Baseball cards used to be fun and I had a ton of them. After 25 years, certainly a few should be valuable, right? Wrong.
Memories by the stack
Not long ago I found a box of all my old baseball cards in my grandma’s attic. Finding what was a large part of my childhood was exciting but it didn’t take long for me to start thinking about the one thing that everyone thinks about when they find their old trading cards – money. What are they worth now? Unlike other collectible toys (like Hot Wheels), baseball cards are intended to be an investment. Even when I was little and trading cards with friends everyday, all of us wanted to have the “good and rare” cards in our collection. I wanted those cards for bragging rights as much as I wanted them for their future fortune. We’ve all heard stories about the guy that found a 1920s baseball in the attic and sold it for a ton of money, and every card I collected got me one step closer to that…even if I had to wait.
Well, it’s been 25 years since I’ve actively collected baseball cards and I have nothing to show for it. My hardcore collecting years were 1989 – 1993, a good four year span that took me from 4th grade up to high school, at which point I gave up the hobby. I didn’t count the cards in my box but it is easily hundreds of cards that covers all the popular brands of the time like Donruss, Topps, Score and Upper Deck. To be honest, I don’t know how many of those brands still produce baseball cards, although I’m sure Topps is still the big boy on the block. The oldest cards in the box date back to 1983 while the latest stop around 1995.
Flipping through the stacks of cards really took me back, and not just back to the act of collecting and trading, but back to the time when I cared about baseball. I loved baseball. I played baseball and followed the games. Seeing the names on some of these old cards was awesome and represents the players that still come to mind when you mention any given team. So in other words, my baseball knowledge ends around 1990. But if you say Cincinnati Reds, I say Barry Larkin and Eric Davis. You say Red Sox and I say Wade Bogs and Roger Clemens. You say Braves, I say Dale Murphy. How about the Dodgers? Orel Hershiser and Tommy Lasorda. But my team? My team was the Oakland A’s…Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Ricky Henderson, Eckersley. They were stacked.
But I digress…baseball was a lot of fun when I was a kid but now as I stare at my box of cards, I’m wondering if it’s all worth anything. Amongst all my “common” cards are a few would-be superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez as well as some seemingly unique all-star cards like Cal Ripken, Darryl Strawberry and Pete Rose. Needless to say I had every A’s card that I could find from the era which includes a full Upper Deck team set. You’d think somewhere in this pile would be a winner worth something. Well, you’d be wrong.
Swing and a miss
I browsed some price guides to see what my cards are worth and was somewhat bummed to find they weren’t worth much at all…at least at face value. A few of the cards were listed at $2 – $3, which doesn’t sound like a lot at all but when you consider I got most of these cards in packs of 12 cards for which I paid 50 cents, that comes out to something stupid like a 7000% increase in value. However, I’m obviously not going to get rich selling cards for $2 a pop. The fact is that I was collecting baseball cards at a time when they were incredibly popular and thus over-produced to the point of being almost worthless. Millions upon millions of baseball cards were produced and sold during the mid-1980s which means there is almost no such thing as a “rare” card. That decade saw baseball cards incorporating gimmick after gimmick into each wax pack. All-star cards, “Diamond King” cards, puzzle cards, rookie cards, top prospect cards, draft pick cards, World Series cards, retro cards…I mean, the list just keeps on going.
There were so many “special” cards that none of them were special at all. Cards were cheap to make and cheap to collect. But then by the 1990s cards like Upper Deck were putting out “high end” cards that cost more and offered less. Rather than a putting 12 cards in a pack for 50 cents, Upper Deck packs had like six cards in a pack for a dollar. The era of artificial value of baseball cards had begun and thus I quit collecting. It’s easy for a kid to drop a dollar and get two packs of cards, but asking that same kid to spend two dollars for fewer cards just didn’t make sense. If anything, the growing expense of collecting baseball cards led me to giving up on the hobby, and in turn, my love of baseball.
So I wasn’t going to get rich with my old baseball cards. That’s fine. I’m happy just seeing a part childhood that wasn’t lost to the ages like every other toy I had. Yet one more interesting point I noticed of my cards is how they were organized. The cards were largely sorted by year of release and within each year by team…except for some seemingly random positions. Managers and team cards had their own stack, as did all-star cards and rookies. Of course, there was the “these are the awesome players” stack that had all the big names I knew back then. Half the fun of collecting was organizing the cards into boxes and binders. The funny part is there are several “common” players in my collection that are now bigger names in the MLB, some of which have even already retired…and they’re still not worth anything.
If nothing else, baseball cards taught me that trying to collect anything with expectations of getting rich is damn near impossible. To this day I don’t collect anything expecting to see huge returns, and I don’t think anyone should. The minute you see something like baseball cards as a means of income is the same minute you cease to be able to enjoy them. Collect toys or games or cards because you love them…because you enjoy the act of collecting, trading and organizing. Collecting toys should be fun, not stressful.
Of course, if someone offers you a million dollars for your baseball cards, take it, nostalgia be damned!