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.

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