As you’ve probably noticed, my posting has been sparse since the beginning of March. I’ve been very busy at work and at home recently, with very little time left over to devote to collecting, let alone blogging. This will probably continue at least until the beginning of April. My schedule is pretty packed for the next week and a half, and then my wife and I will be on vacation in Florida from March 20 – 28.
In case you’re waiting for it, I’m still working on my follow-up post on 2009 Topps Heritage. It should be ready soon; I just need to find some time to scan some of the cards. One thing that I can tell you is that I was extremely lucky with my two boxes in that I got ZERO doubles! Yes, I managed to get 382 different cards. I got enough base cards that I don’t think I’ll need to buy any more hobby boxes or packs. I’ll just buy the cards that I still need on eBay or Sportlots.
Of course, any time that I take a break from blogging, huge events start to happen. Here’s my take on a few of them:
- It’s absolutely inexcusable that Razor and Upper Deck have allowed fake “cut” signatures to find their way into their products. I’m sure that everyone has read about this by now, but if you haven’t, the details are here. I give Brian Gray of Razor credit for trying to rectify the situation after the fact, but I think that some irreparable damage has been done to the hobby. I know that I’m not alone in saying that I’m much less likely to buy any cut signature card now, but my confidence is shaken in other types of cards too. For example, I doubt that any significant verification is done on the “game used” pieces of memorabilia that are inserted into cards. I think that it’s less likely that non-cut certified autographs are fake, but in many cases, the card companies are simply mailing stickers to athletes, who sign them and mail them back. I do believe that the vast majority of athletes are legitimately signing the stickers (and cards) if only because they don’t want to see their reputations damaged if they’re caught mailing back fake autographs to the card companies. But the potential does exist that there are some fake certified autographs out there. If any evidence of that is ever discovered, get ready to watch the entire card industry implode.
- So apparently Panini is buying Donruss-Playoff (details here). This has the potential to be a very good thing for collectors. First, it keeps Donruss in business. The company was obviously having financial troubles, but Panini seems to have plenty of cash, so that problem is solved. I think it’s logical that Panini would use the Donruss name for their U.S.-based card business, and keep many of the existing Donruss, Leaf, and Playoff brand names around. Let’s face it, football and baseball card collectors are much more likely to buy cards with the Donruss name on them than Panini. Hopefully they’ll keep many of the creative people from the company too. But this is really great news for basketball card collectors. After it was announced that Panini had obtained an exclusive license to produce NBA cards, many collectors assumed that the cards that would be produced would be a joke. But now, the cards are likely to have the Donruss brand name on them, be designed by the Donruss creative team, and be produced at the Donruss facilities. I don’t really see any negatives about this deal at this point. Now, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens to Upper Deck, which is also for sale, and has apparently completely given up trying to make quality baseball card products.
- If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m a Buffalo Bills football fan. Even though my blog is focused on baseball and cards, my private conversations with friends and family in recent months have been dominated by talk of my disgust for how the team is being run. They have a completely incompetent head coach (Dick Jauron) and coaching staff who are coming back again in 2009, their biggest star player (Marshawn Lynch) is unable to obey the law and stay out of trouble, and they consistently make horrible decisions about what players to let go and what players to sign. It seemed obvious that a 10th straight non-playoff season was on the horizon…
And then they signed Terrell Owens this past weekend. I was completely shocked and blown away by this. My first reaction was disbelief, and then I quickly decided that I hated the signing. After all, T.O. is a complete jackass, a horrible teammate, and he’s been a cancer in the locker room of every team that he played for. I mean, if Jerry Jones didn’t want him in Dallas anymore, that really says something. The signing also demonstrated the impulsive decision-making in the Bills front office and their complete lack of long-term planning. But amazingly, the more that I thought about it, the more that I started to like the signing. First, it’s a one-year deal. If it doesn’t work out, the Bills can cleanly cut ties with T.O. after the season. Also, he’s going to have to keep his tantrums to a minimum and perform on the field at a high level if he wants any other team to want to sign him next year. But most importantly, T.O. is unquestionably an elite receiver, and he’s going to make the Bills offense a lot better. One of their major problems has been that opposing defenses have been able to double-cover Lee Evans, preventing him from getting open and making plays. Now, the Bills will have two top receivers, Evans and Owens. That’s going to cause problems for defenders, and it should allow both of them to make more big plays. And if the passing game is much improved, then teams won’t be able to load up on the line of scrimmage to stop the run, so Lynch and Fred Jackson should be more productive too. Finally, one of the things that I hated about 2008 was how apathetic it appeared that the coaches and many of the players were. They just didn’t have much competitive fire. Say what you will about T.O., but he wants to win more than anyone, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind if others around him don’t have the same commitment to winning.
Strangely enough, the signing of T.O. has made me a lot more excited about the 2009 football season. If nothing else, he’s going to make the team much more exciting to watch, either because of his performance on the field, or his antics off the field. The Bills weren’t going to do anything in 2009 without T.O. and now that he’s on the team, they have somewhat of a chance. If the Dolphins and Falcons could improve so much between 2007 and 2008, anything is possible with the 2009 Bills.
It looks like this wasn’t such a “quick” update after all. I might only have a few more posts for the rest of the month, but I hope that you’ll stick around and keep reading Fielder’s Choice when I’m able to write more!
So right after I say that I’m going to hold back on blog posts for a few days, a topic comes up that I just couldn’t stay away from. Such is life…
Anyway, I want to preface this by saying that I could care less about basketball. I rarely watch it, and I’m not even sure that I could name 10 players who are active in the NBA right now. I used to change the channel whenever basketball highlights would come on Sports Center. Now, I just watch the MLB network, so I’m able to avoid basketball entirely, and I love it. I enjoy ignoring both the NBA and college basketball. As you know, I went to Penn State, a school where pretending that basketball doesn’t exist is a popular pastime after football season ends. I’ve never even given the slightest consideration to buying a basketball card.
But it was with sadness today that I learned that the basketball card hobby is dead, or at least it is scheduled to die after the current season ends. As I’m sure you’ve read by now on other blogs, the NBA has decided to cut ties with both Topps and Upper Deck, and grant an exclusive license to produce basketball cards to Panini. Yes, Panini. The same Panini that produced the baseball sticker books in the late 1980s and early 1990s that you thought went out of business 15 years ago. When I read this news on Wax Heaven earlier today, I instinctively checked my calendar to see if it was April Fool’s Day. It wasn’t. And I’m still not entirely convinced that this isn’t the 2009 version of the Kazuo Uzuki gimmick, and that on April 1, NBA and card company executives won’t be laughing that we all fell for the joke.
So we’re talking about Panini. Let’s flash back to the summer of 1988. I was 8 years old, almost 9. I loved Panini stickers, and I’d beg my mom to buy packs of them for me every time we were at the grocery store. Don Mattingly was on the cover of that year’s Panini sticker book, and I remember how excited I would be when I’d fill all of the stickers on each team’s page. I did the same thing in 1989. And then I turned 10, and I lost interest. I decided that collecting stickers was for “little kids” and I only collected real cards from that point on. Years later, I discovered that Panini had stayed in business at least until 1996, because they made a Don Mattingly sticker that year. And since I’m on a lifelong quest to collect everything that can even be remotely construed as a Don Mattingly “card”, I own all of the Don Mattingly Panini stickers that have ever been produced. All along, I just assumed that at some point before the millennium, Panini had completely closed down and gone out of business. And then I read today’s news…
It might seem like an exaggeration to say that the basketball card hobby is dead, but I don’t think so. I might not be a basketball card collector, but I’ve met plenty of people who are. I feel really, really bad for them. I imagine how I would feel if it had been MLB who signed this deal with Panini instead of the NBA. Just the thought of it makes me almost nauseous. If MLB ever does something like this, I can guarantee you that it would be the end of my days as a collector. Sure, I might occasionally try to add cards to my graded vintage card collection, but I would never even look at a new pack of cards again. The baseball card hobby would be destroyed, just like the basketball card hobby is being destroyed now.
Sure, Topps and Upper Deck have a lot of faults and imperfections. It’s easy for collectors to find things about their products that they don’t like. These are the companies that have given us products like Topps Co-Signers and Upper Deck X. Topps produced the manufactured letter patches with the sticker autographs for football. Upper Deck thinks that we want to pull autographed cards of bass players from long-forgotten 1980s hair bands in packs of Spectrum. Heck, just last week we devoted an entire Blog Bat Around to all of our ideas about how to improve the card companies’ products.
But for all of their faults, Topps, Upper Deck, and Donruss-Playoff too, are all legitimate and well-respected card companies. We like just as many things as we dislike about them. Topps Heritage is a brilliantly produced set, Upper Deck’s photography for their flagship set is stunning, and nobody can put value into a high-end product like Donruss. I could write pages about all of the great things about these companies. If they weren’t producing any sets that we liked, we wouldn’t be collecting. I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that Topps, Upper Deck, and Donruss-Playoff define what the hobby is. They produce cards that collectors want to collect and own. They all have unique brands, some that we like and some that we dislike, but collectors have a certain comfort level with these companies. And when we see some of the utter crap that companies on the fringe, like Tristar and Razor, have been producing, it only reinforces our comfort with the Big Three. I’m not saying that a new company will never come along that can compete with them, but it’s going to have to be a company that really has its proverbial shit together, and is capable of producing high quality card products – a company like Upper Deck in 1989, as opposed to Razor in 2008.
Could Panini be that company? Why would anyone think so? This is a company that produces stickers, and from what I’ve learned today, they apparently make low quality soccer cards in Europe. They currently have no presence in the United States. I’ll grant you that yes, it is hypothetically possible that there are people working for Panini that have great ideas for producing basketball cards. It’s possible that they could put out some really nice sets that collectors will love. But it’s not likely. And basketball card collectors will suffer because of it. If the NBA wanted to give Panini a license in addition to Topps, Upper Deck, or both, then I’d be all for it. But to put all of the NBA’s eggs in the Panini basket is just an incredibly dumb move.
Think about it; between now and the end of the 2012-13 season, collectors won’t have any alternative to Panini if they want to collect a licensed NBA basketball card product. When Panini produces worthless low quality crap, which is what their past history strongly indicates that they will do, what’s going to happen? Nobody is going to buy it. The basketball card market is already weaker than the baseball card and football card markets. Now it’s going to be completely killed. Another point to make is that a huge segment of the current basketball card collector base is high-end collectors. Products like Exquisite do really well in basketball. Even if Panini is able to pull off making half-way decent base cards, how are they possibly going to be able to match Upper Deck’s high end products? That is simply an impossibility.
You can say that it doesn’t really matter to the NBA, that a low percentage of its fans were collectors anyway. And that might be true. But why would the NBA ruin a hobby that even a small percentage of its fans love? Why wouldn’t they do all that they could to help that hobby thrive, to entice more people into the card collecting hobby, so that more cards could be sold, and the NBA could make even more money from its licensing? Why wouldn’t they want to turn collectors into more passionate fans when they pull a great LeBron James card from a pack of Upper Deck? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
This is very depressing news for the entire sports card hobby. Let’s all hope, cross our fingers, and pray if you’re a religious type, that the NFL, NHL, and most of all, MLB will not even consider screwing collectors, like the NBA did today, by rejecting legitimate card companies in favor of a sub-standard sticker company, or even worse, a company named after a toiletry item that makes poker cards…