02.07.10

Things That Are Actually Super: Greylurker215′s Leftfield Approach to Selling Baseball Cards on eBay

Posted in Free Expression, The Internet, The Marketplace at 10:14 am by

I got up early this morning to file a (blessedly) rare Sunday morning iteration of The Daily Fix, with the editor-dictated focus of Super Bowl-related predictions. Unsurprisingly, I was dealing with some pretty weak sauce. Some of this was doubtless due to the fact that it’s no more fun to write a Super Bowl prediction column (or, worse, a point/counterpoint Why Team Assigned To Me Will Win column) than it is to put together a bloggy compendium of said columns. But there’s also the fact that it’s kind of hard to come up with a fun angle on a game that everyone has already more or less written off as an afterthought. Maybe it won’t be; after all, last year’s Super Bowl was supposed to be, and it wound up being kind of a blast to watch. But it probably doesn’t matter all that much: the national ritual will proceed apace whatever the score, and — and here here is something you already know — the game is kind of secondary to the commerce on NFL Sundays, anyway.

If there were some sort of prop bet out there for how many loathsome commercials will air during the broadcast — how many times one Guy will do something violent or stupid or cruel to another Guy in order to get a Lite beer that tastes like seltzer some wheat farted into; how many truck commercials will trade on gay panic to get you into some steroidally bloated pickup; the shape of the next excretion in GoDaddy’s series of commercials pitched at a dumber-than-average-11-year-old’s idea of sexy — it would certainly make for a more interesting gambling experience than the old Colts (-5). (Also, there may actually be that prop bet out there) Market-related nausea is nothing new to me, both because I’m a delicate flower and because anyone who can tie his/her shoelaces without stopping to read instructions really should feel kind of insulted by Bud Light commercials, but I’m not looking forward to the ritualized commercial-bombing that will arrive with the seven-layer dip this evening.

That may be why I was so weirdly taken with the strange, possibly-an-art-project baseball card auctions being undertaken by Greylurker215 on eBay right now. In these auctions, Greylurker215 — a Philadelphia native whose real name is Rick Jones — is selling common cards from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s for very low prices that somehow still probably overstate the cards’ actual market value. For instance, and I say this as someone who probably has this card at home and has worked in the baseball card business, there is no actual resale value to the 1994 Tim Costo Leaf card that Jones is selling for 49 cents, plus shipping. And yet, as those of us who have cared about baseball cards at any point in our lives already know, market value is kind of incidental to regular value. If Jones has a goal in mind with this stuff, making that point would seem to be it. Here’s what Jones writes about the Costo card:

Costo played for the Reds briefly in 1992 and for most of the second half of 1993. Once this card was issued, his ML career was over.

In 1994, he played 19 Games for Indianapolis in the Reds system. He played 4 more seasons at the AAA level.

Both the Reds and Indians thought highly enough of Costo to draft him and swap him back-and-forth. I suspect 1994 was a rehab year, fighting back from injury, but that is just a guess.

Fit: Costo is at least Optional to a 1993 Reds set. A quick look suggests to me that he makes the set. My book does not call this a Rookie Card. So, another may exist to cover the set. If not, or if one doesn’t own one, this card will do.

Jones then adds that the scan he uploaded for the auction doesn’t do the card justice. “In person, it is brighter and more attractive than the scanner was able to show.”

And all of Jones’ auctions are like this: little bits of information about the player on the card, a description of the card itself, a note on the card’s notional “fit” (into a team set, into a personal set), and then a little mission statement. Sometimes, Jones’ notes betray a baseball fan’s perspective, as with this Kevin Gross 1988 Topps card (.50, plus shipping) or a unique attentiveness to the card’s photography (as with this 50-cent Rick Schu card from the same set) Sometimes there’s more going on. As part of his “Fun Pairs” auctions, Jones puts together cards of players with something in common — here’s one for Danny Goodwin and Tom Goodwin, no relation — and offers some thoughts. Of the Goodwins card, Jones writes, “We hope the pair will motivate: a.) an artistic display, b.) an expanded set, or c.) a parent/child research project.” And here’s what Jones wrote about a 1974 Topps Greg Luzinski card on sale for 71 cents:

In 1974, Luzinski did not play at all between June 5 and August 26. He still managed to go .272, 7 HR, 48 RBI.

This may have been the turning point in the Philadelphia psyche in the 20th Century. The odd Pennants in 1915 and 1950 notwithstanding, Phillies fans kept their sanity by scoffing at any apparent promise.

When the popular, talented Luzinski went down, that fit our template.

When he returned, it tempted us to start noticing that the Phillies really were pretty good.

I sent Jones a message through eBay to try to figure out what he’s up to with these auctions, and should talk to him more later this week. For now I can tell you that he’s a former Strat-o-Matic champion who teaches “an intergenerational class” on Sunday nights. “I approach the cards as objects of art and transmission of cultural understanding,” Jones says. “They are a means of doing baseball history.”

Considering these auctions’ spot on the wild, windswept no-bidder/no-watcher fringe of the internet’s free market wasteland, there’s something subversive-seeming about Jones’ project, which is at 313 auctions and counting. Challenging the idea of the common card is one thing — kids do that all the time (or at least my friends and I did when I was little), and I certainly aimed to do that when I was writing cards for Topps. But substituting non-market values for these cards’ (wholly absent) actual market value, and doing it on eBay, is both genius and actually kind of touching, if you look at it from the right angle. Today among Sundays, it feels especially welcome. Thanks to Matthew Abrams for furnishing the first link (to the Goodwins pairing, if you were wondering).

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