Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Sports card market on fire

The sports card market appears to be coming back strong.

I've been seeing occasional articles and hearing things popping up in the news during the last year or so suggesting that the overall market for sports cards, which had largely been in the dumps for many years, is all of a sudden back on fire. I know I've been seeing a resurgence in card and memorabilia shows here in the Milwaukee area. The pandemic, apparently, has a lot to do with this sudden and exciting revival. Several factors are at play here, from what I've been hearing and reading: Older collectors are rediscovering the hobby, getting back to collecting players that they grew up with. Meanwhile, these older collectors are getting younger ones, today's kids, interested in collecting. And - the pandemic has caused the factories to produce less new cards, so values for cards that are coming out now are instantly surging because their print runs are much shorter.

In this post, I'll discuss some of the main trends and currents happening in the market at the moment, as well as offer some tips on how to be careful with your money. These are all based on both my own recent research and experiences in the marketplace, as well as on informal conversations I've been occasionally having with collectors, dealers, show organizers, and shop owners around the Milwaukee area. Fortunately, what I've been researching and experiencing myself seems to be largely in line with what's been coming up in these discussions with others, and vice-versa, so hopefully we can present a pretty accurate picture here for you of what's going on. I've been warmly embracing this renaissance of the hobby for the last few months, checking out a few shows here and there, along with a shop near my home. These are exciting times for the sports card market, indeed, and I've truly been like a kid in a candy store. It's all bringing back fun memories from my childhood.

What I don't address in this post is the subject of graded cards, which could easily take up a whole separate post of its own. That may be a future project here.

Some 1980s and 1990s card values are suddenly on the rise - I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I mostly collected baseball cards as a kid, and that's still true today. Baseball is my #1 love, but I also got into basketball and football cards to some extent, as well. The problem with all cards produced during this era is that there were far too many made. Even today, in 2022, you can walk into virtually any card shop, and you'll find tons of unopened packs, boxes, and sets of cards from this era, still factory sealed as if they came off the assembly line just yesterday (I wouldn't recommend testing out the 30+ year-old chewing gum, though). These shops can't give this stuff away, there's just so much of it. Don't get me wrong. They're still fun to open and pick through. I just bought a total of 30 packs between 1990 Fleer and 1990 Score baseball a couple weeks ago at a local shop near my home. I spent a total of $15.00, or just $0.50 per pack. I had a lot of fun going through them, and I found a good number of star cards to hold on to - Ryan, Ripken, Griffey Jr., Maddux, Glavine, Yount, Molitor, Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Sandberg, Gwynn, Ozzie Smith, etc. They're not worth a whole lot, because there are so many copies out there, but they're still worth a few bucks. But something interesting is happening in the 80s/90s realm right now. Although the supply is enormous, there's a resurgence in demand, driven largely by collectors in my age group that grew up with this stuff. Additionally, more and more players from this era have been entering the Hall of Fame in recent years, further driving up overall values and interest.

Beware of the highly-volatile fluctuations in values of today's modern cards - I've heard this from many of the dealers, shop owners, and collectors I've been talking to. Today's kids and their parents, especially, should beware, since it's largely today's kids that are collecting today's newest cards. Makes sense. There's a lot of betting taking place on the values of today's cards, led largely by the efforts of Wall Street investors (literally - a lot of these guys are stock brokers or day traders) who have entered the hobby looking for the next big investment or business opportunity. As a result of their involvement in the hobby, there's a lot of speculation going on with these newer cards. And the average collector - the average kid and family - can easily find themselves stuck in the middle of this Wall Street -style pricing war, and find themselves out a lot of money in the end. These investor types are trying to bank on what they're betting will be tomorrow's new superstars. They're scarfing up as many cards as they can get their hands on, and they're willing to fork out big, big bucks for them. As a result, they're driving up values across the board, taking some of them to insane, unrealistic heights - thousands and thousands of dollars per card. There's no doubt that people are making some serious money on all of this, including the occasionally-lucky working class kid and family that just happens to be holding one or more of these cards. But many who have been in the hobby for years are seeing a bubble ready to pop. The problem is that these cards, whose values have been artificially driven up to tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, can easily sink down to nothing tomorrow with an injury, scandal, or lost championship.

If you're collecting newer cards, then, it's best to apply some old-fashioned investing principles, since you're likely going toe-to-toe with big Wall Street money on the other end of the deal. For starters, buy low and sell high. If a card is already priced unrealistically high and you don't own it yet, it's best to stay away from it at that price. Again, one injury, scandal, or lost championship can bring it down to zero in a blink of the eye. Also, always assume that your collection is worth nothing until you have actual cash in hand. Values on paper don't necessarily mean anything. And that goes for anything you may own - cars, homes, antiques, coins, etc. You need to find a buyer who's willing to pay for your item in order to turn it into cash.

For a much safer bet, true vintage (1970s and prior) continues to be where it's really at - Anything 1970s and older is usually a safe bet. These cards don't have the overproduction problems of the 80s and 90s, and they don't have the stock market -style speculation problems like the new stuff. Because these players are long retired, deceased, already in their sport's hall of fame, etc., their careers and stats are firmly set in stone, for all eternity. There's no fear of these athletes ending up on the injured list today, or losing a championship tomorrow. Everything they did or failed to do is fully known to us. For the ones still living, barring any future scandal or crime they may find themselves in, there's really nothing they can do now that will make their card values fluctuate. And barring any sudden surge in demand for a particular year/player (living or deceased), which would be pretty doubtful, these values are going to be consistently stable. Now, there's both an upside and a downside to these stable values. The upside is that we shouldn't have to worry about these values ever falling much. On the flip side, however, they're most likely not going to ever climb much, either. They're largely stuck for good in a kind of equilibrium. Therefore, those who are devoted to collecting vintage are usually in it for reasons other than pure investment/monetary gain. Perhaps they just want to be able to say they own cards of true, true legends of the game. Maybe they really enjoy the artwork and layout of certain cards and sets - there were some really beautiful, visually-appealing sets that came out in the 1950s, for example, and during the tobacco card era of the 1880s-1910s. Some of these collectors may be strictly into collecting vintage team sets and/or hometown favorites. And still some may have the goal of building complete sets from their own childhood years.

Do you collect sports cards? Is this post pretty accurate at the moment? Why or why not? What advice and resources would you offer our readers here? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts, observations, tips, and experiences in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Advice for new high school graduates

A few weeks back, shortly before the school year ended, at a high school I had been subbing at frequently during the last several months, I came across a student I recognized in the hallway during passing time between classes. A senior getting ready to graduate, I had gotten to know him fairly well during these last few months in a variety of classes. A fine young man with a bright future ahead of him. I really appreciated the opportunity to build some rapport with him and learn from him.

We greeted each other, and then I asked him something along the lines of, "Are you excited to graduate? Here we are, bud, finally at the finish line!" He didn't seem too excited. He explained to me that there were mixed emotions, and that he was actually a little nervous - a little scared of what may lie ahead. The uncertainty of it all, he said. He told me he plans on working for at least a year, see what happens with that. College is off the table, for now, at least.

Here was my advice to him, with a few additional thoughts, if it's of any help to you or to a newly-minted high school graduate you may know:

Indeed, it can definitely be a little distressing, not being able to fully see or understand what lies ahead for you. Perhaps that's one of our flaws as human beings, at any age, at any stage in our lives. All too often, we want - we demand - to see all the puzzle pieces clearly laid out before us. We desire to be fully in control and fully aware of the immediate future, and when that doesn't happen, we get a little nervous, and yes, we get scared.

My young friend, at the time of our conversation, didn't quite know or understand what lies ahead for him beyond high school. He was getting ready to trade, in an instant, the certainty and stability of a clearly defined, regimented schedule and set of expectations he had known for his entire life up to this point - for the unknown.

Or was he? I explained to him, and I share with all of you here now, a different way of looking at this situation. Let's turn it on its head. He doesn't know what lies ahead, because he simply hasn't created it yet. He - along with every other high school graduate - has just been given a brand new, totally blank, spotless canvass. You're going to decide what goes on it. It doesn't matter if you're off to college right away, or the workforce, or the military. It doesn't matter if you have concrete goals at this moment, or if you're taking it more in stride. You have each been given this blank canvass.

You're going to create a masterpiece based on your goals, expectations, values, dreams, faith, work ethic, skills and talents, interests, and yes, a bit of the unknown. This masterpiece, of course, is you. It's not going to be created and completed overnight. It will be created, revised, and taken in new directions for the remainder of your life, however long that will be. There are going to be some unexpected personal and professional turns and bumps on the journey, but that's all part of the brilliant masterpiece in the end - you. You won't be able to clearly see all the puzzle pieces laid out before you. You won't be able to instantly - or perhaps ever - understand some of the situations that will come your way on the journey. There will be times when you step back to look at what you've done with this precious gift, and you're going to absolutely love it. There will be other times when you look at it, and you'll just want to scream. But through it all, hold strong to your faith and your values. Keep your nose to the grindstone, make use of your resources like your time and money wisely, and stay positive. You're about to start a truly one-of-a-kind work of art that no one else can duplicate, and no one else can fully understand or appreciate.

Best of luck to all of you freshly-minted high school graduates. Work hard, remember the things that are truly important in this life, develop your God-given talents and gifts for both yourself and others, use your resources wisely, and expect the unexpected. Now, get to work on that canvass.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The rich history in my parish cemetery

Perhaps it's fitting in some way that I share this little story on the eve of the Fourth of July.

About a week ago, on Monday night, I took a ride to my church, St. Mary's in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, for Eucharistic Adoration. When I arrived, which was shortly after 8pm, I was told that Eucharistic Adoration ended early (it usually goes until 9pm) because of an unidentifiable burning smell throughout the church. Not wanting to go back home right away because I had already ventured this far, I decided to take a stroll through the parish cemetery, which I had not yet visited up to this point since joining the parish this past December. I'm so glad I did this.

St. Mary's, which is located in Hales Corners, Wisconsin and a part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, was founded in 1842. Its cemetery, which is still open to new burials, has at least one burial in it that dates back to that year. As I walked through this beautiful, peaceful space, the only living person in it, I noticed many burials dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Now, many of these stones, which are naturally worn from 150+ years of exposure to the elements, don't list the person's birth year, only the year of his or her death. But the age of the person at the time of death is listed. Doing the simple math in my head, I quickly realize that some of the people laying before me were born at the end of the 1700s. How genuinely fascinating, that fact alone, was to me.

I also noticed that many of these people laid to rest in the mid-1800s were from Ireland, a testament to the parish's strong Irish roots. The parish's first priest, not surprisingly then, was Irish, as well. Many of these stones list the county in Ireland from which each person or family had come.

I was just in awe by all of this. As I continued to slowly make my way through the cemetery on this warm evening, the bright sun slowly fading with each passing minute, I couldn't help but reflect on both the individual lives laying before me here, and the collective history and heritage truly shared by all of us - a continuity that brings us all together, that unites all the ages, right on down to the present day. Who were these people, I wondered? What were their struggles and hopes? Their fears and dreams? What did they do for a living? What got them through that long and difficult journey across the Atlantic to settle here, starting completely over with nothing? How did they make it? What life lessons did they pass down to their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews? If they could talk with us today, what life lessons would they share with us? Have any of their descendants or other relatives ever come into my life? If so, did they have an impact on my life, hopefully positive?

The plant life in this sacred place is as lush and beautiful as these original stones that each share a life's story with us in just a few simple words, a reminder that they were here. They existed. They lived. They hoped. They struggled. They worked. They succeeded. They sacrificed. They experienced immense joy and sorrow. They mattered. They are a part of us and our own stories. The trees are as old and as strong as the souls at rest here, towering over us like the individual and collective legacies they left behind.

And the words I saw written many years ago on a display devoted to the eternal realm and to all of those who have gone before us at a gallery night art show in downtown Milwaukee came to mind: "What you are, we used to be. What we are, you will be."

A safe, blessed, and Happy Fourth with friends, family, and neighbors!

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy my previous post on Myles Keogh, an Irish warrior that fought for the Pope in Italy and then came to the United States to fight for the Union in the Civil War (1861-65), including at Gettysburg. He met his death at just 36 years old in 1876 while fighting Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in Montana at what became famously known as Custer's Last Stand, and then had his remains shipped to New York for burial.