I’ve been collecting baseball cards off and on for nearly 30 years, starting with the occasional pack of cards my parents gave me when I was 4 years old. What you see above is about 40,000 cards I’ve amassed over the years. Most of them are in team drawers (I have the Angels cards displayed as I am in the middle of a project). Those that are $1 or more are in the three binders. Those that are in the shoebox are cards I am saving for years to come, along with those in the binder.
Perhaps the most important thing one should know about my collection is this:
I collect for fun.
I’m not one of those profit hounds that hauls away carts of new product boxes from Target, or plays Wall Street with cards of thousands of variations. The trading card hobby has become a hundreds-and-thousands-of-dollars thing these days, and that’s not what I like. When it costs $20 to grade a card, forget it. Sorry, collectors of today, but that’s not me.
My collection is susceptible to being bullied among the collections of others, because not everything is in mint condition. Yes, I have a 1987 Topps Barry Bonds rookie card. No, you cannot have it for the $0.50 that you think it’s worth in the condition that it is in. I primarily collect for keeps. I’m proud to say that I own a Barry Bonds rookie card, regardless of whether it’s conditioned as a 10, 7, 4, or 2. “I own a Barry Bonds rookie card” is enough pride for me. Besides, this particular card has a personal connection, which I will explain in a later posting.
When I was young, I wound up studying the pricing schematics of the Beckett baseball card guides. With that in mind, I set off to find cards that I thought would go great in my collection. This was in the mid-to-late 1990s, when I didn’t have access to things like eBay. Back then, you went to your town’s sports shop (mine was 1st and 10 in Rock Falls, and later Home Plate in Sterling), or at the Mall when it had its sports card shows.
When I largely eschew the almighty dollar regarding my collection today, that wasn’t always the case. Since I memorized the Beckett prices as a kid, I would sift through dime boxes wherever I went to find cards that were worth $1 or more. The young pre-teen in me thought “PROFIT!” Oh, how wrong I would be.
The next phase in collecting came when my parents bought me a large baseball almanac book when I was a little older. It was the 1995 version, and it had the stats for every baseball player ever. Upon realizing that Beckett’s semi-star pricing tiers were largely stat-based, I wound up reading the thousands of pages, and learning more about players from the past that were great stars of their time, but either I didn’t have a card of them, or they were not in the Hall of Fame.
It was through that Baseball Almanac that I got to learn about players like Willie Horton, Frank Howard, Joe Adcock, Jimmy Wynn, Amos Otis, Mickey Lolich, Jim Kaat, Rick Wise, J. R. Richard, Curt Simmons and Mike Torrez, and many, many others. All had above-average careers, and were team leaders of their time. These 1980s-and-earlier semistars (according to Beckett) soon became a collecting drive of mine.
Baseball card collecting eventually gave way to a high school sports journalism career, but I would sometimes go back to looking at my cards every so often. In adulthood, I soon found that that big box of cards was just a space-eater. However, I grew up collecting lots of cards from the dreaded junk wax era that’s literally a dead-end as far as getting any money out of them is concerned. (For those who don’t understand, the “junk wax era” of the 80s and 90s saw card companies overly mass produce their sets, making the value of most of them worth the price of the paper it’s printed on.)
Another blow to the cards in the big box: When I got this big box, it was dirty and I cleaned each tray out the best I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t clean the corners of the trays very well, and it led to dust spots on the corners of the white-cornered cards. The cards that have cardboard-colored corners aren’t affected as much, but what’s done to the whites are a blow. Don’t worry: My $1-and-more cards have always been in the binders, and are unscathed.
What I DO NOT believe in doing to cards is trashing them (like your mother did in the 1970s) or burning them. So to those who bully my cards for the condition that they are in, just shut up. I’m working on a plan to try to get rid of the cards I have in the big box and still try to get SOME money out of them.
The cards I have in the shoebox above are certain star cards and other special cards that I plucked from my big box that I wish to keep. Most of the cards are of star players who Beckett considers to be non-common, but only one card for each team they played on. For example: Dennis Eckersley – Indians, Red Sox, Cubs, Athletics, Cardinals and second stint Red Sox. So I have 6 Eckersleys in that box. I am hoping to convert storage from shoebox to album if I can get album pages at a cheap price.
Here’s another thing: I prefer old school methods of finding cards. It brings a social aspect to collecting. I feel like that’s becoming a lost art in today’s digital world.
Sure, I could make hundreds of eBay purchases to find cards I want, but that’s no fun. Quick, efficient, but no fun. I still prefer the “treasure hunt” atmosphere of digging through boxes and finding certain cards you may call throwaways, but I could call gems. I try to get to card shows when I can.
As far as the value-hunting aspect of finding cards, I still try to follow that method as much as possible. I don’t really dig into the 1980s and 1990s cards anymore because I think I have almost all of what I could want. I don’t really do much with the 21st century players, either, because their cards are just really more widely available; however, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a Shohei Ohtani rookie card (I actually have one).
My collecting focus has geared more toward the semistars of the vintage-era. I can’t really afford some of the mega stars, but I’m always on the hunt to find them if the price is right for my bank account (I’m low-income). While many have heard of the Hall of Famers of that era, people my age (35) may not know of these old stars that once were popular in their time. My love for history tells me that I shouldn’t let those players fade away.
Sharing albums of these cards to younger folks will eventually lead to situations like this: They ask me who they are, I tell them, and then they go to Wikipedia to read all about them. Today’s players aren’t possible with the greatness of the players I’m trying to find.
How many kids have never heard of the Seattle Pilots? Or Lyman Bostock? Or when the White Sox wore red, or even blue? A designated pinch runner? The ugly Mariners trident logo? Card photos being badly airbrushed? How many Jewish baseball fans have never heard of Ken Holtzman? Or how Rico Carty missed not one, but two full seasons with illness and injury to become a Caribbean Baseball Hall of Famer? That’s what I’m hoping my collection will become, a reference to baseball history.
I hope to write more about my baseball cards soon. There are a lot of cards that have a personal story, and perhaps that may be enjoyable to those who both may or may NOT be a collector.