Monday, January 26, 2009

Get off my lawn!

I'm having lunch at a cafe across the street from a store called "N. Ohio Coins-Stamps-Sportscards." At least, that's what the sign says. It's closed at 2pm on a Monday, so chances are it is no longer in business. It's located in a white, rundown building attached to other rundown buildings in a rundown town. The street is Ohio Street, so the name of the store isn't very creative. Next to it is a store called "Winals CD Vault." The sign in the window says "Yes, we're open" but nobody has gone in since I started my turkey sandwich about a half hour ago.

CDs and sportscards, specifically baseball cards, were two staples in my life during what seems a lifetime ago, that being the good old university days. I never lost the thrill of opening a new pack of cards and hoping to see some Reds inside. There rarely seemed to be Reds, though. When there were, it was usually some guy who'd already been traded or the manager. (I bought a pack of Topps cards in 2007, I think it was, and who was there but Jerry Morron.)

Both CDs and baseball cards have been replaced with something else. In the case of the former, they have been replaced by better technology, which is nice because you don't have to lug around big boxes of CDs when you move, though because the business environment has also changed, you have fascists like iTunes who make you buy your own album again when your old computer dies with your music on it, and they think they're being nice by offering the songs that YOU ALREADY BOUGHT for only 30 cents instead of 99. So there's that. But hey, no big boxes, right?

What replaced baseball cards was not so good. I get an irrational sense of nostalgia when I think about how kids used to revel in the glory of the cardboard, collecting shoeboxes full of ballplayers, putting the cards in the spokes of their bicycles, and trading the cards with each other. A lot of things set the decline of card collecting in motion, the first being the insanity of the American collector mentality. Somehow, junk became treasure. Somebody's piece of garbage old bench became labeled "antique." People started buying up rusted old farm junk and putting it in their yards, often planting flowers around it. Morons started paying $200 to buy stuffed animals that cost $5.99 in a store. A whole industry sprung up so people could store their excessive flow of junk in separate garages because it wouldn't fit into their houses. And business jumped on this. Turn on the television and you'll see advertisements for "Barack Obama Commemorative Coins." They look like toys from a Happy Meal, but they are "commemorative" and come with "certificates of authenticity!" For only $10, you can buy three quarters! There's so much "collectible" junk out there that nothing is rare anymore. That's how the baseball card industry killed itself.

When I first started collecting baseball cards back in 1987, they were 50 cents a pack. Instead of my post-game Little League treat, I got a pack of Topps cards with the wooden borders. In 1989, the Upper Deck company was born, bringing in the era of "premium card." We all fell for it. We liked the shininess of the cards. The other companies jumped on the wagon, producing shiny cards they inserted into their regular card sets. Insert mania drove card prices through the roof and the price of a pack of cards rose as the number of cards you got shrunk. What kid could afford to buy ten cards for two bucks? At that rate, it'd cost you almost two hundred bucks to collect a set of Topps cards.

I stopped collecting in college, in part because I felt I was getting too old for baseball cards, but mostly because it got to be too expensive. Now kids don't buy baseball cards. They buy Pokemon cards instead, and the baseball card industry only has itself to blame for that.

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