On this page, you’ll find a collection of thoughts about my baseball card collection, and old baseball cards in general. I am a semi-retired collector of baseball cards, having been my main passion from my childhood years until the start of my journalism career.
I’ll continue to buy the occasional pack of cards these days, and I’m always trying to think of ways to make “unworthy” cards seem special again. This is because most of my cards are from the dreaded Junk Wax era of the 80s and 90s.
CLICK HERE for my updated baseball card Want List!
Put these cards aside: Notes for your next junk wax memory lane trip
Written: Aug. 25, 2020
Quantity trumped quality when I was a child, but like any child, I wouldn’t have known right from wrong when it came to collecting baseball cards.
The fact that this 8-year old had a whopping “one thousand!” baseball cards seemed very awesome at the time. Yes, 804 cards from the 1992 Donruss factory set played a big part.
Sports stores in downtown Rock Falls (where I grew up during grade school) and Sterling had boxes of cards they sold for either a dime or a quarter. Memorizing the prices of the monthly Beckett magazines, I sought to raid every single dime box I could find. That’s when the “joy” of investment came to me: Here’s this card I bought for $0.10 that I could sell for $1 to someone because that card really is $1 in mint condition! Oh, the dollar signs that spun around in my 12-year-old head had me thinking riches come adulthood!
Of course, that didn’t happen.
I stopped religiously collecting baseball cards when I got to high school, and sports journalism became my future. However, I was left with this massive pile of baseball cards that weren’t going anywhere. When I moved out of the parents’ house, those cards came with me; it took a separate trip down the road to move them. When should be my guest bedroom currently is my baseball card room.
I don’t have those fancy autograph, relic pieces, 1:1’s, etc. Just a lot of junk wax base cards that no longer appeal to the casual collector. Or do they?
Time has passed quick on the junk wax era, which I narrow down to between 1987-1992, when common cards are as low as $0.05. No player from that era plays anymore. Only some names are recognizable to the youngest baseball fans; those of your star players.
Question for you high schoolers: Have you ever heard of Lance Parrish, Frank Tanana, Dwight Evans or Mario Soto? Chances are, you haven’t. Parrish and Evans hit more than 300 home runs in their careers, Tanana won more than 200 games and more than 2,700 strikeouts, and Soto was a good pitcher whose career was shorter than most stars. However, they were stars of their time, and they are not common cards of the junk wax era.
Ask them if they’ve heard of Dale Murphy. There may be a few that indeed have heard of him.
I’ve got plenty of Dale Murphy. But how to market those cards to someone?
I also have plenty of Harold Baines. So if you’re looking for cards of a Hall of Fame player, I’ve got some.
This line of thinking brought me back to my baseball card room tonight to figure out how to market these largely-unmarketable baseball cards and give them new life.
1. Hall of Fame
Induction into Cooperstown doesn’t guarantee a card’s increase in value on that merit alone; nor does the tragic death of baseball player. Growing up, you’ve probably heard about how such cards go up. You probably witnessed the huge spike in Mickey Mantle prices when he succumbed to liver cancer in 1995. Deaths of Darryl Kile, Roy Halladay and Alan Wiggins didn’t do anything to their card values.
The generation gap plays a big role here. Prior to Baines’ induction to Cooperstown, a young collector wasn’t likely to “want” a Harold Baines baseball card from his paling days; they like were dismissive in the form of “Who’s he?” However, since Baines now is in the Hall, he then becomes a player that aspiring collectors have the potential to shoot for to have at least a card of him in their collection. Baines gets in, and he then is swung more in-demand than, say, Dwight Evans.
You can say all you want about Baines’ induction; it does come with a lot of criticism. One interesting thing about Baines that didn’t happen to other recent inductees is that his 1981 rookie cards did NOT go up in value based on his induction.
Ted Simmons is another story. The 2020 inductee saw his rookie card blast through the ceiling when it came to induction. Just 6 short years ago, his 1971 Topps rookie card was a mere $8. It’s $120 now. Much of that has to do with the prestige of the 1971 set, black borders and all. However, Goose Gossage had a similar uptick, but not as expensive, with his 1973 Topps rookie card after his induction into Cooperstown: $6 just 6 years ago, now $40.
Simmons now joins Baines on a “baseball hall of famers want list,” something that Dale Murphy is not a part of. Yet.
Get out those Ted Simmons Braves cards!
2. Brief stint
Let’s say Dale Murphy gets his due and gets in Cooperstown. Younger collectors now have a new name to add to their collection.
What used to be the best way to find Dale Murphy cards was to raid dime boxes. As you are raiding the dime box looking to grab all of the Murphy cards you can get your hands on, how many of those cards are Braves cards? How many are Phillies cards? How many are Rockies cards? Murphy only played for those teams during his career, and you’re less likely to find a Rockies card of him in a dime box than a Braves card. Murphy only played an abbreviated season for the expansion Rockies in 1993, and therefore there aren’t as many Rockies cards of Murphy floating around dime boxes.
Save those Dale Murphy Rockies cards. Potential career arc premium. Those 1993s may not rise in value from his semistar slot, but they have potential to be in demand.
Speaking of 1993 expansion draft players: The same scenario can be made for Trevor Hoffman. You’re likely to find more Padres cards in a dime box than Marlins cards. Potential career arc premium.
If Topps hadn’t airbrushed Reggie Jackson’s 1977 card, and left him as a Baltimore Oriole, imagine the value of that card. If you’re a Reggie collector, you’re less likely to find an Oriole card in the mainstream than you are of him on the Athletics (in both stints), Angels or Yankees.
When you think of Willie McCovey, you think Giants. Billy Williams, Cubs. Joe Morgan, Reds or Astros. Manny Sanguillen, Pirates. But what do these four star players of the 1970s have in common? They all are former Oakland Athletics players. Plenty of cards of their most known teams out there; not so much from their A’s days.
If you’re looking for a Mike Piazza card of his Marlins days – all 7 of them! – they do exist. I recommend having the Pacific Omega card from 1998, which has Piazza playing for the Dodgers, Marlins and Mets on the same card front. Variations of that card exist.
To an even smaller extent, this scenario could also apply to managers and coaches. “I own a Bob Lemon baseball card” could very well apply to the 1971 card I have of him as a Royals manager.
Find 1987 Topps “Astros Leaders” in your collection. On the front is some fat old guy walking away from the mound toward the photographer’s camera. That’s not just any old coach: That’s Yogi Berra. This is the only MLB-issued card of him in an Astros uniform. You can own a baseball card of Yogi Berra, in an ugly Astros uniform, for just $0.10!
3. Managers and coaches of today
As mentioned, players from the junk wax era now are all retired. However, several of them continue to stay in the game as coaches and/or managers.
Dave Martinez, for example, is a junk wax rookie. He managed the Nationals to the 2019 World Series championship. It didn’t do anything to his rookie card value, but perhaps it could if he can lead teams to additional titles.
That worked for Bruce Bochy’s 1979 Topps rookie card. That card, back in 2013 – a year before he won his third title with the Giants, was just $0.75. However, with possible Hall of Fame talk coming along after title No. 3, that card has since jumped to $5.
Martinez’s rookie cards, if the same predicament applies, won’t be that much since there are more than one company producing cards from his time.
I’ll probably cobble up some more thoughts the more I look at my cards.
More thoughts on Junk Wax Salvaging
In addition to a post that I wrote about a year ago about salvaging certain junk wax cards (linked HERE), I’m trying to think of more ways to do this.
Earlier, I had discussed cameo cards, and cards that may result in funny captions.
Cameo cards are those with star players in the background. The stars can be either fully seen or somewhat obvious.
The 1989 Topps ‘Padres Leaders” card is meant to be one that tells about the Padres’ statistical leaders for the 1988 season. However, you’ll notice that Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter is on the other end of the card trying to tag out the Padres’ Roberto Alomar – also a Hall of Famer.
Both are Hall of Fame players, so the true “cameo” definition sort of cancels out. However, if that Padres runner were a common (say, Stan Jefferson), then that simple $0.05 card would be worth keeping.
The Alomar-Carter card is $0.25, according to Beckett. The card may be interesting to collectors of Carter.
I have Roberto Alomar’s 1994 Topps base card which has a cameo of his brother, Sandy, sliding into second base. It is one of only a few “in-action” cards featuring the two brothers. Right now, it doesn’t increase the value of the cards, but it may have potential down the road.
Another interesting cameo is Ryne Sandberg on the 1983 Topps Reggie Smith card. Sandberg’s rookie card is in that set. Smith was a good player throughout his career, with more than 300 homers, and this was his last original card. Sandberg is seen returning to first base on a pickoff attempt. Normally, the value of the card without Sandberg is $0.30, but with the interesting Sandberg cameo the value spikes up to “unlisted star status” at $1.25, according to Beckett.
Having a superstar cameo rarely increases its current value, but can be a good sell to individual player collectors.
The other card I have pictured MAY be a cameo, but I’m not certain. It looked, at least to me, that Matt Williams was sliding into second base under Tom Foley. I’m not sure if that REALLY is Matt Williams, so I file it under the “I don’t know bin.”
HOWEVER, does it appear that “Williams” is trying to touch Foley in a certain area?
That’s the kind of card that I file in my “card captions” box.
Certainly, the photographer did not intend to have that picture play out the way it did, but it may appear that there may be some sort of touching going on.
These are a little hard to see, but I can think of things to say about each of these cards.
What’s Wes Chamberlain doing with his bat?
Alan Trammell flipping the bird?
Ron Karkovice about to be kneed in the gonads?
What’s got “rookie card” Hal Morris so mad?
You can probably think of better “captions” than mine. These four aren’t the best examples (they were within reach of my laptop), but there are many more if you dig through your commons and have a sense of imagination, or a little bit of baseball history. Or even personally knowing things about a player; Mel Hall with his eyes wide open looking at someone would be a disgusting example of a “card caption.”
I’ve got about 50 “card caption” cards that I’m looking to sell as a whole. $5 for the lot. Pick it up in Sterling.
These next ideas are totally outside-the-box thinking …
Remember those small “Remember When” booklets at the Cracker Barrel gift shop with things happening in the year you were born? I have one for my birth year, 1986, where it tells about the events, trends, prices of things, and other important things of that time.
Say I am not a baseball card collector, but a baseball fan. I’m not that old, but when I get to be the age where I have trouble remembering who were good baseball players back in 1986, it would be cool to me to know who these players were.
Here’s where subset cards come into play: I’m rounding up 1987 Donruss Diamond King cards, 1987 Topps Record Breakers, 1987 Fleer World Series cards, and whatever important about 1986 and making a set out of them.
This idea won’t work now, but they may 40-50 years down the road.
I witnessed it
I live close to Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis, and I look at important dates in the history of their four franchises during the junk wax era. In particular, those which would have made “record breaker” cards at the time.
Let’s use Bobby Thigpen’s record-breaking 57th save as an example. Were you there? Round up a set of Thigpens from 1991 (it happened in 1990, but the 1990 cards will not explain the feat), both base and subset. Who did he retire to get the save? Starting lineups?
Those who enjoy baseball and rarely make it to baseball games may enjoy cards of players they remember from those games. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy baseball cards, I’ve only been to 2 major league baseball games.
Birthday history: Only three games were played on my birthday, and only one home run was hit on my birthday. The Cubs’ Bob Dernier had a solo shot and a two-RBI double to come from behind and beat the Padres, 4-3. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage was dealt the loss in relief. Somewhere in my collection is some 1987 Derniers.
As you may have gleaned reading this far, it sort of bites knowing that cards from the following year are used for feats during the year they happened.
The Mets won the World Series in 1986; and Mets players from 1987 sets will have players who were on the roster during that World Series. Heck, I wouldn’t mind having a Red Sox set, too, especially since Bill Buckner had something to do with the final outcome.
Other important years include franchise first-year cards, such as the Mariners/Blue Jays (1977), Rockies/Marlins (1993), and D-Backs/Devil Rays (1998); as well as the 2005 Washington Nationals. World Series winners are also good, as well as pennant winners and divisional winners from special years.
The St. Louis Cardinals made the World Series three times during the 1980s: They won it in 1982 over the Brewers, and lost to the Royals in 1985 and Twins in 1987. Interestingly, their three opponents are not that far from each other: Two interstates and about 300 miles in 1982, I-70 in 1985, and Minneapolis is less than a day’s drive (but a couple of days down the Mississippi River). I have come close to completing Topps sets from teams in each of those Fall Classics.
There are three old Hall of Famers who were born within 50 miles from where I live: Joe McGinnity (on a farm south of Atkinson), Jim Bottomley (Oglesby), and Al Spalding (Byron).
There are plenty of former players within that same range. Two current players are from Sterling/Rock Falls: the Royals’ Jakob Junis (Rock Falls), and the Braves’ Mike Foltynewicz (born in Sterling, Minooka grad). I know of several collectors who are into Junis cards.
We’ve had all-stars, too. Dan Kolb was a closer for the Brewers during his all-star year. His cousin, the late Gary Kolb, played in the 1960s. Both are from Rock Falls; Gary was a Rocket, Dan was a Walnut Blue Raider.
I don’t have a Gary Kolb baseball card at all, unfortunately. I thought it would be cool to get at least two of each; one for myself, and another to put in the trophy case at Rock Falls High School.
Most, if not all players from the junk wax era attended high school before they turned pro; some even attended smaller junior colleges.
Like my idea for a Gary Kolb display, I think it would be cool to create a baseball card display of a certain player and donate it to that player’s alma mater for historical display. Because who else wants to be the next professional baseball player from their alma mater?
Local historical societies also could use such baseball card displays of players from their community. If you can manage to sell mint commons at face value to them, they can turn around and sell them for whatever they want to help keep their place going. Local museums always could use any money they can get to remain active.
Any other ideas?
Email me at shs42886 at yahoo dot com to include your creative idea in a future post of mine