Monday, June 1, 2009

If Beckett Falls

There have been rumors abound about Beckett's future. It may be true that Beckett may no longer be published. I can neither confirm or deny that, because I have yet to hear a definitive source on the subject.

Most "experts" think that Beckett's days are numbered. This has been argued on all sides. Would it be good for the hobby? Would another recognizable name gone from the industry hurt the hobby? I can see points on both sides.

While driving prices down to a more believable level, Beckett's publishing legacy is still something that holds some value to those outside the hobby. When I came back to the hobby in 2007, after an absence of thirteen years, one of the first things I picked up was an issue of Beckett. Why? It was familiar and I wanted a source I could trust.

After living in the world of baseball cards again for just over two years, I have found Beckett to be a shell of what it once was. It's just a price guide and half the time it can't be realistic about that. I used to pick up a Beckett every month. It wasn't for just the price guide. That was a bonus to me. A way I could keep track of the cards I had yet to pick up. I bought Beckett for the articles.

Becket used to have page after page of player profiles, new product reviews and articles about real obtainable cards. I would turn page after page soaking up each well researched article peppered with anecdotes and opinions. Back in the early nineties, Beckett wasn't the only magazine I purchased about baseball cards. I would pick up anything about cards. I even have a book chronicling each player's 1991 card through Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck. Many players had five cards shown. Others had one or two. Each page was in full color.

The magazine that I liked the best was Baseball Hobby News. I could lose myself for hours in each issue. The ads alone were worth the read. I would find out about every small time regional set through the ads. The real meat and potatoes were the articles. They were written by real collectors and featured some of the best researched stories I have ever come across. The articles were a labor of love and it came across that way.

I recently found the February 1991 issue tucked away inside a box, buried in a storage room that I'm converting into a shower for an existing half bath and a small kitchen with the leftover space. I lost an entire day looking through Baseball Hobby News. An entire day!

In this particular issue, there was a story on Mickey Mantle, before all the Topps love overkill. Articles on Upper Deck hockey, collecting activities that don't cost money, a 1991 Fleer overview, Cecil Fielder's probability of repeating his 50 home run performance, breeding happiness into the hobby and baseball anagrams.

Does that sound like a full magazine to you? That's only up to page 23. The magazine is 140 pages! Further articles that followed were about autograph seeking through the mail, complete with addresses, Lud Denny featured in the Santa Claus Pro Set card and the SuperPro card, American Leaguers whose cards are a good buy (they even picked Sammy Sosa), the NBA taking over card production, Anderson's Oakland A's sets of 1969 and 1970, Al Zarilla, more Mickey Mantle, rating the 1988 Donruss Rated Rookies, baseball card aesthetics, a hobbyist wronged by the justice system, a book review, a baseball card of the month (1970 Topps #98 - Gates Brown), a show calender, classified ads, letters and a price guide.

Why can't the hobby produce a magazine like this every month? If Beckett fails, I wouldn't be surprised if a publication like Baseball Hobby News eventually pops up again. The reasoning behind every advice article was sound and warned of the potential downside. It respected the hobby's past and presented the hobby's future. It was critical of anything that didn't seem right.

Maybe the best thing about Baseball Hobby News was its size. The color variation on Mickey's uniform was because the magazine was too big to fit on my scanner in one pass. I had to run the top and the bottom separately and piece them together with photo editing software. Now that's a magazine!


Jim said...

Great post. I too remember the glory days of Baseball Hobby News and the old Krause (?) Baseball Cards magazine. I miss those magazines and agree that today's Beckett doesn't have a fraction of the substance of the original hobby publications.

Rich said...

Most of the hobby writing has gone online now.

I hope you'll join us for your daily news fix!

Andy said...

The reasons published guides like that don't exist anymore is simple economics: they are too expensive to produce (both the journalism and the printing) and not enough people actually want it. Our society is moving more and more towards instant gratification. That's why people like blog...quick reads with fun pictures and videos. That's way better (to most people, it seems) than reading long articles, no matter how well-written they are.

Steve Gierman said...

I think one of the reasons why our society shied away from publications like that was because magazines like Beckett tried to take a shortcut.

It took meal sized information and turned it into a bite sized throwaway item. The focus became less on the cards themselves and more on the sham of card investing.

Beckett bloated the prices beyond a reasonable expectation and now wonders why the bottom is dropping out. With instant gratification comes an empty feeling that something wasn't earned. Beckett ushered in the culture of instant gratification in this hobby and we are now paying the price by having a box of cards worth more sealed than the sum of its parts in 99.9% of the hobby boxes sold.

Granted, the old school writing is popping up on the blogs. I've been here since 2007 and this is still in its infancy. The blogs are getting more organized and getting better at the posts, but it still hasn't reached the zenith of what the old magazines used to grab from the store.

I'm hoping that our community will eventually exceed those old issues of Baseball Hobby News and I see promising signs of that. Still, there's something about holding a magazine with that information that you still can't get on the internet.

If I can go to Borders and find a dozen magazines dedicated to beading, I should be able to find one that comes close to the old BHN. Sadly, that isn't the case.

Matthew Glidden said...

To be honest, I see the industry going the way of PunkRockPaint and WSC Vintage. Folks with design skills can crank out nice sets at the cost of their personal time and electricity. The best examples get passed around, blogged about, and stashed by Google. How long before Steve has to select a production company name?

Steve Gierman said...

Very interesting view. I could see that too, but I think there should always be a place for printed material.

The selection process may be sooner than I realize.

GOGOSOX60 said...

I bought SCD during the 70's, then bought every issue of The Barnings "Baseball Hobby News" and finally Becket during the 90's.

Hey, Beckett just followed the trend of the card industry during the over production landfill sets of the 80's and early 90's. There were so many sets, subsets and hot rookie cards that just fueled interest in reading a new Beckett every month.
We had to track the month to month movement of every Matt Nokes and Kevin Maas cards and Beckett was there to "push" that movement of cards.

The strike of 1994 killed baseball cards and that slow death with card companies has trickled to print journals including Becket and all their price guides. With the advent of EBAY you can now track live movement of every card wether new and old and can tell just how many hard to find short prints are out there just by how many show up on EBAY.
Beckett is already to slow at once a month as a print journal to track these movements. Maybe Beckett can survive only as a web presence, but that just makes them another "blogger"???

I love the debate though....!

Steve Gierman said...

I'm just afraid that with the frivolity of cyberspace sometimes, the essence of examining the finer aspects of cards will be lost. It has a great resurgence on our blogs, but you can't get the same feeling dragging a computer around from place to place as you can with something in print.

I can recall tracking Kevin Maas and Todd Van Poppel through Beckett and appreciating the complete card through Baseball Hobby News. Given the choice of sitting at a computer or lying on my bed thumbing through pages about baseball cards, I'll almost always choose the magazine as my first option.

The only things missing from the magazine option are the posts from the great people of this blogging community and the magazine itself.

GOGOSOX60 said...

Funny thing I still have alot of old SCD's, Baseball Hobby News and 80's and 90's Becketts and still like to re-read them, just to gauge what what the mind set was like again all those years ago.
Some are still good references on old cards, players and sets too.

I saved all those Topps Magazine from the early 90's. I would buy new mags from Topps again,as long as they have great information on old and new Topps issues etc.!

Are the Sox really down 5 to zip in bottom of 7th?

Steve Gierman said...

I remember Topps Magazine. I used to pick them up for the cards.

Yes, they haven't been executing tonight.

Anonymous said...

Beckett hasn't been Beckett since Beckett was involved in Beckett.

If it fails, oh well. I haven't even looked at a Beckett print mag in months. (I was going to say years, but occasionally I pass the mag rack at Wally World and flip through a few pages).

I have, however, made extensive use of their online checklists. I hope these will continue even if the print publication goes by the wayside.

Steve Gierman said...

The online checklists seem to be Beckett's only saving grace.

Frank Barning said...

Thank you for remembering us. I have a new blog mostly having to do with the hobby and baseball.

Frank Barning

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