Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Where I was...

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Stale Gum Podcast: Episode #1

Everyone else is starting a podcast, why not me? Give it a listen, tell me what you like and don't like about it. In this episode, I talk about my recent visit to the East Coast National and review three new products.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Some Thoughts on The State of The Hobby in 2019 and on "The 30-Year Cycle."

There's a video going around that I feel I need to comment on.  I know it's been a while since I've done one of these, so bear with me.

The video in question is a three minute snippet from The Rich Eisen Show, in which some guy calling himself "Gary Vee"is hyping up the investment potential of sports cards.


Truth be told, I've never heard of this guy before, so I had to do some research.  According to his Wikipedia page:
"Gary Vaynerchuk (born Gennady Vaynerchuk; November 14, 1975; Belarusian: Генадзь Вайнярчук, Russian: Геннадий Вайнерчук) is a Belarusian American entrepreneur, author, speaker and internet personality. First known as a wine critic who expanded his family's wine business, Vaynerchuk is best known for his work in digital marketing and social media, leading New York–based companies VaynerMedia, VaynerX and VanerSpeakers."
I guess he's kind of a Big Deal, I mean, "Gennady Vaynerchuk" sounds like a stock villain in a Grand Theft Auto game.  But "Gary Vee," well, only Important People get to give themselves a nickname, and Gary Vee is one of those Important People ... even though I've never heard of him until about 20 minutes ago, and we're roughly the same age.  How many leather-bound books does he own? And does his apartment smells of rich mahogany?

He is right about pop culture going in 30-year cycles, and right now we are in the midst of what I'd like to call The Second Junk Wax Era.

Let me give you an example.  2019 Bowman Baseball is out this week (or as the kids like to say "Streets" this week), and it's the same as it has been the last few years: 150 new Prospects each with a dozen parallels, 20 Chrome Refractors, and another dozen and a half Autographed Chrome Refractors. As usual, there's always that one guy that everyone marks out on and this year, it's an eighteen-year old who hit .351/.418/.587 in the Appalachian League last year.  I'm sure Cooperstown is already preparing his plaque ... right next to Ruben Rivera's, Brien Taylor's, Travis Lee's, and Todd van Poppel's.

Here's the thing with Bowman though.  Year in and year out, with the hundreds of Prospects issued across the three Bowman flagship brands, (Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and Bowman Draft) you can count on one hand the number of players whose cards will ever be worth anything.  If you don't believe me, check out the $1 and 50¢ boxes at your local weekend card show. I guarantee you'll at least one dealer with monster boxes full of Bowman parallels and Bowman Chrome Refractors, many of them low numbered, dating back years that will never, ever, sell at any price.  Just like the scores of Barry Larkin, Will Clark, and Rafael Palmerio rookies that clog-up many of the same $1 and 50¢ boxes.  Who's going to want a Gold Die-Cut Shimmer NukeFractor serial-numbered to 50 of a guy who never made it past Class-A?  How many Randy Johnson rookie cards does one need?


Now I know I'm dating myself here, but I'm old enough to remember the original Junk Wax Era and jabronis like Gary Vee were dime a dozen.  Oh sure, they bought a lot of cards, but they sure as hell didn't collect any them. We tend to think that Junk Wax Era products were "overproduced," and by today's standards, they were.  But somebody bought all those cases of 88 Fleer.  They may not have been trying to find the last few cards to knock-off their 1987 Topps set, but Junk Wax Era products did sell well.

And that's the problem.  Just like in the late-80s/early-90s (30 year ago), The Hobby is currently attracting an element that has no interest in collecting the cards, just accumulating them for speculative purposes.  The card companies know this, which is why many of their products are no longer designed to be collected.  I could write another 850-1500 words on this subject, but I'll save that for another time.

Let me finish with this: In the beginning of the video, Gary Vee casually mentions that he's bought and sold hundreds of Giannis Antetokounmpo RCs over the past year. (Him lecturing a producer about how late-80s/early-90s cards are worthless is pure ironic gold, though.)  Well, what do you think happened back in The Junk Wax Era?

One summer when I was in high school, I had a job at a Hobby shop that did a lot of mail order business. My job consisted of ripping dozens of cases of wax, picking out all the rookies and stars, and selling 25, 50, 100-count lots for "investors."  This was commonplace in the time.  Go read an old Sports Collector's Digest from the era and look at the ads if you don't believe me.  How is that any different than what Gary Vee is doing with Antetokounmpo cards?

(Speaking of which, I have a 100-count lot of 88D Gregg Jefferies RCs I'm sitting on. Any takers?)

Fortunately, around '92-'93, the Junk Wax bubble burst and these halfwits moved on to the Next Big Score: subprime mortgages, Medicare fraud, and social media influencing. 



Other thoughts on my mind:

Going back to the 30-year cycle, we're due for another baseball strike, the kind that cancels a World Series.  And whaddya know, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2021!  With a strike seemingly inevitable, I wouldn't want to be Topps and stuck with an MLB license (and nothing else) when another World Series is cancelled (#ThanksExclusiveLicensing!).  If Topps were still publicly traded, I'd sell short.

Then again, another strike and another cancelled World Series is what The Hobby needs. Clear out the rot. Purge all the gamblers.  Give another company a license to kick-start things (just not Panini).  Make products that appeal to collectors again.  The period from 1993-1999 brought a series a innovative and collectible card sets.  Maybe by 2025 (there's that 30-year cycle again) baseball card collecting will be fun again?