I worked in a baseball card shop for fourteen years, on and off. Through high school and college, the police academy and the Army, from 1989 through 2003 I sold all manner of sports memorabilia.I was there for the Great Error Card Hype of 1989-1990, when people shelled out big bucks for the most famous baseball card of its day, the 1989 Billy Ripken "F–K Face" card (left). I was there for the beginning of the insert card craze in 1990, when Upper Deck put Reggie Jackson autographs in its high series that year, and millions of people went nuts (and broke) trying to "Find the Reggie." I was there when the first piece of a game-used jersey found its way onto a card. I was there when rookie cards began to get serial numbered and scarce. I was there when the world stopped buying cards due to the 1994 Baseball strike, and was there when they came back tenfold during the McGwire/Sosa summer of 1998.
The problem, though, is that when you’re around cards all the time, they tend to lose their appeal. When you watch enough people spend $100 on a pack (yes, $100 per pack or more for some products) and get worthless ****, it tends to make you not want to buy any yourself. When you watch a hobby go from peopl buying $.50 packs and being happy to spending outrageous amounts of money for a single pack and being disappointed, it makes you want to spend your money in other pursuits.
So, these last few years of being a baseball fan have been mostly without collecting baseball cards. Being a sports fan and collecting sports memorabilia used to go hand in hand; but now, as the hobby has shot itself in the foot and burned too many people out, many people are enjoying the game without buying the cards.
I was perfectly happy like this. It had been years since I’d bought a pack of cards. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, I didn’t go out and buy any of the memorabilia associated with their win. In fact, the only item I own from that championship is a 2002 World Series Ball.
But then, a funny thing happened. I stumbled upon Chris’s blog, "The Ultimate Baseball Collector." One of the first posts he made was about baseball cards. And, in his youthful wisdom, he didn’t care about the monetary value of the cards he bought. He was happy to pull an autographed card. It reminded me of everything that is good about the hobby. It reminded me of opening packs during my childhood.
Along with that, I have a friend who has, in the last couple of years, found a great love for baseball. In fact, it’s so much in tune with mine that it’s scary. My wife calls him my "Baseball husband," as we’re on the phone talking baseball three or four times a day, and his fiancee calls me his "Baseball Boyfriend."
Like me, he had no interest in cards other than the nostalgic value of those he collected as a child.
But recently, we began talking about baseball cards. And my dad and I started talking about them again. When I was younger, baseball cards were what my dad and I did together, how we bonded. So Saturday, I went to my local baseball card shop, The Baseball Card Dugout in Anaheim, California. A good friend of mine (who I met when I was working in a card shop) is a manager there, and along with the cards, I was rekindled with the great thing about a baseball card shop: The conversation. In a baseball card shop, there are always people around who share your interest in the hobby and sports. This weekend, we talked about the good old days of collecting, saw a customer’s Roger Maris autograph he got in person (VERY rare), and came to a consensus as to how big a jerk Curt Schilling is (a HUGE one).
And my good friend Brian sold me and my dad a box of 2007 Topps Chrome.
There’s no way that, even in my most cynical days of collecting cards, I would have been disappointed with this box. We got all kinds of rookies, the two autographed rookie cards promised on the box, and an addition autographed rookie of a young Royals catcher numbered 3/5! Plus, one of our auto rookies was Alex Gordon, the prospect from Kansas City. While I probably wouldn’t get my money back if I sold everything on eBay, I couldn’t be happier with this purchase.
So the bug has bitten me once again. And yesterday, it bit my friend Scott too, as he bought his first box of baseball cards in a dozen years.
I’m sure there are better things we could be spending our money on. But there are very, very few that let you connect so seamlessly with both your childhood and a game you love with all your heart.
So head out to your local card shop (or Target) and pick up some baseball cards today! Don’t worry about the more expensive ones, just pick up something cheap and plentiful, and find joy in the simplicity of the card, the beauty of the photography, the stats on the back, and try to remember what it was that drew you to baseball cards in the first place.
I’d be willing to bet it had nothing to do with money.