Call me a loser. Call me a dork; a bookworm; a numbers cruncher. Whatever. I like to collect baseball cards and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I was a young lad playing games of D&D in Mom’s basement in Cherry Hill with the neighborhood allergy cases and exchange students, I somehow developed a strange love for baseball. Rodrigo, Detleff, and Samuel (the reject friends I mentioned) couldn’t understand why. The greatest athletic feat I’d accomplished up to that point was surviving a game of dodgeball with my glasses in check. I still haven’t surpassed that.
What they didn’t understand was this: baseball became an obsession to me not because of the game itself, but because of the cards that featured its greatest players. Every time I’d get a pack, I’d sneak up to my room, tear off the wrapper, and study the backs of each card with my calculator in hand. To me, each number, each insignificant stat, told a story of grand proportions. And to think that I could later consult my Beckett guide to check values and unleash upon my world a fresh, new cascade of thirst-quenching numbers? Wow. Like I said, call me a dork. I really don’t care.
What I do care about is how baseball card collecting in this country has become a lost art form. Once a bastion of childhood, sitting in a dark basement or on the curb in front of your house and fleecing your friend with a Mickey Tettleton for a Rickey Henderson has basically disappeared as social activity on the American landscape. And I’m not sure why.
So I did a little snooping and this is what I found: The prices of unopened box sets have dramatically decreased since 1985. For example, a 1988 unopened box of Donruss would have sold from anywhere between $14-20 when they were printed. They can now be found for $5-6 box on eBay. A 1990 Leaf Series II Frank Thomas rookie card would have gone for around $70 new, and people were willing to shell out $12 a pack at the time in search of those bad boys. Now you can find an entire unopened box of these cards on eBay for about $70. Not really the return on investment people were expecting when they bought these things and stashed them away in their garages for nearly three decades. So, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that the hobby store business hasn’t been thriving during this time either. In the late 80s, Beckett Guide estimated a total of 10,000 privately-owned baseball card shops to be in operation in the United States. That number has since plummeted to 200 such hobby dealers. The industry has basically been handed over to the big-box retailers.
Now, a trip to the hobby store involves leaving your car in a parking lot the size of New Brunswick and wading through seventeen different departments at your local Target or Walmart before you find a one-section shelf with a few packs of baseball cards for sale. And even those are not what they used to be, my friends. Here’s a pack I bought the other day on a whim:
Notice how stupid they are. No players on the front, just a bunch of lame puns built over even less impressive pseudo-advertisements. Some barely legible nonsense about the Philly Phanatic and Boston Cream Pies being from Boston. AND they’re freaking stickers! That’s some genius shit, people at Topps. How are kids across America not shattering piggy banks this very moment and demanding you hawk every penny of their allowances? Weak. You didn’t even bother to put stats on the back. You just turned them into puzzle pieces that you can’t put together until you collect the whole set:
On top of it, you keep producing these shitty cards at a rate that would make a rabbit’s reproductive cycle look slow and plodding–and no one is buying them. Great business model! Maybe, in your mundane efforts, you can succeed at decreasing the value of the four mint T-206 Honus Wagner cards that exist. Heretics.
So clean up your act, baseball card producers of the world. Bottom line, we need to bring the baseball card back if we ever want to make this country great again. I promise to do my part.