Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The hobby is a much colder place

While I was filing my 1981 Donruss set away in a binder recently, I was struck by how ingenious -- and by "ingenious," I mean "awkwardly awful" -- the set is.

Must I review?

I must:

1. The wafer-thin card stock, of course.
2. The typos, of course.
3. The misspellings, of course.
4. The fact that the set established an all-time, never-to-be-broken record for the most cards in which a player is posed with a bat on his shoulder. (Yes, this is a future post. Do not steal this post idea).
5. The fact that just about every player in the set -- unless it is a Cub or a White Sox -- is pictured in their road uniform.

And then there are the miscut cards, like this Terry Crowley card.

Today we look at a card like this and laugh -- unless you're a Dodger fan, and then you see the Joe Torre name line at the top and you start fuming about managers and umpires and incompetent relievers and squirrely puke Giants pitchers who should have been stomped on by Matt Kemp when he had the chance.

Anyway ...

We love a card like this. What a great card, we say. We show it around as a prized item in our collection. We show it as proof that we don't think that cards need to be perfectly centered with sharp corners and original sheen.

But what if you pulled a card like this -- miscut like this -- out of a 2010 product?

Would you carry it around as a badge of honor?

My guess is you'd be pounding out an angry email to Topps as soon as you could get your hands on a laptop. How dare they jerk me around! I'm The Consumer!

So, what has changed between 1981 and now?

Is it the price of a pack 29 years later?

Is it the fact that we still have a lot more choices than we did in 1981, so there's no longer that "you'll take what there is and you'll like it" mind-set? (By choices I mean choices in the number of product lines, not in the number of companies).

Is it the lingering thought of cards as an investment -- the 1980s trained us well -- even if we know the vast majority are not investment worthy in the least?

Is it card companies' promise of something special -- a hit -- that turns out to be not only "just base cards," but a miscut base card?

Are the stakes so much higher now?

Or, are we just a hell of lot crankier than we were in 1981?


  1. I think it's two things.

    1. We ARE crankier.

    2. Price: I paid 32 cents a pack for cards back in 1981 and often found Donruss packs 8 for $1...that's 8 for $1 when they were new.

    We were just happy to have cards of any kind and quality and condition weren't high on our priority list. For goodness sakes, you could pull a bonafide Yogi Berra from those packs!!

  2. If it was a Stephen Strasburg super-duper-autograph-refractor kind of thing and it was severely miscut, someone might care.

    However consider how many 'collectors' are looking for only the 'hits' when they bust packs and/or boxes.

    Only the most astute collectors would even care these days of a condition of some random base card.

  3. Play at the Plate nailed it for me. The price has gone way up and the cards/pack is down. even for a "budget" product like opening day you get what 7 cards/pack.

  4. We are much crankier, and the cards are more expensive.

    Though I have to admit - I'm curious: in inflation-adjusted terms, exactly how much more does a base set pack of 2010 Topps or Upper Deck cost than a pack of 1981 cards?

  5. On average, one card of a 2010 product costs more than one pack of a 1981 product. One of the core reasons for this is that the card industry has convinced collectors that every single card is a blue chip investment that will one day make us rich. No one wants to buy a share of Google stock and see part of a share of GM stock on the top.

    That, and we are verycranky. RAAAAAAR cards >:((

  6. If packs were still less than a dollar each maybe we wouldn't be as cranky about condition. Back in the 70s when we got cards like that we just shrugged and used them in flipping games and so forth.

  7. By the way, I watched most of that game but I missed the Torre ejection. I had never seen anything like what happened in the top of the 9th, although apparently Bochy caught Dodger manager Grady Little on the same thing in 2006 when he was managing the Padres.

  8. I started collecting again this year. I guess I'm the weirdo, because I just want the base cards and I'm selling all of the 'fancy stuff' like relics and chromes and what-not. Just give me your tired, your hungry, your Jamey Carroll's.

    I've worked in printing before and I understand how mis-cuts can happen and how it can get past quality control. This isn't laser surgery - it's loading printed sheets into a machine. Everything can happen.

    Besides, I always bought enough that I'd get another Terry Crowley. That was my thought and still is.

  9. I ran things through the inflation calculator.

    if you assume a pack of 2010 Topps Hobby Series 2 is $2.00, it would have cost you $.85 back in 1981.

    If you assume a price of 1981 Donruss was 33 cents, it would cost $.77 today.

    I bet the licensing costs a lot more today and the printing probably costs more too since they are higher quality today than they were in the 1980's.
    Costs for relics/autos also have to be factored in today.

    I bet even investment potential makes up part of the cost of cards today. Anyone would rip a pack of 2010 Bowman or Allen/ginter to try to pull a strasburg, right, so retail/LCS can charge more for the opportunity since people would pay that little bit more money to try to pull something desirable.

  10. I think we're just more cranky...

    Every neighborhood had that old guy who sat around on his porch, complaining to anybody who listened about how much easier things were for "you kids today" compared to the Hell he endured during childhood. Most shrugged the guy off, we kids because we were taught to respect our elders...our parents because they gave him some leeway for serving our country during wartime or something.

    Well, with age...I'm wondering if we're becoming that crotchety old guy. Because the kids don't know what WE went through...our game systems just had a stick and ONE little button...and were essentially an electronic table tennis game. We had to actually pick up the needle on a record or hit buttons on our tape players to get to the next song...sometimes we even had to wait until the 8-track got back the right spot! And when we dialed our phones and had 7,8, or 9 in the number, we actually had to wait for the cotton-pickin' dial to come all the way back before we could dial the next digit...As for our baseball cards, there was only one set...unless you were rich and your parents could afford to buy big boxes of Hostess cakes or brand-name cereals (alas, Mom stuck with the generic stuff and wasn't about to buy a big box of Twinkies just so I could have the three cards on the bottom). And when somebody got traded, well you had to just wait until the next year to get a card of that player on his new team...

    Maybe I've become that old man...

    So get the hell off of my lawn!

  11. I think that I agree with Chris. We are becoming cranky as we grow old.

    I was 11 in 1981. I lived in rural Michigan and had no idea that there were other sets than Topps (not counting Hostess and Kellogs). Heck, I would cut the cards off of the bottoms of Ho Hos, of course after looking through all of the boxes in the store to make sure mom bought one with cards on it that I did not have. Back on topic. I was surprised when I discovered Fleer cards and then Donruss (Donruss was discovered on a trip to Cedar Point). I did not care that my Donruss cards had the thickness of a 3 x 5 card, or that half the pack was diamond cut, or that the photos were blurry. I only cared that they were other cards to add to my collection. Another opportunity to get a Tiger, and maybe one who was not in the Topps set. If I come accoss another Terry Crowley then I would pull the old one and add the new one. I was constantly reorganizing from team collection to numerical order.

    Sometime when I got older collecting changed for me. It was probably when prices got high in the early to mid 90s. I stopped trying to hand assemble sets in 92, but would occasionally buy packs. I would be frustrated at the companies advertising all of the special inserts in their sets to try and sell the product. Buy Upper Deck because we have a special Reggie Jackson inset set with a snowball's chance in Hades of pulling an autographed card. Fleer Ultra is the set to get because there is one insert in every pack and we have hot packs containing nothing but inserts. These gimmicks are probably one of the reasons pack prices have gone up so much over the years.

    I really thinking that I became a grouchy old man when I turned 40 last year.