I hadn’t planned on watching Netflix yesterday – but I was looking for something that I could watch while I was doing something else. And what I found on Netflix was a rather intriguing documentary.
The film, Jack of All Trades, is a documentary about the son of a baseball card store magnate and how he tries to understand both the collapse of the trading card industry AND his complicated relationship with his father. Through the movie, our protagonist – former child voice actor Stu Stone – interviews card collectors, dealers, former baseball players, and trading card officials – all while trying to understand why the cards he thought were worth thousands of dollars – Upper Deck’s Ken Griffey Jr rookie, Donruss’ Jose Canseco rookie – are now worth only pennies.
And at the same time, we discover a tragic story about what was a loving family – with plenty of footage from Stu Stone’s bar mitzvah – quickly ending when Stu’s father, Jack Eisenstein, sells the family trading card store and leaves his family, never to be seen again. The film bounces between a son’s complicated and incomplete relationship with his missing father, and the realization that something happened – that may or may not have been his fault.
I tried to focus on the reasons why the film suggested there was a collapse in the trading card hobby. Yes, there were still some very expensive cards – the T-206 Honus Wagner, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, for example – but the film postulates that the card hobby was ruined by speculation, over-production, price manipulation from guides, and possibly (although it is never proven) Upper Deck mass-producing Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards once their value was confirmed.
Personally, my thought was that the hobby crashed due to artificial price gouging, premium card lines that were way too expensive, chase cards and rare cards that were nearly impossible to find unless you knew someone who knew someone, and various baseball scandals – the 1994 strike, the steroid use, and juiced baseballs for monster home run totals, for example. The innocence of the hobby wasn’t there – it was replaced by mass commercialism.
That being said, Stu and his family finding Stu’s father – and interviewing him for a few minutes – was both heartbreaking and painful. It’s not fully explained, and I’m not going to give out any spoilers here, but if there is any closure for Stu, it may or may not have happened off camera. There’s still a tremendous amount of healing that must be done, but on a personal note, I will say that at least Stu had an opportunity to talk with his father, even if it took twenty-five years to have that conversation. Some fathers aren’t as willing to accept conversations from their past life. 😦
I remember personally getting caught up in the trading card hobby. I would buy packs of Topps and Upper Deck, Skybox and Pro Set and Parkhurst and Action Packed and TCMA and ProCards, and the fact that I’m rattling these titles off like they’re ice cream flavors from Baskin-Robbins tells you that I got caught up in the bubble back in the day. Somewhere along the line, though, I got out. Heck, one year I actually wrapped up packs of trading cards in sandwich bags and gave them away as Halloween treats. That’s how far I wanted to get away from the hobby that did nothing but suck my paycheck dry.
But yeah, if you want to relive the rise and fall of the trading card industry – as well as see how it affected one family – then go see Jack of All Trades on Netflix. You will enjoy it.
Oh yeah, and they actually try eating the Topps stale gum inside. Hey look, if you want to eat 30-year-old chewing gum, that’s on you, bro.
I stumbled across this docu-series called Losers on Netflix one day, which ended up being pretty fascinating. The tagline says, “In a “winning is everything” society, how do we handle failure? This series profiles athletes who have turned the agony of defeat into human triumph.”. Six 1 hour episodes, you might enjoy them. 5 of them were people I hadn’t heard of, the one that caught my eye initially was Surya Bonaly, the french figure skater.
Similar things happened with comic books.
I found it to be a way for a failed child actor to fail at a documentary about a failed relationship with his father who also fails at life.
Yeah, I found it on Netflix and being a former collector from that era I was very interested based on the description. I hoped for perhaps insights on the industry that maybe I hadn’t known. What I saw was very disappointing. Not only did it evolved into a reunion between father (Jack) and son (Stu, the filmmaker) after 25 years, there was no real resolution to the original premise on the card industry. Sure, Stu sort of found his answers about the cards but there’s no new info.
Now, I honestly would like to see Stu have a good relationship with his father. I also would like to see a documentary on the industry. Those shouldn’t have been combined into one film. It fell completely flat because I was expecting something different based on Netflix’s description. I enjoyed, for the most part, the scenes about the cards. Even including the Home Shopping guy from the 90’s (Don, I think). I remember watching his show with my Dad (collector and dealer).
As stated before, I am a former collector and I am well aware that my collection is worth next to nothing from that time and can’t really afford what’s available today. The other side of that coin is that there is real value in some of the cards Stu had. If he and his team had looked further into it they would’ve found that certain GRADED cards from that era, albeit not many, are worth actual money. I don’t have any of those but maybe Stu did. And to see him literally burn his cards at the end, that turned me off completely. Clearly his collection was 100% about cash value, not a love of the hobby or favorite players or a nostalgic keepsake from his childhood. Instead of burning them, Stu could have donated them to charity as I did with my Dad’s cards. I didn’t make any money whatsoever but some ill kids may enjoy them. That’s a win.
In summary, I can only recommend this to anyone who likes 2 different films just to be dissatisfied with the endings of both.
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