Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Baseball Card Collecting in the Age of the Coronavirus

So I picked up my first bag of 2020 Calbee chips yesterday.  Normally this is my favorite time of the year: the first bags of Calbee chips signify the start of spring and the new baseball season.

This year.....yeah, they are coming out in the middle of a global pandemic that is screwing the world over in ways we couldn't have imagined just a couple months back.  So its a bit of a downer this year.

But life goes on and I am quite lucky that I'm safe and healthy and haven't lost my job (knock on wood).  

I've been thinking a bit about how this pandemic is going to affect the hobby.  It could be either beneficial or disastrous for it, or a bit of both depending on your perspective.  

On the one hand, a lot of people are  under some form of lockdown and most of those who aren't are (I hope) at least doing their best to maintain social distance from others.  Fortunately neither of these are incompatible with our hobby.  Its not like competitive arm wrestling where we really have to stop what we are doing right now.  In fact, people having a lot of time at home is a positive boon to hobbies like ours since "time alone to sort cards" is an essential element of it.  

There is of course also a social element to it, but that doesn't necessarily require being in the same room with people.

So the hobby is good to go.

But then there is the other thing.  The scary virus and the chaos that it is raining down on the global economy and shutting down businesses left right and center.  

This is either going to expose our hobby's Achilles Heel and destroy it, or it is going to save it from the problems that currently plague it and make it even better than before (once the big scary virus has passed, of course).

Cards cost money.  People are going to have way less of that this summer than they did last.  People are losing jobs or having hours cut, and their retirement funds are being decimated by the stock market collapse.  Cards are also not toilet paper that people will irrationally throw what money the have remaining at because, apparently, in times of crisis we quite literally prioritize our own asses above everything else.

So a lot of collectors aren't going to have money to spend in the near future, which will likely lead to a sharp drop in demand.  At the same time, people are going to need more cash and those who have collections are going to be very tempted (or perhaps forced) to sell them, which may lead to an increase in supply.  If this happens I don't see any way that such a situation will not lead to a drastic decline in card values.  

From my own perspective, I'm putting a halt to all card purchases over 1000 Yen (about 8$) for the foreseeable future.  I'm by no means a big spender, but I do tend to buy cards in lots that usually sell for more than that, so this means I'll be doing way less card shopping.  And, like I said, I still have a job and am not in dire straits right now.  But the uncertainty surrounding all of this and the possibility that I might end up in that situation down the road is forcing me to re-arrange priorities rapidly, with card spending going way to the bottom of the list.  I suspect a lot of people are in the same boat right now.

If I'm right on that it means the hobby is going to be starved of cash in the very near future, something likely exacerbated by the fact that the baseball seasons (both MLB and NPB) are likely to be cancelled, which can only further dampen interest.

Is this a bad thing though?  I mean, if you've got a lot of money invested in cards then yeah I guess it would look like a really bad thing.  I wouldn't put myself in that category, but I do have a few valuable cards around that I'm realizing are probably going to be worth a fraction of what they are worth now in a few months.  And that is kind of a bummer.  And if you make a living selling cards this has to be extremely worrying and I really have a lot of sympathy for those who do right now.

But one could also argue, and a lot of people have been arguing for years, that the money has ruined the hobby in so many ways that scaring it off isn't a bad idea.

Card trimmers no longer able to make a living out of scamming people?  Nobody caring about the difference between a PSA 9 and a PSA 10 anymore?  Maybe even PSA going bankrupt?  The schadenfreude associated with seeing millionaires selling off their vanity collections and only getting a fraction of what they paid for them?  There are definitely a lot of people out there who would welcome these types of things.

This isn't necessarily to say those would be entirely good outcomes.  Nobody would miss the card trimmers, but they are really only a few bad eggs out there and a lot of good people would be hurt in the process.  And PSA for all its faults (of which there are many) also has a useful function to play.  

We are in interesting times now and nobody has a crystal ball that allows them to see into the future, but I haven't seen any convincing arguments put forth to tell me that card values aren't about to collapse, barring some miracle cure coming around soon.  The only ones I've seen are those on Net54 watching current auction prices which don't seem to have been affected yet.  Which is interesting, but it only tells us where the hobby is at now, not where it is going to be at when the macro economic consequences of this crisis start hitting home in the next couple of months.

Anyway....oh shit, look at that.  This was supposed to be a post about my new bag of Calbee potato chips cards but it got sidetracked a bit there into a big discussion about the Coronavirus.  Anyway, returning to my bag of potato chip cards, I got these two
So basically the 2020 Calbee baseball cards look exactly the same as every set they've issued for the past twenty years, no surprises.  The card on the right is from a "The Record" subset and thus deviates from the stupid Calbee photography rules by giving us a picture of Seichi Uchikawa fielding rather than batting.  Looking at the regular card of Hisayoshi Chono on the left though it seems like the stupid rules are still in effect for them!

I might actually try to buy a few bags of these this year and return to the simple roots of collecting a set pack by pack.


  1. Looking at the complete set of Calbees over at Jambalaya I think they did a tad better than normal on the photo selection. Even some of the "pitchers pitching, batters batting" shots are a little more interesting than usual.

  2. I'm certainly the sort of person who would be happy to snipe off some bargains if prices drop (fortunately I was already working from home, and my job is relatively secure), and I do think there's a decent argument that prices on many recent items were too high. But I'd hate to see good dealers going out of business and a lot of struggling in the hobby.

    1. Yeah, I definitely don't want the good dealers to be harmed by this and I expect they'll be needing every bit of business they can get to tide them through this. A lot of stuff has been way too high lately and maybe a price correction was on its way anyway, but I hope it doesn't turn into a complete collapse.

  3. It didn't take this virus to make me cut back on my spending. Paying sales tax on COMC and eBay limit the number of bargains to be found. It will be interesting to see how this pandemic impacts our hobby though.

    1. Oh yeah, that sucks. Actually in Japan too sales tax has started to be added to some things on yahoo Auctions, which wasn't the case until recently. Basically if the seller runs a registered business they have to charge tax, but if its just a regular person selling some of their personal stuff they don't.

      That wasn't enough to change my spending habits, but worries about where this virus is going and what effect it will have on the economy is!

  4. I've been selling unwanted stuff on eBay for a while now, and at least from my recent experience, sales have been up, but it may change, or not. I think it's going to depend on how long all of this lasts, if it's only a couple of months, I don't see card values taking much of a hit, but if it's longer...

    1. That is good to know. I started a little sales thread on a video game forum at the end of February to get rid of some stuff and it was weird, for about a week sales were like normal (I've been running these sales for almost 10 years), then in early March suddenly sales just collapsed completely, people who had asked for stuff a few days earlier suddenly backed out and nobody else was placing orders, which has never happened.

      A lot of my customers on there are in Europe and the drop off coincided exactly with the pandemic exploding in Italy, which I think spooked everyone there. Now that its happening in the US too I think its likely to follow a similar path unfortunately. Hopefully it doesn't last long.

  5. I really wish that they would do Sumo Cards like days of old. I’ve not sold on eBay in a long long time. Seems like profit margins have slowly decreased there for me. Moderns sports cards are due for a collapse...they have been artificially inflated for a while now.

    1. Yeah, I wish they'd do Calbee Sumo chips (or maybe some other kind of snack), it would give me something else to buy!

      I don't follow Ebay or modern cards enough to know whats happening with them but wouldn't be surprised if they do go down!

  6. I don't know what it would be for the hobby to be destroyed. The hobby pre-dated PSA, it pre-dated cardsavers, and so on. There's a lot of infrastructure (for lack of a better word) that surrounds the hobby now that I wouldn't miss, and the hobby would survive just fine. Maybe the hobby would be destroyed if people stopped collecting baseball cards, but I imagine the only thing that could cause that would be people stopping being interested in baseball.

    As for card prices: I suspect that the effect on card prices will not be uniform. If I had to guess, I'd say that the really high-end stuff will be fine. If you're dropping five figures on a card, I assume that you've got substantial investments that are properly diversified, and that even if you lose your job, you'll be okay. People like you and me don't pay five figures for a card even when we've got the cash for it. (At least, I don't.) But cards that cost tens or hundreds of dollars are purchased by people whose positions, even if not precarious, are much less secure. And so I expect prices on those cards to tank.

    "Cards are also not toilet paper"

    ...except for '88 Donruss.

    1. Those are good points. I tend to agree that the higher end stuff won`t come down (or, if it does, it will be the last stuff to come down) while the stuff that those of us on modest budgets collect will be the first to decrease. A lot of it of course depends on variables that we just don`t know right now, like how long the economic disruption caused by the virus will last.

      And yeah, maybe its usefulness as a toilet paper substitute will see the market for 88 Donruss rise for the first time in 30 years.....