Archive for rookie cards

Breaking Barriers: The vintage rookie cards that shaped the last 15 years of my collection

Posted in Cardboard Porn, Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Have you ever believed that certain things were impossible and then suddenly you accomplished a feat once deemed so insurmountable that it allowed you to rethink everything you believed?

These barrier-breaking moments can have huge impacts in your personal life. And in the right context, these accomplishments in our hobby can lead to reaching amazing collecting goals.

I’m a first-generation baseball card collector who broke into cards at Age 7 because two brothers in my apartment building took me under their wing and led me directly across the street to the card shop where I learned about the pictures of players printed on cardboard.

I collected a bit in 1987 and really leaned into things in 1988, and then 1989 blew my mind with the introduction of Upper Deck and that famed Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. I’ve been here ever since, save for a gap from the middle of 2003 and most of 2004, and this is where I pick up the story.

Upon my return in 2005, the hobby landscape had changed, and I had to adapt, so I really began looking at the things I enjoyed — rookie cards, which I had been collecting hard since 1997 — and seeing glaring holes from 1979 and earlier. This of course isn’t completely abnormal because vintage cards always seemed a bit out of reach for me as a kid, teenager and eventually as a young adult. The common theme for these ages is lack of resources.

By my mid 20s I had completed college and entered my first career. And one of the first goals I had during this “new era” of my collecting history was to obtain a rookie card of two players who cards seemed a bit undervalued by comparison to their peers.

I spent a few months going through the collection I had built to that point and sold off a bunch of inserts and the like. And in 2006, I acquired the two first big vintage rookies for my collection, the 1951 Bowman Willie Mays and the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax.

In my mind, both cards were underrated. Mays and Mickey Mantle were two names often discussed together and both have their Bowman rookie cards in the same set. However, the prices for the two were vastly different, and the Mays felt like an incredible bargain so I chased one down. Sure it, was a low-grade copy, but it was real and it was mine. This is a mantra I still preach to this day when someone wants to knock the condition of anything I own.

And the Koufax? Well … c’mon, it’s a Koufax rookie. I’ve always been enamored with footage of the lefty and owning that card, which had a $1,200 book value (when that was important) for like a decade, seemed grossly underappreciated.

Sadly I do not remember which of the cards came first. Hell, they may have come in at about the same time, because I remembering making the purchases and having this moment of overwhelming joy: “You finally did it!”

I still own that same Mays rookie today, about 15 years later, but the original Koufax I owned has since gone into another collection as I upgraded to a better-looking card.

When those purchases were done, it tapped into the addictive personality that I have. They were a gateway drug for me as the euphoria I felt when I held those cards in my hand made me seek a new high. I set my eyes on more players whose rookie cards were in the same price range (about $250 market value based on condition) and came up with two legends: Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson.

The first Hank Aaron rookie I owned was graded by some off-brand company and while it was clear the card was real, it was also obvious the right border was wavy as if it were cut with a pair of scissors. And the only Jackie Robinson rookie I could afford at the time was a 1948/49 Leaf card that had major damage and was ungraded. Both cards came into my collection and served as placeholders for about a year until I upgraded to the 1954 Topps and 1948 Bowman that currently live in the showcase across from my desk.

For about 18 months I felt like I had built a solid foundation of vintage rookie cards, so I started to look to the future and dabbled a bit in Chrome and signed prospect cards. (Insert major groan here.) My next major vintage rookie is really what got me thinking about this journey.

On Sunday night I tweeted a picture of my 1933 Goudey (high#) Lou Gehrig. Along with the photo I explained how that card made me believe anything was possible again. While the comment wasn’t wrong, it also wasn’t an entire thought as it neglected to mentioned all of the aforementioned, which is what lead to me writing this piece this morning.

I wasn’t feeling well on July 29, 2008, and decided to stay home from work. This was about four weeks after I started this blog and as such this is why I have this date documented. At some point that afternoon I sat in front of my computer looking at stuff on eBay and there was this auction for an SGC graded Gehrig. The card wasn’t as pretty as others available, but the price for the auction was trending low so I threw a nonsensical bid — $1 for every homer Reggie Jackson hit — and to my surprise I won. As you can see I’ve since had the card crossed over to a BGS/BVG slab for continuity in my collection. (Side note: I am a BGS/BVG fan and you can read about that here.)

To that point, the amount I spent on the Gehrig card was the most I had spent on any single card and that is why I see it as such a monumental acquisition for me. Buying this card raised the bar for me and led me to believe that if I really wanted to get to the next level — owning a famed Mickey Mantle Bowman rookie — it was possible.

I added several cards to my collection after the Gehrig, but I kept tabs on Mantle rookies all along. And in 2010, after liquidating a bunch of unwanted items in my collection, I used the money culled from that sale and acquired the Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie card that currently resides in my collection. Mint it is not. In fact it’s not even close. There’s some paper loss on one corner and the register is off … but as the saying goes: It is real and it is mine.

I won the Mantle rookie on Opening Day 2010 just as then-rookie sensation Jason Heyward hit a walk-off homerun. To date, the price I paid for that card is still the most I’ve paid for any single card. But that acquisition changed my mindset and furthered my goal of getting a rookie card (or tobacco era card) of every player member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And in 2012 I acquired a handful of them including my 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, because you can’t own Gehrig and Mantle and not own a Ruth. And once the Ruth was in hand, it lead to me chasing Joe DiMaggio, who is embodied in my collection through a 1938 Goudey Heads-Up card.

Having this idea of Four Pillars or Mount Rushmore of a certain team led me to do the same with others, and I’ve continued ever since, although I also dabble in a bunch of other things as well.

Over the last half decade, life has thrown several curve balls at me. I’ve swung and missed at some, fouled a bunch off and even went with a few and knocked them into right-center field for a base hit. But at some point here in 2020 or the near future, I’m hoping to take one deep — I’m hoping to use my collecting cache and acquire what has to this point seemed impossible to own, a 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews rookie card.

The Mathews to me is almost like the final boss of a 1980s scrolling video game. The Mathews is the last big “modern” vintage HOF rookie card that I do not own. And while it may not be the last card I chase, it surely is the one that is in the crosshairs thanks to a long line of purchases that made the next one seem possible.

Priced out and pissed off? Perhaps its time to pause and appreciate what we’ve had all along.

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Three years ago there was a belief this industry was dying. Cards were not holding their value; ingenuity seemed to be fairly low, and if you spoke to non-collectors about our hobby there was some sort reaction akin to someone asking if you’d even had your first beer.

Alas here we are in 2020 — amid a pandemic, a time of social justice advances, and intense politics — and this card hobby grabs headlines and is hotter than ever.

If you’re like me then you’ve been around cards for a while, and even those of us who have lived through three decades of cards — and some of you much longer — you thought you had seen it all. But this current climate is proving us wrong.

Base cards are relevant again; early non-rookie releases of sure-fire hall of famers are commanding a premium, and parallels — not necessarily autographs — are what’s drawing folks to products. In short, history is repeating itself to an extent but I’m not sure any of us could have predicted anything to this level so quickly.

But when a hobby or market runs hot, demand for products are through the roof and with it go prices. And this is where things get super wonky for the die-hards because … suddenly nothing is easy to find, and most sealed products are carrying insane premiums.

Some have said — or at least thought — that they are priced out of the hobby. This would include me. And honestly, there has been a struggle about how I feel about this. In some ways I’m pissed. I mean how dare this rush of “new” type of consumer rush into this hobby and change the landscape for me and everyone else who has called this their own for years. But … BUT! … how can I/we really be mad when we have bitched and moaned for years about this industry dying; about the lack of respect; and it’s lack of … value.

If you’re in a place where you’re feeling priced out and pissed off, it might be best to pause and think about where YOU fit into this hobby. This, again, includes me.

I know that I cannot hang with the guys who buy into breaks seven days a week constantly gambling their money away until they hit big … and then sell the prized hit and repeat the pattern hoping lightening strikes twice.

I also know that I cannot justify spending $7.50 for a pack of flagship Topps baseball Series 2 — I saw that at an LCS this weekend — and maintain any sort of happiness.

I for damn sure won’t spend $80 to $120 on a blaster knowing that it cost $19.99 when it’s found in the wild. And yes, I know the blasters are impossible to find at times, which is why they command a premium, but I’m not your huckleberry at 4x or higher.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

This is a time for us longtime collectors to realize how good we actually had it all of those years. The times when we were tasked with a milk run at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night and wound up at Target buying the milk and a blaster or two. Those trips to the LCS when we walked in with $20 or $100 budget and walked out with a smile on our face and cards in our hands. The special feeling we had when you found out a distant relative, neighbor or co-worker collected cards and it felt like you were part of the same secret club.

Now is the time to look at your collection and appreciate what you already own. A time to remember why you got into this in the first place. Was it the actual cards? The thrill of the chase? The gambling element? Does the hobby give you a sense of inclusion? Are you carrying on a family tradition or looking to start a new one? The answer is personal for each of us.

I cannot control your feelings about the cards you possess, nor can I contain the emotions you may have for the ones you do not own. But I hope this time of change in our hobby — whether it be short term or not — isn’t pushing you out of the hobby. Because while packs are at a premium, singles are still as available as ever and you can still build a kick-ass collection without having to succumb to the notion that the only thing that matters is the shiniest card released this week of the hottest rookie.

What message am I sending to my kid collector

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

Over the last year and a half I’ve enjoyed perhaps the greatest thing any card collecting father could want: My son enjoys and wants to participate in my hobby.

There was a point where things were a bit touch and go early. I was not sure that my hobby, one I’ve enjoyed since I was 7 years old, would be one on to which he would latch. But here we are in 2020 and at age 9 he is learning things I am teaching him.

But this learning point is exactly what’s concerning me at the moment about the relationship between cards and my son and I. I came into this hobby with no hobby role model. My dad wasn’t a big sports guy during my youth, and while my mother is the one who really introduced me to collecting in general, she did not really provide a structure. All I knew is that she would buy several boxes of Topps Garbage Pail Kids — I have this vivid memory of us plucking boxes off a pyramid dysplay in the center of an aisle at a store like Woolworth — then we’d sort them and put them in a box. I never learned why we did that, or what we would do. In fact, I later took them (without permission) and traded them for baseball cards.

With my son, I feel I have this opportunity to present him with a foundation for a collection. To this point I have introduced him to cards in general, taught him all about the rookies and prospects, how to store the good cards and how to sort his other cards by team and store them in binders. This kid is organized and that is lightyears ahead of where I was when I was 9. But I am wondering what MY actions with my collection are teaching him.

I have a bad habit of buying too many baseball (and now basketball) cards. It’s a problem a lot of us have. Over the last year and a half, however, I have reconciled this in my brain as being OK as long as its an experience I share with my son. We open together, announce the player names and share excitement (and disappointment) together — it’s an experience. And the way it works with us, any base cards we need for the set are for the set, but anything else he pulls from packs are his to keep if he wants. He’s hit some big cards (relatively speaking) and usually accepts them, but every now and again he refuses … it’s not that he doesn’t want them, it’s that he’s being modest.

I digress. Over the last five years I’ve had a lot of fluidity in my collection. Don’t get me wrong, I have my foundation of stuff that I do not intend to move unless circumstances dictate. But I am always selling and sorting stuff. And over the last year specifically I have been liquidating (or preparing to anyway) a lot of items that I have deemed as items I no longer have a desire to keep.

This is important for me as the sheer amount of cards I own often put me in a place of depression. The volume alone can be daunting and overwhelming and can actually cause me to not appreciate any of it. And so I have been pillaging box after box for items to send to COMC to re-purpose, and then sorting other stuff to sell off in team lots (look for an announcement soon).

Having said all of that, I am not sure what message my son is receiving through all of this. I talk about moving items out, but am constantly bringing stuff in. Am I doing this wrong?

I’m pretty open with my son about this hobby. He knows this hobby is expensive, but that we can enjoy it even on a small scale. He knows there are terrible people in and around it, but knows there are some great ones as well. He also knows it takes a lot of work and desire to keep things organized and has seen first hand (read: me and my mess) what happens when you let things overrun your life.

I am a sentimental guy and can find a reason to keep just about anything, especially when cards are involved. Hell, cards are what kept my head straight when my parents split; when I witnessed ugly domestic violence; when my friends got caught up in drugs and other nonsense. The cards are also what’s kept me connected to sports at times, what’s helped me remember not only the aforementioned bad things, but also the great things.

That said, we cannot possibly keep everything. And so it has been a constant struggle lately to purge things and almost hit the reset button in a way. With these actions my son has been involved — he’s helped me sort teams in recent months — and has heard me say things like “It doesn’t matter,” “I don’t care,” “I don’t need it in my collection,” and “I want them out of the house.”

These phrases are a coping mechanism for me to sever ties with items that I really don’t “need” with hopes of being able to remove some of the weight from my shoulders. I explain to him my thought process. I just hope that he understands, and that these help shape his future in the hobby to determine what he enjoys. As I’ve said already, his collecting skills and collection are advanced for his age.

Topps Project 2020: The product I never thought I’d chase

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

I’m not going to pretend that I am an art expert. Hell, I passed my Art History class in college 16 years ago by showing up exactly five times — which is to say I was there for the first and last days of instruction, for the mid term and final exam, as well as a spot in between to turn in a term paper. Not that I am proud of it, but that is solid C work.

So yeah, art and I have a history … but I don’t have in my brain the history of art, ya dig?

That said, you don’t need to have a degree, special training or any other skill to be able to tell when you like (or dislike) a certain piece. When you look at a design, a drawing, painting, photo, or other type of creation does it make you think or feel a certain way? Do you like it, do you not, do you not care?

Art is subjective. There’s no right or wrong way to create, or appreciate. I don’t always seek out art, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate talents that I do not possess.

When Topps launched the Project 2020 line a few weeks ago, I admittedly did not do a lot of research. Hell, I had no intention to buy anything. The first wave came and went and I thought nothing of it. The second wave brought a controversial version of Mike Trout’s 2011 Topps Update rookie card as re-imaged by Ermsy. It appealed to be on some level — I enjoyed the odd comic-style and the color scheme — so I mulled it over and then pulled the trigger the next day when King Saladeen’s take on Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Topps Update was released. That Saladeen hooked me immediately; and to this point his art in this series has become ones that I will absolutely buy, regardless of who is being depicted.

I suppose it was at that point the Project 2020 release became must-see morning viewing for me. It’s not that I had this idea of collecting every card, but it was really a test for my senses. Would there be a piece today that would evoke an emotional response from me? Seeing as how I own(ed) the original copy of almost every card used as inspiration in the series, I wanted to know how each artist was going to interpret the card/image and present a new version to the world.

I had no clue how the secondary market would take to this, and honestly I didn’t care. This wasn’t a money-making venture on my part; this was a if-it-makes-you-happy-then-acquire-it type of situation. And at the price point of $19.99 in this time in history, there was a direct correlation between blaster money turning into a limited edition personal collection addition.

And now as the weekdays pass I check out the Topps.com site each morning with high anticipation to see if the mood strikes me; will there be a design that speaks to me, or not?

As it turns out, I’ve found myself being infatuated by everything King Saladeen has done in this series. For one reason or another, I’ve decided that I will own a copy of each of his pieces. And I’ve also taken a liking to Blake Jamieson, Mister Cartoon, Ben Baller and Matt Taylor — although I probably won’t buy them all. Those are the five artists to whom I have gravitated, but that’s not to say the others aren’t good in their own way.

I try to refrain from saying certain piece aren’t good. Few things bug me more than when someone just says “the piece sucks.” They may not evoke emotion for me or you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good to someone else. It merely means that the piece isn’t for us.

The one artist in this project whom I think got a raw deal early on was Joshua Vides, whose first piece was not explained and merely looked as though he took a black marker to hard edges and added a few scribbles. I know I mocked it early on, and as it turns out, it was indeed more than what was shown and I was wrong. His pieces are textured, and that is not just black marker on a copy of the card, it’s akin to puffy paint on a plastic coating over the top. I wish I knew this before hand because that, to me, changes how I can appreciate his work. If I had known that before hand, I would have purchased his first piece, the Rickey Henderson, and others might have as well.

At this point more than 60 cards into the set and I’ve got six in hand, two in the mail, and another 8 or 10 that should be shipped soon. This is not something I imagined I was going to embrace in the way that I have, but it’s certainly given me something to enjoy each weekday in a time where we are seeing almost no new card releases due to the ongoing issues regarding Covid-19.

It’s worth nothing that the sales figures for everything in this project are starting to increase as the project gains more attention. That Ermsy version of Mike Trout as mentioned above eclipsed the $500 mark earlier this week — which is a hell of a return on the $19.99 investment — so its hard to not let some resell talk enter your stream of consciousness.

Finally, I will say this: If you like these cards I recommend you BUY THEM DIRECT FROM TOPPS. Look, I enjoy saving a few bucks here and there — and that is possible if you buy them from a bulk re-seller on the secondary market. (Hint: They’re buying in bulk at like $15 each and reselling for $18, which is good money when doing bulk sales.) But when you buy direct from Topps you are giving yourself a chance — a chance! — at receiving a special 1/1 version, which can be re-sold for thousands of dollars. When you buy on the secondary market, you’re saving about $5 in some cases, but you also give yourself no chance at that receiving the lottery ticket. Additionally, buying on secondary market will certainly add an extra few days to your delivery time as your seller is essentially a middleman. If neither of these latter points bother you, then by all means do your thing and support the resellers and save a few bucks on a piece you’ll enjoy. Its a personal preference, just like art.

2020 Topps Rookie Logo ManuRelics have won me over

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on February 13, 2020 by Cardboard Icons

I’m really not a huge fan of Manufactured relics. Hell, I don’t think anyone is. But the 2020 blaster-exclusive Rookie Logo medallions have won me over.

I enjoy the simplicity of the card; it’s not some wacky design with a chunky piece of metal or rubber. It’s essentially a reprint of a rookie card with the small Rookie Card Logo embedded within and honestly I’m kicking around the idea of working on this set.

I’m drawn to them like no other ManuRelic I’ve seen in the past; maybe it’s my affinity to rookies. Rookie card reprints have been used as ManuRelics in the past — I believe Topps did them as silk patches in 2013 (I did NOT like them) — but the 2020 cards really are gorgeous, even more so when you hold them.

I enjoy the matte finish and the fact that even though the card is thick and has a piece of metal in it, it’s weight is not grossly imbalanced. And while the stock is thick, it resembles something I’d expect to see on a high-dollar release.

We know why ManuRelics exist — it’s an incentive to make people buy blasters; to help consumers feel as if they’ve received something special. And for the first time in a while — maybe even ever — I do feel that way with these.

If you’ve got any you’re looking to unload I’m interested. I’ll be seeking the regular versions of everyone on the checklist; and then variations of the Clayton a Kershaw and Roger Clemens cards from the set.