By Michael Barton aka MonticelloCards

Please allow me a few moments of your time, as there are a number of different subjects I would like to discuss that – as a 25+ year collector – have been weighing heavily on my mind as I look into the future of this great hobby that I love.As a player collector, specifically of Dustin Keller, I have been able to amass quite a nice little collection of his cards within a relatively short period of time. Recently, I was looking at my bounty so far, and I noticed a trend within all of the rookie year jersey cards that was disturbing – the sheer proliferation of event worn jersey cards that make their way into products. So I began to search the internet looking for some answers.

For years, ever since these event-worn jerseys began to make appearances within card products, I wondered if they each wore one for each trading card company, in an effort to make things fair to all of the companies involved in the production of football cards. An article by Peter Yoon, who attended the 2010 NFL Rookie Photo Shoot in Santa Monica, CA, shed a small light on the subject. I specifically point to this sentence within the article, “For Topps, the players had to put on and take off four or five jerseys so the company could market them as “worn” by the player.” Based on that sentence, one really has to wonder about a number of things. I try to stay positive, but, based on this, one has to imagine a table full of rookies putting on and taking off 15 to 20 jerseys (at a bare minimum), something that I find completely ludicrous!

Now, I wouldn’t mind if these event-worn cards were relegated to lower price point products. This hobby has long since needed an infusion of younger collectors into the marketplace, and I am sure someone who has just started collecting sports cards would enjoy pulling the single color, player event-worn swatch. But as I sit here and I look at the back of my 2008 Exquisite Collection Dustin Keller Patch Autograph Rookie, a card that comes out of a (suggested) $500 per pack product, this piece of jersey, which is a generous swatch, also happens to be event-worn. Now, while yes, I understand that there happen to be a number of other wonderful cards collectors have a chance to pull who are willing to take that risk, I almost find it irresponsible on the part of the manufacturers to use these swatches in the highest of the high end. Upper Deck is not alone in this practice, although they have had (until they lost the Football license) the highest price per pack of a product that does this. For instance, I recently spotted a Topps Triple Threads Mickey Mantle Relic Card that featured pieces of a jersey that appeared as if it were produced after the man passed away! I mean, the bright blue pinstripe on the brand new white swatch of jersey embedded in this card (see photo) instantly made me question the credibility of these game used cards. What really took the cake, in my eyes, is the swatch from a Jorge Posada jersey (which is embedded right next to this Mantle piece), and perhaps my eyesight is starting to go, but I simply cannot tell the difference between the two! There are so many more examples of “cards gone wrong” in this hobby nowadays (can anyone say manufactured patches?), so what exactly happens from here? What is the future of this hobby? I have been pondering this question for quite some time.

As with anything in life, lessons can first be learned from the past, but the companies that produce trading cards need to understand that concept first and foremost. After all, this was supposed to be the year of Stephen Strasburg saving the baseball card market. And if Topps listens, he may still do just that, although not in the way originally intended. Mr. Strasburg became the hottest player on the planet before an injury curtailed his 2010 (and likely his 2011) season. Earlier this year, 2010 Bowman Baseball hit the shelves and it quickly rose in value thanks mainly to Strasburg, but also because the product was produced as any other, and supply and demand dictated a rise in price. Topps takes a good situation and thinks it is 1988 all over again, and instead of riding the momentum over the course of the remainder of this year, goes Stras-crazy and turns this good situation stale with mass overproduction of one of its flagship brands each year, Bowman Chrome.

As an added insult to the collector, Strasburg cards are produced in an odd manner, being purposely short printed, something I have never seen before within any successful Bowman Chrome product. While the product could likely recover in the following years as prospects other than Strasburg make statements in the Major Leagues, box prices dropped to amazingly low levels, and the feel good story of 2010 turned into sour grapes with wholesalers across the country,having taken an absolute beating on this product. If Topps is paying attention, and wants to be a viable company for the next 75 years, the lesson can be learned right here – when you are given a golden goose, don’t try to inject it with human growth hormone so that it will artificially produce golden eggs, because the goose will not survive long enough to produce anything in the end.

We have lost an entire generation due to get quick rich schemes by the manufacturers. Instead of building upon what works, and incorporating it into a season’s worth of releases, companies all too often jump the gun thinking immediate returns, not long term gains. People left in droves after the great card mass production race of the late 80s, early 90s. Instead of learning from past mistakes, they have been repeated time and time again. The key to the future doesn’t lie within our hands as collectors. It must start at the production level. When a company stumbles upon something like Topps did with its Heritage brand in 2001, the answer was not to produce 15 similar variations of the same concept. The answer was to continue the brand as they have done, but without introducing an update series, a chrome series, a super chrome series, a TV show based on the series, etc. (Okay, I made that last part up). When collectors perceive something is being overdone, we grow tired of it. Be creative! The same thing happened with the over production of game used cards. I can recall when pulling any kind of swatch of jersey got collector’s excited! But, much like everything else that is successful within the hobby, it was done to death, and people no longer covet these cards as we once did.

With each new calendar year, much like each new sports season, there are possibilities to start affecting change within the hobby that will ensure it’s long term viability from the manufacturers to the collectors. And the next time you find a golden goose, care after it so it may produce golden eggs for not only my generation, but the ones that follow.