Sunday, March 22, 2015

#MyCardMonday

I am going to go back a decade for this week's #MyCardMonday and pick out a cool card from one the first issues of Topps Tribute.  Of course, Topps recalled their 2015 issue of the product during this past week, but the product as a whole has always been a really nice part of the hobby since it first hit shelves in 2002.  Tribute actually disappeared for a while from 2005 through 2008 before reappearing in 2009.  If you like the current product, and have never seen the original sets, you need to take a little bit of time and search out a few cards.

Here's my card for this week:



The first few Tribute products had a really good mix of active veteran players, Hall of Famers, and younger players.  This is actually a second year autograph of former Dodgers catcher Paul LoDuca, he's in the 2002 Bowman Heritage set, but I really liked the looks of this card.  Plus many of the older Tribute cards are pretty inexpensive.  Players like Paul LoDuca, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko, who were all young at the time, all have autographs in the set that can be found for less than $10.  The lone exception to the inexpensive young players in the set is the Hanley Ramirez rookie.

Besides being inexpensive the older Tribute cards feature only on-card autographs and they are not faded, nor smudged.  I also don't recall them ever being recalled....

Kids and Cards

I don't do much on Twitter during the day while I am working, but one of the things I check in on every Monday is the #CardChat which is hosted by @Sooz.  She writes the blog A Cardboard Problem which is really well done and a good regular stop.  There is usually some great discussion about the hobby although some days I feel a little bit silly chiming in several hours after the event ended.  So this past week during Card Chat one of the questions addressed was what do with engaging kids in the hobby.


I have started and stopped several posts on this topic over the past two or three months, so it seemed like a good time to just go ahead and merge all of the drafts into a single post and give a couple of fellow bloggers a few shouts out on my page for making some good points during the conversation.

I have worked with kids for fifteen years as an elementary school teacher.  I have mainly taught the upper grades (3rd, 4th, and 5th), but have also dabbled briefly with middle school and have done some work with students in lower grades over the years.  I also am a parent to a rising kindergartener this coming fall.  I am a teacher with personality.  I don't sit behind a desk, although I have a nice U shaped table, and I am not afraid to talk about myself in front of my students.  You could find a students from any point in my teaching career and they could tell you that I collect and love baseball cards.

That being said, I use them frequently in my room.  They show up as a math manipulative, book marks, measuring tool, or decoration.  My classroom doors are currently wallpapered with the 2000 Topps set.   I also give them out as rewards for different things.  This year my students have a conduct goal they are working towards and we monitor using an app.  Progress towards their goal gives them the chance to earn different incentives, like eating lunch in my classroom, chewing gum, earning a snack, getting to pick a seat, and earning packs of baseball and football cards.  No hockey or basketball fans this year, but I have offered that in the past.

Which brings me to my several points I would like to make about kids and cards....


1.  Kids Love Cards

My son has been interested in my cards since he could walk.  His first card was a 2001 Topps Sean Casey which he picked up off a stack of doubles I was sorting out.  The card would pop up up every couple of days, or anytime that I sat down and worked on sorting out my own cards.   I still have the card.  It's not quite mint anymore.   This was it's condition as of 2012.  

 
Currently he is working on a set of MLB Showdown cards.  Anytime I work on cards now he stacks them up on the coffee table and mimics a lot of the things that I do with cards.  He also has a few other random cards hanging around the house: A 1998 Topps Super Chrome Todd Helton card which is in remarkably great condition and a pack of 2014 Opening Day cards.  This was his first venture into packs of cards.  My parents actually bought him the pack of cards on their way into town at the airport.  He opened the pack of cards, found a Chris Archer card, and threw the rest of the cards away.  

We aren't quite ready for packs I suppose, but I was really impressed that he picked out the Archer card.  He  had the chance to meet Chris Archer a month or two before the pack of cards at an event at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary.  He got a high five and an autographed Durham Bulls card.


 At work cards a popular incentives within my classroom.  I look for inexpensive blasters, old wax that people are willing to let go for a good cause, and donations from parents and community organizations.  Friday afternoon we have science at the end of the day.  The class ends a few minutes early and I let the students, for that week, who have reached a goal pick out an incentive from my shelf of goodies.  Cards are popular with my boys, but I also have a few girls who really like cards too.  

One of my girls has a mom who is a Jeter super fan, another one has gotten into baseball cards after entering my class as a card game enthusiast (Pokeman cards mainly) with baseball loving parents, and I am not sure about the last one.  She has just decided that she loves cards and is working on filing up a 300 count box.  Considering I have 12 girls in my class, I think that a quarter being interested in cards is a pretty good ratio.  My boys are interested in cards too, but it's not universal.  I have a few stay away from the cards, but it's really important to cater to the interests of the kids.  

 The Raleigh-Durham metro area is obviously a basketball first market.  When I first moved to North Carolina I tried to get my students into baseball, but all I ever heard about was the big three ACC schools.  After butting heads at first I adapted and did basketball cards and it went over well.  I have moved schools since and have more baseball loving kids in my class now, but I still have kids that love football and love basketball and always have packs, or singles, of those to give out.  

2.  See Tweet Below....


 I follow Ryan Cracknell on Twitter and you should too.  He's the editor of the Cardboard Connection and also runs the blog TraderCracks.   He made one of the truest statements about card collecting and kids during the card chat in response to the question above.....I especially like how he uses the word pandered.  

Have you ever played a game with a ten year old?  They have a great sense by that age of effort and ability.  If you sit down and play a game of Connect 4 they want your best shot.  Put the checkers in randomly to let them hang around and they will call you on it in a heartbeat.  Kids do the same thing with cards.

Earlier in the year, I ended up with a really really cheap box of 2011 Topps Heritage Minors.  At the same time I also had an acquaintance donate an old box of Topps Attax.  The first student who choose a pack of Topps Attax was just about the last kid to take a pack of Attax.  They were puzzled by cards and when I explained that the cards were games, I got the same responses that you would get from adults.  "So, it's a game and not a baseball card right?" or "These aren't real baseball cards".  


The box of Attax is still generally untouched and sitting in a cabinet in my classroom.  I have thought about just bringing them home and letting my son have them at this point, but he already has a big stack of MLB Showdown cards and those aren't really baseball cards.  Right?  


It doesn't really matter whether the cards are old or new, they know when they are "real" baseball cards: the ones that adults collect.  The Topps Heritage Minor League cards are long gone and best of all, I had a few students walk away with a couple of autographs.  They weren't particularly great autographs, but the fact is they pulled an autograph.  


Just like kids know when you are letting them win at Connect 4, or are shooting the basketball with the wrong hand at recess, they know that "kid" centered products are kind of garbage.  Kids do not understand card values, at least not much, but they absolutely hate being pandered to.  If we want kids to collect cards we need to follow the things that they enjoy collecting. 

How many "kids" oriented baseball card products have flopped over the years?  Dozens.  Here's a great idea from the same card chat.....



 3.  Let's Not Talk Price Point 

This is a fine line.  There are many adults that collect cards and there are high end products that adults with jobs and salaries can afford to purchase.   As an adult collector I enjoy seeing high end products with autographs and patches and serial numbered cards.  I don't own a card shop, but I am guessing that kids account for almost zero percent of the purchases on products like Topps Tribute or Five Star.  Not to say that kids do not like looking at high end products, but they are honestly just completely out of their price point.  I'm not going to argue that we should ditch high end products.  Cards can be for adults too. 

 Kids depend on whatever their parents are willing to spend on cards.  I have a parent who does a lot of volunteer work at my school and she recently started talking to me about the retail section of baseball cards at her local Target.  The price was a minor consideration for her.  I am not sure that she is a huge fan of spending $1.99 a pack, but it also did not stop her from buying a few packs for her son.

I really think that some of the talk about price points is completely overrated.  I took a few minutes and entered in the price of cards in 1987, when I was ten, into an inflation calculator to compare them to the price of cards now.  The results.....


It's very much true that the price of cards has grown faster than inflation, but look at the product from 1987 versus 2015.  The product certainly has a much higher cost production.  If you play around with the numbers a pack of $1.99 cards from today are equal to roughly $1.00 in 1987.  That was the original price point on the 1989 Upper Deck cards, which were more expensive, but also much nicer than the base Topps sets of the late 80s.  How close are the 2015 Topps cards to the 1989 Upper Deck cards?  How many kids opened packs of 1989 Upper Deck cards in spite of the fact that they cost twice as much as the Topps cards?  As a parent, I am a teacher married to a teacher so I am not raking it in by any stretch of the imagination, I would buy my child a pack of $1.99 cards with little reservation. 

I do not buy price point as a factor.


4.  What about Digital Content?  

I have also had several students who have gotten into Bunt.  They like the idea that they do not actually have to use real money in order to be able to land cards and the idea of trading online seems to be pretty cool too.  However, the fact that there is no way to turn the virtual cards into real cards is a real drawback.  I think I started out with three students this year who used Bunt, but I am pretty sure that the number is down to one.  The digit content is a good way to engage younger collectors, but I still think it needs a little bit of tweaking.

One of the more confusing parts of Bunt is the fantasy aspect of the app.  Kids watch baseball, but there is something about this that is amiss to kids.  As an adult and fantasy baseball player I understand the concept, but it's a bit of a turn off to a ten year to look at the screen and see your "team" is ranked low and have no idea of how to improve it.

I also think that there should be someway to get actual cards from the app.  In 2011, when Topps used the Diamond Codes, the kids in class who collected loved those cards.  The loved entering the codes.  The loved seeing cards on their computer screen.  The loved landing the Die-Cuts from the codes.  The also loved the idea of having the cards shipped to them.....


5.  Why Do Kids Collect Cards?

I remember when I started collecting cards when I was six.  I had an older brother who collected baseball cards and my father also collected cards as a kid.  Every week when we went to the grocery store I would end up with a few packs of baseball cards.  I dabbled in football cards and basketball cards as a kid.  I dabbled in hockey cards for a year as an adult.  How did I get from kid collector to adult collector?

Collecting cards is like any other hobby, as parents and hobby enthusiasts, we need to be supportive of what are kids are interested in doing.  If a kid is interested in collecting cards that's awesome. Things cannot be forced.  I have taken my son to a baseball card shop before.  He was mainly interested in seeing what was behind the counters and showing the card shop owner a few of his gymnastics skills using the rail handle of the door.  He was not really interested in looking at cards or opening a pack of cards, but that's fine.  One day it might happen.

As a kid I want through times where I wouldn't put my cards down for anything.  Other times my interest in the hobby waned....

Kids do not see cards in the same light as adults.  When my students open packs of cards they are often interested in finding cards of a certain player or team.  "Hits" don't always have to be important.  I did the same thing as a kid.  I wanted Cardinals cards.  I wanted Ozzie Smith cards.  The teams and players might be different, but I feel like the concept is still the same.  I have students who like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Tigers.  I have students who collect Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton, and Koji Uehara.  Simple cards can be a big thing if the right player or team is on the card. 

Sometimes we do end up with cards that are worthy of celebration no matter what team or player.  Two weeks ago I had a student pull a Derek Jeter photo variation....


some are still chattering about this one.....


So for me getting kids to collect cards boils down to three things:

1. Be supportive.  As mentioned above, let the kids be who they are and let them collect what they want.  They love the back-up catcher who is riding the bus in between the Majors and Triple A?  Great.  As long as they love what they collect.

2.  Engage with kids about cards.  Kids have questions, want to hear stories, and share experiences with collecting.  You should be all ears.  This includes online, where sometimes, it can be really trying.  I trade on Facebook and Twitter and have run into problems in trading with kids, but I still try for the most part.  As adults we do not always do a great job with this.  It's fine to say no, but just polite.  We all had to start somewhere.....

3.  Evolve.  The cards I collect look far different than the cards that my father collected.  If my son chooses to collect cards I can only guess that the cards will continue to evolve.  Hopefully card companies will listen to their audience, including kids, and continue to make cards that people love to collect.  Even if they look different...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tribute Thoughts

Yesterday was a first of kind type of day around the baseball card hobby.  I first saw rumblings of a recall of Topps Tribute sometime late Thursday night and into Friday morning.  I stopped to check my email sometime around noon yesterday and saw that rumor had come true along with a statement issued by Topps:  


Personally, I am not really a stakeholder in this matter because I never buy boxes of Tribute.  That seems like a great product for someone else to open and for me to buy and trade for the single cards that I like in the set.  Still I had a couple of thoughts on the matter I would like to share.


1.  I have said it many times on this blog space:  The greatest challenge Topps faces as the sole license holder for Major League cards is its quality control.  Do they have a quality control department?  I am not sure, but I do know that they do dry runs and samples of these products before they are released.  I know that there are people responsible for proofreading and editing the information on cards.  Still, it seems that every year the company faces some sort of quality control issues.  This is early in the calendar year, but how does this get out onto shelves?


I understand that there are always going to be some errors and some problems with products.  It's inevitable and no company can be perfect, but when I saw the images of the Tribute cards being posted by collectors who rushed out to break open the product I was not really all that shocked given how the Tribute cards looked last year.....



Some of the autographs in last year's product were also shaky, but I am not sure that Topps did anything for collectors last year.  No?   I like my former Durham Bulls players, so I am still happy that I went after this Zobrist autograph, but still it's not a great autograph.  Especially coming out of a high end product.  I guess my point is that there was a lesson in quality that Topps could have learned from the production of this product last year and improved Tribute for collectors this year.  Maybe I am being hypercritical.  Maybe not everyone is into reflective thinking with an eye on self-improvement at work. 


2.  Topps did the right thing.  I know the response was not perfect and there are case breakers and Ebay auction winners who have been screwed over, but I am not sure there was a perfect answer to the problems of the Tribute product.  For example, most people are aware of the fading autographs from the 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot set.  It's pretty terrible and it's been a problem from almost the get-go for the product.  Here is one of mine:


There is still a little bit of Adam LaRoche's autograph on there, but not much.  I know collectors who have spent a lot of good money on this product and they have lost almost every dime of their investment due to poor production on the part of Upper Deck.  Does anybody remember that Upper Deck did to remedy this situation for collectors?  Nothing for the most part.  However, if you take a little bit of time to search out autographs from the Sweet Spot products that followed the disaster of 2006 you will find a lot of great looking baseball cards with nice signatures.

Where to from here?  The most important thing that Topps can do here is learn from their mistakes.  I often see collectors who sweat the future of the hobby that is currently controlled basically by a single licensed card producer for all sorts of reasons.  I am not sure I share all of their concerns, but I do know that I have been really worried about the quality of the product for some time.  The best thing that Topps can do for collectors at this point is to take their time with the rest of their 2015 baseball card products, make sure that the rest of the releases go smoothly, and come back next spring with a great looking Tribute product.  Anything less would should be taken by collectors as a sign that Topps will likely never learn their lesson about quality control.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five: Top 5 1980s Topps Sets

Last Friday Five countdown for the decade of the 1980s.  If you missed my take on the Fleer and Donruss products feel free to click the links.  Next week I am onto some 1990s cards.  Of the three brands that released products throughout the decade, this list was my favorite to put together.  It could be that much of my focus as a collector during this decade was on the Topps sets, or it could just be that these five sets would be best sets of the decade when matched up with the other brands.

Of course, I still think the 1989 Upper Deck set is the best set of the decade.  Here are my favorite five Topps sets from the 1980s.....


1980 Topps 

I have worked on this set for awhile and am going back and replacing some of the rough cards that own in this product.  I am not sure why I like this product, but it's one of my favorites from the decade.  Really the other four sets on this post were slam dunks and this set is better than the rest of the products in my opinion.  I am sure that a lot of people would have included the 1987 set instead of this one, but I feel like it's a bit of a knock off of the 1961 set.  Meanwhile, this is a decent design, but it has some good cards in it of some 1970s and 1980s stars like George Brett and Nolan Ryan.  It also has a really important rookie card....


I picked up my first Rickey Henderson rookie card some time during the height of Dwight Gooden-Mania.  How do I know?  The Henderson rookie card cost me my copy of Dwight Gooden's rookie card.  At the time Gooden was easily the best pitcher in baseball and I think the card had some pretty significant value.  My Rickey Henderson rookie, shown above, has some dings and creases.  However, it's still one of my favorite cards in my collection.  Besides, I have another nice copy of this card hanging around my set and it's even in a top loader.  


1982 Topps Traded 

There is really only one reason to buy the 1982 Topps Traded set and it's the Cal Ripken rookie card.  He's featured in all of the major 1982 card releases, but for whatever reason this card seems to be more valued than the other.  It's nicer looking than the other Ripken rookies if nothing else.  In my opinion, this is the second most iconic rookie card of the 1980s behind the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey rookie.  Every other really popular, well thought of rookie card from this era, either features a lesser player than Ripken or someone tainted by the steroids era.  The rest of the 1982 Topps Traded isn't much, there is a Chili Davis rookie, but if you are going to pick up a copy of the Ripken you should just buy/trade for the whole thing.  


1983 Topps 

This is one of my favorite designs of the decade.  It's the first year that I collected cards too, but I am sure that I have disconnected my personal feelings from this matter long ago.  I have run into a ton of collectors who love this set just simply based on looks.  In fact, one of my favorite card blogs, The Cardboard Connection, recently did their own version of March Madness with Topps base sets.  The 1983 Topps set advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.  


It was the only Topps base set newer than 1980 to make it that far in this fan vote event.  It's a really cool set just to pull out and flip through, but it also offers collectors some pretty important rookie cards.  We've talked about 1983 products frequently lately, so you know....Gywnn, Sandberg, and Boggs.  I like the Gywnn card, really unique, but if I am not mistaken I also know that it was one of his least favorite cards of himself.  



1984 Topps 


It's probably safe to say that this set was probably more important when it was first released and the two important rookie cards in the set, Mattingly and Strawberry, were really big stars.  However, I have it on my list because of the design.  I love the looks of this set, and again, love taking these cards out every once in awhile and just flipping through the set.  It has that little picture in the corner like the 1983 set, but the team name going down the side has always stood out to me with this set.  And while Strawberry and Mattingly did not maintain their stardom throughout their careers.....


They are still two of the more memorable 1980s baseball cards.  Definitely not on the level of the Ripken or Griffey cards, but if you collected cards in the 1980s your collection is not really complete without these two cards in your collection.  


1985 Topps

This set has lost a lot of luster and value over the years because of the steroid scandal, but 1985 for a good year to be a Cardinals fan and it was one of my favorites as a kid.  Why did the Cardinals cards all have a yellow box around their name?  I am not sure, but I really like the looks of these cards.  I put together several copies of this set sometime after the Cardinals traded for Mark McGwire.  There are three really great rookie cards to own from this Topps base set.....


The McGwire rookie is probably the best known rookie card in the set, but the Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett rookie cards are also both pretty cool cards worth owning.  If you like this set you should check out the 1985 Topps Blog run by the one and only Night Owl.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Great Gallo Graph

The longer I collect cards the more and more I have gotten away from collecting high end cards and autographs of elite prospects.  For every highly regarded prospect that makes it to the Majors there are always a handful of guys who languish in the minors and fizzle out.  To further complicate matters, about 75% of all the prospects who make the Majors, but fail to live up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon them in the Minors.  

Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of super prospects who turn into super good players, but not good enough to maintain their hobby value.  For example, Steven Strasburg cards were all the rage a few summers ago.  At the end of the 2010 baseball card calendar it was impossible to find a Strasburg autograph for less than $100.  Today there are dozens of Strasburg autographs that sell for less than $100.  In fact, there are currently Buy It Now auctions for Strasburg autographs for less than $40.  That's a pretty drastic drop in five years.  

Which leads me to my latest card.....




Gallo is a great power hitting prospect in the Rangers minor league system.  He enters this year, his fourth as a professional, ranked as the 15th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America.  In three minor league season Gallo has hit over 100 home runs and has been promoted all the way up to the Rangers minor league team in Double A.  I have talked two people who have seen Gallo play in person and both had nothing but great things to say about the power hitting third baseman.  

The Rangers prospect has some pretty pricey cards and I have generally steered clear of going out and trying to add his cards to my collection.  While I do believe that Gallo will hit for power in the Majors, I am not sure he is going to be a player who lives up to his card hype.  Nothing against Gallo, but few players do.

ZIPS projects Gallo to hit more than 30 home runs, but only hit .209 in the Majors with the Rangers.  Honestly, I do not think Gallo will get enough at bats this season to hit that many home runs.  Either which way, this card frequently sells for around $75-80 and it's really hard to believe that the card will maintain that value over the long run.  

So, how did I end up with a Gallo autograph?  I would never actually pay for this card, but I am willing to bet that Gallo will turn out better than a few other high end prospects with expensive autographs.  In this case, I am hoping that Gallo turns out better than Mark Appel and an Albert Almora.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

#MyCardMonday



In 1999 there was only one card that I wanted to add to my collection: A Skybox Premium Autographics Joe McEwing autograph.  The Cardinals lost second baseman Delino DeShields to the Orioles in free agency after the 1998 season the team brought up Joe McEwing to fill the void.  The first half of the year McEwing, or Super Joe, hit .305/.350/.418 with 4 home runs, 3 triples, and 19 doubles.  Card companies were a little slow to add his cards into products, but eventually a few companies floated out a few cards.

The second half of the season McEwing hit the wall and was eventually traded to the Mets the following spring for Jesse Orosco.  His career ended up lasting a total of 9 years with most of his time spent as a utility player for the Mets.  

I still looked for this card after he was traded away from the Cardinals and landed a copy a few years back for a couple of bucks.  At one point, during the summer of 1999, card shops in St. Louis were selling this card for as much as $25.  It was pretty hard to spend that kind of money for a light hitting second baseman.  The card is not necessarily the easiest to find, only one copy on Ebay in the last 90 days, but they sell for less than $3.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Manufactured Imperfection

I started collecting baseball cards in the early 1980s as a kid.  There were all sorts of cool things about collecting cards in that era.  There were only a few sets out each year and I spent most of my energy trying to put together the 792 cards for the Topps set every summer.  A few packs from the Dierbergs in Manchester and a few from the Ben Franklin and by the time school started up in September I had finished off my set.

The packs of cards had a completely different vibe back then.  Wax paper wrappers and the gum were the two biggest differences.  Of course those two items also meant lots of imperfections with the cards.  There are still plenty of unopened wax from the 1980s floating around if you have never experienced the awesomeness of opening a pack of cards with a stale piece of gum in the pack, but you were often left with stains, discolorations, and sometimes even dings and dents in the cards.

Today there is no gum in the packs and everything has foil packs.  There are still some dings and dents on cards, but the stains and discolorations are a thing of the past.  Well, for the most part.  In this year's Topps Heritage set Topps announced that they were inserting cards with bubble gum stains into the product.


It sounded like a cool idea and I was actually excited about landing a copy of one of these cards.  They were even supposed to be scented like bubble gum.  I guess you could say they were scratch and sniff.  So after opening two boxes of Heritage, a few retail backs too, I had plenty of cards for my set along with some short prints, relic cards, and variations.  No bubble gum stain cards.  But wait....

While I was sorting out my Heritage doubles to help out another collector this afternoon I found this....




and then I found this.......



Very slight difference and there was no difference in code at the bottom of the card, which is probably why I missed the variation the first time around.  I must admit that the manufactured imperfection of the bubble gum stain on the backs of the cards is pretty cool and a nice creative touch.  I was thrilled to find this card too before I shipped it off to someone else.  While I am not a huge fan of Andre Ethier I think I am going to file this one away in a box.  Cool idea by Topps.