Dirty Business

I collected baseball cards in my youth and still have tens of thousands of them in my basement. I haven’t bought a single card, however, since the 1980s and you can count my purchases of other baseball memorabilia since that time on one hand. A lot of this has to do with growing up. If I have $50 burning a hole in my pocket these days — wait, since I have kids and bills and stuff I never have $50 burning a hole in my pocket, and that’s kind of the point. Another factor is that collecting became far less fun when I became aware of how big a business it was and how seriously so many adults took it. I love my bent-to-hell 1954 Al Kaline more than anything, and I frankly don’t need to hear some guy wearing a sweatsuit behind a folding table at a convention hall chastise me for mishandling it when I was ten and telling me that it’s now worthless.

But I think the final nail in the collecting coffin came when they started inserting little pieces of stuff — bats, jerseys, etc. — into card packs. While I am devout worshiper of the Cardboard Gods, the Gods I believe in aren’t into holy relics, mister. I feel compelled to read the backs of the cards and bask in the reflected glory, yes, but I draw the line at genuflecting before their gourds or shoes. Or dirt:

Like so many goods perceived by consumers as pricey, sales of sports memorabilia started slowing well before the rest of the economy. Still, one portion of the domestic sports/celebrity memorabilia market estimated at upward of $1 billion is expanding. Real estate values may have plummeted, but the market for what the industry earnestly terms “game-used dirt” is growing, as demand for higher priced photos and signed, game-used equipment has stalled. Now, some of the biggest memorabilia companies are cleaning up with dirt. While it is difficult to say how much game-used dirt is being sold, a recent Google search for “authenticated dirt” yielded more than 181,000 citations.

I don’t care how big a baseball fan you are. If you’re online looking to buy dirt that some famous guys walked and spit upon, you probably need to reevaluate your priorities.

(Thanks to Pete Toms for the link; sorry for the subscription only stuff, but the whole gist is in the blockquote)

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  1. MooseinOhio said...

    This post immediately prompted to me to start asking questions.

    How does one authenticate said dirt? 

    Is dirt from certain locations (e.g.  pitcher’s mound, infield, warning track) considered more valuable than from other locations (e.g.  bullpen, coaches boxes, on-deck circle)?

    Is soiled dirt (e.g. with tobacco remnants) more valuable than prestine dirt?

    Is there a market for chalk lines?  How about paint chips from the foul pole?

    What about the left over seed shells?  Or the wads of gum Francona and others leave behind?

    Should the taxpayers in NY start procurring above items to start a fund to pay off the debt service on the new ballparks?

    Does eBay allow said items for sale? 

    Maybe PBS will start a new series – The Ballpark Roadshow and folks like Ken Burns can evaluate the items for authenticity and a whole new cottage industry can be created?

  2. The Common Man said...

    @ Moose

    I think you just have to trust the word of the certified ballpark dirt dealer you are doing business with.  After all, his word is all he has; and once that’s gone, how can anyone trust him with their dirt needs again?

  3. chuck said...

    I enjoyed collecting cards in the 1980’s as well.  There was topps, donruss, and the elusive fleer.  O-Pee-Chees would somehow make their way into my collection, but couldn’t have been more than a dozen.  Occasionally, Nabsico or someone would put out a little set.  Then upperdeck and bowman and a whole slew of new cards came out with special sets and gimmicks and it just sort of got overwhelming.  It felt like there was no way to collect all the cards I wanted on my paper-boy salary.

  4. hermitfool said...

    I have my complete set of well-worn 1958 Topps cards to keep me warm, purchased with paper route profits in individual packs, along with gobs of the worst bubble gum ever invented. But the whole card thing took a slide in this household after attending a spring training game in Arizona, where professional card dealers elbowed little kids out of the way in order to make their daily quotas.

    Pond scum.

  5. mkd said...

    I’ll admit to being intrigued by the whole game-dirt thing and for the right price (cheap!) I would totally buy some.

    When you get right down to it though, that’s the kind of stuff you really want to nick for yourself. In her role as a Little League President my mom once was out on the field at the Kingdom as part of group first-pitch. If that had been me, I absolutely would have “tied my shoes” and scooped up some pitchers mound dirt.

  6. crowhop said...

    Craig, the National Sports Card Convention is in Cleveland this year.  Weekend of late July, early August.  I’ll be there.  You should too.  Good time.  Lots of dirt to go around I hear. 
    A buddy of mine makes a nice bonus off folks who collect a lot of dirt and other items I go to see the show of it all.

  7. Conor said...

    I think one reason that baseball cards have lost interest for me is the internet. Before the internet baseball cards were a way for me to see my favorite players whenever I wanted. I could get a great glimpse at their careers by looking at their stats and I had a picture of them whenever I needed it. I even remember, circa 1985 using the stats on the backs of baseball cards to debate with my buddies whether Wade Boggs or Don Mattingly was better. Today I can go to the internet and pull up their stats and a thousand different photos from a million different angles. I can pull up video highlights and biographical information if I want. The players seem so completely accessible that I no longer need to access them through baseball cards. Now, I only access nostagic memories of my youth through baseball cards.

  8. Pete Toms said...

    @ Conor.  I’m an old guy who was raised on cards and I thought the same, that the internet would have killed that industry.  But, my boys 7&6;have lots of cards, ask me to buy them cards, their friends have cards….I guess there is some sort of eternal appeal to it…

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