Essential reading

July 21, 2008 at 11:58 pm | Posted in Beckett, Blogs | 2 Comments

I really love the sports card blogosphere and I am proud to be a part of it. In addition to my own blog, I love to read many of the other blogs that are out there for some great insight on our hobby. Today was an especially good day in the blogosphere as I uncovered a treasure trove of new posts on other blogs. Two of them made such an impact on me that I want to point them out here.

The first is from Cardboard Mania, which is an outstanding blog that I recently discovered. The writer, Harner, wrote an extremely thought-provoking post entitled Making recycling sense out of the hobby. As you can likely discern from the title, it is about the environmental impact of the sports card hobby. Harner makes some great points about what we can do as collectors to reduce the amount of waste that our collecting generates and also how the card companies can improve their packaging. I believe that this is an essential post for any collector to read, and it is already inspiring me to change my ways by reusing bubble mailers, top loaders, and penny sleeves that I get in the mail.

The second great post is from Sports Cards Uncensored. I’ve expressed my fondness for Sports Card Uncensored before, but I was truly blown away by Gellman’s post today entitled Its A Beckett World, We Just Live In It. If you’ve never read Gellman’s writing, or if you’ve only read a few things from him, I strongly implore you to read this post. It is basically his manifesto against Beckett. He’s made most of the same points before, but in this one post, he summarizes everything about the negative influence that Beckett is having on the hobby. I truly believe that every collector should read it and that every blog should have a permanent link to it. More on that below…

I’d like to add some of my own comments about Beckett to the discussion. I’ll start from the beginning. Beckett was great for the hobby in the 1980s. The publication was started by Dr. James Beckett when public interest in baseball cards started to grow in the late 1970s. In those days, there were very few card dealers in existence and it was difficult for them to communicate about how much money each card and set were selling for. It was pretty much impossible to determine a market value. Dr. Beckett stepped in and began surveying dealers across the country to determine the true market value of cards and sets. He was widely respected for his ethics and integrity, and as a result the Beckett Baseball Card Monthly rightfully became the recognized standard for determining how much cards were worth.

I believe that at some point in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a seismic change occurred in the hobby. It used to be that the market determined the prices that appeared in Beckett. But when every dealer in the country began to rely on Beckett as the bible of card prices, the prices listed in Beckett became what people perceived to be the market value of cards. It was unquestioned and universally accepted by dealers and collectors alike. Rather than bargaining with customers, dealers would simply open the latest issue of Beckett and use the prices within it to determine exactly how much money to charge for cards. For a while, collectors accepted this. No one doubted the integrity of Beckett. But as time went on, and the prices were no longer based on the economic law of supply and demand, eventually the prices in Beckett no longer reflected reality.

This was a big reason why many people left the hobby. In the early 1990s, most people considered the Beckett value of their cards to be an accurate reflection of what they were actually worth. However, they were in for a rude awakening when they actually tried to sell their cards for the Beckett value. No one wanted to pay Beckett value for cards from the 1980s and 1990s and even the values for pre-1980 cards were somewhat inflated. People felt deceived and lost faith that their cards would ever have any real value, and they left the hobby in droves. This may not have been the only factor in the general decline in interest in the sports card hobby, but I believe that it was a very large factor.

And then came the internet. By the turn of the century, many hobby shops were closing, and many people found a new way to buy cards on the web. The auction site eBay soon became the most popular place to buy cards online. The great thing about eBay is that cards only sold for what people were willing to pay for them, or in other words, what they were truly worth. In addition, collectors could search for eBay auctions that had ended in order to see how much money any particular card had been selling for. It was the first time in many years that people could determine the true market value of their cards. And today, the price that a card is selling for on eBay (and other sites like Naxcom and Sportlots) still gives us the best understanding of the true market value of that card.

It seems that Beckett has remained unaffected by this. Many collectors suspect that the prices listed in Beckett today are more likely to be pulled from the anal cavities of Beckett employees than to be the result of careful consideration of how much money people are actually paying for cards. Because of this, in most cases it is best to simply ignore the prices that are listed in Beckett and just check eBay to determine the true value of a card.

I say “in most cases” because there are some cases when the Beckett value is somewhat relevant. I can think of two examples. One example is for graded vintage (pre-1980) cards. The value of these cards is stable compared to newer releases, and it is simple to determine the condition of the card from its grade. I’ve found that these cards usually do sell on eBay for very close to the prices that are listed in Beckett. A second example is with cards that are in low supply and rarely appear on eBay. Only the listings that ended within the last 30 days can be searched on eBay, so in some cases, the only source to check to understand a card’s value may be Beckett. I’ve experienced this when trying to find some rare Don Mattingly inserts and parallel cards from the 1990s. Still, it’s important to take the Beckett value with a grain of salt even in these cases.

It would be bad enough if the inaccurate prices listed in Beckett were the only reason why Beckett is bad for the hobby. But that is not the only reason. While the prices in Beckett could just be the result of laziness, the other problems with Beckett are much more appalling:

  • Beckett’s acceptance of free boxes of cards from the card companies, which they use to create video box breaks. Gellman has done an excellent job of reporting on the ridiculously tough pulls that routinely come out of these boxes. It’s true that the card companies are also to blame for this because it is they who actually send these boxes to Beckett in the hope that collectors will be fooled into thinking that they’re likely to get similar pulls from their own boxes. But how can a company that accepts these gifts from the card companies, and that generates a ton of revenue from ads by the card companies in its magazine, be a trusted and impartial source on the industry? It can’t. And how can the prices that Beckett lists in its guide be unaffected by their sponsors, who want their cards to be listed for high values? They can’t. If Beckett ever wants to restore its integrity, it will need to stop accepting free products from the card companies and stop accepting ads from them. Since Beckett wants to make as much money as it can, this will probably never happen, and Beckett will continue to act without integrity.
  • Beckett’s corrupt grading service, BGS. I have read and heard an incredible number of accounts of Beckett giving inflated grades to cards from customers who send the most cards to be graded. Because of this, many collectors do not trust the grades of cards that have been graded by BGS. In my opinion, PSA is the only reliable and trustworthy grading company. I am proud to say that I don’t own a single BGS graded card, and I would never pay any more for a BGS graded card than I would for an ungraded card. I do own dozens of PSA graded cards and I can honestly say that the grade of every PSA graded card that I have encountered has been accurate.
  • If that’s not bad enough, Beckett actually sells many of the cards that it grades. Yes, you read that correctly. Beckett pretends to be an impartial judge of a card’s condition and authenticity, and then turns around and tries to make a profit from that very same card. If you find this difficult to believe, check out Beckett’s eBay store and see for yourself.
  • I’m not done ranting about BGS just yet. Late last year, a huge controversy erupted when Beckett posted a picture online showing 270 Wayne Gretzky rookie cards that someone had submitted to them for grading strewn carelessly on a table. The picture spoke louder than any words could have ever done to demonstrate the carelessness of Beckett’s graders. The picture and a summary of the controversy can be found in this post on Wax Heaven.
  • Finally, the seemingly innocent fact that Beckett has its own blog is a problem. It’s plain to see that today’s sports card blogosphere is looking out for the best interests of collectors much more than Beckett is. One of the ways that we do this is by pointing out some of the bad things about Beckett itself. I believe that the reason why Beckett created its own blog was to try to drown out the voices of the truly independent bloggers. By linking to other blogs and occasionally featuring columns by writers of other blogs, Beckett drives a lot of traffic to these blogs. Since the bloggers depend on Beckett for steering many readers to them, they are less likely to criticize Beckett when criticism is warranted. So I believe Beckett’s blog is more of an insidious means to prevent criticism of Beckett in the blogosphere than a service that actually helps collectors.

I got on a roll here and this post is much longer than I originally intended. I hope that it’s kept your interest so far. I want to get back to Gellman’s post. I mentioned that every card blog should have a permanent link to it. Well, I’ve done that. Since I started Fielder’s Choice, I’ve had a link to Beckett under “Important hobby links” on the sidebar. Today I changed that link title to “Beckett = Bad for ya” and linked it to Gellman’s post. I hope that this will help in a small way to increase awareness about the reasons why Beckett is bad for collectors. I also removed the link to Beckett’s blog from “Professional blogs” on the sidebar. Although Beckett’s blog never did link to my blog, I don’t want anyone to think that I am in any way supported by Beckett, so I removed the link.

So there you have it. I do believe that Beckett’s problems are correctable, but I don’t know if they have the will to correct them. Until they change their ways, I hope that other blogs will join in raising their voices about why Beckett has not been a good influence on the hobby.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Wow, take a bow my friend.

    *Slow Clap*

  2. Thanks for the link. I don’t how I have overlooked your place for so long. I’ll be checking in daily from now on as there is good stuff on this page.


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