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.

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