Klein’s Korner: Baseball Cards’ Banner Year – For many collectors 2017 was the best of times. For many collectors 2017 was the worst of times. While this is a terrible way to copy Charles Dickens, who could actually write, truer words were never spoken. And why was 2017 such a bizarre year for the hobby. The reason is simple, prices for most unopened baseball product exploded upon release and never came close after a day or so to even the original suggested retail price. Although this proved to be a boom for retailers, some collectors were shut-out economically.
The good news was 2017 was full of exciting rookies who set records or had really nice seasons. If you are reading this column you are no doubt aware of Aaron Judge and his 50 plus homers as a Yankees rookie or Cody Bellinger setting the National League rookie home run record. In addition, solid rookie seasons from players such as Andrew Benintendi or Trey Mancini and other young players I’m sure I missed. To be frank; this type of explosion was what the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Properties and the card companies all wanted when they totally revamped the rookie card rules way back in 2006. The memories of 2001 and Ichiro and Albert Pujols were still fresh in everyone’s minds and just about everyone wanted a replay of 2001 where the mere mention of those two players could send a product into orbit.
Fast forward more than a decade and we see when you have a good rookie crop, the same interest and explosion can still occur. This interest spikes up the market and on an overall level can only help us in the hobby.
But, there is a downside to all this. The downside is when the new products explode out of the gate, there becomes almost nothing affordable for the average collector. The last time I was in Triple Cards (Plano, Texas) we were discussing the hobby and he was mentioning how great it was to have collectors spending $40-50 per week very steadily. I’m going to raise that amount slightly to $50-60 per week which allows many customers to purchase a reasonably priced box every week. I remember stopping in about two days after Topps Heritage was released and the owner had the box priced at the standard $74.25 per. I figured that’s nice, I’ll pick up one next week and bust that since Heritage is my favorite product by far. The next time I looked up, he was sold out of Heritage and the boxes were (gasp!) $130 at the shows. Yep, the price had nearly doubled upon release. I mention Heritage but that’s not the only box which never softened. I remember when I was chatting with Dave Sliepka (formerly the Beckett Baseball Magazine Editor) about Topps Series 2 Baseball and said that has to be a $45-50 box because there was no there, there.
Well again, I was wrong as Series 2 never came down in price and sold out locally at levels far above any price I would have suspected. I know if I’m frustrated at box prices, there may be more casual collectors who just see those prices and move on.
This did create several interesting dilemmas for the two local stores I frequent. Triple Cards chose to just not stock boxes when they surpassed certain prices while Nick’s chose to have those boxes in stock at the higher prices. In fact, my August show was on the 12th and because that was the day of Topps’ promotion, when I walked in after my show, there was nary a 2017 baseball box in the store and very few boxes of earlier years.
To me, this was a situation where neither decision was incorrect and each store owner was basically catering to their clientele. The owner of Nick’s told me: “Look, 99 percent of the people who come in for the higher priced boxes have their phones out to compare to prices to the leading internet dealers. I know those prices and as long as I am competitive, I’m happy having a fuller selection for my customers.”
Happily, at least for me, this story has a reasonably happy ending. In the past month I have been able to purchase three boxes at reasonable prices (Topps Update, Topps Heritage Minors and Topps Heritage High Numbers) and there was a pleasure in opening some new 2017 issues. With the baseball season ending, we can only wait to see if 2018 will bring us another group of exciting baseball card rookies or if we will have a more normal year. As for me, I’m hoping that we all have another winning year and I can purchase a 2018 Heritage box at a reasonable price point.
Rich’s vast experience and knowledge of the hobby has been well documented through the years. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Klein’s Korner. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.