Packed Pockets

In honor of Father's Day this month I thought I'd talk about a collection dominated by the male cards.

Although baseball cards have been around the longest, the "card" collectible field now runs amuck with just about any type of sport's card. Baseball cards are still the most easily obtainable with football and basketball cards coming in as close seconds. I have seen hockey, golf, and even auto racing cards for sale. I suppose, if you know where to look, you can find collectible cards of any sport or sport "hero" (I use that term loosely).

In recent years, baseball card collecting has become quite the hobby, but let's take a good look at what caused this phenomenon. In the "olden days", children would save up their pennies to purchase cards with pictures of their favorite baseball heroes, and enjoy a large piece of chewing gum to boot! These young boys collected the cards not so much for their monitory worth, but because they liked certain players, certain field positions, or certain teams more than others. Some kids collected all third base player's cards in hopes of someday becoming a famous player in the same position. Some kids loved the White Sox and it became a mission to gather up all the players on the team that year. And, some kids just liked Babe Ruth, etc. Back then it was a wholesome kind of hobby where young boys would trade card for card with their friends. Some cards became "clickers" by attaching the cards to bicycle tire spokes, some got "pitched" up against a wall, and some just plain got thrown away.

Today's baseball card collectors, for the most part, are not young boys. When my son was born my best friend advised me to purchase a "set" of baseball cards once a year so that when he was old enough to appreciate them he would have a nice collection to add to, thereby not costing dear old mom a small fortune in both money and time searching for previous years cards. So, not knowing a thing about collecting these cards, and admitting that I knew very little about the sport on a whole, I embarked on a world, well....its not a pretty picture. The first place I headed was to the library where I borrowed books on the subject of collecting these cards. One book, in-particular, was extremely interesting. This book was published in the late 1980's and written by a successful investor/trader from New York. This guy was approximately 50ish by the look of his picture on the jacket cover. He explained how he became successful and what to look for in counterfeit cards. Little did I know the book was so far outdated that most of the advice he offered no longer pertained to the hobby. The hobby had changed drastically shortly after his book was published, but this news was yet for me to discover.

Thinking I was ready for the next step, I purchased a commonly found magazine solely dedicated to the hobby of baseball card collecting. The magazine gave me the current "value" of hundreds of thousands of cards (or so it seemed), several articles regarding the hobby, and a plethora of sales ads begging me to call their one-eight-hundred telephone numbers for the best "deal". As soon as I walked into my home with this magazine, my husband located his baseball cards, saved from his youth, to see if he had anything in his position that may have allowed us to relocate to a more spacious dwelling. Alas, we are still in our cozy love nest. The magazine only served to confuse me even further, but it did shed a single ray of concrete light that I most definitely needed. I found out that there are no more "sets" available. Apparently, baseball card manufacturers were not raking in enough money to please them during the height of the most recent card collecting frenzy of the early 1990's, so they decided to stop creating sets of cards, thereby forcing the public to purchase untold packs of cards to create a set. Hello! This meant that all those young boys out there spending their allowance on baseball cards at the grocery store would probably never be able to collect a complete set of cards for the current year, unless their parents were VERY generous with their weekly dole-outs, because those ten cent packs of cards are now costing any where from $1.00 to $2.50 per pack, and the poor kid doesn't even get his chewing gum anymore! Is it just me, or do you also see something going wrong with this "wholesome" hobby.

I started to get that "sinking" feeling, but I wasn't yet willing to abandon the idea of getting my first born a head start on the most typical of boy type collections. My next stop was to a local baseball card shop. "Imagine", I thought "an entire shop of nothing but cards?!" Where was my head? That should have been my first clue that this is not a hobby anymore, but a huge business built on the backs of America's working class sports enthusiasts. However, at this point I was still naive and I figured I'd ask the "professionals" the best way to start a collection for my child. After all, a store owner ought to be able to help answer all of my questions, right? I casually entered the card store and found two men in their late 40's or early 50's. I would guess these men to be on the fringe of those who played "clicker" with their cards during their youth. I looked around the store's display cases and shelves, all loaded with boxes of cards, and tried my darnedest to look intelligent while I patiently waited for the owner to notice me in this tiny closet of a shop. As it turned out, the owner of the store was chatting with the owner of another baseball card store just up the road. How lucky for me - two heads are better that one, and I needed all the help I could get. So, I asked them what the best way to start a baseball card collection was and they "earnestly" explained that if it were them, they would immediately shell out "only $300.00" for this particular box of cards, because it was "almost" guaranteed to contain so-and-so's card which, by itself, would be worth a fortune someday. "Hummmmm", I said trying not to sound as though I wasn't shocked out of my panties and could easily afford to purchase said recommendation for my then two year old son, "and its only $300.00, huh?" Then, so as not to seem as though I was running out of the door, which I dearly wanted to do, I asked these men to explain to me why there were so many different manufacturers producing the same sports cards. They must have thought they had a "live one" when they didn't seem me bolt, so they explained that each manufacturer calculates (guesses) which players will become successful during the next season and produces only those players' pictures they feel will be of value (monetarily) to the collector. Therefore, not every company produces every player. On top of that, different companies use different card stock (thickness), different poses, more than one player's picture, a hologram (whoopee), etc. And, there is another kicker! Manufacturers issue more than one "series" in an individual year. So, to collect a "set" of a particular "series" requires investing more currency, thereby making the manufacturers very wealthy. That spells: G R E E D, folks. Plain and simple! I told the gents that I really wanted to explain what I learned to my husband before purchasing such an investment (leaving out the part where he'd kill me) and thanked them with an, "I'll be back". HAH! That'd be the day! OK, OK, so $300.00 is a drop in the bucket for you...there's more to think about here than the initial investment.

I have been watching this hobby over the last several years and I've noticed when the local shopping mall has a baseball card show the collectors are mostly middle-aged men not little boys. Could it be that this is the age where superfluous cash exists enough to purchase the packs of cards at $2.50 a pop? Could it, in fact, be the entire reason the hobby had such a resurgence in the first place was due to all those little boys, who once sat on the ground playing with baseball cards, have grown up and happened to have cards laying around the house they wished to add to? I think it is a little of both. Without the nitty-gritty, hands on, playing with baseball cards these men did as they grew up there would be no reason to desire a bunch of pictures of over-paid sports players. Understand people, there is NO MORE PLAYING with these cards. I was about to purchase a collection that my son would not be able to touch, let alone make "clickers" out of. Even the slightest dent in one of these cards devalues the card in such a way that it would be totally impossible for any young child to appreciate ownership of these cards. Remember Aunt Virginia's plastic furniture slip covers? Didn't you wonder what red crushed velvet would have felt like under your backside? How can a young boy appreciate a hobby where the slick, slippery, glossy, full color, cardboard must be placed inside a plastic sheath, or worse yet an acrylic box to protect it for future value? How can anyone enjoy purchasing a box of cards never to be able to open it, always wondering what cards are in it as they save it for the future. Hey, to a kid, the future is the next cartoon coming on after the one their watching. Saving a whole box of cards would make me nuts, I'd have to open it, inspect each card, ohh and ahh, and show my folks, and anyone who would give me a moment of their time, the treasures inside. Now THAT'S collecting!

I'd like to point out a couple of more things regarding sports cards that you may not know. For every players' face to be placed on a card either a release, or a contract for a percentage of the sales must be signed by the player himself. Therefore, the players with proven track records, who are receiving overly abundant salaries due to contract negotiations based on their records, are also making money off baseball card sales. Now, I don't know about you, but it kinda bugs me that by purchasing these cards I am not only encouraging the glut of money these men make, but actually adding to it on a personal level. Furthermore, I have been a witness to the sales of autographs of "celebrity" players by themselves! What audacity! It is the fans that make baseball, and any other sport for that matter, matter. Without fans players would be nowhere. Yet, is the fan appreciated when he/she purchases a player's favorite style bat or glove, then stands in line with other fans to pay Joe Blow player $35.00 for his signature on it? Well, I suppose if people are dumb enough to submit themselves to this, and Joe Blow player is greedy enough to take advantage of their stupidity...

Before I became a mother I had imagined having a son who would naturally play baseball and collect his favorite team's cards. It's sad for me to see a hobby that once belonged to young boys be taken over by greedy, money grabbing adults. Hey, did you know Disney makes cards of their movies? And the best thing is my son can PLAY with them!

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