Guest Columnist: Tired of Sports Card Company Promises

Guest column by Jamie Kennedy

Ah, the biggest pull in this week’s monster release, 2011 Bowman Baseball, is not a six-colored patch, nor a nor a beautiful on-card auto of one of the biggest prospects in the last 20 years.

No, the biggest pull…is an IOU.   A Bryce Harper auto IOU currently at $800 with less than two days to go nonetheless.

Yep, just like the ones we gave the lunch lady so we could get that second chocolate milk (I could never finish lunch with just one milk).

You’re probably thinking (besides, “not more exchange cards, please!”) at least they got it right with Strasburg last year in 2010 Bowman.  I mean, if you were able to pull a short printed Strasburg auto last year.  At least it was live, and hopefully you sold it at a profit.

But everyone loses in this vicious “Redemption Card” cycle.

Collectors, who have to wait.  Companies that get bad press or negative reaction in the collecting forums and see their cards fall in price in the secondary market because of it.  Any collector will tell you, “There’s nothing like the real thing, baby”.

The first time I pulled a Bowman redemption was in 2003 Bowman Draft.  I got an exchange card for a Chris Lubanski Chrome Autograph.

What’s funny is, for the first and only time Topps came out with a press release saying that since not all Lubanski cards were exchanged, the card was short printed because the rest were destroyed.

Seems fair, right?

Well what would have happened if Robinson Cano had an autograph in this set, and he, not Lubanski, was the exchange card?  Two things:  the Cano would have surged in value, but 2003 Bowman Draft boxes would be worth considerably less- and despite soft secondary markets not directly affecting a company’s bottom line, it does affect it in other ways.  If boxes (brands)  don’t hold their value, sales of future products will suffer.  So with all the exchange cards Topps has put out over the years (the 2001 Bowman Chrome Pujols comes to mind), why are collectors tolerating it?

The bigger mystery, is what Topps, or any other company that uses redemption cards, does with the “leftovers,” once the expiration date comes and goes?

In 2005 Bowman destroyed the 2003 Lubanskis.  Now let’s fast forward to one of my favorite Bowman breaks, 2008 Bowman Draft baseball.  The box that could have colored refractor autos of Buster Posey, Mike Stanton, Mike Montgomery, Ike Davis, or Gordon Beckham.

They included two exchange cards in the small (18 cards) chrome autograph set:  one for five-tool, Mets uber-prospect Wilmer Flores; the other for some guy named Jesus Montero.  He’s the Yankee catcher raking in AAA, and seemingly ready for his time in the sun with all the Posada hoopla going on (Did I mention he was a consensus preseason Top5 prospect in the game before the season?).

What did Topps/Bowman do with all those unredeemed cards of Montero and Flores?  No press release, no reminder that the date was coming.


Word had it, some collectors sent the exchange cards in a week late, only to be denied.  So what is going on here?  Will they use them for buybacks? Will they give them to collectors who cry foul and demand cards because they didn’t get said “hits” in their box?  Or are they keeping hush so that boxes of 2008 Bowman Draft keep their value?  But what happens if Montero is better than Posey?  The only people it may seem, NOT getting their cards, are the ones who pulled them….too late.

Collectors complain, but the companies aren’t listening. Let’s go back to 2010 products.  The 2010 Bowman Strasburg was the first and only card that could be pulled directly from packs.  I pulled a 2010 Bowman Sterling Strasburg Auto Redemption (still nothing in the mailbox after six months), a Bowman Chrome redemption (took  about six months and I was unable to sell if I wanted to).  And I pulled a 1/99 from Bowman Draft, a real toughie. I got it last week with more scratches on it than your Saturday Night Fever or Fleetwood Mac vinyl LPs.  And now, they do this!

With Harper red-hot, we get “sort-of instant gratification.”  That’s fine if you want to flip it ASAP, but what if you want to flip it in August, or at an unknown time in the future?   Better hope they send the card back to you soon enough because every hardcore collector knows that there are “windows of opportunity” in the market, and they open and close quickly, and those decide when the optimal time comes for you to sell someone’s card at the highest profit.  These windows are usually during a call-up, a promotion, or a record setting night,  That IOU, especially if you’ve gambled to redeem the card and hope it comes sooner than later, becomes worthless.

I give Panini brownie points for having their 2010 Elite Extra Redemptions going on low-print run cards.  Plus, they had a deadline where they had to get the product out by August, as their MLBPA license ended that night.

I thought Topps had made progress.  In 2010 Bowman Chrome, and to a higher degree, 2010 Bowman Draft, all boxes that had a redemption card also had a live auto, despite the promise of one auto per box. At one point, I pulled three exchange cards (a Sheldon Nuise USA auto, a Strasburg Auto variation, and a Gary Brown), and they still included a fourth auto.

Then came 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen.

They promised two autos and two relics per box.  Although factory cost was $82, they quickly shot to $140-$150.  The night after the product hit, Topps issued a press release.   We’re they going to remind us we only had until 4/30/13 to redeem one of their many exchange cards inserted into the product?  No.  It was to say there were THREE RELICS (mostly worthless across the board), and ONE AUTO per box.  Which, you know, is funny, because after buying six boxes  from three different dealers, I found that five of my boxes had the newly promised ONE AUTO (and all had just two relics–not three), and the sixth box, had….no autographs.

If trying to understand Gypsy Queen weren’t enough, Topps told us to mail in the UPC code from the box  and they’d send the “lost” auto (in my case, the lost autos plus one more).  Thank God I got two Koufax autos.   I’m hoping most collectors pulled something decent if they bought a few boxes, although I doubt they found two signed Koufax cards.  But now redemption cards had turned into UPC symbols.  Was I surprised?

Heck no!  They turned into wrappers during the 2010 Bowman Chrome release.  For those unfamiliar, 2010 Bowman Chrome was supposed to have Harper buybacks in it.  They sold the product that way.  Turns out you had to collect wrappers from the boxes you opened  (why didn’t they just do the  UPC symbol thing?  It would have been a lot less messy), and they’d send you packs containing the buybacks.

Well,  my first two cases were opened, and I had already trashed the wrappers…before the press release told us we needed them.    Cases 3-8 got me 72 packs that should have been teeming with chrome auto buybacks.  Overflowing!  I couldn’t wait.

Fast forward two months.  My 72 packs are here.  Ten packs in, I’m telling my Pops, who was opening them with me,“They’re coming, don’t worry….we bought enough for them to mess with us.”  I’m not dragging this out because you know what’s coming:

Total Packs- 72  (I opened 36, my dad opened 36)

Final Score:

James Jr.-   0 autographs

James Sr. –  0 autographs

Someone told me the cards looked like this:

I believe them.  I just don’t believe what these companies are doing, and why they’re doing this to us.  They’re starting to make us look stupid.

And if there is one thing a diehard collector isn’t, it’s stupid.