body. Darf only comes out when Chris (me, not Chris Thomas) has too much to drink -- but not always. But when the booze start flowing, a humble, mild-mannered, riddled-with-a-touch-of-Asperger's, graduate student/gonzo journalist magically becomes infected with the personality of Darf.

I don't often go out to watering holes anymore, lest he make an appearance. But I had already committed myself. So we (myself, Chris Thomas and his two friends from Ohio) made our way into Fells Point. We settled on a place rated the best pub in Maryland, Max's Taphouse.

Indeed. Any establishment with 140 different beers on tap, five on cask, and 1200 different bottles, is a world class drinking establishment. You won't find shit like Budweiser on-tap in a joint like this, but you will find is stuff like "St. Peter's English Ale." Perfect. A English style bitter for a bitter card collector in a city full of bitter people. The four of us all ordered our rounds and made smalltalk about The Show.

I few minutes later, I finish my first pint and look up-and-down the beer menu. My eyes stopped at "Flying Dog Double Dog (Nitro) ... 11.0% ABV." 11% alcohol by volume? I think I could handle that easily. Why not?

I don't remember much about the taste, but I do remember that I was surprised that such a beer with a high ABV went down smooth and easy and I finished it rather quickly. So much so, that just 15 minutes after I had received my first Double Dog, Chris Thomas had bought me another pint and I drank that quickly as well. And then you-know-who made his appearance.

No. Stay calm... Fight that son-of-a-bitch. GO AWAY YOU EVIL ASSHOLE! NOT TONIGHT! I've just met these people. Back! Back!

I got up from the table. "That's it. I have to leave," I said.

"Leave? Where are you going?" said Chris Thomas.

"I have to leave the country. Nice knowing you all."

Clearly, they did not understand the terror I was in. I could feel Darf's presence. But I was able to successfully fight that rotten bastard off. After about 20 minutes, eventually, Chris Thomas and his friends got me to calm down. We took a walk around the block, ate a couple of slices of pizza, then headed back into the city. I then crashed in my car for a few hours to sober up, and around 2:30am drove back to The Republic.



Sunday: Day Five

Memories of this day are extremely hazy. All I have, for guide-pegs, is a pocket full of cocktail napkins all covered in scribbled notes. Here is one: "Case full of balls autographed by `Bonds' and `Mays' ... $50 each ... genuine? ... Get on the phone, lean on the fuckers ... heavy yelling."

Another says: "Jesse Jane on floor of Convo Hall ... Who knew porn stars collected? ... Here to promote appearance at Hustler Club, left empty handed. Guess not? ... Too many collagen injections, mouth looks like it could float small boat ... Still a Katie Morgan man."

Sunday was designated "Family Day" at The National. Not that you'd know that from the crowds. Instead of Family Day, maybe they should have called it "Pack your bags early and get the fuck out of Baltimore by sundown, but we'll still charge you dumb schmucks who didn't come early in the week full-price for a ticket anyway, day."

There is nothing more depressing than the final day of a mega show like The National, and Sunday was no exception. By 3:30, 90 minutes before the official closing, and the place was already a ghost town.

Although a ghost town, you can get a deal on just about anything. Most of the big waxjobbers (i.e. D&A, Atlanta, Blowout) marked down most of their boxes by $5-$10 -- except 2010 Bowman Baseball, of course. I picked up a box of 2003 Fleer Platinum from Dave & Adam's for $48 (marked down from $55) just for the hell of it. Pulled a "Rodriguez" game jersey serial-numbered to 400, but I couldn't figure out if it was Alex or Ivan. (And you wonder why this company went out of business?)

Towards the front of the hall, as I was making my way to the exit, I saw the damnedest thing I've ever seen at a card show. An entire eight-foot table covered about a foot-and-a-half high with miscellaneous ephemera. It was literally, the perfect metaphor for the state of The Hobby in 2010: A pile of junk.

Late-80s/early-90s Donruss Jumbo Diamond Kings. Post cards of obscure Eastern European soccer stadiums. Mid-80s-era McDonald's football cards -- complete with unscratched "tabs." 1990 Topps Heads-Up singles. Promos from decade's old Nationals, issued by long forgotten card companies. A team photo of the '96 Baltimore Ravens. Anything on the table, just a buck.

"It's not all junk, although it's tempting to call it that," said a collector, seated at the head of the table, picking through this pile of unwanted cardboard debris. "That's what the kids call it these days."

I responded, "Are there kids left in The Hobby?" and casually tossed back into the pile a 1978 Sportcaster of bowler Earl Anthony.



It had been ninety-seven-and-one-half-hours since that fateful Wednesday afternoon, and it seemed like everyone, myself included, had been "Nationaled Out." Maybe those dealers who left just after lunchtime were onto something. It was time to flee, back to The Republic. So, I headed back to the Light Rail stop and got on the train back to Glen Burnie. Then I got in my car, put in a Tobacco CD and headed South.

There is one main road back from this part of Maryland to The Republic of Fairfax: The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a straight, flat-out high-speed burn through Jessup and Laurel and College Park. And then onto the Capital Beltway, across the American Legion Bridge, and straight into frantic oblivion: safety, obscurity, just another burnt-out card collector on his way home from The National.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On-Location Box Breaks, In Your House.

I recorded my first on-location video box break a couple of years ago, and to be honest with you, I'm bored. I've run out of places that are A) Interesting and B) Discrete enough for me to film without being bothered.

So, I've come up with a new gimmick. On-location box breaks, in your house. That's right, I WANT TO DO A BOX BREAK IN YOUR HOUSE!

If you live in the Greater Washington D.C. or Philadelphia areas, and are interested, send me an e-mail, with the dates and times you're available.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

1) You MUST live in, or are reasonably close to, the Washington D.C., Baltimore, or Philadelphia areas.

1a) By "Reasonably close," think Harrisburg, Richmond, Norfolk, Delaware, et al. Pittsburgh, North Carolina, New York are a little too far.... Unless you're willing to help defray the cost of transportation. We'll talk.

2) If you supply your own box, I'll let you keep the cards; but if I bring my own, they're all mine.

3) You MUST supply me with something decent to eat, and a 12-pack of something to drink -- not "lawnmower" beer, but something around "Heineken-or-better" level. If you're under 21, get your parents to buy.

4) I am not responsible for any damage to your property. Especially if I rip a shitty box.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Wal-Mart Chrome Strasburg: Not as scarce as you think.

All this week, The Hobby has been abuzz over the release of a new Topps Stephen Strasburg insert card. By now you've probably seen this card...



This is one of three "Wal-Mart Exclusive Chrome" cards available in specially marked "Value Boxes" that were released this week at Wal-Marts nationwide. What collectors may not realize, in their haste for STRASBURG-JO!!!!, is just how not scarce this and the other two cards in the set actually are.

73,150. That's how many copies of each Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Stephen Strasburg Wal-Mart Exclusive Chrome card were produced. Of course, the cards themselves are not serial-numbered. But, knowingly or unknowingly, Topps gave collectors a clue to their production based on another insert exclusive to the Wal-Mart Value Packs. Armed with this information, and a little algebra, collector's can easily hack the production figures for the Chrome Strasburg.



Collector's opening the six Topps Series Two packs included in each Value Pack may have noticed a new parallel. The "Copper" parallels are serial-numbered to 399 copies each and (according to the odds listed on the back of the wrapper) inserted into packs at the rate of 1:10. According to Topps, these Copper parallels are only available in Wal-Mart Value Packs. So, let's plug in some variables...

330 (number of cards in the second series set) * 399 (stated production figure of each Copper parallel) * 10 (stated insertion ratio) = 1,316,700


Topps produced an additional 1,316,700 Series Two packs for Wal-Mart. And since you get six of these packs in each Value Pack...

1,316,700 / 6 = 219,450

219,450: That's the number of Value Packs Topps made for Wal-Mart. And since you get one of three Wal-Mart Exclusive Chrome cards in each Value Pack...

219,450 / 3 = 73,150


There are 73,150 copies of each Ruth, Ripken, and Strasburg Chrome card.

In other words, if you pay more than $5 for any of these cards, you're a damned fool.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Charm City. (part three)

For Part One, click here

For Part Two, click here


"I have enjoyed the years enormously in Cleveland and especially in Baltimore." -- Art Modell


For those that have yet to visit this fair city, I feel obliged to warn you: Forcible sodomy is now 100% legal in the City of Baltimore. I should know, I was victimized first hand.

On Saturday, rather than take the Light Rail train into town, I decided to drive. Earlier in the week, I received a message over the Mojo Wire from Chris Thomas, my collaborator/co-conspirator on baseballcardpedia.com, that he and a couple of his friends were coming down from Ohio for The National and wanted to know if I could join them for drinks that evening. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Light Rail doesn't run past 11pm, and I'm not exactly the kind of guy to take chances when it comes to transportation.

So I got into the Big Blue Whale, threw a Kraftwerk CD into the car stereo, and drove the 55 miles from The Republic of Fairfax into The Inner Harbor. Even though I'm used to longer drives (from The Republic to South Jersey usually takes me three hours and 160 miles), it's still nice to have that one "driving record" you can rely on for situations like this. In my world, a 55 mile drive is routine, kid stuff; but it seems to go by a little quicker under the pulsating beat of the Trans Europa Express album.

Downtown Baltimore is a convenient place to drive to, with a spur off I-95 leading directly past Camden Yards and the Convention Center. Unfortunately, there are very few places to park. I spent about 20 minutes circling the Inner Harbor looking for a place until about two blocks east of the Convention Center, I see a sign for a parking garage. Why not? It seemed like a perfectly reasonable place to park; plenty of space on a Saturday Morning.

It wasn't until I took my ticket from the machine, and drove over the barrier that I noticed the big white sign with "$23.00 ALL DAY."

$23.00? TWENTY-THREE FUCKING DOLLARS? TO PARK A CAR? AND IT'S NOT A WORK DAY?

I felt raped. I mean, for that money, the least they could do is throw-in a complementary reach-around.



I finally got to the floor around Noon. Immediately, I knew this would be like no other day. Saturday is usually the busiest day during a mega-show like this. Not only do you get the die-hard collectors, like myself, but the civilians, the curiosity seekers, and the dumb schmucks who actually work for a living. Very busy. Very tense. The air was filled with the pungent scent of avarice and corruption. Me? I just wanted to pick up some cheap singles.

And boy did I find cheap singles, a whole boatload of them, tucked away in the far corner of the convention floor. I've been scoping this particular dealer for the last few days, with his dozens of 3200-count boxes of late-90s-era inserts for a nickel each. And not just any late-90s inserts. 1997 Pinnacle Certified Mirror Red parallels by-the-dozen; scores of 1998 Leaf Rookies & Stars short-prints; '97 Pinnacle Certified Team inserts; at least a dozen 1997 Select Darin Erstad Rookie Revolution inserts, all in serial-number order (i.e. 0505, 0506, 0507... all the way down to 0520); all for only a nickel each.

I couldn't believe my eyes! Some of these were one-per-box hits, and here's this guy with 20 copies of the same 1997 Leaf Garret Anderson Die-Cut Fractal Matrix! There were only about 100 of them made, and he has 20 in one box! Where did he get them? Who's his connection? It's as if the bitter ex-employees of Pinnacle Brands helped themselves to these cards on their way to the unemployment line. Aww, who gives a damn, they're ONLY A NICKEL EACH!

Why not? I must have spent about four hours picking through this guy's boxes and I wound up filling a 400-count box full of late-90s/early-00s inserts. Total price: $40.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around, looking at whatever caught my eye. I noticed the ladies of A Cardboard Problem hanging out at the Freedom Cardboard booth -- unbeknownst to me at the time, but they were working for FCB. Susan was in the midst of interviewing someone for Freedom Cardboard, and I didn't want to interrupt. Besides, the last thing I need on my record is yet another restraining order.

Which leads me to think for a moment. How in the hell does a website, a website which does not charge its end-users anything, afford a corporate booth at The National? Sure they have advertisers, but really? A corporate booth at The National? Do you know how much that costs? With former NFL MVP Mark Mosley signing free autographs? And promo card giveaways? And free t-shirts and FCB-emblazoned blue tumblers?

Maybe Five Guys Burgers & Fries fronted them the money for Mosley. Who knows? But I find it a bit curious that a website that's only been around for a couple of years is able to afford something this extravagant.

Cazart! Why not a Stale Gum booth at next year's National? Shit, if FCB can scrape up the money, why not me? Step right up folks, and shake the hand of the bitterest, most angry, pundit in the cardblogosphere! Watch him as he trashes another garbage card set during a video box break! Grab your complementary "Jefferson Burdick Has A Posse" sticker!

Indeed. But I think the last thing The Hobby needs/wants is a drunkard/gonzo journalist setting up a booth at The National. What would I do? Blather about Jefferson Burdick all day?

Speaking of our friend Jeff, I found it shocking how little the legend of Jefferson Burdick is known by the modern collector. A few days earlier, when I was in-line for my Strasburg Topps Heritage card, I handed one of my Burdick gimmick stickers to a guy who vaguely recognized me. He actually thought my name was "Jefferson Burdick."

I felt personally insulted. Not because he thought my name was Jefferson Burdick, but that he didn't know who ol' Jeff was. Don't you realize that if not for Jefferson Burdick, The Hobby as we know it would not exist? and that you, and The National, wouldn't be here, in Baltimore, on a Friday afternoon, in-line for a $100 Stephen Strasburg card? You should be on your knees, preparing sacrifice and making a pilgrimage to his final resting place to pay your respect to the greatest collector who ever lived!

I turned to him and laughed. "Don't worry," I said. "I'm just another good American like yourself."

His smile disappeared. Did he understand? I couldn't be sure. But that hardly mattered now.

Look for Part Four, soon!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Card-ola: 2010 Topps Tribute (Dynasties & Rivalries Edition)

WARNING: This may very well be the single-worst box break I've ever had the misfortune of recording. You have been warned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On-Location Box Break: 1995 Leaf Limited Series One

About this time last year, I went to see the one and only Dr. Wax Battle, and ripped a box of 1995 Leaf Limited Series One. I remember Dr. Wax sending me this video clip a few days later and it's been sitting on my hard-drive ever since.

Yes, it's taken me almost a year to post this. Sue me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Charm City. (part two)

"Good morning, Baltimore!
Every day's like an open door.
Every night is a fantasy.
Every sound's like a symphony.

"Good morning, Baltimore!
And some day when I take to the floor,
The world's gonna wake up and see...
Baltimore and me!" -- Tracy Turnblad

On Thursday night, Topps held a "Meet-and-Greet" for collectors. This was free to attend and you had to have a ticket, but they were giving them away at their booth for anyone who asked. Best of all, free food and an open bar. After I received my ticket, I started to wonder. Is this really a good idea? Dozens of angry and aggrieved collectors, all hopped up on unlimited booze, asking questions of the Topps Nomenklatura? This had the makings of a disaster. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

At around 4:50pm, the room began to fill. All of a sudden, a felt a tap on my shoulder and someone saying, "Hey, your Chris Harris from Stale Gum, right?"

I tried to play it coy with this person. While being a semi-famous internet celebrity has its privilege, sometimes you like to have some privacy. So I turned to face this person, extended my hand, and introduced myself as "Mr. Allen N. Ginter, a friend of Michael Eisner." Then I took a look at his face and realized, it was Tracy Hackler. No use fooling ol' T-Hack.

Looking around the room, I noticed a few familiar faces: The gals from A Cardboard Problem were seated squarely across from me, Greg "a.k.a. Beardy" and Kevin from the 1965 Topps and Orioles Card of the Day blogs were in the back. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blue-shirted phalanx of a dozen or so taking their seats in the front three rows. The Freedom Card Board posse had made their entrance known.

Thank God for the open bar, because without it I don't think I would have survived the first hour. After about 45 minutes of corporate mumbo-jumbo, and four Sam Adams Boston Lagers, I had had enough. So, I slipped into the mens room and split a bottle of Robitussin with T-Hack.

When we returned, it was time for questions; most of which were predictable. "What is Topps doing to avoid the use of sticker autographs in high-end products?" "What's is like to have an exclusive MLB license?" "How is Stephen Strasburg... blah, blah, blah, Strasburg, blah."

After about 15 minutes of this, I decided to raise my hand. But before I was recognized, Susan of ACP was called on.

"Are you ever going to bring back Topps Total?"

Huh? ... Did... she... just... ask...

THAT WAS MY QUESTION GODAMMIT!

No. Stay calm. Show no anger or other emotions. How could she possibly have known that I was about to ask about Topps Total? Strange. Could it be that somehow she was able to establish a one-way telepathic link with my inner thoughts? What else could she know? Maybe I'm putting too much thought into this? Fuck it, I thought, and went back to the bar for another Sam Adams.

After the meet-and-greet, I took some time to press-the-flesh and pass out my "Jefferson Burdick Has A Posse" stickers to my fans. I took the train back to The Republic, got home and fixed myself a John Daly. Then I put a Zappa album on the stereo, popped a Tylenol PM, and watched the trees outside my balcony getting lashed around in the wind.



Wednesday. Day Three. No more time for pussyfooting around, time to buy. I've scoped out the floor for the past two days, and yes, it was now time to strike.

I drove up from the Republic of Fairfax, parked the car in Glen Burnie, and took the light rail into town. Contrary to the stereotype, or what you've seen in The Wire, Baltimore isn't such a bad place. I've seen urban decay, poverty, and blight first hand -- after all, I did go to college in Camden, New Jersey, The Most Dangerous City in America. And yes, there are places in this town you just do not go -- especially after dark.

One thing that Baltimore has in abundance is beggars and street peddlers. I was at the Light Rail station outside the Convention Center, waiting for the train home on Thursday, when a gentleman in an Orioles t-shirt demanded that I "Let me (i.e. him) have fifty cents!"

Excuse me? Let you have fifty cents? No "please" at the end of your sentence? And what would happen if I don't give you fifty cents?

I didn't want to start trouble, so I gave the man a strong "fuck you" stare and barked "No." He never bothered me again.

This was not an isolated incident, as it happened at least three times during the course of The National. A more honest way to hustle for a buck are the small armies of bottled water salesmen that seem to occupy every street corner. "ICE COLD WATTTTAH!.... ONLY A DOLLLLLLAH!" Judging by the size of some of the bankrolls, selling bottled water (and soft drinks, and Gatorade, et al) on the streets of Baltimore on a hot Summer day can be a very lucrative endeavor. There isn't much overhead -- just a cooler, some ice, and a couple of cases of bottled water that you can buy in bulk at BJ's, Sam's Club and the like. If this whole graduate school/gonzo journalism thing doesn't work out for me, I think I've found my calling: Baltimore Bottled Water Salesman.

Wednesday was my designated "wax day" and I started out with a retail box of the new Allen & Ginter for $45. Retail is the same as Hobby, just two less "hits" per box. Why pay $35 extra for something you don't really want anyway?

Indeed. Just at that moment, I noticed a sign: "TOPPS STRASBURG LINE FORMS HERE AT 1:00." Hmmm... I checked the time and it was 12:45. Maybe I can wait 15 minutes, open this box at the Topps booth & get the Stephen Strasburg card I missed out on Wednesday!

Why not? But first, Mother Nature called.

Five minutes later, where there had been no line at all, all of a sudden the line was already starting to form! Holy shit! Where did all these people come from? Fortunately, I was able to get in line at a place that guaranteed me (provided I could wait) a Strasburg.

About 90 minutes later, I got to the Topps booth, dutifully opened ten packs out of my Allen & Ginter box, and received my $100 bill with Stephen Strasburg's face on it. It wasn't until after I walked away from the Topps booth that I flipped the card over and noticed the serial number.

036/999

One away from his jersey number! What are the chances?

Now with my prize in-hand, off to buy more wax. I wasn't in the mood for any new stuff, older wax from the 90s and early 2000s mostly. One waxbox on my "bucket list" is 1993 Finest, but I only saw one dealer with any, and at $295 it seemed a price too steep. Hardly anything from the late-90s or early-00s was to be found, so I settled for a box of 2003 Flair for $40.

I ran into T-Hack again, this time just outside the Beckett booth, chatting with Chris Olds and the ACP gals. I don't know why everyone hates on Hackler. Check that, I do know why: jealousy. Tracy Hackler is just living the dream. He's got the greatest job in the world: writing for Beckett -- and gets paid to do it! No wonder there's so much hate.

After this improptu gathering, I decided to wander around some more. Card shows like this are great for people watching. Big crowds around the Blowout and Dave & Adam's tables.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? Sweet Jesus, there are a hell of a lot of them -- still screaming around the tables at four-thirty in the afternoon on a Friday. Still dry-humping the American Dream, that vision of a Big Mojo Hit!!! somehow emerging from an overpriced pack in the chaos of a stale convention hall.

Big Strike in the Charm City. Get the case hit and go home rich. Why not? I stopped by the Atlanta Sports Cards table and picked up a rack box of 2004 Fleer Platinum (four autographs per box), thinking as always that some idle instinct might carry the whole thing off.

But no. Angel Berroa, Chris Bootcheck, Dan Haren and Eric Gagne were my four autographs. Just another forty-eight bucks down the tube. Bastards! No. Calm down. Learn to enjoy busting shit packs. There's still two more days to go. Who knows what might happen?


The National concludes with Part Three, coming soon...

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Charm City. (part one)

“A card collection is a magic carpet that takes you away from work-a-day cares to havens of relaxing quietude where you can relive the pleasures and adventures of a past day —- brought to life in vivid picture and prose.” -- Jefferson Burdick

They came together on a hot afternoon in Baltimore, howling and clawing at each other like wild beasts in heat. On a sunny Chesapeake Bay day, the fierceness of their struggle brought tears to the eyes of thousands. They were men who were somehow more than men. They were giants, idols, titans...

They Were Collectors.

They stood for everything Good and True and Right in the American Spirit. Because they had guts. And they yearned for the Ultimate Glory, the Great Prize, the Final Fruits of a long a vicious year.

A Stephen Strasburg baseball card.

They were hungry for it. They were thirsty. All year, they had struggled to reach this Pinnacle... and when the clock struck 3:30 on that fateful Wednesday in August, they were ready. To seize the Final Fruit.

They could almost taste it. The smell was stronger that a bushel of decaying blue crabs. Their nerves burned like open sores on a dog's neck. White knuckles nervously grabbing their 10 packs of Allen & Ginter. Wild eyes. Strange fluids welled up in their throats, with a taste sharper than bile.

Collectors.

The tension was almost unbearable. By 4:00 in the afternoon, many were weeping openly, for no apparent reason. Others wrung their hands or gnawed on the necks of plastic soda bottles, trying to stay calm. Many fist-fights were reported in the urinals. Nervous rent-a-cops roamed up and down the aisles, confiscating alcoholic beverages and occasionally grappling with drunkards. Gangs of crazed Joe Collectors prowled through the aisles, beating the mortal shit out of luckless strangers...

What? No... Jefferson Burdick would have never written weird stuff like that: His prose was sparse & lean; his descriptions came straight from the gut. Then again, he'd never heard of one Mr. Stephen James Strasburg. And if ol' Jeff rose from the dead to attend the 31st Annual National Sports Collectors Convention, chances are he'd be right in there with them. Waiting in line, with a waxbox of 2010 Topps, to receive his $100 bill/Stephen Strasburg rookie card.

Indeed. There is a dangerous kind of simple-minded worship at the root of the massive fascination with rookie cards in this Hobby, and people like me are mainly responsible for it. With a few rare exceptions, we in The Hobby Media are a kind of rude and brainless subculture of fascist drunks whose only real function is to publicize & sell whatever the product managers send them...

Which is a nice why to make a living, because it keeps a man busy and requires no thought at all. The two keys to success in The Hobby Media are: (1) A blind willingness to believe anything you're told by the flacks, hustlers, and other "official spokesmen" for the card companies who provide the free cards & free booze ... and: (2) A Roget's Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.

Even an editor, for instance, might notice something wrong with a lede that said: "The precision-jackhammer attack of Joe Collector stomped the balls off a case of Topps Tribute today by stomping and hammering with one precise jackthrusting rip after another, mixed with some BIG MOJO HITZ!!! and numerous hammer-jack rips of foilpacks...."

Right. That was the genius of Jefferson Burdick. He was a Syracuse Man and had no need for such exaggerations.

But what the hell? Why not? It's almost midnight in the Republic of Fairfax as I write this. It's hot, muggy, and I've been here all night drinking John Daly's and getting more and more wired on something out of Tokyo called the "Yellow Magic Orchestra" howling out of four big speakers hung in all four corners of the room.

With what I've witnessed over the past few days, I kept wondering: "What would Jefferson Burdick have thought of The National?" It has been a thought that has haunted me.



On Wednesday, I took the light rail train to Baltimore to attend Day One of the 31st Annual National Sports Collectors Convention. I arrived at 2:00, just-in-time to receive my VIP credential, and to prepare for the madness that is The World's Biggest Card Show.

After a brief opening reception thrown by the Beckett people (sadly, no open bar), by 3:00pm many of the collectors, myself included, began to make their way to the entrance of the convention hall. One of the perks of being a VIP is the fact that the doors to the show open 30 minutes earlier. While this may not seem like a big deal, and for most it isn't, the jockeying-for-position was already on. They knew what was on the line. For once in my life, looking at the dumb schmucks on the other side of the velvet rope, I actually felt like a Very Important Person.

At 3:30pm the doors flew open and the mad dash to the Topps corporate booth was on. Like stampeding bulls in Pamplona, the rush to be one of the first 100 in line for the coveted Stephen Strasburg card was on. So much so, that by 3:37pm, I was counted as the 105th person in the queue. Sucks to be me, I suppose.

For the remainder of day one, I wandered the table-enclosed aisles doing some serious window shopping. I made a pledge to myself that I wouldn't buy anything the first two days of the show. Just see what's out there and take mental notes.

Indeed. At a show like The National, you can't afford to fuck around. Every collector has a limited budget and impulse purchases early in the week usually mean that come the weekend, when the dealers slash their prices looking to break even for the week, you're tapped out. So, you just wait. Just see what's out there. Be patient. Keep moving.

For day two, I kept to the same plan. Looking. One of the great joys of going to The National, even if you're not a collector and just a sports fan, is for five days it is the largest sports museum in the Free World. You will see things you never knew existed, like Adrian "Cap" Anson's bat -- which wound up selling for $286,000. And there are things you know exist, but are so be rare and expensive, the only place you can see them is The National. Like the T-206 "Big Four" (Honus Wagner, Eddie Plank, Sherry "Magee," and Joe Doyle "NAT'L"), Dmitri Young's collection of Gem Mint "PSA 10" rookie cards, and entire display cases of high-grade Babe Ruth cards.

Just as I wandered to the PSA booth (where the "Big Four" were on display), a horrible thought came to me. What would it take for me steal all these cards? We're not talking a run-of-the-mill smash-and-grab; that's bush-league stuff. Surely, it would take a full frontal assault with multiple high-powered firearms, body armor, smoke bombs, stun grenades, etc.?

Cazart! Even with all the rent-a-cops, uniformed police, undercover FBI agents, et al, inside the Baltimore Convention Center; not to mention the firepower amassed outside, there's no way to escape. Sheer madness, a suicide mission. Then again, I am surprised no one's thought of it before.


The adventure continues in Part Two, soon...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The National: Saturday Night After-Party

Me and a million other cardbloggers (well, OK, not a million) will be celebrating The National with an evening of depravity, public drunkeness, and overall debauchery this evening in Fells Point. If interested, seek me out on the convention floor. I'll give you all the info.

NSCC Box Break: 2010 Topps Allen & Ginter (retail)

Friday, August 06, 2010

The National: Day Three Video Recap

Things I Learned at the Topps Meet-and-Greet

1) Despite the open bar, it did not degenerate into the shoutfest I initially feared.

2) In honor of their 60th Anniversary in baseball cards, Topps is planning a huge promotion for 2011 Baseball. They didn't get into much, but I suspect that it will be something along the lines of what they did in 2001.

3) Something they did pass along: real diamonds.

4) Topps Total ain't coming back. Ever. (Sorry, Junkie)

5) Gimmick cards remain as decisive as ever. An informal poll of those attending showed about half like (or at least tolerate) gimmicks and half hate them.

5a) In so many words, they insinuated that "Scoreboard Abe" was a bad idea.

6) The name "Stephen Strasburg" came up a lot.

6a) Strasburg will have a variation in TU&H.

7) Topps is content with MLB, NFL, WWE, and UFC licenses, and will not look to add "minor" sports (i.e. Bull Riding, Poker, Lacrosse, et al).

8) Clay Luraschi is the luckiest SOB in the world. And yeah, I'm jealous.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

My National Itinerary

I sprung for the $119 VIP package, and will be in Baltimore for all five days of The National. I'm cutting out early Thursday afternoon as I have tickets to see the Union that night (they're playing the first-place Columbus Crew on ESPN2, you know.)

Here are my plans for the week, so far. I will be updating both Stale Gum and the Baltimore National Group Blog frequently throughout the week. I'll also be tweeting even more frequently than that.

If you have any plans you'd like to share, or wish to meet me in Baltimore, you know where to find me.

Wednesday:


2:30 VIP Reception

4:00 Sneak Peek

7:05 Orioles Game

Thursday:

Noon-ish The National

3:30 Leave for Union Match

Friday:

Noon-ish The National

Evening After Nat Party in Fells Point (TBA)

Saturday & Sunday


TBA

Monday, August 02, 2010

Topps Tribute EPIC RELIC FAIL!

After The Great Babe Ruth Stadium Seat Kerfuffle in last year's Topps Tribute, you'd think Topps would have learned their lesson. But noooooo....

Check this out, and tell me what you think this thing attached to this Mickey Mantle baseball card is.



It's a shame I won't be able to attend Topps' meet-and-greet at The National on Thursday, otherwise I'd ask them myself.

(image ripped off eBay)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Your Guide to the Charm City, Part Three: What To Do



If you're coming with your family...

If you are traveling with your kids and want to take a day off from The National; Baltimore is full of entertainment for everyone. Best of all, it's all within a stone’s throw of the Convention Center.

National Aquarium – Located on the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium is worth your time just to see the penguins.

Baltimore Science Center – Just south of the Convention Center, this is a good place to kill a few hours. The kids can run around and play with stuff.

Babe Ruth Museum and Birthplace - Yes, The Babe was born here; and you can see the only known copy of his rookie card! Extended hours during The National.

For everyone else...

Camden Yards – Coincidence, or not, the Baltimore Orioles will be in the midst of a homestand during National week. Camden Yards was the first of the new wave of faux nostalgic/corporate welfare stadia; and still one of the best.

Ft. McHenry – Only a water taxi ride away, it gained an iconic status in American revolutionary history by successfully defending the Baltimore harbor from the British naval bombardment in the War of 1812, at which time Francis Scott Key was inspired by the tattered but still waving American flag on the fort to write the national anthem.

Mister Boh - The one-eyed, mustachioed, mascot for National Bohemian beer still watches over the city from his perch on top of the brewery where his beer (the best "cheap beer" in America) was once brewed.

Hampden - The Greenwich Village of Baltimore. Think of 36th Street as a John Waters film come to life.

The Freeway to Nowhere - If you look at a map of Baltimore, you'll notice that I-70 comes to a complete stop at the city limits. It wasn't supposed to be that way. It was supposed to extend to the southeast and end at I-95 with a spur (I-170) going into the city. They never built I-70, and only built about a mile and a half of the spur.

The Wire - Yes, they shot The Wire in Baltimore. Why not take a tour of all the places that made the show so great? (Not recommended after dark)

Larry Flynt's Hustler Club
- Open from Noon to 2:00am! $15 couch dances!