I’ve noticed a lot of talk about white vs. gray whales in terms of card collecting, and I'm way into it. I traced it back to a post done by Zippy Zappy on the always excellent Torren’ Up Cards a while back. ZZ describes white whales as cards that are expensive and/or very limited in quantity. About gray whales ZZ says “[t]hey're not white whales because they aren't cards that would cost an arm and a leg or have limited print runs. They're in the gray area where I could easily find them, I sort of want them, and in the grand scheme of things they aren't really that expensive; but I have reservations about paying over one dollar.” Spot-on analogy, bro.
As a Griffey collector, I can tell you that there are many astronomically expensive cards out there for Mr. Junior; and among those are certain cards without which I would consider my own collection incomplete: the ’94 Upper Deck Griffey/Mantle dual auto, the ’93 Finest refractor, the Tiffany ’89 Topps Traded rookie, etc. These are my white whales – rare, desirable, and necessary for any serious collection.
Then again, there are also Griffeys that are both extremely limited AND expensive but that I feel like I can be a serious collector without owning. Cards like the ’98 E-X2001 Essential Credentials Now parallel #/10, the 2012 Topps Gold Rush Auto #/25, and 1999 Pacific Prism Holographic Blue #/80. Great cards, all, but the prices are insanely high. There is a spirit-crushing quantity of obscenely rare Griffeys like this out there, and they are EXPENSIVE Y'ALL. Like, scary expensive. I hesitate to call these white whales because that would suggest a high level of desirability. I am constantly reading about cards like these; and while I would like to have them, I am at peace with never owning them. These are not white whales - they're something else. Killer whales, maybe. Rare, beautiful, and potentially deadly (to your card budget).
I think other player collectors can relate to this. Look at the famous 1990 Topps Frank Thomas #414A NNOF Error Variation. This is a card that sells regularly for well over $600. Heck, even I've bid on one. There have been 235 specimens graded, and I've seen estimates that put the final print run anywhere between 250 and 500.
|Here it is|
We may never know how many made it into circulation, but we know one thing: if you are a Frank Thomas collector, this is a white whale. A famous error variation on his rookie card? You have to have that card in your collection, man! Spend the $600 and call it a day.
On the other hand a much rarer Frank Thomas card, this 1996 Select Certified #135 Pastime Power Mirror Blue /45, is currently on eBay for $1900. Rare, sure. Beautiful, of course. But do you really want that card? Like, on the level that your collection is incomplete without it? Really, how many Big Hurt collectors are tripping over each other to land that one? My guess is maybe one or two supercollectors and that's it. At some point a card is just so arbitrarily rare and expensive that you don't even feel the need to own it. That's your killer whale.
And a high-profile player like Griffey has a ton of killer whales.
Now, when it comes to gray whales, these exist all over the spectrum for Griffeys. There are so many that it becomes a matter of taste. For example, I would rather spend $7 on a cool numbered 90’s insert than $2 on a much rarer 2003 Fleer parallel that is nothing more than a foil stamp. The real problem when it comes to Griffey gray whales is the myriad 5-30 dollar cards. The sheer quantity of those is enough to make one want to stop collecting Junior altogether.
To illustrate this, here is the distribution of Griffey card price points on COMC. There are 405 pages of Griffeys there with 12 cards on each page. I ordered them by price from lowest to highest:
Griffey card price points on COMC – 4,824 cards total
Pgs. 1-137: $1 or less (~1644 cards) – 34%
Pgs. 138-294: $1.01-$5 (~1872 cards) – 39%
Pgs. 295-395: $5.01-$30 (~1200 cards) – 25%
Pgs. 396-405: $30.01-$799 (~108 cards) – 2%
Let’s say you’re a Felix Hernandez collector as I (kind of) am. Here’s what his distribution looks like:
Felix card price points on COMC – 1,360 cards total
Pgs. 1-50: less than $1 (~600 cards) – 44%
Pgs. 51-87: $1.01-$5 (~432 cards) – 32%
Pgs. 88-108: $5.01-$30 (~256 cards) – 19%
Pgs. 109-114: $30.01-$450 (~72 cards) – 5%
Felix has more of what I would consider to be a normal distribution: mostly bottom-heavy pricing that would create a nice, even curve as prices go up. Griffey on the other hand has a distribution that actually increases as price goes up, and finally begins to drop after $5. When it does happen the drop is smaller than Felix’s drop, and even after that over a quarter of Griffey cards on COMC are still priced between $5 and $30 – that’s a whopping 1200 cards. Hence not only do Griffey cards average much higher in price, their overall distribution is a lot more even across all price points.
This post is not me trying to butt in on Zippy Z's excellent whale analogy, but there are a lot of whales in the Griffey Sea and a lot of Griffey supercollectors hunting them. Prices are insane, and they're not always worth paying. Those of us stupid enough to collect him have to pick and choose our white whales carefully and let those killer whales be, all while the sneaky gray whales steal our card budget a few bucks at a time.
Hm. I just made myself sad.
Hm. I just made myself sad.