Ichiro and the pandemic: How supply chains were impacted by COVID-19

Nov. 12, 2020
Thomas Wilk recalls how baseball cards vanished as part of the COVID-19 fight.

Regular readers of this column know that about once a year, I tie some sort of sports story into the world of MRO. In 2017, I wrote about how the Houston Astros pioneered the use of big data analytics to make player evaluations, and how that contributed to their winning the World Series. A column the year before focused on how Michael Jordan’s dedication to his own physical reliability drove the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships.

From the Editor

This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.

This month, I’m here to talk with you about baseball cards. That, and the COVID-impacted supply chain. The story starts in March when my oldest asked if he could finally play fantasy baseball this year. We logged onto ESPN, found a few leagues comprised of parents and their kids, and drafted some teams.

Then the first COVID wave hit the United States, and much of the nation came to a screeching halt. Our family, like many, stayed inside as much as possible, and started shopping online more than ever. Our recycle bins were full of boxes from Amazon, UPS, and USPS.

Then in July, baseball came back, both real and fantasy! To celebrate, my son and I decided to get a special prize for the winner of our family-only fantasy baseball league: one of the limited edition Topps 2020 baseball cards, where modern artists are brought in to re-imagine and redraw the rookie cards of famous players. Topps only prints a limited edition of each card, based on pre-orders, and the cards themselves are priced at $20 per card.

We settled on a striking card of Ichiro Suzuki by Blake Jamieson, where he had redrawn the background of the original card to include the flags of both the United States and Japan. In late July, we put our order in, and waited. And waited.

And waited.

Then we noticed baseball cards were not being restocked at stores like Target once they sold out. Then Star Wars cards were not restocked, or NFL cards. And still we waited for the Ichiro card.

It finally showed up in late October, three months after ordering it. As I was telling a friend in the industry about the three-month delay for the custom Ichiro card, and the lack of any regular cards for sale, he nodded and said, “All those cards are in your recycle bin. They’re just disguised as shipping boxes right now.”

It’s still surprising how all the small decisions we make to negotiate the virus add up to larger changes. Some plants will emerge from this situation with vastly improved health and safety programs. Others are fighting a thousand tiny process slowdowns, from employees working (and/or quarantining) at home to operations teams hoping that their supply chain will not have any hiccups from month to month.

Ichiro earned 3,000 hits through patience at the plate and a willingness to adapt to changing conditions. Here’s to all of us who are trying to do the same in industry.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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