Sunday, June 9, 2024

Lots

Purchasing Baseball Cards should be lots of fun. You decide which Baseball Cards to collect, and at some point in between when they are somewhere between a few days to many, many decades old, you find them available to purchase at an agreeable price. You smile, some endorphins are released, and your individually curated collection of Baseball Cards is that much more pleasing.

Sometimes, however, purchasing Baseball Cards can be more like a chore. That is the position  I found myself in attempting to complete a set of Heritage 1975 Topps, man. The Minis.

The quest began pleasantly enough. Whenever I was between tasks at work or at home, I would simply pick up the surprisingly small device holding all human knowledge ever discovered, and ask it if any new copies of the Short Prints in 2024 Topps Heritage had been listed for sale, say in the last few minutes maybe? Often, there were.

I quickly bulked up my collection of the ugghhh, Short Prints to about 80% of the checklist. Prices were reasonable - so reasonable that I passed on any card offered for more than $5. At first, anyway.

An initial decision point became the uggghh, Short Prints offered in, yay, lots. These would be even cheaper, on a per-card basis. The catch was they would include some duplicates. I soon owned lots of them.

Duplicates, however, were agreeable to me as I had several dark clouds of pessimism hovering over me that second week of May. Surely these yay, cheap Short Prints wouldn't be somewhat not-intelligently sold so cheaply for very long. This is Heritage 1975 Topps, man. The Minis. Don't these sellers know what is going to happen to these cards? That fed my deeper fear - the supply of these would dry up, suddenly, when I still needed several cards, which would then be truly expensive.

The yay, lots, with duplicates held some bonuses though - to help alleviate my fear of reaching 80-ish cards and then needing lots & lots of $20 Baseball Cards, I figured owning several extras could eventually help me find those inevitable last few cards, via trade.

The other bonus was even more significant - finding lots with the Superstar cards on the checklist within, making the price of the expensive cards quite reasonable, as sellers hope the star card will help sell cards of players they doubt will sell that well. I had already seen that with my first lot which brought me the delightful Gunnar Henderson card for essentially less than $2.50 back in early May. As I write this in early June, that is now a $30 card, but that is jumping the story a little.

The lots coughed up the worrisome Mike Trout card, and the even more worrisome Shohei Ohtani Highlights (#7) card. This project was going along swimmingly. The lots are also how I ended up owning 11 copies of the #82 Nathan Eovaldi card seen way back up there at the top, even though only 3 copies had appeared in the boxes I opened. So many sellers didn't know that little checklist quirk in this year's Heritage. This was a very good sign.

The poor decisions by sellers seemed numerous, to me. Selling Baseball Cards online is clearly often a hectic activity. Mistakes were occasional. You want to game the keyword lexicon a little and label one of these uggghhh, Short Prints an "SSP" (double uggghhh Super Short Print) - & thus the hawks searching for the "SP" cards don't see your Newly Listed Baseball Card very quickly? I include SSP in my searches for this reason. Forget to include "SP" or "Short Print" in your individual card listings? I eventually remember to search for one player last name at a time.

If I had to/could do this project over (a very common desire amongst collectors), or wanted to purchase some other brand new checklist I fell in love with, as quickly and cheaply as possible ... well then I would simply create a set of searches for the product and card # and another of the product and player last name, and nothing else. Let the listing errors flow directly to: me. A pity no one ever misspells "Short Print," unlike "vairiation." 

All's fair in Baseball Cards. At all times I vividly recalled those $9.99 sales of the first uggghhh, Short Prints to be be listed — as I clicked Buy It, Now — always as fast as possible. That was the key to this - these Baseball Cards would never be this cheap, ever again. This has seemed completely obvious to me ever since the LCS where I purchased a box of regular Heritage told me they would have a case of this arriving in a few weeks. Heritage 1975 Topps, man. The Minis.

At some point right about a week into all this, several inflection points arrived, all right around the same time. By then I was keeping a running list of the < 10 singles I needed perfectly memorized, as I watched for each one amidst the still-steady arrival of Newly Listed and cheap, so not-so-ugghhh, Short Prints on the ole 'eBay.

This kept me examining the lots of cards that still appeared on offer. As the needs on a checklist becomes an ever smaller total, lots become more of a conundrum. There's that card I need - mixed in with 5 cards I don't need. Ugghhh. But when the 6 cards are priced at $30 and you feel they will each be worth $20, eventually, the Buy It, Now, button is still an easy decision.

Then an interesting online offer appeared, not on eBay — the almost complete contents of 3 boxes of Minis, for $125, or the price of 2.5 boxes of this product. Perhaps one of the color parallels had been "cherry picked" out of it, or 1 or 2 "key Rookie Cards," or maybe an autographed card. But all of the ugghhh, Short Prints and all of the inserts were still included, including this key card on the checklist:

However I already owned this card. On the other hand, I knew it was already occasionally selling for $50. If I valued the inserts and uggghhh, Short Prints @$10 each, I would have 12 of them for the price requested, plus 8 color parallels & > 100 base cards from the 101-500 checklist, while the real price would be $85 if I later realized even just a $40 sale of the Ohtani #7 card. Leaving me with eleven $10-$20 cards plus 25% of a, yes, base set and some random value on those ever so random parallels of the set that just doesn't really need parallels, 1975 Topps.

I pulled the trigger. Now I was buying cards I didn't really need, but still might be useful if finishing the set were to became difficult. A big part of my thinking right then was that the inserts would appreciate as fast as the uggghhh, Short Prints, as many collectors of Heritage in particular look to complete "Master Sets" of all the cards, including the inserts. So 6 more chips to use in future transactions seemed useful as I didn't yet have a copy of the Carlton Fisk Game 6 card, nor either copy of the 2 Bob Gibson Baseball Flashbacks cards I still greatly desired.

I have swung around to thinking that while Master Sets of this product will be done by collectors, those will be a little more uncommon as completing the #1-500 checklist is quickly becoming a > $1,000.00 challenge for anyone who tried to board the Heritage 1975 Topps, man, The Minis train too late. So I don't think the inserts will later hold the value that the Short Prints will, because completing the Short Prints is already such a costly goal.

I do think a fair amount of people will attempt this set. Some might be subtly drawn in by a quirk new to the Heritage 'brand' in these Minis - that's the now triple digit ( /265 ) availability of the Throwbacks, as compared to the usual low single digit ( /25 or /35 or so) print run of these cards in full-sized Heritage. Those, along with the now discontinued "Action" variations, brought the high-rollers to the Heritage brand. For me, that was always one of the big turn-offs to collecting a set of essentially pretty dull, card-after-card-the-same Baseball Cards - knowing that all the best looking cards in the product were only available for $100, $200, or even more, and would rarely ever be sold, anyway.

Now in these Minis, Throwbacks are just low two digit priced cards. That has probably made a lot of Heritage collectors happy, is my guess. But simultaneously, the historical scarcity of the Throwbacks compared to the casual, not-so-scarce supply of the uggghhh, Short Prints likely made some people chase the Throwbacks, and their less exciting cousins the Color Swap and the Image Variation (though some of these are quite excellent), first - before worrying about the #1-100 cards - which are almost as scarce as the variation cards in the /320 run for each.

But after completing a set of those nifty Throwbacks - who wouldn't want to move on from that to the full 500 card set? That's part of my thinking on the long-term price of these cards, just a random theory, but one that did inform some of my next decisions here.

Quite near the time I suddenly/casually became an investor in the Ohtani #7 card, I read a description of the fateful #407 card for Leody Taveras. Anyone interested in 2024 Heritage knows all about this card at this point, whether their interest is the full-sized card or the Mini. I already knew the wtf? checklist quirk, but hadn't looked into it yet. It's just an early career Baseball Card of an everyday MLB Centerfielder, unlikely to ever be an All-Star, and although it is a handsome, quite well color-coordinated Baseball Card it is just another uggghhh, Short Print, right? 

Nope. I read it described as "pesky" so I figured I should check into why someone would call it that. Turns out - it is the most expensive Short Print in Heritage this year. !!! Here in early June the full-size version is still selling for $20, each. It may not have been quite that high a month ago, but it was a surprising discovery to find it selling for so much.

The implications clicked in my head instantly. I needed to get one of the minis, ASAP. Whenever it was I discovered this, one was still available for $8 or $9, though that annoyed me as I mashed the button as it was well above my $5 price point for buying the low-numbered cards otherwise, outside of the star power cards. The craziness of this set never ceases to be an "smh" (@ myself) - annoyed about a single digit price for what is now a triple digit card.

I set a search just for the pesky #407, "Heritage Taveras," which is still coughing up Bowman Heritage singles from 15 years ago, but that's OK, just in case I miss one listed with any other possible quirk. Watching that search in particular quickly landed me a $13, second #407 — that I also didn't technically "need." I just, wanted it.

I can't really say which particular purchase marked the turning point in "collecting" this product, and one which has somewhat changed some of my future trajectories with Baseball Cards. I now owned "extra" copies of two of the most key cards in this whole set. I also owned, thanks to lot purchases, around 40 extra copies of the uggghhh, Short Prints while I now needed just a simple amount of them I could count on one hand.

What would I do, now? I recalled a phrase I would use having fun with my friends, seeing live music in large cities in my younger days, when I was more consistently near large cities:

Double Down

To use another vernacular, I would "go for two" as what's better than a set of Heritage 1975 Topps, man, The Minis? That's an easy one: two sets.

This has a lot of implications. So did the decision to keep purchasing the uggghhh, Short Prints. I now had 9 boxes worth of, yes, base set cards, i.e. > 900 regular print cards so one full set was nearly assured and probably 75% or more of a second. Reports on collation in these boxes were generally favorable though it turned out I only had 399 cards for the first set. Tracking down up to 100 of the regular minis for a second shouldn't be challenging, though one of them is that pesky Elly de la Cruz RC, uggghhh.

But the uggghhh, Short Prints would still require attention. My faith in trading did secure me a key single for the first set, and a pair of trades for the second one netted me 8 SPs in one trade and 3 SPs and that super cool Gibson insert in another. Another trader generously offered me 4 SPs just for 50 base cards to complete his 400 card set, but I accepted only one for the 40 cards I could help with. That was when SPs were still less than $10 cards but I was already quite sure of the outcome on these cards.

The required attention soon became different, however. < $5 SPs were very rarely found. And more significantly, they disappeared from ebay basically, instantly. By that I mean I would refresh a "Newly Listed" search, and have some luck as a new listing slowly loaded - but by the time I could mash that sweet BIN button - the card had already sold. Someone, or almost certainly, multiple someones, had reached all the same conclusions as I had about these cards, and was watching for new listings as intently as I was.

These competitors usually had a clear price point every day. For the middle weeks of May, most SPs listed for $10 or more did not sell, at least right away. But first anything at $6 went quickly. Then, $7. And so on. It wasn't hard to see how it worked - a couple sellers that had previously supplied me a card or 2 would have a fresh small batch available every 3 days or so. 

Baseball Cards are a business, after all, and that's how collections get completed. I ever so slowly realized: I was now in business. I have been in business for a long time, i.e. have been self-employed for a long portion of my life. But never before in the Baseball Card business. May is one of my busiest months - when you work with biological products, Biology (& Weather) run your schedule, not silly things like social interaction with your fellow Humans. I frequently work all-day, every-day, because the date on the calendar often determines results. Messing with Baseball Cards at all would just make that all last longer.

Whenever I had a spare moment pretty much from the end of the first week of May until, hmmm, right now I guess, I have been watching ebay listings about these cards. At this point it is just a habit, and a bit of curiosity as I continually need to learn more sales results to make best decisions on what to do with all these Minis. 

Soon, I became the one making mistakes, though most of them turned out OK. I didn't always check my remaining need list carefully; sometimes I was doing this in some parking lot somewhere. Several times I purchased regular sized Heritage cards, though that had a perfectly understandable reason - the Minis were priced essentially the same as their full-sized cousins in the low single digits, and I didn't notice the lack of the word Mini in the listing. Sometimes, that was the ebay algorithm deviously mixing in listings without the word Mini as I had typed/saved, with correct Mini listings above it and below it. This, I do not appreciate.

Several other times, 10 to be exact, and from 3 different sellers, I received full-sized cards that were clearly labeled "Mini" in the keywords and description, multiple times even. One seller claimed "I didn't even know there were minis in this product." Uhh-huhhh. Those created a mish-mash of Refunds, Returns, and Partial Returns, and p-i-t-a annoyance, which is the very last thing I want when I am busy "collecting" Baseball Cards.

Obviously I was no longer collecting Baseball Cards, I was dealing them. Eventually, anyway. The full-size cards I mistakenly bought or were given free by the (devious? over-worked?) sellers who just gave me a full refund, don't bother me - those will help me, going forward. However most of those incidents cost me some extra dollars as each card had to be purchased again, generally for $5 or more in additional expense each time as the prices of these cards kept accelerating so quickly.

I have "finished" both my first, and the second set of these, several different times, due to either my own purchase errors managing a spreadsheet of all the "incoming" cards, not always 100% accurately after a long work day, and those certain sellers, too.

I even joined a few online breaks, straight gambling on lucking into additional copies of certain cards. That was something I have never done before, and don't plan to ever try again. I am soooo looking forward to returning to my slow lane of occasionally spending a couple quarters on those delightful $0.00 value Baseball Cards.

I would say that using your spare bits of free time to look up Baseball Cards on ebay is on balance more rewarding than reading about some trial of some politician in New York City every day. However it is also a chore, particularly once you begin to suspect shenanigans by the sellers.

But the chore had to be completed, and as quickly as possible. Remember this card from my previous post, which was a key find luring me down this tumultuous path:

The caption was "$2" -- a copy of this card sold for $50 a couple nights ago.

Those sales are about a month apart. And a $50 price point on these is an outlier that is likely only going to happen when two people launch a bidding war. Most SPs are still selling on offer in the mid-teens to $20 as I write; but not always. Auctions can end with plenty of variability. A market feature known as volatility, of course. Never thought I would use that word in a sentence when it comes to Baseball Cards.

Now you probably have noticed I have been scanning all these uggghhh, Short Prints in toploaders. Seems prudent for $20 Baseball Cards.

Before I even saw my first of these Minis, I was content in knowing I had those now discontinued binder pages that could triumphantly display these purdy, but little, Baseball Cards. Those pages are still available, if you would like some, either a couple in trade for a couple pages that hold the "cigarette" size cards, or even as a full set of 55 pages needed for this set, though for those I still hope to find the last two 2011 Lineage Minis I still need, Reggie Jackson and Tom Seaver/Mets.

My extra Minis pages will be sold or traded eventually, because I won't need them. Those uggghhh, Short Prints will never be leaving their toploaders, most likely, even though that is not how I ever wish to collect Baseball Cards, given the prices. And plenty of collectors are suspicious of card binders, worrying that they might somehow damage their Baseball Cards, even when 99% of all Baseball Cards are essentially worthless. And so many of them, particularly sets of Heritage, will just end up in special little cardboard boxes often never again opened until the prep work for the Estate Sale, if even then. Sad.

Hopefully you noticed my aside about the accidentally acquired full sized SPs. I am still quite looking forward to completing a regulation set of 2024 Topps Heritage; along the way with those ever random "Lots" I already acquired the full size Mike Trout and the full size Ohtani Highlights SPs as essentially throw-ins by sellers selling them in pairs of each size, for lower than their current value anyway. I do have the SPs checklist memorized, and don't quite savor completing it a 3rd time. But I will have to do so because: I no longer plan to keep these fun little Minis.

Yep.

The card that first began this realization for me was this one, from my 3rd pack:


This is one of the most fun autographed cards I have ever "pulled," because of the great Baseball picture on it. At some point in May, however, I realized that overall, it would look even better on the full size version, which is exactly the same aside from the card dimensions.

And really, this is true of all the cards in this set, which after all is the set of Baseball Cards that probably most visually appeals to me of all the many Baseball Card designs I have contemplated throughout my life. The Minis are cool and all, but I have concluded that a binder full of their larger cousins will be more enjoyable to keep on my coffee table, some future day when I actually have a coffee table.

Almost all the way through this experience, dollars were on my mind. And that's not how I want to think about Baseball Cards. I was essentially "Prospecting," a concept known to all collectors, even though none of the cards I was purchasing individually were Rookie Cards. I was buying a card expecting it would be worth yet more, later. Which is a near-irresistible idea to oh so many human beings. I rarely dabble in the activity and a few super low leverage (as in, less than one whole dollar at a time) attempts have failed (card still worth 75¢) as often as they have modestly worked (card now worth $2).

But here I'm not gambling on an individual Rookie/player, I'm rolling the dice on 1975 Topps, man. The Minis.

However, I think I did pretty well, and an even better plan, with a few different necessary steps, began to come into focus as this "collecting" rolled along.

First, I will sell my 3 sealed boxes of these Minis. They are already worth about $150 as I type. That's each - a 300% price increase, in a month. Maybe I will carefully see if I can get a full $525, which is about what I paid for 9 boxes, making my 6 opened boxes free.

Next I am going to sell some singles. Those 2 Leody Taveras cards seen above are actually my 3rd and 4th copies, which I snagged for about $14 each (expensive at the time). I haven't kept detailed records of this whole affair, though I could total up all the spending, if I needed to, but I will probably be too lazy to "go there." That Mini card is now selling for $250. Those should cover everything spent on the first set.

I also straight invested, no air quotes, in extra copies of another card, #100. I noticed early on that it hardly ever sells and saw a request for two of them being needed to finish 2 sets. I expect a portion of them will be lost for quite some time in basically ignored small lots of those ever worthless "base" cards, sigh, as the sellers who just bought boxes of this to rip and sell singles from will likely have sorted the cards largely by looking for just the 2 digit cards to set aside, not any 3 digit cards. Some of those sellers even throw base cards in the trash as not worth their time to handle. The, ugghhh, Short Prints arrived in the same spot in every pack like the parallels & inserts - the last card in the pack - but that leaves 3 packs in the box without a "hit" card, further increasing the ease of missing the #100 card during sorting by all those sellers who had no idea how Heritage Short Prints work. Such as the many who have attempted to sell that #82 Eovaldi card way way back up at the top of this installment of the tale.

I don't know if that minor gamble on the #100 card will pay off much. I doubt it will cost me anything, anyway. Selling the Taveras cards, some #100s, and a handy stack of 3 dozen or so extra, no-uggghhh-now Short Prints will easily cover the costs of my first completed set of this, certainly. And, probably, much of the cost of the second one, also, which did require occasional double digit priced cards to complete, though not many.

At this time a full set of these cards has not yet sold on ebay, that I can see at least. So I am unsure of my final bottom line conclusion about this project. The two sets will be worth a fair bit more than I paid for them, I fully expect. After all these years of looking at cool Baseball Cards priced more than I could ever afford, I put all those sometimes mildly bitter lessons about the often rapid rise and fall of Baseball Card prices to use, to my advantage.

I will never forget parking in front of my LCS just before it opened, just to buy Baseball Cards - rather than concert tickets, frex. I never expected much of this experience to come along, so I have written out this too long tale for myself, for that distant day when I have forgotten how I have acquired that -one- binder of Topps Baseball Cards.

As I have been mostly enjoying these brand new 1975/2024 Baseball Cards, the original 75s are never far from my mind. Perhaps another recently acquired card helped lead me to the end of this project, one my LCS gave me last year for free when they let me salvage some originals from a largely otherwise superbly thrashed (i.e. quite un-sale-able) small lot of 75s that had arrived in a bulk purchase from a walk-in customer:
A card I was fascinated with as a youth, and of a man I occasionally enjoyed listening to on the radio, once the Internet delivered broadcasts of all 30 teams ot me, simultaneously, in the 21st century.

I still do not know if my childhood collection of 1975 Topps Baseball cards might be in the basement stuffed full of stuff at my parent's house. It's a Schr√∂edinger set of cards at this point. I hope it is there, but I still do not relish the coming search for it, given that it will involve untangling my parents' lifetimes of acquiring their own treasured, or just seemingly useful possessions. 

But dealing with essentially dealing these 2024 Heritage Minis has taught me that I really don't have the patience for purchasing Baseball Cards, one at a time, while staring at a screen. I do that far too much, already. Staring at a screen that is. I want to spend my limited amount of free time with Baseball Cards curating the binders to flip through in years to come, and reading the backs of the cards — not endlessly haggling over a couple quarters or a couple dollars to buy each card that I desire, especially since I know there is still a fair amount of staring at a screen to purchase a Baseball Card in my future, anyway. I would surely enjoy using the positives of the Internet (i.e. you-all still reading this far) to meet collecting goals by trading Baseball Cards, but I am away from home so much that trading is rarely a viable option in my life.

I have purchased a set recently - for a whole $10 - and that is an ongoing, enjoyable project to handle, much more so than online shopping is. It will occasionally now be a preferred strategy for filling the binders I want on that coffee table; I have begun occasionally pricing a set of 1983 Topps, for example.

So at this point, I know what I am going to do with the likely "loot," i.e. the profits above costs from these Minis. It looks like I will eventually, in the months to come, cash these cards in and use the proceeds to finally, after a full 50 years of Life knowing the pleasures of Baseball Cards, obtain the one Baseball Card construct I have most wanted that entire time: a Complete Set of 1975 Topps Baseball Cards.




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