March 30, 2012

National Convention director Mike Berkus comments on the CBS Sunday Morning story, the death of baseball cards - Part 4

After reading this story, scroll down to access three previous blog posts on this subject, including a link to the CBS video.

Mike Berkus, California

Director of the National Sports Collectors Convention

I guess the CBS story depicts Green Berets at an Old Soldiers Home? A bit of hazy journalism. Using Alan Rosen and Mike Gordon from our hobby is not representative of today's industry. A 30 minute visit to the recent Industry Summit conference would have reflected a totally different picture.

The story mix was confusing as well. Kids and cards, then cards and values, rundown old meeting hall? Kids, admittedly we have lost them to the internet, were never the stimulus for high ticket key cards, no more than in the coin, comic, stamp, or vintage toys hobbies. Of course, CBS might not have had more interest than selling a negative piece. I would have expected a higher level of reporting, i.e. card company, auction house, or even (might I say) the National.

I have had a number of emails and calls concerning the CBS piece. I read the print and then watched the show. Unfortunately, filming a piece on our hobby at the local Parsippany, NJ show and consider who was interviewed, skewed the content towards the negative impact that CBS was shooting for. Bad news sells. I likened this to televising a political stop in downtown Nowhereville, in a remote corner of Montana (no offense Montana), and then ignoring a photo op of the same politician at their annual National Convention.

The piece could thus be titled "no one cares who becomes president because only 14 people came to see the candidate". Of course, since the report was split between "no kids" and "showing adults and vintage cards", even I could not follow their script. Now if I were to do an intelligent piece on kids and cards, I might want to include a couple of manufacturers? As for vintage cards, the tremendous auction results would speak for themselves.

A forgotten factor was overtly ignored. Even when kids were climbing over each other to collect in the early 1990s, they were not bidding on 1952 Topps Mantles in PSA 8 nor sets of T-206s. In other words, the real valuable cards, coins, stamps, comics, toys, etc. were never part of a kid's hobby needs. If you wanted to look at comic books and kids, would you have been surprised that none of the top 500 bids (or any), in the recent Heritage comic auction, came from a child? Of course not, and no hobby has ever witnessed kids participating in big ticket sales.

What we do all agree on - how can cardboard tie itself back into a kid's love of a sport?

So hello CBS, yes sports cards are evolving and to what end this evolution may lead is no more abnormal than stuffed animals. Oh, you mean Beanie Babies? No, I mean stuffed animals. I have learned to ignore the media pieces on sensationalism. They never get it right and that includes when they were all aglow over how valuable cards were (1980s and 1990s). Still got it wrong and sent a ton of people into a cardboard world expecting to make fortunes.

March 29, 2012

Veteran collectors react to CBS Sunday Morning story, the death of baseball cards - Part 2

After reading this story, scroll down to access two previous blog posts on this subject, including a link to the CBS video. Part three of this series will be posted in a couple of days.

Mel Solomon, New Jersey

Interesting post in your blog. Mostly sad but true. I would put a real big blame on the graders and the promoters of same who have jacked up prices. PSA puts out a monthly price guide which touts its card prices and works with certain auction houses. It is in its own best interest to show that graded cards fetch bigger prices so people will send in cards to be graded.

I went to the White Plains, NY card show on Saturday. To my surprise there was a plethora of vintage cards from the 1950's and 1960's and also early 1930's cards. Over half the tables had the older cards and in large quantities. I can only assume that people are selling their collections.

One dealer told me that he bought a collection of 1950's sets for $30,000. The problem is that the prices are so high.

Another problem is generational. The baby boomers collected cards as kids so they wanted to rekindle the memories. Many also had all or part of their collections and wanted to complete the sets and/or upgrade condition as in the 1950's no one really cared about condition -- if they did why would flip cards or carry around large stacks of cards with rubber bands around them? I knew a lawyer who had a large collection when he was a kid and was filling in sets.

Today anyone born in 1970 or later would be over 40. The cards of their youth would start around 1980 when people would have complete sets. Why would anyone put together a 1983 set if you could easily buy the entire set for $50? It might seem hard to comprehend but in 1978 when many of us got into the hobby 30 year old cards would be 1948 Bowmans. Today 30 year-old cards are 1982 Topps.

Tom Owens, Boone IA

The CBS tale was sad. However, as long as people love baseball, they'll want to keep those feelings and memories alive. I don't think the Sunday Morning story was the final chapter on baseball cards.

Damon Solomon, Florida

It’s a different world. You can add stamp collecting and coin collecting to the list as well. There are so many choices for today’s youth that the old traditional joyous pastimes of our youth are gone forever. Today’s youth are so into the i-phone and texting that they’ll never know the joy of a game of stickball, baseball or just tossing the old pigskin around. When was the last time a youngster went to the library to do some research? Oh well, we’ll always have our memories to look back on.

Darrell Berger, New Jersey

I believe cards and all memorabilia of great players will retain some considerable value over the years, but other cards, sets and so forth may not. I remember in the 1980s when I was starting to collect again, the market for Tom Mix memorabilia was crashing. Why? The "kids" who collected Mix-iana were dying off. I thought even then this was a cautionary tale for baseball cards and it has proven true.

The boomer collectors can sell to each other but it is almost impossible to find markets among younger folk. Look at Sports Collectors Digest and about all they write about are auctions people win "investment" quality graded cards. They might as well be dealing in diamonds or Persian rugs. This isn't baseball card collecting, it's another form of investing/speculating.

I enjoy having the stuff I still have and think of it as an enjoyable part of my history. But the future? No. Then again they have been saying radio would die for about 50 years now, so who knows?

March 27, 2012

Part 1 - Veteran collectors react to CBS Sunday Morning story, the death of baseball cards

Pete Putman with Yogi Berra at the Hall of Famer's museum in New Jersey

See previous blog post with a link to the CBS video.

Pete Putman, Pennsylvania

Interesting story on CBS Sunday Morning. But an oversimplification, perhaps - while it is true that fewer young people attend these shows, the 'collapse' in prices primarily applies to material from the last 30 years. It hasn't affected vintage cards (1950s - 1960s) nearly as much and any cards and collectibles from the time period prior to World War II are still in high demand.

It is also true that auction prices have softened somewhat on vintage stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, but that could be a reflection of the economy in general - a year ago, gas was in the low $3 and change area. Now, it's closing in on $4 per gallon. That, along with other daily and monthly expenses, is likely putting pressure on casual collectors. Not to mention the housing bubble issues, 8.5% unemployment, etc.

From what I can tell, current auction prices are probably down about 25% - 30% on 1950s - 1960s high grade common cards from popular teams. Even some of the superstars are seeing a drop in prices. But that could just be a market correction.

Richard West, San Antonio

What killed off an enjoyable, fun hobby? Greed. Investors. Gimmicks. High Prices. Upper Deck. Too many companies.

Remember when you/we used to go to a convention and there was a certain sense of camaraderie present? We were all there to make some bucks, sure, but at the same time, we were - for the most part - collectors as well, looking for that one elusive card to finish off a set and when we found it - WOW! That was what made it fun and enjoyable.

You sold your duplicates and the stuff you didn't want so you could buy what you wanted, pay for your table(s) and if you made enough to pay next month's rent and utilities, so much the better. Everybody knew everybody else by name and if you hadn't seen them for a while, it was like old home week and it was good to see them. You knew their kids......hell, you even knew the name of their dog!

Then, the investors stepped in and suddenly greedy s-o-b's stepped in, flashing around the big bucks and everyone thought they had enough to not only put their kids through college (fat chance!), but they could buy a new car as well.

Most people seemed to recognize the fact they might get 30 - 50% of book value, but that was alright - the friendly, nice dealer behind the table wasn't going to screw them. So, we had the s.o.b's of the world - and there were a lot of them - offering less and less because they liked to flash around 100 dollar bills and impress the hell out of everyone. Pay less and charge more was their motto. Screw people and laugh all the way to the bank.

Add to that the emergence of gimmicks and Upper Deck and things went down the toilet faster than anyone would have ever dreamed. Pay $5 for a pack and maybe you'll get a piece of someone's old uniform or a splinter from a bat and be on easy street for the rest of your life because they're "rare." Yeah, right.

And have I mentioned the so-called "Promo" cards which everyone got so excited about?

Remember the mob scenes at some of the conventions when people were knocking each other down so they could get those cards? Most - but not all - of those cards came from our friends at Upper Deck and well, they're certainly rare - after all, there were only 1.3 million of each produced! And they all have the ever-popular hologram on them to prove they're authentic. Whoopee.

I wish I could remember who wrote it, but a number of years ago I picked up a book about the death of card collecting (not the one shown in the video) and a very convincing argument was made which laid the death of the hobby at the doors of Upper Deck - somewhere I've still got the book, but try to find one book in stacks of books which fill up an entire room. Hopefully, you know the one I'm referring to. Had they not come along with all the gimmicks, the hobby might have survived, but by 1993, it was effectively dead.

As to who are the collectors today? Yep, it's our generation and the people to whom we sold those cards - a few people are still hooked. But in this day and age, with all the distractions - there's no kids buying the cards. They're too interested in texting their friends and playing on Facebook. The fun left when the cards became too gimmicky and investments - fun today is using your thumb (by 2050, people will have thumbs the size of sausages) to send some indecipherable message to someone.

But, baseball is no longer "America's game" anymore - people are put off by the greed of overpaid millionaires and in what has become an increasingly violent society, prefer the mayhem of football. Of course, all the steroid usage hasn't helped either.

I'm having fun liquidating a large portion of what I accumulated over the years and am just happy to get some of the crap out of the way - eBay has been very, very good to me. The extra bucks enable me to buy what I want today and eventually I'll dump the bulk of it.

However, the older stuff I'm hanging on to and it goes to the university library when I kick off (maybe by then, I'll have dumped all the "newer" stuff!). And they're excited about getting it because of the historical value (who would have thought a set of '56 Topps or '57's would be considered "historical?") - they're probably going to have to hire someone to catalog it all, but that's their problem.

Forgot to mention - I'm on a roll here! - the too many companies category. As MLB began to license more and more companies to produce cards, of course the interest is going to die - nobody can afford the damned things anymore. I'd hate to think how much it would cost to have gotten complete sets of all the cards that were issued in the '90's (just the major producers) - that much money today would make a good down payment on a new Bentley with no trouble! Did I mention greed?

We'll never see those days again, or anything close to it, and those of us who were part of the boom before the bust should be thankful we were involved when it was fun. Those were the days when it was a hobby and not a major investment. We should be glad we got out when we did because we wouldn't be making enough to buy a gallon of gas today!

Jeffrey Leonard, Woodland Hills CA

What is it about greed that has pretty much destroyed all the good things in this country?


There will be a part two to this story in a couple of days.

March 25, 2012

CBS story on the death of the baseball cards; a very sad tale indeed

Vivian and Frank Barning in 1980 when baseball cards were booming. Times have changed, reports CBS. Our old friend Mike Gordon is interviewed.

March 14, 2012

Today is Pi Day (3/14, 3.14:)

Celebrate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter by indulging in its nearest edible equivalent, pie!

This is a reminder from Felix Pie and Hall of Famer Pie Traynor.

Thanks to Tom Mortenson of Wausau, Wisconsin for the idea.

March 9, 2012


Harry Edsel Smith of Albany , New York :
Born 1903--Died 1942.
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the
car was on the way down. It was.
In a Thurmont, Maryland , cemetery:
Here lies an Atheist, all dressed up and no
place to go.
On the grave of Ezekial Aikle in
East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia :
Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102. Only The
Good Die Young.
In a London , England cemetery:
Here lies Ann Mann, Who lived an old maid
but died an old Mann. Dec. 8, 1767
In a Ribbesford, England , cemetery:
Anna Wallace
The children of Israel wanted bread, And
the Lord sent them manna. Clark Wallace
wanted a wife, And the Devil sent him Anna.
In a Ruidoso, New Mexico , cemetery:
Here lies Johnny Yeast.... Pardon him
for not rising..
In a Uniontown, Pennsylvania , cemetery:
Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake.
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
In a Silver City , Nevada , cemetery:
Here lays The Kid.
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger
But slow on the draw.
A lawyer's epitaph in England :
Sir John Strange.
Here lies an honest lawyer,
and that is Strange.
John Penny's epitaph in the Wimborne,
England , cemetery:
Reader, if cash thou art in want of any,
Dig 6 feet deep and thou wilt find a Penny.
In a cemetery in Hartscombe , England :
On the 22nd of June, Jonathan Fiddle went
out of tune.
Anna Hopewell's grave in Enosburg Falls ,
Vermont :
Here lies the body of our Anna,
Done to death by a banana.
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low,
But the skin of the thing that made her go.
On a grave from the 1880s in Nantucket ,
Massachusetts :
Under the sod and under the trees,
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease..
He is not here, there's only the pod.
Pease shelled out and went to God.
In a cemetery in England :
Remember man, as you walk by,
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so shall you be.
Remember this and follow me.
To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone:
To follow you I'll not consent.
Until I know which way you went.