Friday, May 23, 2014

Stuff I Hate Part 1: Memorabelia cards

I thought I would start this post with a proposition: memorabelia cards are horrible, horrible things.

The rest of this post will be me elucidating why I make this proposition.

I should start by acknowledging that some memorabelia cards are OK in my book.  If they want to cut up a Derek Jeter bat to put in a card then I don`t really have a problem with that.  Since an active player could in theory bring a new bat into a game at every plate appearance he makes, you basically have a nearly inexhaustible supply of game-used bats for that player to "make" provided he plays a full season.  Giving him a bat to use in one at-bat and then cutting it up to put in cards doesn`t really strike me as being wrong.

The inevitably horrible logic of the hobby collective however almost always demands that reasonable ideas be dogmatically taken to extremes which produce disastrous results, and memorabelia cards are no exception.  I take the monstrosity that appears at the top of this post: a Babe Ruth bat card.

A bat used by Babe Ruth in an actual game is a historically important, aesthetically pleasing thing.  I`m sure there are a fair number of them out there since he had a long career, but there is this little thing called "historical preservation" which suggests that historically important things with value should be protected.  In other words, a given generation shouldn't view itself as the owner of a historical legacy - with the absolute right to acquire, possess, dispose of or even destroy whatever they have legal title to - but rather as the current holder of that legacy with a duty owed to future generations to hand it down in more or less as good a condition as it was when we received it.

Turning said historical legacy into little woodchips to hand down to those future generations I would argue constitutes a flagrant breach of that duty, even if we do go to the trouble of enclosing them in colorful little cards that cost 2 cents to produce.

I am, perhaps, stating the obvious, but lets think about the economic logic at work here and the question of what this generation of baseball hobbyists are leaving to future generations.  The only reason these bats and other things are being sliced up is so they will fit into a pack of cards and drive sales of those packs.  Their economic value as a driver of pack sales was calculated as being worth more to Topps (Upper Deck, etc) than its value as a bat, hence it was cut up.

The problem with that is once all those packs are sold, that added economic value evaporates and we are left with a bunch of woodchips in ugly cards that nobody can "chase" anymore.

I`m pretty sure that these cards will mostly be worthless, or only worth a nominal amount, in a few years.  Right now the Babe Ruth bat card at the top of this post has a BIN price of $150 on Ebay.  It is not going to be worth that much 10 years from now (if its even worth that much now).

I have a few reasons for stating as much, but the main one has to do wtih the short term thinking involved.  Cards with memorabelia in them were a big novelty when they first came out in much the same way that say 1991 Donruss Elite were a big novelty when they came out. The value of stuff like this at a given point in time is entirely dependent on the logic which drives the market at that point in history.  When something is novel and people are chasing it in packs because they are perceived to be valued and/or hard to get items, the value will be high.  Once that novelty wears off and people are no longer chasing the packs, the longer term value will depend on the inherent ability of the item to attract sufficient interest from future collectors.  1991 Donruss Elite were massively valuable in 1991, but today are pretty cheap for that reason' they just aren't as appealing to collectors in 2014 as they were to collectors in 1991.

The novelty of memorabelia cards has probably started to wear off by now and I think fundamentally these are just massively unattractive things when compared to, say, an actual bat or jersey.  Our generation of collectors inherited a certain number of bats that were once held by the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Ted Williams.  We are handing down to future generations woodchips placed in cards that, 20 years from now, will look hopelessly tacky and undesirable.  It doesn`t speak well to the character of the collective hobby that we have allowed this to happen.

You can add to that the fact that all we have to go on is the word of a card company which may no longer exist a few years from now that they actually had a real Babe Ruth bat that they cut up to put in those cards.  I'm sure Topps did in some verifiable way purchase a bat that was purported to be a real Babe Ruth bat, but the fact is all we have is a bunch of wood chips to go on if we ever want to independently verify the authenticity of it.  Forged bats and other memorabelia exist throughout the hobby and without the bat to actually examine, we can never know if it was real or not.  Verifying the authenticity of wood chips is pretty much impossible (not to mention pointless, all we have is a worthless bunch of woodchips after all).

And don't get me started on what Upper Deck did to that civil war flag.  The only other wanton, deliberate destuction of a valued historical artifact which I can compare that to is the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan back in 2001.  No kidding - the card industry is so out of whack on this that I am actually drawing a reasoned (if somewhat inflammatory) parrallel between their behaviour and that of one of the most evil, backwards organizations in modern history.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gets: Willie Davis Yamakatsu Card!

I got really lucky on Yahoo Auctions last week, winning an uncontested auction for this beautiful Willie Davis Yamakatsu card for just 300 yen (plus 82 yen shipping)!

I have been wanting a Japanese Willie Davis card for a long time and this one is perfect.  The photograph is fantastic, with a wonderful balance of color and Willie in action with the now defunct Crown Fighter Lions.  Actually, I have been to the exact location where this photo would have been taken, the site of Fukuoka`s old baseball stadium.  It was torn down in the 1990s when they opened the Fukuoka (now Yahoo) Dome, but the site (which is actually within the walls of Fukuoka castle) remains vacant as they do some archeological research on it.

Anyway, Willie Davis is probably one of the best former MLB players to have played in Japan.  Not quite a hall of famer, but  along with Reggie Smith, Clete Boyer and Andrew Jones he is one of those solid Hall of Very-Gooders who have graced these shores with his bat. Robert Whiting devotes a fair bit of space in You Gotta Have Wa to him, mostly focusing on the cross-cultural havoc he wreaked on the Dragons during his first year in Japan.

I say I was really lucky to get this for 300 yen because the other copy of it I found when looking for his cards was this one, the exact same card, going for 18,000 yen.  Mine is about in vg condition with some corner wear, but the discrepancy in price is pretty incredible.  Not sure if that is the market value of this card or that guy is just trying to sucker someone, but anyway, I`m really glad to have added this to my collection. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Giants Team Issued Cards

 I came into work the other day and found the above pile of baseball cards lying on my desk with a note from one of my co-workers.

These are team issued cards produced by the Giants last year.  They were given out as a promotion at games, each card has the date and name of the opponent they were playing on the day the card was given out:
I have a pile of 10 of them, not quite the whole set.  The interesting thing about these is perhaps less the cards themselves than where I got them.  The co-worker who gave them to me is actually the wife of a former Giants pitcher who still works for the team.  He played for them for two seasons in the late 80s (he also pitched for the ni gun team for a few years) and, as a career highlight, struck out Randy Bass at one point. 

According to my co-worker, the Giants had more cards than they needed and somehow they all ended up on his desk, so he gave her a few to give to me.  Which is pretty cool - cards right from the source!

Monday, May 5, 2014

In the Photo Studio (Seibu Lions Dugout) with: Hisanobu Watanabe

 Alright Watanabe, give us a smile.  Great, that is a money shot!!  OK now show us something a bit more serious, your best guts pose.  3....2....1...and GO!
Uhm.....not quite.  What?  Oh you were just kidding! Good one, Watanabe, ha.

OK, serious this time, these pictures are going to go on your official Calbee baseball cards.  So lets see that Yamato Damashii!


Seriously, I have 3 other Seibu Lions players to photograph for this set and then like 70 Kyojin players to do.  The next photo is going to be the one on your card.  You can give me that New Kids on the Block-Audition-Glossy look or you can give me a look that tells everyone you are a serious player who inspires terror in opponents on the field. Whatever.  Its going on the card.  3...2...1....

OK we`re done here.