I’ve been writing my favorite piece of the year for the past two nights/mornings and it has made me reflect on perhaps the most interesting year I’ve ever had in my 29 years of owning my shop, Mike’s Stadium Sportscards.
It was perhaps the best of times and now it’s time to hope that it doesn’t quickly turn into the worst of times. I can’t really control the entire market, but it does make me want to work harder, smarter, to “pivot” as Brian Gray said at the Industry Summit and more importantly, to work on giving back more than I ever have before.
2021 began as a continuation of the explosion we saw within the hobby from the spring of 2020. While it’s safe to say we have lost some of the sports card insanity that we all were blown away by earlier this year, it’s safe to say that the sports card engine is still rolling incredibly well down the tracks. In spite of coming off the peak either in the late winter or early spring, if you compared my shop’s numbers and overall traffic flow, we are still seeing a considerable amount of collectors jumping in to relive their childhoods or to try to make a buck while having fun.
Even our “bad days” make me forget about my “bad days” back in 2019 or before.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts below as I tried to highlight some of the moments that spoke to everyone as well as those that spoke to just myself.
If you are a current manufacturer or work for Fanatics, I hope you have a good sense of humor to appreciate where I’m coming from. Basically I grew up on the movie Airplane and developed my sense of humor from it as well as my grandmother Miriam. Since you probably never met my grandmother, please focus on the dry wit exhibited in the movie.
If you do not have a sense of humor, please consider reading no further. Really…go focus on redemptions, hoping for more printing time, encouraging athletes to get their signed cards back to you or anything else that doesn’t involve cutting allocations or repricing products higher than they are now.
If you do proceed, please take a few moments and hopefully chuckle at how I saw 2021 from my own perspective.
Card Shop Owner of the Year: Steve Mandy, Attack of the Baseball Cards, Union NJ
Steve’s shop isn’t synonymous with the biggest ones in the world. He doesn’t run breaks live for you all to enjoy. I’m quite sure that if he walked around at The National, that he wouldn’t have a camera crew documenting his every move.
Since March 13, 1982 Steve has owned Attack Of The Baseball Cards (what an awesome name!) and since I’ve been able to get to know him through industry events, has always been incredibly awesome to be around. We share many of the same mindsets as card shop owners with constant give back programs for our collectors. I seemingly always see Steve offering some fun drawings or events to his collectors and it has inspired me to do the same.
When one of his collectors pulls a monster from a pack, he goes out of his way to congratulate them by name and when possible, with a photo of that collector enjoying their card.
He ran a Survivor football challenge with a load of free packs for the winner. He runs Pack Wars at his shop and goes out of his way to offer up some incredible prizes. He offers Customer Appreciation Day envelopes with gifts for his collectors.
If there’s a hobby promotion, he makes sure Attack is part of it because he knows his customers will appreciate it.
If you scroll through his personal timeline, it isn’t just about his shop. He loves to bring attention to positive sports happenings and also cares about those in his community.
He accomplished all of this as he successfully battled bone marrow cancer for two years with the help of his incredible family and unbelievable medical team.
In 2021, Steve finally got to enjoy one of his dreams as Gil Hodges was finally voted into the Hall OF Fame. Steve ALMOST got me to root for the Astros as his relative Bill Murphy is a pitching coach for them.
Steve, I hope to NEVER again see a post from you about having to close early or to take a day off again for any medical reason.
Please check out Attack’s Facebook page and follow one of the truly good guys in the hobby.
Breaker of the Year: Layton Sports Cards
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Rich, Sara and a few members of their team for a few years. Getting to know Rich and Sara since meeting them and to fully appreciate their backgrounds, drive, determination and desire to take care of their collectors has been something I’ve admired for some time. Plain and simple, they treat their team members like family and that’s what makes me appreciate them as much as I do.
Sure, they also sell a healthy amount of sports cards, but that’s less important to me than who they are as people and what they have created for their collectors.
Somehow Layton Sports Cards has recently avoided being nominated for their efforts in the annual Beckett Industry Summit vote and I didn’t want them to think they were being ignored.
My favorite video moment with Rich came back in 2018 when he pulled a hot box of 2017 Flawless NFL (where every card was a 1/1) and then had to figure out how to take care of each of the collectors who had bought in on the break. Like a pro, he made things right at his own expense. Sorry Rich, for bringing up this awkward moment, but it shows the lengths you were willing to go for your collectors as well as sincere feelings you felt as you wanted to make things right.
Bonus inside info – Sara reportedly makes incredible pretzels.
The New 800lb Gorilla In The Room Award Winner: Fanatics
Well, it would be impossible to write this year’s Mikey Awards without recognizing the sudden involvement of Fanatics into the hobby.
As I’ve mentioned before on here, I work security at concerts and sporting events. This summer I was invited to go to Anchorage and Fairbanks to help run some Foo Fighters shows and I was quick to take advantage of it. On Thursday, August 19th I found myself enjoying a late breakfast at Club Paris in Anchorage with Pat Moe, the manager of Boscos Comics Cards And Games in Anchorage. I received what I thought was a joke text from a friend about Fanatics getting the exclusive rights for MLB trading cards in a few years.
I looked at Pat and realized whatever else we had thought of to talk about would have to be tabled.
It’s been a little over four months since that and future announcements came across the wire and I’m still trying to gain a full understanding of the future impact on my shop, the shops my friends own, the collectors who have allowed me to be part of their lives and the hobby overall.
If you’re looking for any big reveals from me now, I’ll gladly save you the time.
I spend my time listening to any interviews that Fanatics chief vision officer Josh Luber gives. When I have a few hours to stop and smell the roses, I’ll be reading his manifesto. I’m planning on attending The Mint Collective event in Las Vegas next month for more insights.
I spend way too much time talking to people who want to talk about what might happen, especially those who believe they understand fully how things will evolve.
I have realized that this move by Fanatics is currently like the scene in Armageddon when the guy reports to NASA that there’s an asteroid that’s in line to hit the earth. We’re not sure if this will be a direct hit that will decimate all that we know, a glancing blow that will only affect us a bit or perhaps somehow recreate the landscape in a more positive manner.
Either way, the best thing that I’ve heard since is how Luber envisions a world with 10x as many sports card shops out there and I’m going to have to take that as positive until I see something else.
Cue the song from Aerosmith and it’s time for the rest of the awards.
Rookie Product Of The Year: What The F1?
OK, I will admit it, when Topps offered card shops the opportunity to buy F1 releases, I initially put in for Topps Dynasty since one of my distributor reps asked me if I was buying my case. As a “gift”, I offered to sell it to him at cost. Yes, this really happened. I sold a case of 2020 Topps Dynasty F1 for $681.55. Suffice to say, very few reps get thanked that well and it’s why I can not choose Dynasty as the RPOTY since I cringe with each thought of it.
Instead, I’ll let 2020 Topps Chrome F1 replace it. Back to when Topps offered this to shops, I’m pretty sure there were a few groans. In early 2020, Topps enacted a rule about supporting all their product lines to receive MLB products directly. I put in for two direct cases as well as some from distributors. I was amazed that it started out in the $500 per box range. I gladly offered mine to hungry collectors and I guess my biggest lesson in 2021 was that F1 was the second most popular sport in the world. My second biggest lesson was when Topps strongly encourages you to buy something, let the Wookie win. That makes me think of their successful Star Wars releases, but that’s for another award possibly, or for another galaxy far, far away.
I probably should not share this, but true cost on F1 was $45.64. I recently helped broker a deal for a case at $24,000. Also, I have never watched a F1 race in entirety. Additionally, I have never watched part of a race either.
Carry an Entire Product Year on His Back Award: Kyler Murray and 2019 NFL Products
When Kyler Murray was taken first overall in the 2019 draft, there were still some concerns as to whether he was a better baseball player or football player. There were also concerns as to whether he could survive in the NFL at all. With the Cardinals going 5-10-1 his rookie year and 8-8 his second, there were some great signs of improvement, but also concern that his star status was in question.
As a Broncos fan, I know only too well the hobby shortcomings of Drew Lock and sadly the diminishing high hopes for Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Will Grier, Ryan Finley (maybe high hopes was a stretch there) and others that were making 2019 NFL products look a little limp.
Fast forward to 2021 when after week 7, the Cardinals were not only undefeated, but there was serious MVP talk about Mr. Murray. At that point, 2019 NFL products once again had some pep in their step and it was interesting watching what used to be eight or so feet of 2019 NFL shelf space quickly shrink like Ant Man could. What was once getting dusty quickly became impossible to keep around.
Sure, the Cardinals lost and left the ’72 Dolphins alone in Perfectville (I was born in Miami, deal with it), but for those many weeks, and a few after, it was fun to not only move product from that year, but awesome to enjoy so many of my collectors as they bragged about their earlier Kyler pulls.
And you want a great way to close out the year? Take a few minutes and watch one of our customers spring for a box of 2019 Panini National Treasures that had been sitting on our shelf since it came out:
Now to hope Drew Lock can enjoy the same success next year (sad snickering noises here).
When Panini wrestled the UFC license away from Topps, who had enjoyed a chokehold on it since 2009, collectors of the octagon seemed to be ready for some new blood (patting myself on the back for that first sentence).
Yes, I know that Prizm UFC might not have been your choice, but clearly I dance to the beat of a different drummer (Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters to be specific).
Hobby boxes offer two autographs per, Panini made sure to include the popular Color Blast insert and perhaps they wanted to wait until Connor McGregor focused on offering nice autographs or they wanted round 2 to have some extra knockout power.
Prizm delivered incredibly well and continues to sell each time I bring it in. One thing that I enjoyed seeing was fans of Prizm in other sports taking the time to peek at this new version and that was rather encouraging. The success of Prizm UFC carried over to Select UFC and 2022 seems to have many more Panini UFC offerings lined up including some higher-end options as well.
What’s A Calendar Award
Pretty much everything made during the past 12 months.
As I’m writing this during the final days of 2021, my shop does not have a current NBA offering that shows this year’s rookies in their pro uniforms.
My dark horse choice for NBA ROY, Bones Hyland of the Denver Nuggets does not have a trading card.
There is still not a 21/22 NHL product available.
There are eight fewer NFL releases available at this point of the season versus last year and I counted the addition of Wild Card releases to close that gap.
Since going on lockout in early December we have seen nine 2021 branded baseball products arrive and still have three to go.
Now, as I brought up last month, I can’t blame the manufacturers for this. Nobody wants to produce cards after their scheduled release. With MLB, there are calendar obligations that need to be adhered to. Not seeing Upper Deck 1 in time for the Toronto Expo is simply unheard of.
When I listened to Upper Deck President Jason Masherah’s lengthy interview on Sports Cards Live with (surprisingly tall for a Canadian) Jeremy Lee (a must listen if you ask me) and gained a better understanding of the raw material and printing press challenges the manufacturers are facing on top of the usual autograph acquisition issues, it painted a much clearer picture of why we are a little (a lot) more behind than in any year I can remember.
I am glad I no longer produce monthly calendars for my collectors since they would have more change of date arrows on them than the Battle Of Little Bighorn had.
Fortunately, my collectors are incredibly understanding and perhaps absence of products does make the heart grow fonder when they do land (as long as Mac Jones goes incredibly deep in the playoffs which kinda hurts me to even type).
Card of the Year Award: 20/21 Panini Optic Devin Booker Base #112 (you’ll see)
No I haven’t been drinking (or enjoying any other mind altering substance).
As a 52-year-old card shop owner, the odds of my being featured on a sport trading card are pretty small. It’s safe to say that my jump shot wouldn’t get me a look from any NBA team, college team, high school team, JV team, elementary school squad or even the Detroit Pistons whose five win record at the time of this piece shouldn’t be ignored.
So there I was doing a break with Optic earlier this year when my son, Samuel noticed something different in the background. I’ve been working Denver Nuggets games since 1988 and Sam is now enjoying his fourth year as a locker room attendant also for the Nuggets.
Now if you look at the card, you will see that Devin is playing against the Nuggets. The photo is from Denver and was taken during the limited capacity games last season. I am the gentleman in the background to Devin’s left with my hands against my midsection as I’ve been known to do. Between Devin and the Nuggets defender is a locker room attendant in a chair at the ready to mop the floor during timeouts or after a foul shot. Yes, this is my son’s rookie card and my third appearance in the background of a trading card. Trust me, it’s easier to pick us out if you have the card in your hand than it is looking at a picture of it on your screen.
I’m sorry for not choosing a Mac Jones RPA, a Jordan autographed Goodwin single, a cut signature from Ruth or a 1/1 of the next can’t miss prospect, but these are my awards and appearing on the same trading card as my son is about as cool as it gets. Now if Devin could have just brought his left elbow in a bit, I would have liked it a smidge more.
The We’re All 3/4 Millionaires Award: The PSA 10 Jordan Rookies
Back in late January a pair of Jordans (cards, not shoes) each sold for $738,000 at the same Goldin Auction. The massive shockwave that went through the hobby was incredible as collectors who had paid perhaps $50,000 the spring before were now counting their blessings, envisioning their new rides and doing a little dance of their own. It makes you wonder how many collectors went into their safety deposit boxes, pulled their own Jordan out, showed it to their significant other and smirked with the knowledge of their job well done.
This stands out to me a bit more since that weekend, there was a Dallas Card Show happening. I had one of my collectors on the floor looking for a MJ rookie for one of my other collectors who could not make the trip. Suffice to say, my collector probably wished he had chosen a previous month to try to buy his dream card as the ripple effect was immediate. I would like to think that security was a little stronger than usual that day with showcases being valued quite a bit higher than they had been a day before.
Prices soon began dialing backward as more hit the market with other lucky PSA 10 owners trying to cash in on the same crazy success. I’d love to know who the collector or collectors were who paid the peak price on His Airness that night and what their thoughts are now.
Wilder still? Another PSA 10–supposedly the best of the best–was said to have sold for over $800,000.
Check out our recap of the hobby’s top news stories from 2021.
Carl Spackler Incredible Cinderella Story Award: 2021 Upper Deck Artifacts, SP Game Used Golf…and eventually 2021 SP Authentic Golf
When Upper Deck announced that they were bringing back PGA Golf cards after an extended absence, the already stoked collecting audience gave up a roar fitting of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Once again collectors could open something other than Upper Deck Goodwin and pull an autograph of Tiger Woods.
It didn’t hurt that Bryson DeChambeau was going to be a rookie along with Justin Thomas and since everything else out there was going crazy (See the Topps Chrome F1 piece), it seemed like perfect time to yell “FORE” and go back to the driving range with Upper Deck Golf products.
Both Artifacts and SPGU hit shelves at higher than SRP and it didn’t seem to bother box buyers for some time. Checking the bay, it seems like there is a pretty long list of 4 digit sales for many of the singles that popped from packs and the current projection for 2021 SP Authentic is February which should make us all Happy Gilmore style.
Mac(k) Daddy Award: Leaf Metal Pro Set Football And Mac(k) Jones
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing my personal box breaks for my collectors and one of them wanted to try a box of 2021 Leaf Metal Pro Set Prospects with six numbered base cards and six numbered autographed cards. We lucked out and happened to pull an autographed 2/2 card of Mac Jones.
Upon further review, it appears that Leaf added a little extra to his name on this and the other Jones cards from the same set. Mac became Mack and fortunately my collector seemed to enjoy the uniqueness of the card. It was just one of those ironic moments of where the guy who is pushing the whole NFL collecting season has a card with a mistake like that. It won’t go down along the lines of the 1991 Stadium Club Brett “Farve” UER, but it caused some commotion at the time.
I see that Leaf is coming out with Pro Set Hockey and perhaps we can see a card of Peter Forsberger as well.
Side note, I ran out of Leaf Metal Pro Set Football a bit ago and today I think I bought two distributors out of whatever they had to serve up more fun at the shop.
Follicle Friendly Release of the Year: 2021 Topps X Trevor Lawrence Football
I’ll be honest, when I heard that Topps was making a Trevor Lawrence exclusive release, I was a little geeked. While I wasn’t going to carry the direct to consumer release, I was stoked to see Topps back in the NFL game, even at this level. Couple that with a can’t miss prospect (yes, that was a bit tougher to type in late December than it was in the spring) and it had the makings of something special.
It didn’t hurt that some nepotism struck and his brother and sister-in law got to help with the set. His long, flowing locks (It’s true, right) got captured with so many set designs from my youth and a great many of the collectors at my shop got in on them. With autographs appearing 1:5 sets, I can’t blame them either. While he is currently sitting third fiddle at best in the 2021 rookie QB crop, the Fabio Of Football made quite an impression with this set.
This is my least favorite award to give each year as it means that an athlete has basically given up on trying to sign their name for their fans. I get how signing your name a few hundred if not a few thousand times can wear down on you. I’m actually a fan of Connor and even bought tickets to see his fight/riot with Khabib in Vegas a few years back. This video, though, shows he’s all about just getting it done as fast as possible and collecting a check.
Seeing him sign his name the way he did, with such flair makes me glad I never plunked down any money on an autograph of his I had yet to see. One would hope that getting one of these signed posters came with a cheat sheet to see where his signature appeared. I’m sure I’ll get a few colorful replies from his fans on this one, but there’s no way any of the graphs from that night would be considered proper.
Fond Farewell: Ben Ecklar
On August 27th this year, the sports card family lost former Beckett contributor and long time Panini employee Ben Ecklar.
Ben was the creator of many of the releases we all enjoy today. In the times I was able to approach him at industry events, seemed to genuinely care about hobby shops and how his teams creations were being received.
The hobby was better with him in it and we should all try to live the life he did as a professional and more importantly as a father and husband.
Ben left behind a wife and six children and it was important to me to make sure his legacy was appreciated beyond when he passed.
Comeback of the Year Award: The National
As we got closer, I had a few offers to sleep on my floor (already taken by my son) since rooms were almost as hard to get as tables themselves. Yes, it was weird walking around in masks, worrying to some level about whether to give the “I missed you” hugs or not, wondering if the backpack being worn buy the person next to you had graded cards, laundry or a million dollars and all the other madness that came with it all.
Sure there was the idiot stealing low-end cards in his backpack, but for so many, it was being able to return to normalcy after a year of being mostly confined at a time the hobby was flourishing like perhaps never before.
A crazy memory was walking by Ken Dinerman’s table, wondering who the guy was with the ponytail and finally meeting Ken after being Facebook acquaintances for so long. It was amazing to see his tables of affordable wax (can we please retire the phrase “junk wax” since 2020 taught us there was no such thing anymore?) shrink like the water pool during the summer in a South Africa documentary each time I went up and down the ramp behind his location.
My favorite memory was helping walk Pat Neshek around with his son Hoyt around at their first National.
So there you have it.
I hope you’ve come to enjoy the annual dish on the year that was as much as I enjoy offering this little written tour that’s a little off the beaten path. It’s all in good fun. As for manufacturers and distributors, you did read the fine print earlier in this conversation, right?
Now to use all my efforts to hope that MLB and the MLBPA get together and mend all their fences, an OMG rookie emerges from the NBA, NFL (2022) and the NHL, that Fanatics announces the most card store/collector friendly policies ever made and that my collectors make their New Years resolution to go on a physical diet and not a card one.
I’ll be back again soon with your traditional edition of What’s Hot where we count down the current hottest selling boxes in the shop.
May 2022 be all you hope it will be!
Fruitman owns Mike’s Stadium Sportscards in Aurora, CO. His column normally focuses on what products are selling best in hobby shops. He’s got thousands of cards for sale on COMC.com under the ID cardmn5150. You can email him at [email protected]