Exit, Pursued By A Bear

I’ve put this off for a long time…

Sadly this will be my final post for The Wax Fantastic! You probably saw this coming for some time but I just wanted to go and make it all official!

When I first started this blog off just over two years ago it was with the lofty aim of uniting UK-based sports card collectors. Along the way I’d like to think we’ve got some way to achieving that somewhat ambitious and over-sized goal.

I say ‘we’ as it’s certainly not something that I’ve been solely responsible for. Over time I’ve met dozens of of like-minded collectors, both here and overseas, and I’d like to think that we’ve made some huge strides in bringing together our somewhat fragmented collecting community here in the UK.

I’ve also been blessed to have made several new friends through this blog – contact via the wonders of Social Media, or even in person, has meant that I’ve been able to reach out and share in the anecdotal lives of numerous other card collectors. Building relationships in this way has simply highlighted what a great community we’re all part of. The levels of trust, honesty and integrity that I’ve come across on my travels have had an incredible impact on me over the last couple of years, and I’m proud to have been accepted into this community; accepted as one of you!

However I’ve now decided to move on from baseball cards.

Over the last 12 months my interest has slowly waned in the modern baseball card and what it stands for. I no longer see any innovation in what Topps is producing. The same products seem to get released year after year with nothing more than a fresh lick of paint and a couple of extra bells and whistles. If we do get ‘new’ products more often than not they’re of the over-priced, high-end variety… Out of reach for those of us with the more modest of card budgets.

It’s easy to blame this stagnation on the exclusive licence agreement that Topps has with MLB, and many will. It’s incredibly simple and straightforward to bash Topps over the perceived state of the hobby, but to what end? Back in 2010 Topps stated that their aim was to bring kids back to the hobby – I’ve never seen nor heard of any evidence of where this has happened. The most ‘innovative’ of the products that Topps has given us recently is Topps Bunt. Thousands love the idea of digitized card collections and flocked to it in droves. Personally I thought it was all a pile of shit, but that’s just me :)

I like a lot of what Panini has done with baseball cards but feel they are shackled by a lack of licence with MLB. Without that in place I don’t feel that collectors will ever truly embrace Panini as a baseball card manufacturer. That might be why their business model has taken them down the route of an exclusive licence with the NBA and the NFL.

However please don’t misunderstand. I still think that Topps produce some beautiful looking cards. It isn’t all about the ‘evils’ of Topps and the current state of the hobby. Other factors such as increased overseas shipping costs from the US and a general lack of disposable funds have both played their part in this decision to leave the hobby right now.

One day I may well come back, but if I do I feel that I’ll only be looking at cards and products that were released prior to 1980. Old cards still grab my attention and who knows when I might dip my toe once more into the waters of vintage card collecting?

So for now I’m gone. Stick a fork in me, turn me over… I’m done!

All that remains is to thank you all for your support. Your comments, critiques, honesty and good humour will be something that I’ll treasure for a long time.

The Wax Fantastic will still live on as a blog! It still gets around 30-40 views a day and there’s still a lot of interest in some of my old posts around the pitfalls global shipping and dealing with eBay. I just won’t be posting anymore.

The Twitter account – @TheWaxFantastic – will also still be active but I’ll probably end up deleting that in due course. 598 followers as well! Who’d have thought it?!

I won’t be leaving the world of blogging completely though. I’ve had too much of a good time putting voice to my inane ramblings over the months, and I have too many interests that occupy my thoughts on a daily basis, that I still wanted to share some stuff with anyone out there that’s prepared to listen. And with that in mind my new blog was born…

Andy’s Big Blog O’Stuff 

I’ll be covering pretty much anything from popular culture – films, books, TV, games, sports, and so on, and so on! Hell, we might even squeeze in some baseball cards from time to time – stranger things have happened :)

So if you feel like dropping by to shoot the breeze, chew the fat and crack the wise then click on the above link and hit the follow button (top right at the moment, until it no doubt moves). I’ve not posted anything just yet, and the design format may well change, but you’ll get a notification through each time I put up something new.

So it’s goodbye from The Wax Fantastic for now! If anyone arrives here looking for details on UK-based card collectors then please head on over the the Yahoo Group that’s looked after my good friend, Glenn Codere. Here’s the link - UK Sports Cards

I’ll still be stopping round there occasionally, just tell Glenn I sent you :)

My new Twitter account is @50ShadesOfBates

Give me a follow and I’ll follow you back!!

Take care all and thanks for the ride. It’s been a blast!

Best

Andy

A Death in the Family

I awoke a little earlier than usual this morning. Checking the time on my phone, perched on the cabinet next to my bed, it read 5.20am. My alarm wasn’t due to go off until 6.30am so I prepared myself for another hour of shut-eye.

I noticed a ‘greater-than-usual’ number of notifications from the various sports apps that I have installed, and figuring there would be something interesting about Game 5 of last nights World Series I clicked on one of the links. It took couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust to the small writing on the overly luminous screen; a couple of seconds to focus on the headline that greated me via The Bleacher Report – Cards’ Oscar Taveras, 22 Dies in Car Crash

It’s now over 12 hours later and I’m still trying to process the news that accompanied that headline, still trying to get my head around the fact that a young ballplayer and number one prospect for my favourite baseball team wouldn’t be putting on his jersey and running out with the rest of his teammates next spring.

I always find it an odd feeling when trying to process the death of someone in the public eye, particularly when it’s someone whom you feel you have a connection to, however small or tenuous it might be. I didn’t know the guy – have no real reason to truly mourn his death in the same way I would someone close to me – yet for some unknown reason I still felt an oddly profound sense of loss.

Oscar Taveras died in a car crash yesterday afternoon (Sunday) in his home country of the Dominican Republic. Another passanger, identified as his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo, also died in the accident. They were 22 and 18 years old, respectively!

I’ve had the misfortune of seeing a picture of the wreckage, and to be blunt, it was a fucking mess!!

Social media exploded with the news during Game 5 of the Giants-Royals World Series and the rumours were soon verified by Major League Baseball, the St Louis Cardinals and various other sources. It was Giants’ catcher Buster Posey who perhaps summed it up best when he said “I heard about it in the fourth and had a sinking feeling in my gut. My first thought was, this game is not that important”!!

I’ve been a Cardinal fan for the last 13 years but I only became aware of Taveras a couple of years ago when I turned my baseball card collecting interests to the world of prospects. I even posted about him in February of last year – Prospect Watch: Oscar Taveras.

When a young sportsman like Taveras is taken from us far too early you will often be deluged with words like ‘potential’, ‘promising’, unrealised’… but a tragedy such as this goes far beyond sports. Something like this no longer stands as a baseball story, instead it becomes a very human story!

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny issued an incredibly moving statement this morning that better sums up anything I could ever say about the untimely death of his young outfielder -

“I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn’t.

“First of all, it felt like a bad dream that could not be real, and when reality kicked in, my words didn’t even seem to make sense. To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family. I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life. Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real. The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.

“To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.

“In my opinion, the word “love” is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar.”

When I first came across the name of Oscar Taveras I promised myself that I’d follow his career as closely as I possibly could. This young man was the future of my favourite baseball team, after all.

I was excited when he made his major league debut on May 31st 2014; cheered when his first official major league hit was a home run over the right field wall at Busch Stadium off the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit; suffered the ups and down during his rookie season as he struggled to find his stroke against the upper echelons of MLB pitching; got frustrated when he was benched for extended periods as he failed to find his feet and live up to the lofty expectations that were imposed upon him by almost everyone who had an interest in seeing what Oscar could do in baseball. I even treated myself to a wry smile as he smacked pinch-hit home run (once more against the Giants) in a 5-4 Cardinals win in Game 2 of this years NLCS. That was on October 12th 2014.

Two weeks later he was dead. That home run was the final hit of his career.

It saddens me that we’ll never get to see Oscar Taveras power the Cardinals to the World Series; it saddens me that we’ll never get to see the talent on display that made him one of the top rated prospects across the whole of baseball over the last few years; and it saddens me that baseball will no longer be graced by one of the biggest and brightest smiles in its long and storied history.

Rest In Peace

Oscar Francisco Taveras

1992-2014

Oscar-Taveras

“WTF?!?!? Did you know José Bautista BLOCKED me on Twitter?”

This very morning saw me taking a ridiculously early train for a business trip down to London. As per usual I use such trips to take full advantage of the world of Social Media, in particularly to catch up with what’s happening on Twitter.

Much to my disappointment I noticed that I was no longer being followed by well known Twitter lover and Blue Jays stalwart, Mr José Bautista. Admittedly I stopped following José some weeks ago myself so this came as little surprise (although given the fact that José will follow pretty much anyone, as his 217K+ follows clearly demonstrates, maybe I should have been worried?!)

So I decided to give him a Follow back, you know… rekindle the love that we once shared for one another… But NO!!!! This is what greated me!!! -

Screenshot_2014-06-04-06-46-19

BLOCKED!!!! By José Bautista?!?!? Say it ain’t so, Joe-sé (see what I did there :) )

Was it something I said José??? Actually, I guess it was pretty much something I said but more on that in a moment!

A few weeks a go I wrote about my ‘delight’ about being followed by everyone’s favourite Jays outfielder. At least everyone’s favourite Jays outfielder that isn’t Melky Cabreara, Anthony Gose or even Colby Rasmus. I even ran a little caption competition to honour the great man… You can click here to read all about it if you missed it first time around.

And now this!!! Why José, why?!?!? OK… I may have called you a “media whore” in the past, but it was only meant in a good way!! It came from a place of love José, a place of love! Why have I been ostracized?? Why have I been exiled to the Social Media wilderness?? You’ve made me a veritable Twitter pariah, José!! A pariah I say!!! What makes me so different to the other 217,000+ individuals that you love and care so much about that you deemed them worthy of a Follow? How is it you can clasp them to your somewhat overworked torso and yet leave me out there… cold and alone?? The shame José, the shame!!

How can I turn to my 8 year old daughter, Hettie, and tell her you’ve turned your back on me? You were her favourite, José!! She absolutely adored you, looked up to you!! Well, I imagine she would have done if she had any love or appreciation for baseball and known who you were in the first place. I suspect she’s drawn to paternal figures with immaculately managed facial hair, although she’ll never admit it!

So where does this leave us now ‘old friend’??

No longer can I read those numerous quotes you tweet, from individuals far greater than yourself, in a vain attempt to somehow pass yourself off as profound or well read, or perhaps both. How can I track the progress you’re making with ‘Booster Juice’ (#BoosterJuice)? How can I live without those crazy-ass tweets that you used to do in Spanish? Sadly, due to my inability to understand the language I could never really follow what you were writing, although I always imagined it was some really funny shit.

Sniff… (Wipes single tear from eye)

No time for sadness or recriminations… No hard feelings… Just some great memories! Like when I used to rip into you for using those random quotes! Or when I used to kid you over your insipid talent for self-promotion!

Ahhh… Good times José, good times!

I know that you might not have any love for me anymore José, but I’ll never turn my back on you. For me you’ll always be the same abject Face of MLB (#FaceOfMLB) failure this year that you were last year. You know what though? Keep trying kiddo!! Never give up! Everyone loves a tryer! In the immortal words of Eric Cartman…

“Follow your dreams. You can meet your goals. I am living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!!!”

I guess that’s all I’ve got for now. I guess… It’s just… I…

(Throws himself on the floor and pounds fists into the ground, sobbing uncontrollably in an overly theatrical fashion)

WHY José, WHY DAMN YOU?!?!? Please have me back José! If you don’t want to do it for me José, then think about the kids, man!! THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!

(Picks himself up off the floor and sheepishly dusts himself down)

Ahem… Well that’s all I’ve got for now José. Take care dude!

Love and hugs, Andy

xoxo

(Exits stage left)

 

FYI – You can follow José on Twitter – @JoeyBats19 – just don’t tell him I sent you ;)

2014 Topps Tier One Baseball Preview

June is a busy month for Topps Baseball releases.

Next week (11th June) sees Series 2 of the flagship set hit the streets and you can read all about that in my preview right here!

The following Wednesday sees the prospect heavy Bowman Inception hit the shelves, and more on that to follow soon!!

Tomorrow brings us the third release of June in the form of Tier One Baseball. Click on the link below to check out the details and to get an idea of what you’ll be getting for your hard earned cash -

2014 Topps Tier One Baseball Sell Sheet

When it comes to previewing new products I’ll always try and be as honest as I can, usually concentrating on the positives over the negatives, but if there’s something worth saying about a new release I’ll happily share with any of you who are interested.

The problem is – I don’t like Tier One Baseball!

Pretty straightforward really… Never been a big fan!

You see I’m not a huge fan of high-end products anyway, I might have mentioned that before :) but I’ll happily acknowledge that high-end products have their place in the Hobby. I do think that Topps produces far too many of them each year, and they’ve only gone and increased that number this year, but I guess that they’re a feature of the Hobby that’s here to stay for the long term.

For me high-end equates to flipping for profit. Don’t get me wrong, Topps does produce some lovely looking cards in their high-end releases but they can be the scourge of player collectors as singles of even the most obscure and little-collected players will often reach silly levels on the secondary market due to dealers/collectors trying to make a return on their original investment.

Products like Tribute, Museum Collection and Triple Threads are particular favourites as they have some nice looking base cards to back up the autographs, relics and autographed relics that you’ll find in their thousands! However Topps Tier One is an odd beast as it doesn’t actually have any base cards in the product, it’s just pure relics through and through!!

For me it’s got to be one of the most unnecessary sets of the year! I’ve never owned a Tier One card and most likely I never will! I guess I’ll be spending my money elsewhere. Try not to lose any sleep over that one Topps!

Anyone else out there a big fan of Tier One? Let me know as I’m intrigued as to what you see in it.

Waxing Cynical

There’s a well known and often used quote from Oscar Wilde that goes as follows -

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”

This was one of the first quotes that I ever read as a (much) younger man that actually got me thinking about what the author was trying to convey to the reader.

The notion of ‘price’ and ‘value’ are intrinsic to the universe of collectibles, and never more so than in the world of baseball card collecting. You see, ‘price’ and ‘value’ can mean very different things to a lot of different people. For some there is a clear distinction between the two ideas; some will see a slight overlap, while for others they are virtually interchangeable.

I’ve written a fair few pieces since I started this blog concerned with why we collect baseball cards and what means to be a collector. I’m fascinated by the ‘philosophy’ of collecting – what drives us to collect in the first place and what our collecting goals actually are, and one of the most interesting things about the Hobby over the last couple of decades is how there’s been a shift in emphasis in how we perceive the ‘value’ of the baseball cards that we all love!

Last week I read this really fascinating article by Rich Klein over at Sports Collectors Daily regarding our expectations around what we find when opening a box of baseball cards. Please give it a read by clicking on the link below and I’ll see you when you get back…

Rich’s Ramblings: Do Consumer’s Have a Right to Expect Secondary Market Value?

All done? Great stuff! So what did you think about some of the ideas that Rich plays around with there?

Personally I think he hits the nail on the head! As collectors we’ve become a group where the prospect of scoring that big ‘hit’ from a box of cards has become paramount. I wonder how many collectors out there bust open boxes wax and don’t even see the cards for what they are, instead they scour through each pack in eager anticipation of the treasures that lie within, with each card they come across automatically being given a $ value based upon past experience and anticipated secondary market value?

It reminds me of an old episode of 30 Rock called ‘Apollo, Apollo’ where we get to see the world through each character’s eyes. Tracy sees everyone as himself, Kenneth sees everyone as Muppets, while Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy sees everything with a price tag attached to it highlighting its monetary value.

Is this what collectors are becoming? Or maybe this is what they’ve already become? Sure we shell out a fair amount of money for a box of baseball cards in the first place, but if your main expectation is to get a solid return on your purchase then surely you’re opening that box for all the wrong reasons?!? I know that all collectors don’t fit this model but I get the impression that it is becoming more and more commonplace for collectors to behave this way.

Media such as Twitter doesn’t necessarily help as you will often see collectors showing off their ‘hits’ for everyone else to see, like some kind of badge of honour. In itself there’s nothing wrong with this and it’s great to share in other collector’s success stories. However no-one ever gets to see the ‘smaller’ cards as no-one is ever interested in that sort of thing. Personally I’d much rather see images of several cards of lesser stars that are going straight into someones lovingly built PC, as opposed to a single big hit like a BGS slabbed orange refractor autograph of the latest top prospect!

In fact I often feel that prospect collectors are among the worst culprits for this sort of thing. And before you say it, NO I don’t hate prospect collectors in the slightest. I’ve met some truly wonderful prospect collectors out there in Hobby-land, through either my ramblings on Twitter or through this very blog itself. Chasing prospects just isn’t a type of collecting that’s for me, however I feel lends itself perfectly to the point I’m trying to make!

I appreciate that we all have different ways of collecting, but whenever I see those high value prospect cards in their PSA, SGC or BGS slabs I can’t help but think of them as commodities rather than valued collectible pieces, and I often wonder if that’s how their owners view them as well. The simple fact that these cards are graded often speaks volumes as to how these cards are perceived by collectors. Lets face facts, the higher the grade the greater a cards potential value.

For me the true ‘value’ of a baseball card comes from the collector having a ‘connection’ to their card or their collection. Whether that connection is grounded in some sort of emotional context (the love of a team, the love of a specific player), or simply because the collector has an appreciation of a card itself (such as the its overall aesthetic, or perhaps its historical significance to the game or the Hobby), I can’t help but feel that a card or collection should mean something that goes beyond the perceived monetary value.

Has the hobby embraced the view that unless you somehow get a return on the initial cost of your box then the box itself and its contents are in some way judged to be a failure? For the Hobby to thrive collectors surely have to look beyond the notion of flipping their hits to make money. We’re all guilty of wanting the big ‘hit’ from our Hobby boxes and often I’m no better than anyone else in this respect, but it’s important to remember that there are probably somewhere between 200-300 other cards in a Hobby box that aren’t ‘hits’, and these cards are worthy of your love and attention just as much as the ‘hits’ are!

Of course I could well be totally off-base with this, but the more high-end products I see entering the market (the upcoming Topps Supreme or Topps Dynasty anyone?) the more desperate I feel. These types of products provide the perfect outlet for flipping cards for profit, propagating the notion of the ‘collector-as-a-dealer’ (or EADS as described by Rich in his article), for anyone who can afford to buy these often ridiculously priced products in the first place.

Have collectors become the type of cynics that Oscar Wilde wrote about all those years ago, knowing the ‘price’ of what they collect but failing to see any ‘value’ other than what it might be worth on the secondary market? Maybe one day soon we’ll see another shift in the Hobby, a shift away from this ‘collecting for profit’ mentality that seems to have emerged slowly over the last several years? Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong to begin with? Perhaps this type of  ‘collector’ is the norm now and the Hobby will grow and evolve around them.

Maybe it’s just me that’s being a little bit cynical?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue and any personal experiences you might want to share. My door’s always open and thanks for taking the time to read this!

2014 Topps Series 2 Baseball Preview

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s Topps Archives preview comes our second visit of the year to Topps’ flagship product with Series 2 Baseball!

I always see Series 2 as the weaker of the three flagship releases, with just a smattering of new rookies and everything else coming across as a re-hash/extension of what we found in Series 1. And to be honest that’s pretty much what we’re getting here… However there are a couple of factors that may well make Series 2 an even hotter commodity than it’s Series 1 counterpart. Here’s a link to the sell-sheet for further details…

2014 Topps Series 2 Baseball Sell Sheet

Now, where was I? Oh yes… Those two factors that I mentioned are none other than the crazy-hot rookie cards of Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu!! Now if they aren’t enough of a draw I don’t know what will be?

When I first saw the first previews for Series 1 I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed. 2013 Topps flagship pressed all the right buttons for me, from the inserts all the way down to the all-important design of the base cards. 2014 Baseball didn’t have anywhere the same impact for me, although when I finally got my hands on a few of the cards I had to admit that my initial thoughts might have been on somewhat hasty side.

To be honest the design of the base card wasn’t as bad as I first feared although I was still a bit non-plussed by the inserts on offer.

So with Series 2 less than two weeks away from hitting the shelves you pretty much know what to expect! Pretty much the same as before… just with added Tanaka!!

2014 Topps Archives Baseball Preview

OK, I know I’m woefully behind on my product previews… Humblest of apologies!! My attention to the blog over the last few months has been somewhat lax but I hope to get that rectified over the coming weeks. However as I’m behind on my previews I’ll do my best to play catch up from now which is why you’ll probably see a glut of them appear over the next few days or so.

And to kick us off here’s the first – 2014 Topps Archives!

Now this is a bit of a non-preview really as the product itself was actually released Stateside yesterday and cards are already starting to pop up all over eBay.

Still, if you want an idea of what’s in the set then take a look at the promo details in the link below

2014 Topps Archives Baseball Sell Sheet

Now in its third year I have to confess I have a soft spot for Topps Archives. It’s one of those retro products that doesn’t feel as if it takes itself too seriously. There’s a small(ish) checklist of 200 base cards along with 50 SPs, a plethora of different inserts and a huge checklist of on-card autographs of numerous players from the 70′s and 80′s who you wouldn’t ordinarily see gracing the auto checklists in the majority of Topps’ other baseball card releases!

One of my concerns this year is the further increase in number of SPs that set-builders will have to chase. 2012 had 40 and last years product saw the number rise to 45, but 50 seems a tad excessive to me, coupled with the fact that there are several key rookie cards in amongst the SPs, including the sure-to be scorching hot debut cards of Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka!! That’s sure to piss a few people off!

This year’s base card designs are made up as follows -

1973 Topps # 1-50
1986 Topps # 51-100
1989 Topps #101-150
1980 Topps #151-200

Big fan of the ’86 style cards myself, but I know that everyone will have their own favourites, those particular designs that will trigger some long-buried memory from their card-collecting youth! And that, in a nut-shell, is why this particular product works as well as it does!

And all this before I’ve even mentioned this year’s special autograph inserts!! 2012 had the oddly conceived, oversized boxtopper autographs of two actors from the original Karate Kid, including Martin “Sweep the leg” Kove; last year we were underwhelmed by 80′s Heavy Metal stars; and this year Topps gives us the rather awesome prospect of several stars from Major League!! They’ll be pretty limited so expect to be paying top dollar to get your hands on one!!

In all honesty, as with the majority of their baseball output so far this year, Topps hasn’t done a great deal to re-invent the wheel with 2014 Topps Archives. As is usually the case they’ve added more ‘value’ to the product which only server to further complicate the collecting process. But as I’ve got such a soft spot for Archives I’m prepared to let that slide on this occasion :)