With the exception of investment banking and high-end financial services and maybe the macro-scale music business, it’s difficult to think of an industry that had less idea what it was doing during the time of its greatest success than the baseball card business. By the time the baseball card business finally got around to paying (some of) my bills, it was well into its eclipse years, and while the industry has been right-sized by those infallible market forces you’ve heard so much about, it’s still capable of breaking out the odd baffling product decision. But while the market for baseball cards has shrunk significantly since its heyday — which would be the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was not-coincidentally also when I shoplifted most vigorously — that’s not all bad news.
The crucially not-ready-for-prime-time mistake of the card industry during its glory days was the assumption that because more people suddenly wanted baseball cards, the card-makers should simply print more baseball cards, as quickly and haphazardly as possible. This wasn’t the entire reason why the bottom fell out of the business — Dave Jamieson, whom I interviewed here, wrote a good book explaining that — but given that scarcity drove value, the industry-wide decision to eliminate the very idea of scarcity doesn’t look so good in retrospect. That said, it still looks better than the clubfooted artsy-fartsy Studio Sets that companies put out in an attempt to… I don’t know, reach the people who wanted to open a pack of cards and have a Sears Photo Studio-esque image of Tom Henke staring back at them? Who always wondered what Pete O’Brien would look like in black-and-white against a gray backdrop?
At SB Nation, the great Jon Bois takes a look at these weird golden age leftovers and finds a medium that ranges from baffling Rickey Henderson beefcake to thriller book-jacket photos of Dennis Eckersley. It’s tough to excerpt, because the text is largely tied to the (hilarious) images, but here’s his breakdown of Randy Myers’ Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-esque 1991 Score Dream Team card (number 885 in that year’s Score set!).
huh? oh uh hey kiddos, my name is randy and welcome to my baseball card, i uh, i think i might have some Squeez-Its in the fridge, also might could be some graham crackers in the kitchen, go an get ya some grahams if ya hungry
On the back of the card, they finally get around to telling us which team Randy Myers actually plays for, and they also describe him as an “effervescent type of guy.” So what’s with the long face here? What the hell happened, y’all? “Hey, bad news, Randy. Desert Storm is over already. They didn’t even get to use all the F-16s. I know, right?” [takes picture]
They’re all that good. Market forces stink.