As a child of the 80s, collecting baseball cards was one of my earliest hobbies. This was the beginning of the zenith of baseball card collecting. I would say my first packs were from 1986 and 1987. I remember a pack of 17 Topps cards costing 45 cents. You would get 16 actual cards, because the 17th inevitably had a gum stain. The gum was awful.
One early memory is my Grandmother giving me a couple dollars to walk to the market in Angelus Oaks. I bought several Topps packs only to see several cards were taken out. I let the lady know, who replaced the pack. When I discovered more were missing, she then accused me of lying. I didn’t know what to do. Instead of protesting, I simply walked away. This is one of many instances that would lead me to begin questing authority.
There were other manufacturers, like Donruss and Fleer. Score came along and they were decent cards. I still focused on Topps, although, they were not the most highly prized cards.
In 1988, the Topps Traded set was a super hot item. It featured most of the 1988 Olympic baseball team, and the 1984 Topps Traded set was highly valued. The 1988 set was led by Jim Abbott, who made the major leagues without a functional right arm (still one of the greatest stories of all time).
I was proud to get the 1988 set and I took it to school to show my classmates. As it turns out, a jerk named David Chu stole my coveted Jim Abbott card. He refused to give it back and to this day I don’t know what happened to it. My baseball set worth over $ 100.00 was now ruined missing the most valuable card.
A couple years ago, I was in a baseball card shop and spotted the Jim Abbott card. I was beyond excited. I knew that the 1980s glut had depressed card values from that era, so I wasn’t shocked to see a price tag of only $ 8.00 for it. I pointed to the card and told the gentleman I wanted to buy the baseball card. He looked at me confused, and I explained I wanted to buy that card for $ 8.00. He then laughed and said, the entire 1988 Topps Traded set was $ 8.00. Wow.
In 1989, the baseball card collecting world changed forever. Upper Deck released their inaugural set, with clean designs, glossy finish, and that hologram we couldn’t get enough of. The most highly prized card was the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card in his San Bernardino Spirit uniform. Since we regularly attended Spirit games at Fiscalani Field (general admission tickets were $ 3), we actually got to see Griffey in the couple months he was playing single-A baseball. As luck would have it, my friend Jeremy managed to pull 2 Griffey cards out of a single pack. I had no such luck.
With the advent of Upper Deck’s success, the market flooded. Lots of premium cards were coming out, and younger people like me were quickly dizzy with the number of options and cost. My allowance couldn’t support this hobby anymore.
Another thing I remember from this period is Donruss purchasing a game-used Babe Ruth jersey, then cutting it up and distributing through random cards. This was sacrilege at the time, yet it was the moment modern Relic cards were born.
Soon, my baseball card went into a bunch of banker’s boxes and wouldn’t be opened for 20 years. At the same time, the hobby had a huge glut of overproduced cards as well as their hobby base discovering computers, the internet, etc.
That was the end of my first collecting experience.
One thing that happens as an adult is you reach a moment where some childhood nostalgia is within reach. Doing some Spring cleaning, I opened up my old cards. In addition, my Brother had a number of cards he had given to me when he went into the Army, and he wanted to see what Oakland Athletics cards he had, particularly from Rickey Henderson.
It took little time for me to get sucked back in, and I was buying modern baseball cards. The era had changed. Topps was the sole official licensee. While I started with some standard issue cards, I was fairly stunned to discover they created dozens of different sets. Many old names they owned, like Bowman (especially valuable for the rookie cards), T206, Allen and Ginter, Stadium Club, Pro Debut, Opening Day, Museum Collection, Heritage, Inception, Finest, Definitive, and the worst of all, Tier One. This isn’t even everything, as there are more sets not mentioned here. In addition, the standard sets had “blue” and “red” cards for retail at Walmart and Target. There were hobby box packs, which I actually supported because baseball card shops are small businesses that should have a chance to compete. There were Chrome sets from Topps and Bowman. And finally, each of these had a bunch of subsets that caused you to purchase hobby box after hobby box to collect rare collections, coins, relics, and autograph sets.
I didn’t last long. The collecting was too time-consuming, exhausting, and expensive. You had to be independently wealthy to keep up, even if you narrowed your collecting to certain sets. In addition, you ended up with box upon box of “common” cards just to try to find the subsets, autographs, relics, etc. that you really wanted.
Topps Tier One dispensed with the idea of common cards, and have you seen the prices per pack? You have to be a millionaire and there are so many “1 of 1” cards that you can never collect at entire set. So what’s the point?
I gave up. Collecting actually sucks, as my longtime experience collecting Scouting and Order of the Arrow patches taught me. The over-commercialization of modern cards has created a market among Gen-X and earlier adults. This is a collecting bubble that won’t be sustained.
Now, I am sitting on 10s of thousands of cards that I don’t know what to do with or even how to sell the few “hits” from my recent collecting. Maybe you should make me an offer.