When I turned age ten, my parents gifted me a subscription to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly for my birthday. This was big if you collected baseball cards; a Beckett magazine gave you credibility, it signaled to everyone that you weren’t carrying a book full of Rob Deers and Bob Horners.
No sir, you had good cards and you weren’t going to be ripped off. I had the subscription renewed every year on my birthday for approximately seven years (it outlasted my interest in collecting cards by a couple of years, come to think of it), and added the equally great basketball version somewhere along the way.
Some quick background if you need to be caught up to speed: Beckett was the standard pricing guide magazine for baseball cards in the ’80s and ’90s and became nearly synonymous with the industry around that time. Debuting in 1984, it was founded by Dr. James Beckett, who had a Ph.D. in statistics from Southern Methodist University and was an associate professor of statistics at Bowling Green State University. He left that job to focus his time on what would eventually become the magazine. (Dr. James Beckett, quite interestingly, is now married to the ex-wife of Margaret Thatcher’s son.)
As the name implied, Beckett was issued once a month, and, according to Wikipedia, once boasted a readership north of one million. After the initial success of the baseball card magazine, Beckett added magazines for basketball, football, and hockey cards to their catalog. (Hereinafter, assume “Beckett” is a reference to the baseball card magazine.) Along with price guides, a standard issue included player profiles, current trends in the industry, and letters to the editor from collectors like myself. (More on those later.) Beckett also had the “Weather Report,” or the “HOT/COLD” list, which was the magazine’s ranking system for players — a sort of prognosis on the trajectory of their respective cards. Sometimes at the end of a letter, a collector would include his own “HOT/COLD list.” Example:
Dear Beckett Monthly,
My cards should be worth more. You can all go straight to hell.
From: Bobby, Rhode Island
HOT: Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Mike Greenwell, Bo Jackson, Kirby Puckett, Chris Sabo, Bobby Bonilla, Nolan Ryan; COLD: Pete Rose, Jesse Barfield, Dave Parker, Matt Nokes, Sam Horn.
Note: Matt Nokes and Sam Horn were always COLD. It was sort of cruel.
Above all else, Beckett – the product – was high-quality. The photography was typically excellent and the 8 x 11 inch cover came in a slick, high-gloss finish. The pages were thick and durable; it was a magazine built to last. I can’t stress how great the anticipation was to get the new issue each month. For starters I was ten, so aside from my birthday it was likely the only thing I got in the mail the entire year. I thought so highly of this publication I never wanted to throw any of the old issues away and I never did. Fast-forward to a few decades later and I have re-discovered my Beckett collection. It all started with a recent conversation I was having with my parents, the gist of which was, “Get this crap out of our garage.”
Still arranged in chronological order, at the bottom of the box where they all resided was the very first issue I got in the mail: January 1989, Issue #46, Will Clark on the front cover; David Cone on the back. It was a good, classic first issue. Those who were into Beckett would recognize it instantly. Helping matters, Will Clark was arguably one of the top five players in baseball at that time and if you had his 1987 Fleer card you had some mighty fine bargaining power in my neighborhood.
I pestered Beckett with letters. Oh, the stupid letters I would write. A quick scan of the “Readers Write” — Beckett’s letters to the editor section — of any old issue will tell you that I wasn’t alone. So did a lot of other kids. Beckett strived to foster a place of belonging for kids like us. It’s what I really admired about the magazine. Beckett spoke to everyone. It didn’t pander to kids, there were plenty of features that probably exceeded the intellect of a 12-year old, but it still recognized that we were a large part of their readership and we were necessary to keep the hobby going forward. And we knew we belonged because they printed and responded to our letters.
Dear Beckett Monthly,
Is Eric Davis related to Glenn Davis?
Why is Dwight Gooden on both the HOT and COLD list??
Have you seen this ‘86 Fleer Mickey Hatcher card with the giant glove? It’s wild!
From Alex, Illinois
My letters, for good reason, were never printed. On the other hand, the vetting process for those that made the cut was clearly not that high. For instance, this letter in Issue #46 from B.G. in Memphis just seems like some long con to score with Tracy’s mom.
According to Shawn Hughes of California, when dealing with a sample size of two people, Reggie Jackson will probably be the second nicest person you will meet. Frankly, I believe him.
This HOT/COLD list from T.R., also of California, caught my eye:
Had you told me in 1989 that by 2015 only one person (Kirby Puckett) from T.R.’s HOT list would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, we likely would have engaged in hand-to-hand combat but that’s the world we currently live in. And T.R. is not only down on Jack Clark, one of my favorite players of all time, but also the entire damn Orioles organization. Mind you, he or she wasn’t totally out of line. The Orioles had just put the lid on a 1988 campaign in which they finished a ghastly 54-107, all of which was kick-started by a 21-game losing streak to open the season (still a record!).
Here is Issue #46’s Weather Report:
A couple of things: 1) Before Jose Canseco became a national punch line, he reigned atop Beckett’s HOT list for months; 2) Having your own magazine on your own “HOT” list (re: No. 11) had to be a conflict of interest; and 3) Anyone who cast a COLD vote for Sportflics was a jerk. Those were awesome.
The price guide was the meat and potatoes of every Beckett. I collected Ozzie Smith cards and with each new issue I would immediately flip to see the current value of 1979 Topps, #116 — his rookie card and my prized possession. Issue #46 valued this card at $18.00. Twenty-six years later, and it can now be purchased on Ebay from anywhere between $0.99 and $924.99. Of course, in today’s baseball card climate, the $0.99 price tag is way less offensive than $924.99
The main feature (pictured below) in Issue #46 was by Richard West, in which he rated each team by how willing their players were to give autographs. West rated the Houston Astros the highest. But in doing so he managed to insult Charlie Kerfeld three separate times. First, he outs him as a non-signer. Second, he mentions he was demoted to the minors. And third, he unnecessarily notes that Kerfeld was headed to a “weight-loss clinic.” Also interesting, Bob Knepper and Bill Doran reportedly wouldn’t sign Topps cards because of their religious objections to Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids, which, to be fair, were quite gross!
The rest of the issue had a few features offering tips on collecting cards, a note from Dr. James Beckett explaining how the magazine differentiated between rookie cards for players with one year of service time vs. those with less, and advertisements for upcoming card shows in each state:
It’s become tradition to look back at something that was popular in the ’80s or early ’90s and acknowledge its appeal while simultaneously laughing at it now, but Beckett is not that thing. It was a legitimately good publication and the old issues hold up pretty well today. Unfortunately, the success of the magazine was only as sustainable as the card industry itself, which, as has been noted, collapsed right around the time my subscription was finally cancelled.
Beckett is still around, just in different form. Now, Beckett’s official name is Beckett Media and it is mostly a website, which looks strikingly similar to ESPN.com. The magazine still exists, kind of. By 2008, all versions – baseball, basketball, football, and hockey – were combined into one publication, now called Beckett Sports Card Monthly.
I remember seeing one at a magazine stand several years ago and the quality resembled an old Reader’s Digest. The gloss was gone, the issue was much smaller, and the paper clearly cheaper. Dr. James Beckett is also no longer in charge, having sold his interest in 2005. Maybe I’ll write a letter and complain.Next post: So I Went to Marlins Park
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