Posted by Administrator On March - 13 - 2011

Does it bother the folks at Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association that their partners in the baseball card business are busy cashing in on players who are no longer in the game, and in many cases, are long dead?

We keep reading and hearing how today’s kids are not as into cards as their fathers were when they were young in the 60’s, 70′, and 80’s. Could part of the problem be that so many of the card sets produced in the first decade of the 21st century are loaded with players from the past? Players who have little, or no, intimate connection to the kids in 2011.

Case in point – Mickey Mantle.  Arguably the most popular player among collectors in the second half of the 20th century. New York Yankee from the Golden Era. Hall of Famer. Fan favorite. Prolific autograph signer. Probably the first true superstar to embrace the hobby of collecting cards and memorabilia.

Mickey Mantle retired as a player in the spring of 1969 and died in 1995.  But, if you look at his baseball card production, you’d have no idea.

A quick visit to indicates that over 11,000 different card-related products of Mantle have been created since 1969.  10,000 of them came on the market since 2001; many of them “1 of 1’s” and other low print runs.  That’s a staggering number, and largely from one company, Topps, which has had an exclusive arrangement with the Mantle estate for well over a decade.

And, it’s not just Mantle.  The list is endless.  Take Cal Ripken, Jr.  He’s another one of the hobby’s favorites. He hasn’t set foot on the diamond as a player since the fall of 2001. puts the total number of different Ripken cards, stickers, coins, etc. at somewhere in the 12,650 range, and very likely, still growing. In 1982, Cal’s first full Major League season, 7 cards were produced. Seven… ! Total! In 2010, I counted 235.  And, this is nine years after he retired. In Cal’s first ten years in the majors, less than 500 were made. And off that 12,650 number I mentioned a few sentences ago, over 8,000 have been manufactured and sold since Cal retired.  Many of them are basically the same card picture with different color graphics, or a variant with a serial number and a jersey or bat relic or autograph, or all the above. Don’t you think that longtime Ripken collectors have had enough? When do they get to retire?

Seriously folks, how much is too much?

All of this, of course, is magnified by an era of more total card sets, but fewer different individual player cards in each set. Gone are the days of the massive 700-plus card sets featuring every current big leaguer. Higher per pack prices due to those embedded relics along with autographs on the cards themselves require a selective choice of players who will appeal to the buyers with the disposable income. Those types of cards cost more to produce and manufacturers are reluctant to attempt a set without them.

Sadly, kids can’t drop hundreds of $$$ on cards every month, but their dads can and do.  So, Topps and its former competitors (Donruss, Upper Deck, etc.) keep targeting “dad” with the players of his youth. Sure, they still blend in plenty of the hot shots of today (Strasburg, Heyward, Harper, and so on) because everybody wants to win the lottery. But, the current mid-level players and the unproven young prospects are left out of the mix.

And, frankly, I’m surprised that the players’ union has let that happen. It’s creating a disconnect between the kids and the full crop of current players because nobody ever sees the “nobodies” who don’t make the final cut for the card sets.

Honestly, this seems like a business model doomed to failure, and I’m shocked that the MLB and the MLBPA can’t see this. They should have a vested interest in this because it’s truly a Golden Goose, and they’re helping to kill it.

At what point will the “dads” be gone and there won’t be any “sons” to replace them because cards and all the players of their youth won’t have been a part of the childhood they’ll be looking to re-capture.

The MLB and MLBPA could do something about this by requiring their licensees to limit former player appearances in current card sets. I’m not saying eliminate them. Limit them!  Do Cal Ripken, Mickey Mantle, or future retiree Derek Jeter really need to appear every single year from here to eternity?  How about once every 5 years with an exception made for the year a player enters the Hall of Fame. Ripken, for example, would logically appear in 5-year anniversary cycles of his 1995 breaking of the Gehrig streak record, and the exception would have been granted for his 2007 entrance into Cooperstown.  It would require Topps, and any future licensees, to plan their sets more carefully for inclusion of past stars. And, in doing so, it would return the focus of current sets to current players.

Sure, it will take some of the big name impact out of current sets, hitting Topps on its bottom line. But, not paying Cal Ripken, Willie Mays, the Mantle estate, the DiMaggio estate, the Ted Williams estate, and so on, will save the licensees some serious scratch.  After all, those retired big guns and their jerseys and autographs don’t come cheap. That might lower pack prices and get the kids back into the game for the long haul. Who knows?

You would think the players and the Players Association could see the long term benefits of this plan. And, I’ll bet it will put a smile on the faces of older collectors, too!

Leave a Reply

Copyright 2009 Aberdeen Trading Company, All Rights Reserved.