I just spent several hours condensing several shoeboxes of loose baseball and football cards into a box designed to hold cards safely. Some amusing finds:
- Buster Rhymes rookie card.
- ALF trading cards, including Bouillabaisseball Cards, a joke my mom explained to me but I didn't fully grok. I've still never seen bouillabaisse soup.
- Return of the Jedi trading cards with ™ symbols after character names and locations: "Above The Sarlac Pit™," "Princess Leia™ Intercedes," "Jabba the Hutt™ on The Sail Barge™." Really I think that says a lot about George Lucas's vision in the last thirty years.
I stopped collecting baseball cards when I started playing Magic
(and later other CCGs). I certainly don't regret that switch; CCGs typically have better pictures, more thought-provoking cards, and encourage social interaction.
Around the time I started collecting baseball cards, there'd be a story in the newspaper every few months about how someone sold a Mickey Mantle rookie card for $100,000 or sold a Nolan Ryan rookie and paid for college. So in addition to hero worship, baseball cards gave me an opportunity to pretend I'd make lots of money for hoarding small pieces of cardboard. Looking through them today strengthened my suspicions that my collection won't be worth any significant money.
First, the reason the guy could sell a Nolan Ryan rookie to pay for college was because everybody else's parents had thrown away their cards when they went to college, so those cards were hard to come by. My family (particularly my mom) needs no encouragement to keep stuff around with no resale value, so my cards were in no danger of the dumpster, but with all the "mom through out the baseball cards" press, I don't think many other kids my age have lost their sets to overzealous cleaning.
Second, I think the market for $100,000 baseball cards was wealthy boomers trying to recover their childhood. (Boomers are often on a quest to recover whatever part of their life seemed like the most fun; I've met plenty of guys who didn't seem to progress past 1972.) I just don't see people of my generation wishing they had a Barry Bonds rookie card. There's some demand for 1980s video games, but that market is also far from$100,000 for a Mickey Mantle territory.
Third, I didn't understand the secondary market for baseball cards. I thought there was some magic property that once enough decades had passed and enough moms had thrown away enough cards, every card I owned was going to be worth big bucks. So while I've got some cards in photo album sheets, most were sliding around in shoeboxes or held in my sweaty hands as I invented ways for baseball card teams to play against each other. (The Cardinals usually won.) As a result, almost all of my cards have roughed-up corners; some have major damage. Further, the main cards valuable in the secondary market are rookies who later made it big. I've got perhaps a dozen cards in that category in decent shape, but I doubt any are worth more than $40 or $50 because Topps was widely printed (and you could buy a complete set in a box directly), so supply is still pretty close to demand.
There are parents who buy collectibles for their children -- action figures and Beanie Babies, for instance -- and don't let them play with them for fear they will lose resale value. I'm very glad I don't have those parents. The cognitive development afforded me by baseball cards far exceeds the value lost by kid-inflicted damage done to them. Like action figures and other childhood toys, baseball cards were catalysts for the imagination. I'd look at a Todd Worrell
card and imagine myself as a major league relief pitcher. I'd concoct various ways to organize the cards, helpful to my later career writing Comparators. I'd create entire new leagues and have teams draft players whose names I'd made up based on two real baseball players' names.
The first season of baseball cards I have in any significant number is 1987 Topps (for the 1986 season). I remembered this set as being the coolest, and sorting cards today reinforced that opinion. Apparently, I'm not the only one
. And while I've still got a few dozen "Send this card for a chance to win tickets to spring training" cards, at least the boxes didn't have any stale chewing gum.