Monday, January 14, 2008

Fear And Loathing In Hobby Shops

In the past few days there have been postings on a few different blogs about the state of our hobby. As best as I can tell, it started with Awesomely Bad Wax Packs and continued on at Wax Heaven.

When I ran across the first article, I tried to post comments, but due to a snafu, I was not able to. So instead, I e-mailed my thoughts and got very positive response back. I am still not able to leave comments, so I will say it here and expand on my original thoughts.

Let’s start at the beginning, at least for me. My introduction to major league baseball came from my family’s huge cabinet television. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch a few episodes of “Let’s Make A Deal” on the Game Show Network. You’ll see one eventually. I started catching White Sox games on a local low watt station, channel 44. I was five years old. I was more into all things John Belushi at the time. I still had no comprehension that he had died only a few months earlier, but that’s another story.

I liked what I saw enough to keep games on whenever I ran across them. My interest was growing slowly. It may have just been a passing fad, until my dad brought home a treat from the drugstore, sometime during the summer of 1983. He handed me my first wax pack, a 1983 Topps pack. There were these people I had seen on television and it seemed that everything they did was written on the back of their card. I liked the idea of that.

Long before I knew what a pricing guide was, I marked those cards on the back with black crayon. I ranked them with prices ranging from a penny to a dollar. Every card was under 50 cents, except one. An Alfredo Griffin card. I saw that card and I was instantly hooked on cards. It was something about his expression that made my six year old mind think that was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

At that point, I had no clue what a baseball card shop was. I got my cards at the drugstore or the grocery store. Some Walgreens employees would slip me cards from packs that other kids had opened because I went there for packs so often. There was also a local independent drugstore that had a huge candy aisle that had every card imaginable. All three companies were there and some of the oddball releases from those companies too.

After 1987, I let go of baseball card collecting and jumped onto comic books and other hobbies full time. It had to do with a few comic book shops moving within biking distance and within my set boundaries and a few lackluster teams that the Sox put together at that time. By 1990, I was hooked back in by the prospect of collecting only White Sox cards. That lasted about 20 seconds. I was back in full time.

During my second wave, baseball card shops had started to pop up around the area, even one in my local mall. I was exposed to a whole new array of choices. For the first time, I was able to choose cards I wanted, rather than buy packs and hope to get the cards I wanted or cards that I could trade. I always had a blast trading away my Cubs cards before, but this new avenue meant that I could keep all the cards to myself.

Still, at this time packs were still relatively cheap. I could stock up on Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Bowman and Score. If I was careful with my money, I could splurge on Upper Deck and Stadium Club. I could buy packs of cards anywhere. Grocery stores, drugstores, convenience stores, department stores, gas stations, card shops and toy stores. That truly felt like heaven.

In 1991, my grandfather slipped me $50 on a rare trip in from Texas. I went to one of the local card shops, the only one that I felt like I wouldn’t get ripped off in, and bought a box of 1991 Upper Deck. That was the highlight of the summer. In that box, I got the crown jewel of my collection at that point, the Michael Jordan White Sox card.

In 1992, the grocery stores stopped carrying baseball packs. I really missed begging the employees for the empty boxes just to get the cards that were on the bottom. That was one of my sly moments, or so I thought at the time. Other avenues started to dry up at that point too. The nice card shop moved to a different location that I couldn’t get to and the older shops packed up. The newer shops that came in were run by unsavory characters and I never went in their shops unless I was desperate.

In 1993, the price of packs skyrocketed. The local independent drugstore put all their packs behind glass and you couldn’t choose your pack. That took the fun out of it. Half the time, the employee with the key couldn’t be found right away. It was a huge hassle. The card shops all went away. I was stuck dealing with the drugstore.

In 1994, I was self loathing at the drugstore picking out a pack. There were cards I had never heard of and the prices went even higher than the last year. I’m still surprised when I run across cards in my collection from 1994, I don’t remember picking up more than three packs, but I must have picked up a couple more. I moved on to other interests in 1994. I was heavy into music and fell into tracking down rare CDs of my favorite artists.

I had moved on from cards at that point. I felt alone, betrayed and out-priced. A hobby that I had loved grew into something I did not recognize. The market was oversaturated and everyone claimed to have a premium card, so the price was huge. I had better things to do with my time and money, so I walked away. I felt like I made the right decision when the player strike cancelled the World Series and robbed me of the pleasure of possibly seeing a White Sox/Expos World Series.

Around 2004, I started to collect White Sox team sets off of eBay. It wasn’t until 2007, that I actually picked up a pack of cards. I bought the pack on a whim and liked what I saw. I think it was something from Topps. It was either a 2007 Series 1 or a 2007 Heritage. I found two shops that were within a few miles. Ironically, the one that turned out to be right down the block opened in 1994. If I had only known, I might’ve still been collecting. The one a few towns over has a slightly better selection and they’ve been in business forever, but the employees remind me of the unsavory card shops from the early 90’s.

I go to both shops, but I prefer to go to the one down the street. Tony is a wonderful guy and his shop is open 7 days a week. His store was the first I went to when I came back into the hobby in 2007. I’m glad that I went there. We talked about the hobby for at least a half hour and he gave me a great lesson as to what was happening since I’ve been gone. If I had money to burn, I’d burn it there first.

I’m still only collecting White Sox cards, with the rare exception of Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines cards from when they were on different teams. Those don’t have the same priority as White Sox cards for me though. The rest I trade off, give to my nephew or sell in my eBay store.

I agree that something needs to be done to hook kids into the hobby. If Donruss ever gets their license back, they might revive the Triple Play line. Those were dirt cheap and they taught kids the basics of the game along with trivia.

Cheaper packs and cards geared towards different levels of collecting and different age groups needs to have more of a presence. The Topps Opening Day line is a good start. A pack of that can be easily obtained for under a dollar before tax. That’s the only one it seems. The rest seem to be $3.00 or more. That’s not going to draw kids in, that’s going to repel them.

1 comment:

Bart McClaughry said...

I have been thinking of writing a story like this one.

Great job!!!!!!!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...