The Lazarus Ticket

Ron Hunt was hit by an MLB record 50 pitches in 1971

Lets face it: The sports card world is turning into a investment situation with multiple digits.

The top cards are going for prices unimaginable 5 years ago. People are quitting their jobs to concentrate solely on the sports card world. So much money is to be made buying and selling these cards in the mid-COVID world because, really, people need money.

So many people have dug through their dusty sports card collection to try to find gems to get a few bucks on. About 95%-98% of their cards are passed over after being sifted through because, at first glance, they just aren’t interesting. Really, there’s not much that can be made from uninteresting cards.

These uninteresting ones keep piling up, collecting new dust after the gems have parted among them.

I’ve always had this idea that some of the cards deemed unwanted by the moneymakers could still have some sort of value to them.

Think like a salesperson. Take a shiny, heavy, 1-foot x 4-inch cylindric roll, for example. Looks boring, doesn’t it? How do you sell it? The way to take that object and make it worth something is to take time and consider all of the positives that thing can do. It rolls. It weighs a lot. It can touch the ceiling when your hand cannot. Once you’ve developed an elaborate reasoning why this thing can be of good use to someone, you’re more than 100% more closer to making the sale than you did before jotting ideas down.

The same philosophy can be used for minor sports cards. (Going forward, I will use baseball as the example, since that is what I collect.)

So many baseball cards are considered “dead” to collectors, regardless if they invest or collect. Even today, rip open that pack of 2022 base set Topps and who wants that base card if it’s a name you’re unfamiliar with? Admit it, you’re looking for the colors of the rainbow along the edge when you go through the fresh stack you unsealed.

I mostly work with vintage and junk-era cards, which have plenty of commons that don’t have a lot of “noteworthy-ness” to them. So they just sit there waiting to be rectangular cardboard tiles of office decor.

That is, unless you can find a way to make these uninteresting cards feel interesting again. Get on your sales cap and let’s write some “Lazarus Tickets” to some of these cards to make them worth conversing about.

Before we begin, there are some cards that already are worth more than their suggested prices may otherwise put them at: The Kurt Bevacqua bubble gum card, a subset that normally is half price of the base card, is worth more than Bevacqua’s base card of that set; the 1988 Fleer Tim Flannery card with the surfboard is $0.05 more than usual just because of the surfboard; Reggie Smith’s 1983 Topps card with the rookie Ryne Sandberg cameo made it $1.25 instead of the otherwise $0.30 it would have been without Ryno.

  1. Take a MLB player and find out the most interesting things about the player in relation to the history of the game.
  2. (in most cases) Find the years that those events happened and add 1 year to determine the card that’s to be brought back from the dead.

You’ll get cards such as …

1972 Topps Ron Hunt: Common player. Interesting for one thing: He got hit by an MLB-record 50 pitches in a season, in 1971. The card back even states such.

1969 Topps Denny McLain (which I have): Not a common, but the 1969 is the only card of him in a Tigers uniform with the mention of the 30-win season. You may ask yourself, why not the 1968 Topps? That card doesn’t mention the feat, and looking at it to explain to someone who doesn’t know that wouldn’t be convinced you’re telling the truth just by looking at the ’68. They will with the ’69.

1977 Topps Andy Messersmith (on my Want List): Also not a common. While the card may not tell the exact story of Messersmith’s free agency story, seeing him in the Braves uniform will elicit that memory of fans back then.

1973 Topps Whitey Lockman (Cubs manager): The manager cards from that season also had smaller head shots of the coaches, which includes Ernie Banks in this card. Most remember that fellow 500-homer pal Frank Robinson was the first Black manager of an MLB team; but few recall that Banks was the first to manage in a game. That was on May 8, 1973, when Lockman was ejected and Banks took over the helm. As mentioned, sometimes the “add one year” concept does not apply: Banks is not depicted on Lockman’s 1974 card.

It should be noted that the three cards mentioned above do NOT have a price premium to them based on those historic situations, and are priced at their usual pricing tiers. Give a card a reason to be floating out and about in the market, and that’s when the prices start to increase.

Say you are someone who wants to start a Jesse Orosco collection. What are the 3 cards you need? I’d start with the rookie card, a 1987 card picturing him on the 1986 World Champion Mets, and any card late in his career (such as 2003 Topps Total) that mentions his claim to baseball fame as the player who pitched in more games than anyone else in baseball history.

Speaking of relief pitchers: I made reference to wanting Graeme Lloyd’s rookie card from 1993 Flair in a previous post. Another setup man that lingered around a while was Mike Stanton. How many times have you heard the phrase “Do. Your. Job.”? Stanton’s job, especially late in his career, was to get the “hold,” an unofficial pitching stat that involved preserving your team’s lead after the starter goes out and the closer comes in to close. Stanton is the major league leader in holds. That’s doing your job well. I have plenty of Stanton rookies from 1990, and when I find out what year Stanton broke the holds record, I’ll want a base card of him from the following year.

Can you make a card special and give it some TLC? Dig through those card collecting dust and if you’re taking more than 3 seconds looking at it, given the average when sifting through is 1 second, then you may have drafted up a “Lazarus Ticket” for that card.

In a later blog post, I will name my favorite vintage set and go though it to write some “Lazarus Tickets” out of it.

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