April 1st marks the beginning of baseball season. Favorites are emerging like Mookie Betts, Giancarlo Stanton, and Fernando Tatis, Jr., who dominate the attention and admiration of baseball fans and avid card collectors.
Baseball card collecting has always been a popular hobby and solid investment but has exploded during the last year, creating a pandemic during the cabin fever of COVID-19.
Baseball had cut its season short in 2020 as American’s sucked in air and barricaded themselves indoors. It is fitting in the spring of 2021, baseball bursts out of the box, breathing life and energy into households.
The hobby has been revitalized in overdrive -- the baseball card market swells with newly acquired fans watching spring training intently as baseball card values soar--and plummet in reaction.
I am one of those noobs in the hobby. My enthusiasm and addiction caught me by surprise. I am finding myself immersed in spring training, taking notice of potential prospects, and swiftly scrolling through eBay to check how the prices are receiving spring training analytics as I transfer funds from areas in my budget to buff my baseball card budget.
I have become the girl that holds her breath with every bid on eBay and lets it out in a colorful curse phrase when I lose in the last few seconds. The girl that periodically checks the Topps website during the day hoping to catch the hobby box that I desperately need, although I have no idea what it is.
Where others showcase their food, family, and events on Facebook, I video my card breaks, joining baseball groups, and frequently stalk Staxx games. I’m that girl. This is not who I was in 2019--how did I get here?
One Of The Boys
I have always been a high-maintenance tomboy. I love everything about being a girl, but I also like camping, hunting, racing, and other things that are non-traditionally filed under ‘girl.’ At the same token, I would do those things my way -- like putting on makeup and doing my hair before going hunting -- because presentation matters.
On that note, when I was young, my grandfather was a massive figure in my life and included me in everything he did--including going to the hobby store every Saturday for baseball cards. At the time, it wasn’t about the cards; it was about the ice cream that came after and spending time with my hero.
His collection was extensive, and I noticed how he smiled and could sense the pride when he doted on them. In many ways, I was jealous of the affection he groomed them with -- but not enough to stop getting my ice cream. I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the memories he was giving me until after he passed.
The realization slammed into me of what he did. He transferred my fond memories into those little bits of cards he collected. Now, every time I look at a baseball card, it’s him that I see. The nostalgia of his fondness, quality time, the innocence of a grand-daughter idolizing her grandpa in an age gone by is invoked within the corners of a baseball card. Well played, grandpa, well played.
Although my newfound love for baseball cards is enjoyable, entertaining, and borderlines on obsession -- in the recesses of my mind, I want to transfer the same overwhelming emotion to my son. When I am gone, I want him to continue my legacy of cards because they represent the center of family connection. Had they always been designed to link generations of a family tree?
How baseball cards came into existence is innovative and interesting. In the mid-19th century, baseball and photography were growing in popularity and started to merge. Baseball clubs seized the new technological wonder of the camera and posed for group and individual pictures to document this exquisite period of their lives.
It seemed only natural that fandom would grasp the opportunity to own the cards of favorite players and teams. Due to public demand, trade cards appeared in 1860, featuring the day’s favorite players. Trade cards were also used by businesses, like today’s business cards, kind of like an archaic social media platform.
However, it was the trade cards produced by Peck & Snyder, a sporting goods store in New York, that started trending baseball cards in 1868. They married the business card and baseball card by featuring one side as the player and the other as an advertisement for businesses.
Baseball cards became entertainment, with some vendors incorporating the cards as part of a conventional card game (think Pokemon) or a simulated baseball game. Smoking was a popular past-time for all demographics and increased circulation.
By 1886, cards were included in cigarette packs to capitalize on marketing strategies while simultaneously protecting the cigarette packs from damage during shipping. Genius!
The T206 Honus Wagner (The Flying Dutchman of the Pittsburgh Pirates)card above was the most valuable baseball card in history, published from 1909-1911 by the American Tobacco Company. Only 50-200 were distributed because Wagner halted production. He was either against kids smoking or wanted more compensation than received.
Fun fact, the highest dollar amount transacted for this card was a Jumbo Wagner sold in 2016 for $3.12 million. However, a Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospectors Superfractor series rookie card - 1 card distributed - broke the record selling for $3.93 million. But wait, there’s more.
A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card sold for $5.2 million in November 2020, effectively pushing Wagner back, a record that stood forever for the most valuable card, to 3rd place.
Kids and smoking weren’t a great idea, so the confectionary (candy) companies latched onto the baseball card river and created a current of their own. The 20th century saw the release of the first major set by Breisch-Williams Company of Oxford, Pennsylvania, in 1903 and effectively opened the floodgate for non-tobacco company card trading. The best-known contenders being
The World Wide Gum issue in 1933
Bowman Gum in 1948
Leaf Candy Company in 1948
Topps Gum Company (also American Leaf Tobacco) with Bazooka bubble gum 1950
Bowman and Topps were the largest producers of baseball cards from 1948 to 1952. After the World War era, Topps emerged as King in the hobby primarily because of a sought-after Mickey Mantle rookie card that was impossible to get.
Fun fact, the Topps version wasn’t the true Mantle rookie. The 1951 actual rookie Mantle card belongs to Bowman, but Topps is considered the ultimate card to own, whether it be better looking or better advertising--it is in higher demand. In 1956, the colossal giant bought out Bowman and remained unchallenged for decades to come.
Fleer was none too happy about the monopoly and sued Topps in 1975. It was David vs. Goliath, and David won. In 1980, a judge ended Topps Chewing Gum’s exclusive right to sell baseball cards, and Fleer rose to compete in the market. Donruss joined the party in 1981 and issued baseball card sets in gum packs. Topps wasn’t done.
Topps appealed, and it was clarified that Topps exclusive rights only applied to cards sold with gum which led Fleer and Donruss to produce packs without gum. To compete, Fleer included team logo stickers, and Donruss introduced the Hall of Fame Diamond King puzzles.
In 1992, Topps discontinued gum, Fleer discontinued logo stickers, and Donruss followed suit the following year by suspending the puzzle pieces. Donruss found a niche in 1984 with rare and valuable rookie cards that are still coveted today, one of which being the Don Mattingly rookie card.
Interest in baseball cards soared in 1984 as a method to the madness was met with standards and pricing with the price guides of Tuff Stuff and Beckett Baseball Card Monthly to track market values, causing a new surge in investors and people entering the hobby.
Score (Pinnacle) and Upper Deck saw the surge and caught the wave in the late 80s. Upper Deck introduced tamper-proof foil packaging, hologram-style logos, and quality card stock. These innovations allowed them to charge 99 cents per pack (something that I would love to pay now). Upper Deck also included Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards in their 1989 release, a valued card.
Other card companies noticed the price and value of Upper Deck and followed their lead. Topps resurrected the Bowman name in 1989 and produced Stadium Club in 1991. Prices for packs increased from this point forward. Thanks, Upper Deck, you tool (said lovingly). Card companies continued to add value for the price. Such as:
1992 addition of limited edition inserts
premium and super-premium genres
foil technology (ride the rainbow), and
Donruss issued its Leaf brand in 1990
Upper Deck’s Swatches of uniforms & game-used equipment (relic) in 1997
One of One card released by Fleer in 1997
There were now multi-sets, tiers, price point products that justified inflated baseball pricing. Not all companies could keep up with this production. Upper Deck purchased Fleer, continuing the hobby production's incestuous nature among competitors. Upper Deck continues to release Fleer products, and Topps does the same with Bowman and Bazooka. Topps is the only one producing pre-collated factory sets.
Baseball card production is brutal and relentlessly competitive. This proves there is a demand for quality products and a profound interest to keep the hobby alive for this and future generations. It’s the fans that create the value -- whether it be sentimental, like mine -- or monetarily, concerned with the longevity of the stable investment.
Are Baseball Cards A Good Investment?
I recently wrote a blog on the ‘dangers’ of digital baseball cards. One of them being careful to check what you own if you are interested in passing these to your children or for long-term investment. Investing in the digitized version for anything but entertainment while you are alive is not recommended--by me, the noob.
Remember, I didn’t get into baseball cards for the investment potential, although it is a nice perk. And on that note, I am no investment broker or strategist -- I tend to ‘wing’ it and go on hunches. But, there are several things that I do know and am happy to share with you.
eBay accounted for $4.7 billion in sports memorabilia. That’s one platform. Facebook allows 30,000 members and sportscard enthusiasts to post on a buying and selling circuit to the tune of 6,000 posts a day. The sports memorabilia market weighs in at about $5.5 billion. I believe that sports cards haven’t peaked or on a downslide.
Jonathan Torrey of Sports Card Investor ran a test company to root out how many sports card collectors there are on social media. His results show 1.5 million people on a global level demonstrate an interest in the trade. It also revealed the average person spends about $3,600 on sports memorabilia. I’m exceedingly above average.
Now, where it gets fascinating is when you mix gambling with baseball cards. There is a risk in investing in baseball cards--some people, aka mwah, like the rush of the race. There is a way to increase that rush by playing Staxx. Considering people lose over $125 billion a year in gambling, Staxx is a pleasant alternative because it buffers any loss with a guaranteed win.
What Is Staxx?
A Staxx game is a 'stack' of cards that include Chase cards. The stack of cards includes baseball cards of various value, which depends mainly on whose Staxx game you play. Some are better than others. The Chase cards are infused into the stack of cards. Chase cards represent the opportunity to win a quality card of higher value.
If you don’t pull a Chase card, you still have the consolation prize of the baseball cards you pulled in the stack, which has the potential of becoming higher value cards depending on the market. Again, this depends on what Staxx game you play.
You play by paying a certain amount for a chance to pull a Chase card out of the stack. So, let’s say you see a Staxx game on Facebook that displays $3 per pull and $5 shipping. You would pay $8 for one pull, $11 for 2 pulls, etc.
Usually, the shipping is one-time per Staxx game. So, if you play and then decide to play again, you would pay $8 for the first pull and $3 for the next go. Sometimes, Staxx dealers will throw in a pack on your initial buy-in and at specified increments of play. You keep what you pull, keep the incentive pack, and have a chance for highly valuable cards.
These ingredients are the recipe for a highly addicting, entertaining game of chance and value. Several baseball groups on Facebook offer noobs (me) resources in the way of knowledge and how-tos, and they offer access to Staxx games.
I joined a Baseball Group and stumbled across one of the best games I have seen. Best means value for every dollar I spend, not that I ‘win’ every time, but I feel the stack is full of value in its own right, and the dealer is fair and transparent. Something you won’t get in Vegas.
The baseball group is called:
Baseball Cards - Buy, Sell, Trade & Break [click here to visit]
You must apply to the group and state your favorite baseball team to prove that you aren’t a robot. After entry, you can suck up all of the knowledge in the group and gain access to valuable trades...and Staxx.
The Staxx game that I play is within this group. Here is a link to the game so you can see how it is played and message him to be tagged when it is being played again [click here]. Usually, you can find him live every Monday and Thursday at 6:30 PM PST with some variation.
When reviewing Staxx games to play, be selective. Some Staxx dealers fill their stack with low-value cards. The game I play includes Hall of Fame, Rookie, Prospect, and value cards in his stack. As an added feature, you win a pack of cards when you buy in.
I found the game when my noob-self was looking for resources on YouTube about how to package cards and found Baseball Cards Weekly [visit here]. I recently watched his tips for Spring Training (remember, I’m addicted, baseball cards own me now). My point is if you are going to crawl into bed with baseball cards, crawl in with reputable people and resources to avoid feeling like a one-night stand.
Moral of The Story
We all get into baseball cards and hobbies for different reasons. The pandemic has created a volatile market. Volatile markets attract noobs, like me. They also attract predatory capitalists, especially during this unprecedented time in history. Just look at what happened to the Playstation 5. Don’t allow your sentimental value, no matter the hobby, to be weaponized by a predator.
If you are taken advantage of, it sours the hobby for you and jeopardizes the legacy you want to pass on to your kids. For the most part, the sports memorabilia space is warm, welcoming, patient, helpful, and will tell you straight up when you are getting screwed or about to be. That’s what I love about it.
We are a like-minded group, the majority of us in diverse sentimental awareness of what brought us to the obsession of collecting. It is that awareness that breeds respect and camaraderie within the hobby for what we all love and offers a delicious break away from our day.
Collecting takes us back to a time of less responsibility and more fun. A time when I had pigtails, a sundress, was with my hero, and my most significant decision was what kind of ice cream I was going to get. Some things are priceless.