Monday, December 29, 2014

The State of My Hobby, One Year In: Taking Stock

It's nearly 2015. About one year ago, I paid to ship all my baseball cards I had collected as a kid from my mom's house in Wisconsin to my house in Georgia. From the time that I left law school, I had intended on restarting my childhood obsession of card collecting. Now that I'm married and have a house (rather than being single and in a condo), I decided it was a good time to start again.

Once I got those cards, I started sorting through them. That process took a while because about midway through the sort, I decided to sort the cards by teams. That was to assist me in trading.

Immediately, though, I had a problem. I wanted to buy cards, but I didn't know what to buy. It figured out quickly that I had a lot to learn. Concepts like blasters, hobby boxes versus retail boxes, licensed products versus unlicensed products, hits, inserts, and parallels were all ones that confused me entirely.

I started reading. I read blogs. I did Google searches. I looked at Amazon, eBay, Cardboard Connection, Sports Collectors Daily, and Trading Card Database. Once I had enough knowledge to feel like I wouldn't embarrass myself completely, I started blogging. 

In the process, I learned a lot. More to the point, I learned that my initial "completist" thoughts -- that somehow I would work to complete all the major sets -- either were crazy, would put me into bankruptcy, or both. It was disconcerting to jump into this hobby without some sort of "definition" or, dare I say it, "rules," for what I would collect. 

Reading blogs, though, made me realize that rules in collecting are nonexistent. Now, as a lawyer, I have to follow rules very closely to make sure that I am doing everything for my clients in a way that comports with what the law requires me to do. That kind of thinking was instilled in me early in my life, but law school and practicing law reinforced it. 

As a result, I created my own rules. I decided to collect my favorite team -- the Milwaukee Brewers -- and, in addition, to create player collections of the players I cheered for as a kid, or the players I heard stories about as a kid, or, moving forward, the players I think of when I think of the Brewers (that's guys like Sheets, Burnitz, Cirillo, Vaughn, Fielder, etc.). 

To do that, I needed to figure out what I have and what I don't have. Perhaps the most difficult part of that is figuring out what I don't have. I needed to put together checklists of what cards I don't have.

The problem with that is that being complete is a long, torturous process for me. I have to establish my own internal rules of what I will track, what I will collect, and for what I will create a checklist. Because I like consistency, it's easier for me to create a complete checklist by including everything. It's easier in terms of what I include on the checklist, but it's damn near impossible to feel like my work on putting the checklist together is "done."

Once the checklist is reasonably complete for a particular year, then I use the checklist like a checklist -- seeing what I have and what I need and creating my want lists (like this one that I'm done with through 1992).  

It's great to go through that process for me since I am a completist, but it is an incredibly time consuming process to complete all those checklists. For example, the past two days I've spent going through the 2014 sets at Cardboard Connection (which I have found to be organized in a way that I understand more easily than other websites for very recent sets) to put together as complete a list as I can for 2014. 

Going through all the Topps sets alone (including Bowman in that), I identified 2912 different Brewers cards from 2014. That includes all the printing plates, 1 of 1s, high-end sets like Dynasty and Triple Threads, and low-end sets like Topps Opening Day. That is a LOT of cards.

It makes being a completist impossible, too. No matter if I were willing to pony up hundreds and thousands of dollars to buy as many of the 1 of 1 cards as come onto the market (I'm not), the problem is that most of those 1 of 1s never actually come onto the market. I mean, how sure can we be that all of the 1 of 1s are even inserted into the products? And so, I start drawing lines: what are the cards I'm willing to buy? What cards will I chase? What cards should even be listed as ones I want to add to my collection?

It's not that I meant for this to become any sort of rant. I've ranted before here, after all, about some sets having skewed checklists toward the "big market" teams. It does not do any good to get all upset about it, though. 

All that said, it's all good in many respects. I don't have to collect Topps Supreme if I don't want to. Those cards on the checklist just remain as "N" under the column "In team collection?" on my Brewers card spreadsheets. 

The concern, though, is that Topps and its continually rumored financial issues will cause Topps to go away, be bought by Panini, or otherwise cease to exist in its present form. If/when that happens, then what? 

Are "cardboard" collectors dinosaurs, soon to be extinct or forced into extinction? Will we be like those people who collect 78 RPM records, longing for a "good old days" that never really existed and of which we probably never were a part? 

Further, is Topps tone-deaf to what collectors want? So many of us bloggers seem to say that we do not want the high-end hits, that we don't chase that stuff unless we're chasing a player collection rainbow of some sort, or that we just don't like new cards. 

So why are the high-end cards and all the parallels proliferating like nuclear weapons in the 1960s?

Or, am I the one out of step with where the hobby is going by not chasing the proverbial "SICK HITZZZ" that seem to populate Twitter like so many locusts?

What do you think? 


  1. Great post Tony. It's funny you mention rules. I'd been working on a post about that exact point. The rules of card collecting or rather how we as individual collectors define our collections. As far as the future I don't think the industry will totally disappear. I remember a few years ago CBS did a report on the death of the baseball card show. To be honest it was more the promoters and sellers lamenting how it's not like it use to be. And it's not. Markets shift, means of distribution shift, with the advent of the internet and sites like eBay card shows are dinosaurs,, but they're still fun to go to and you can actually see the cards in hand.
    And thanks for the checklists. It's great having a like minded collector in the group.

  2. Being a completest in this hobby, today, is impossible if you ask me. Like you said, there are just too many cards out there in any particular year. And Topps doesn't make it any easier when a single card in their flagship set has a total of 20 different versions.

    To me, those high end cards don't exist. Hey - if I luck upon one, yeah for me. But they are off my radar and not required for me to have fun in the hobby.

    All that care about "sick hitzzzzzzzzz" need to be murdered. They are not collectors but someone that is looking to make money in the hobby by screwing the rest of us. Every so often I will watch some breaks, but they all sound exactly the same. Some dude ripping the packs with a bad DJ voice with stupid talk over crap and cranking dumb jokes from time to time. Those are best watched with the speakers at 0%.

  3. Sometimes the "Sick HItzzzz" collectors help us bloggers. Stadium Club would have been a product that most of us would have ignored if the debut price would have stayed at the $100 mark. Thankfully the auto checklist was a little weak and price fell to a reasonable amount once the big money card chasers jumped ship. If you read the Cardboard Connection reviews it was funny to listen to people bitch about not hitting the big auto or pulling two Dean Anna's. It was kind of refreshing seeing a set that didn't offer jersey/patch cards.

  4. Wow... the day that Panini purchases Topps is the day I'll reconsider my place in the hobby. As for your blog, I'm sure glad you decided to start it. Have a great 2015!

  5. You're on that you don't have to collect everything. I think some collectors think every product is made for them but because collectors are so diverse in what the collect, so are products. Not every product is meant for you. And the ones that are for you aren't for other collectors. There is enough in this hobby to collect what you enjoy.

  6. I don't know that I ever would've regarded myself as a completist, but there was a time when I wanted to complete every "Flagship" set that existed. Those days are long gone, and I think the proliferation of these hits and short prints had a lot to do with that. Now it's just a matter of collecting what I like. Completing a set is a double-edged sword for me... If it's a set I love, that means that there aren't any more cards to get, and that's sad. It's somewhat offset by the fact that there's one fewer set for which I need to keep updated wantlists.

    One thing that's occurred to me about 1/1 cards... There are probably a fair number of these that are not on the market in the way most people think of it, but may be sitting in an unopened pack, box or case. The end result is the same.

    Great post!