Card show today. Card show today. So excited.
That was the reaction I had to card shows as a kid. There were regular sports card shows at the El Con Mall in Tucson from my age 8 until I was about 12. I loved them. They were big shows by midsize city standards, with about 15-20 tables and plenty of oppotunities to buy packs and singles. I generally had about $20 to spend at shows as a kid, and most of that was spent on packs. None of this is particularly interesting to any audience but it sets up two things. The first is that the communal experience and the build up to shows is what fed my love for sports cards. It is those memories, primarily, that fuel my collecting to this day. The second, is that it stands in stark contrast to the lame state of card shows today.
I went to a card show with my dad today. I’ve always collected with my dad, so we still make it a habit to go to card shows when they are in town. There are currently semi-regular card shows at the mall that is really far from my house. These happen about 6 times a year and generally consist of about 6 tables. Most of the tables are selling lower end autograph and relic singles and one table sells boxes. No packs to speak of, which is a bummer, because I still love to buy random assortments of packs (which is my usual card shop fare). I believe me and my dad are the only regular attendees of this semi-regular event and the sellers now lick their chops when they see us. How else would they unload their Nick Swisher relics and Ian Desmond autographs?
Today saw the arrival of some new sellers. Excitement ensued. Then died. They were selling vintage commons and semi-stars and an unholy amount of “in-person” autographs. As an aside, I do like vintage cards…theoretically. There are some fantastic designs (1956 Topps, 1961 Topps for instance) and a lot of history. But the only cards I really want (Mantle, Clemente, Mays) are out of my price range, so I usually find myself admiring them then moving on. I turned my attention to the tried and true guys, who I will refer to lovingly as “nice asian guy,” “fatty mcslob,” “long hair,” “nothing less than book,” and “the mogul.” The mogul runs the show and sells the boxes, he is also and huge pain in the ass, more on that later, and got his nickname because his attitude reminds me of Dave Hester from Storage Wars.
Nice Asian Guy is always my go-to. He has a decent assortment of $3 autos and relics and will negotiate on some of his higher-end stuff. Also, he is nice. I mention this because some card guys, like comic book guys, can be a little hostile about their hobby, more on that later. Nice Asian Guy didn’t disappoint, I picked up a 2010 Allen & Ginter Jeff Samardzija Relic (a guy I’m high on because of his apparent skill and his fortunate team association, Cubs fans will spend on their guys) and a 2012 Topps Museum Collection Alexi Ogando autograph (same reasons as Samardzija) for $5 total. I’ll hold on to these for a while, the hobby upside on both guys is high. Pops also picked up a Nick Swisher relic from Nice Asian Guy for three bucks. This is the second show in a row that he has purchased a Swisher relic. I think Chris Olds at Beckett has some competition in the Swisher fandom department.
Fatty McSlob and Long Hair are usually busts and this show was no different. Their inventory generally consists of late 80’s and early 90’s packs, along with team sets, and miscellaneous brick-a-brack like pennants. These guys are for the casual collectors, not for seasoned collectors like myself (dismounts horse). Nothing Less Than Book never sells anything for less than book value. He has nice stuff, including the Bowman Albert Pujols rookie that I’ve been hunting for a good price. But I never buy anything from him, because buying stuff for book value is not a good strategy. At the last show he offered to trade, but I think he might be setting me up for one of those situations, as Mike Birbiglia described, where I end with less cards worth less money than when I started. There is another dealer who is usually present, but noticeably absent this time, her name is “nerdy lady.” Nerdy Lady sells cards and also Russian Nesting Dolls. She usually has some good foot traffic for the dolls, but not for the cards. Like Nice Asian Guy, Nerdy Lady has a good assortment of $3.00 autos and relics. Sometime last year I got a Matt Cain auto for $3 from her that I turned around for a nice profit after his perfect game. Who’s the mogul now?
Speaking of The Mogul, he is usually who gets most of my moneys. He sells boxes at the show and has a monopoly on that. He’s usually about $20 higher on the boxes than you can get on-line, but I can usually negotiate down about $15, so his prices end up nearly reasonable. Notably, today he was selling a box of Topps Mini, see previous post, for $95. This product is available, currently, on the Topps website for $50 a box. That is ridiculous markup and I hate seeing people prey on the ignorant. Shit like that is why people have such a hard time getting into the hobby. He was also selling Topps Archive boxes for $99, which is almost $30 more than they go on-line, lame. He sells singles for about half book price, which, to his credit, is fair.
I spent the bulk of my time today at the mogul’s table. I bought six singles and a box from him. The singles: 2007 SP Legendary cuts Paul O’Neill jersey card for $3 (I’ve always wanted more O’Neill memorabilia, he was one of my favority Yankees growing up and a woefully under-appreciated by the baseball loving community), two 2009 Bowman World Baseball Classic gold Aroldis Chapman cards for $4 each, a 2001 Upper Deck Vintage Ichiro rookie card (very nice retro design) for $4, a 2005 Bowman Heritage Adrew McCutchen rookie card for $3, and 2005 Bowman Heritage Mahogany Andrew McCutchen for $3. McCutchen is a beast, but you already knew that. Odds that he plays his whole career with the Pirates? 1000:1? 10000:1? A million to one.
Now to the box. The f***ing box. I decided that I wanted to make my first foray into the world of high-end cards today. For reference I’ve never spent more than $20 on a single pack of cards. I noticed that The Mogul had a box of 2011 Topps Tier One for $95. I felt like this would be the right product to initiate myself into this world of caviar and champagne. As usual, I refused to pay The Mogul’s full price for the box, knowing full well that it is $20 than on-line price. So I offer The Mogul’s assitant $100 for my six singles ($21 total) and the box. The assistant is not permitted to make this deal, appartently. He finds The Mogul and conveys my offer. The mogul inspects my six singles, twice, then references his price sheet. Then a man walks up and asks The Mogul if he has any Peyton Manning cards. The Mogul puts down my box and singles and begins helping the man find Peyton Manning cards. Now, in general, Peyton Manning cards, with the exception of autos, are under $10 affairs, so at best the mogul stands to make $10-$20 off the new guy. I still have a $100 offer on the table. (Gets back on horse) You’d think he’d prioritize me? Nope. (Dismounts). He spends a full five minutes helping this guy sort through the Colts cards. It’s worth noting that he is not particularly nice to new guy, so this is not one of those situations where he is an ambassador for the hobby, he is actually a bit annoyed to be taking on the task. I look at the assistant, he looks back uncomfortably. Finally the assistant clears his throat and reminds The Mogul about me. The Mogul is annoyed. This is weird, but reminds me again why “card guys” are not helping to expand the hobby. We need to band together for civility, or something. The Mogul looks at my singles two more times, says something to the assistant, who then comes over and says “how about $105.” To which I respond, “he just made me wait 5 minutes and now he wants five extra dollars?” Assistant goes back to The Mogul and returns to accept my original offer. /End Rant.
Excitedly, pops and I return to my house. I extract the single pack from the double box. I slowly tear into it. Mel Ott. Justin Upton. Ozzie Smith. Umm…Adam Lind autograph. This has to get better. WTF…Brad Hand autograph. Who the hell is Brad Hand. No one knows who Brad Hand is. Why is his autograph in a high-end product. Nooooooooooooooooo. Roberto Alomar relic. Joe Morgan blue parallel. Book value of my $80 pack, $35. Expected realized value, when I try to resell this awful haul that I never want to think about again, $15. Go to hell Topps. Adam Lind, I can accept that, he seemed like he might have a nice career at a time. Robbie Alomar is a hall of famer. But Brad Hand. In a high-end product. Go to hell. This is not right. He wasn’t even a true prospect. The cards themselves are printed on thick stock and have a simple, pleasing design. The autographs are on-card and the relic is neither big nor small. I just wish the players on the cards were as nice. Product Design 4/5. My Box -1000000/5.
I’m sticking to mid and low-end stuff. At least when I get Brad Hand in those packs I didn’t spend $80 on it. BTW, to all those people who consistently pull 1/1 and Ty Cobb cut autos and all that stuff. Go to hell. Just kidding, I’m not a hater. But please, start telling me where you’re buying your boxes, because it’s certainly not at the Tucson card show.