6 Things About Card Collecting That Makes Us Want To Drink

Beer and cards 3

If you collect sports trading cards there are few things that can make sorting your collection more enjoyable than pairing the task with a good beer or two. However, as anyone who collects knows there are a few stories out there in the hobby that just make us want to drink. Here are six things that would make any collector want to hit the bottle.

Exclusive Licenses

Most of us who grew up collecting trading cards probably started during the junk wax era, when there were seemingly dozens of trading card manufacturers for every sport. Those days might be over forever, for better or worse, with the advent of exclusive licenses that these companies have reached with various professional sports leagues. Upper Deck, once revolutionary in bringing about positive changes to protect the collector such as holograms on the backs of cards to deter fraudulent cards from being made, is now out of the baseball card business and instead has become the main producer or hockey cards. Topps still owns the baseball card world as they are the only company allowed to print cards featuring players and team logos. Donruss and a couple of other companies can print cards but can’t use team names. These are great moves for the card companies but they are not fun for the collector. Competition is basically gone and with that so is the capitalist ideal of competitive pricing. Cards are really not the cheap, fun hobby we grew up with. Sure, there are affordable products out there, mostly aimed at kids but this hobby is getting expensive. Would competition really hurt? Would Topps really lose business if, for example, Donruss could print cards with logos but Topps could also produce football cards? Having choices as a consumer is always a good thing and competition drives innovation. Hopefully, we will see the end to exclusive agreements one day soon.

Overvaluing Collections

Everyone seemed to collect cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I mean everybody. Those who went through what is now termed the “Junk Wax Era” watched as our hopeful retirement investments of Gregg Jefferies, Kevin Maas, Brien Taylor, Ben McDonald, and Todd Van Poppel burst like a North Korean rocket test. Many of us now take advantage of the overproduction of cards from that era to gobble up cheap collections or fresh boxes to break for nostalgia or to chase the few rookies who are worth more than one dollar. It is a cheap way to chase the hits without breaking the bank. However, we have all seen those folks out there who think their collection from that era is going to help them buy a home or a car these days. They list their collections on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Let Go, and a dozen other sites for astronomical prices. Usually the rubber bands they used to keep their cards organized are still attached. There are so many of them out there that one could make a drinking game out of finding them. We won’t though because here at The Sporting Brews we care about your liver.

Bad Trades/Sales

We have all made them at one time or another. We traded that Hall of Famer’s rookie card for the hot new prospect only to watch that prospect fizzle out. I remember trading a Patrick Ewing rookie card for an assortment of junk that included a Martin Brodeur rookie and Jose Cruz, Jr. rookie. The Marty is worth about a dollar these days. Everything else was literally cardboard with a picture on it. For those that like to flip on eBay I am sure you regret selling that 2011 Mike Trout rookie for $75 nowadays. We’ve all done it one way or another. It still makes us want a drink though.

Book Value

When sports cards really exploded during the Junk Wax Era there was no such thing as the internet. Collectors and sellers depended upon publications like Beckett and Tuff Stuff to gauge the value of a card or collection. Those days are gone. Nobody pays book value anymore. Prices on certain cards can fluctuate by the minute in this hobby thanks to eBay and sites like COMC. While those price guides might not be accurate, they are a month old, they can be useful to a degree and the articles are the main reason anyone picks up those publications anymore. Still, there is always that one dealer that hasn’t left the ‘80s and he still swears by book value. To make it even more frustrating they are probably the one with the card you really want so you have to hope they will haggle or else leave the card.

Terrible Shipping

It is bad enough the United States Post Office seems to raise shipping rates every ten minutes. It is even worse when an online seller charges those rates, or higher, and then ships your card in a plain white envelope in just a top loader (if they remember to put the card in one) with enough scotch tape to make wrapping Christmas presents look like tape rationing parties. If you have bought a card online this has probably happened to you. I don’t mind plain white envelopes as I have luckily never had bad things happen to the contents yet. However, I have seen plenty of horror stories on Twitter and elsewhere to know it’s a gamble. If you’re going to ship via plain white envelope at least mention that in the description and don’t charge like you shipped it overnight first class with tracking and insurance and an armed guard. How often do we see a card we really want for a buck or two only to turn it down because the shipping is more than the card? It can be a frustrating experience.

Pack Searchers

With local card shops, once a neighborhood fixture during the Junk Wax Era, now a rare thing collectors have turned to big box stores like Walmart and Target for their card fix. Buying retail has its hazards, however. Pack searchers seem to descend on every store and rifle through packs searching for the “hit.” Thanks to the different thickness of the “hit” as compared to a regular card and the willful disregard the retail stores have towards the card section it is fairly easy for a pack searcher to set up shop and go through everything. Then there are those that buy the product, go home, and switch out the cards for junk and return it. I’ve had one experience where someone replaced the packs in a blaster with loose cards, redid the shrink wrap, and returned it. Luckily the store I bought from accepted my return, and didn’t put it back on the shelf. These pack searchers are the lowest form of life, searching packs of cards for a hit that is probably worth as much as the pack costs. What’s worse is some of these trilobites will bend packs and ruin cards they have no intention of buying and thereby ruining someone else’s day. Rumor has it that at least some stores are starting to take this seriously. Target being the leader among them. If that is the case well then cheers to them!

Collectors Still Vulnerable To Fraud After Eli Manning Settlement

Eli_Manning.jpg

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning settled his memorabilia fraud case just before it was slated to go to trial on Monday. Details of the deal were not disclosed and all parties, including the Giants, released a statement stating that settling was not an admission of wrongdoing. Manning was accused of conspiring to defraud memorabilia collectors by selling equipment that he never actually wore. That equipment would then show up for sale at Steiner Sports.

This case is the perfect example of what a hazardous road collectors face when collecting game-used memorabilia. I should point out that this is in no way an indictment of any of the parties involved. Since Manning was not convicted I can’t say he was guilty. Steiner Sports, a fairly reputable dealer, could only depend on Eli’s word that the equipment they were being given was in fact game-used. It is a slippery slope and the only real loser is the person who shells out hundreds dollars and ends up with a jersey that a player never actually wore in a game.

This isn’t an isolated incident. In 2012, sports memorabilia dealer Bradley Wells pleaded guilty to selling fraudulent game-used items to trading card manufacturers. Wells told the FBI that Upper Deck, Topps, and Panini America knew they were purchasing items that Wells himself had doctored to appear game-used. Those jerseys would then be cut up and pieces inserted into trading cards. There have been several instances where jersey swatches feature Mitchell and Ness logos or an interesting case where a Whitey Ford jersey card featured a Majestic logo. Majestic didn’t begin business until 15 years after Ford retired.

There have been countless stories of athletes using another party to fulfill their autograph quota for trading card companies. Lonzo Ball, who was a hot commodity in the sports card world right after he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, has had several different looking autographs appear on cards. Many have speculated that LaVar Ball signed cards with his son’s name.

Collectors are the only ones who lose out. They spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars expecting major companies to vet the products they are peddling. When things go wrong, like the several cases of wrongly labeled game-worn cards, there are no consequences. The worst that might happen is a little social media backlash. However, thanks to exclusive rights deals that card companies have with different sports there is no competition. Card companies have a monopoly on the sport.

The exclusive rights has limited the amount of product, which has solved the oversaturation of the market that almost ruined the hobby in the 1990s. However, it might actually be harming the hobby as well. Topps, which has an exclusive rights contract with Major League Baseball, is the only company that can produce trading cards that feature MLB logos. Panini does offer baseball cards, notably through the Donruss label, but do not feature logos or team names. Panini has exclusive rights with the NBA, NFL, and NHL. Collectors have no way to voice their displeasure with their wallets unless they stop collecting. That is a huge problem.

The different sports leagues, players, and card manufacturers can continue defrauding collectors, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with little or no repercussions aside from paying out some money. The FBI has prosecuted some individuals in the past but those were smaller dealers who were faking autographs. The major companies and the sports leagues have escaped any real harm.

Collecting in this day and age is difficult. Prices have increased but the pitfalls have grown as well when they should shrink. Collectors should be able to purchase cards and memorabilia without worrying about being ripped off. At least not by the companies, players, and leagues we expect to hold a high standard. The reality is they are all no different from the guy who fakes an autograph and puts it up on eBay. When they get caught they apologize, pay the person who complained under the table, and move on. The sports memorabilia industry is a multi-billion industry and is hardly regulated at all. Only the FBI steps in from time to time and prosecutes individuals defrauding collectors. It isn’t enough.

There are still no protections for collectors. There is no oversight, except by the companies themselves and that isn’t good enough anymore. Not when time and time again major companies have either made mistakes or willingly scammed collectors. Not when athletes are committing fraud. Oversight on a massive level is necessary and companies should lose exclusive rights licenses when they are found to be defrauding consumers. Imagine the outrage if this occurred in another multi-billion industry that was more mainstream than sports card and memorabilia collecting. It would be front page news everywhere.

The Manning case is just the latest example. It won’t be the last. Collectors will continue to buy because they want to build their collections or invest for the future. They will have to navigate minefields in an industry where even a perceived nice guy like Eli Manning might be ripping you off. Sadly, things aren’t going to change any time soon either. Navigating the minefield is still hazardous to collectors.