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.