How Baseball Cards Got Weird

from The Atlantic

One night not long ago, with my 3-year-old son finally asleep and my wife wisely heading to bed, I settled onto the couch, beer in hand, to catch some baseball. Well, not really baseball. I opened my laptop, navigated to breakers.tv, and prepared to watch a pair of rubber-gloved hands in East Wenatchee, Washington, open an entire case of baseball cards—more than 4,000 cards in all.

If that sounds like the only activity more tedious than sitting through four hours of pitching changes and batters calling time, I shared some of your skepticism. Though I was once a middle schooler with a pack-a-day habit, whose heart raced whenever I crossed the threshold of Gilbert’s Sports Nostalgia in suburban Boston, the last time I tended to my card collection, Bill Clinton was president and Barry Bonds was a speedster with some pop. I’d been under the impression that the card industry had all but died out around the time I went off to college, eclipsed in the adolescent imagination by Nintendo 64, Pokémon, AOL.

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6 Comments

  1. Growing up, collecting player cards in sports such as football and basketball was a huge hobby of mine, but it didn’t compare to how much I enjoyed collecting baseball player cards. My father first got me into collecting my favorite players baseball cards when he showed me his albums of baseball cards he still had from when he collected them when he was a young boy. My fathers album consisted of all time baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, and other famous Yankee or MLB players. After realizing how much of a cool hobby collecting baseball player cards could be, I instantly started trying to get them whenever I went out to stores either with my mom or dad. Every time I would be in stores such as Dicks, Sports Authority, or even Walmart with my parents, begging them to buy me a deck of Topps or Upper Deck baseball player cards was always a top priority of mine. Although, over time I slowly started to fade away from collecting these cards, along did all of my buddies that I used to trade and show my cards too.
    When entering high school, I feel as if that is when the collecting and trading of player cards really ended for me. Nowadays middle school and high school aged kids are investing more of their time playing video games rather then collecting these player cards. Honestly, video games was a huge part of why I decided to stop collecting the cards especially because all of my friends started to get into video games. To this day, I still have the albums of player cards in my house and once and a while I will take a look at them to see which ones I collected over time.
    As the article states, some of these player cards could be worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars if in terrific condition. Considering I have some Vintage player cards such as a Derek Jeter rookie card or my Ken Griffey Jr. if I was willing to give these cards up one day, I could make a great amount of money off of it. In all, I feel as if the times of when collecting and trading player cards should be revived for all sports fans of all ages today.

  2. I have been playing baseball since I was around the age of 4. Even today in college, I am part of the club baseball team. I was also an avid baseball card collector when I was younger. I used to enjoy looking at all the stats of the players from year to year, and comparing to see who was the “best” player in the game, in my eyes. I used to love when my dad would come home from work with a pack of baseball cards, it was like Christmas morning every time. I still have my massive collection of baseball cards, and I hope that they will be worth something one day. I still remember my most prized card, a Mike Schmidt autographed rookie card, being a lifelong Phillies fan, I don’t think I can ever bring myself to sell that card.
    However, it seems that baseball cards are dying out. I do not hear the buzz about them from kids like the way me and my friends did. In the age of modern technology, kids would rather play with their friends on Xbox or Playstation, I even asked my younger brother to get confirmation. When I asked him if he knew about baseball cards, he did not seem to really care, instead he was too glued to his Grand Theft Auto game. There is even a mobile app that lets you collect baseball cards and trade them with other people across the platform. I remember using this app when I was in middle school and it brought me back to my childhood memories. I do not remember the exact reason I stopped collecting, maybe my dad thought I was too old, and if he were to present me a pack of baseball cards, I would probably call him weird or something, but my inner child would rejoice.

  3. The article, “How Baseball Cards Got Weird”, written by Eric Moskowitz, goes into detail about how widely the baseball card industry has evolved over the years. The industry has gone from the beginning, where collectors genuinely collected cards as a hobby; to presently, where both businesses and collectors have created a billion-dollar industry. When baseball cards first arrived on the market, people were purchase packs of cards because they wanted to collect momentums of their favorite players and teams. Collecting and trading cards was something that brought excitement to kids and give them another way to interact with their peers. As these same kids eventually grew into adults, those same baseball cards brought back great memories they had on the playground with their friends. Eventually, people began heavily profiting off of certain baseball cards because people were willing to pay top dollar to have a specific card in their possession. And because technology has advanced, the internet has made it possible for people to experience that same joy extracted from baseball cards from when they were younger.
    Due to the nostalgic feeling produced by baseball cards, the industry allowed for businesses and individual people to make a hefty profit. I’m a big believer that nostalgia sells, and there is proof to that. In the article, “Nostalgia Sells: Capitalizing On The Desire For Simpler Times”, written by Steve Olenski, customers are gravitated towards buying products that were once used in their past because it “[reminds] them of when life wasn’t so complicated”. When you’re a kid, life doesn’t have as many obstacles. When customers market their products using nostalgia marketing, they are bringing back good memories that resonate towards consumers. An example of a company that has participated in nostalgic marketing is Disney with their new subscription feature: Disney+. Disney+ gives users access to thousands of Disney branded films and videos. A feature that Disney+ offered that inclined me to participate in the subscription service is that they offered old shows from Disney Channel. The best memories that I have as a child are from Disney Channel shows. Sarah Whitton wrote in her article, “Disney is betting big on nostalgia for Disney+ launch”, that Disney+ members get “a chance to relive their childhoods and for others it’s a chance to share those childhood favorites with their own children”. If the Disney+ service did not offer these Disney Channel shows, I probably would not have created an account. But because they offered shows that were my favorite growing up, I decided to purchase the service.

    The article pointed out that people are paying upwards of thousands of dollars for specific baseball cards not only because that nostalgic feeling that is associated with a card, but because of the limited-edition feature. The most expensive card to date that has been sold and purchased is T206 Honus Wagner, which was sold for $3.12 million (Borsellino). This is crazy to me that people would pay so much money for a piece of cardboard. People are willing to pay extra for the nostalgic and the “limited-edition cards that are scarce by design” (Moskowitz). When something is very scarce in production, it makes people want it more. There is such little production of this product that it becomes rare to potential buyers, which makes it more desirable. When something is desirable, people are willing to spend an extra buck on it to obtain it.

    Like how Disney+ was able to make a profit off of their service, third party grading services have made a killing due to the baseball card industry. Third party grading services were established because while people were beginning to sell their baseball cards, the grade, or the condition, of the cards became a variable factor towards the buyers and the sellers. Third party grading services allowed “card owners [to] send the company a card, and experts with jeweler’s loupes would painstakingly assess its condition” (Moskowitz). These service systems could further capitalize off of the baseball card industry to provide the cards with a fair grading system. I think that the establishment of these grading services were important towards the industry because of the different views on grade. It is amazing too how the grading businesses could look at this issue that occurred in the industry and turn it around to create a huge profit. One particular grading service, Professional Sports Authenticator, were grading around “1 million cards a year” (Moskowitz) charging $15-$20 a card. The grading services saw an opportunity where they could utilize their expertise and profited off of it.

    Additionally, the article points out that baseball card collectors have evolved with the advancement of technology. There is not just collecting anymore, fans are now able to “gamble” in terms of opening up packs of brand-new baseball cards and putting money on what team they think will be in the pack. The author of the article regularly participates in viewing the live streaming of card package opening by “[purchasing] a stake in the cards” (Moskowitz) that are being opened. Way back when baseball cards first came into play, something like this would have been unheard of. Because of technology, fans are now able to place their fandom mentality into systems that are modernized. The same fans that were 10 years old trading cool and rare cards with their friends are the same fans participating in watching live-stream openings. I didn’t know that baseball cards still were a thing before reading this article. I thought that because they are so old-fashioned that they died out. It’s great to read that people are still pursuing their hobbies by participating in openings like these.

    Similarly, to Andrew Forjan’s response to the article, I too collected Pokémon cards when I was younger because of an influence that stemmed from family members. Andrew’s younger brothers influenced his collection of both baseball and Pokémon cards. My older cousins collected Pokémon cards and that strongly influenced my desire to do so. I was never into baseball cards because I just don’t have an interest in the sport but collected Pokémon cards because I thought the characters were cute. On the other hand, my cousins collected the cards for the cool characters and the potential future value that the cards possessed. My cousins did not throw around their cards like other kids, when they got ahold of a card, they would put it in this book that protected them. I never understood that these cards would had the potential be valuable. Pokémon was able to profit off of the nostalgia that was pursued when trading cards by creating PokémonGo, an app which allows users to catch Pokémon by walking around and virtually encountering different Pokémon characters.

    The author ended the article by stating “he would “miss [his baseball cards] too much” (Moskowitz) if they were ever put into a secured lockbox which would protect them. There are people out there that are in the baseball card collecting game for the sole goal of making money, but there are still people that do it because they genuinely like it; the author being one of those people that participate because he finds baseball cards still fun. Baseball cards are an item which hits home differently depending on who you ask. Some people see it as an investment. Some may see it as something that reminds them of when times were good. The baseball card industry is still thriving, and because of the new generations being raised by baseball card enthusiasts it will continue to thrive and evolve.

    References:

    Borsellino, Regina. “The Top 10 Most Valuable Baseball Cards – Do You Own One?” InvestorPlace, 21 Dec. 2017, investorplace.com/2017/12/the-10-most-valuable-baseball-cards/.

    Moskowitz, Eric. “How Baseball Cards Got Weird.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 12 Oct. 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/11/how-baseball-cards-got-weird/598345/.

    Olenski , Steve. “Nostalgia Sells: Capitalizing On The Desire For Simpler Times.” Forbes , 4 Aug. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2016/08/04/nostalgia-sells-capitalizing-on-the-desire-for-simpler-times/#b7c092323e3fwww.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2016/08/04/nostalgia-sells-capitalizing-on-the-desire-for-simpler-times/#b7c092323e3f.

    Whitten, Sarah. “Disney Is Betting Big on Nostalgia for Disney+ Launch.” CNBC, CNBC, 13 Nov. 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/12/disney-is-betting-big-on-nostalgia-for-disney-plus-launch.html.

  4. When I was a kid, every birthday was another opportunity to get baseball cards for me. I would take all of my money and head down to the sports store to pick up the best cards and this was something I enjoyed doing in my early years. This article brought it to light that this has quickly switched from being a hobby and made me rethink how quickly I went from obtaining playing cards to being more interested in the video game aspect because the playing cards had sort of ‘died out’ as mentioned in the article. My Father had given me his cards when I was younger and I never understood till now but eventually the value you put on them is not as much as they were worth when you were a kid. The value of the cards on the other hand, have gone up depending on how long the card has been around and this has quickly turned from a fun hobby to sort of a business of exchange considering how much some may be worth. I think over time these turned from fun, to people realizing the profit they can make and quickly seeing it as purely money. It is sad to see that people are more interested in the thrill of the hunt of a good card for its value instead of valuing each card like we did as kids. Like anything old, these cards from baby boomers have risen in value and now over 77% of collectors look at these as investments instead of fond memories. This has quickly turned to a business like how sports betting came about. Theyre in it for the money. For example, just yesterday, Michael Jordan & LeBron James trading cards sold for a record $900,000 each, breaking the record for most expensive trading card ever sold, beating a Lew Alcindor card that sold for $500,000 in 2016. These cards went from taking space in basement with no value, to being worth millions. This article has made me realize that there is still a passionate group of fans who value the aspect of trading cards but it is looked at as a outdated hobby.

  5. I have always been a huge sports fan and much like the writer of this article growing up I was interested in baseball, football, and basketball player cards, I would love going to sporting good stores or Toys R Us to get a pack of cards, with that said I have a lot experience with baseball cards, in this article the writer Eric Moskowitz describes the current world of baseball cards that is very different then what it was 40 years ago when he was a kid, he starts off by talking about how he now watches people on breakers.tv which is a website that opens packages of baseball cards live over the internet, you can purchase a stake in certain type of cards that may come out of each package, the writer then goes on to say that the baseball card collecting should be extinct as it is an analog hobby in digitally dominant world, which I do agree with baseball cards are seemingly out of style as most kids today prefer to see a card in a digital setting like video games rather then having a paper card, but the writer points out how baseball card companies have adapted to the digital world, old baseball cards will always hold value that just keeps increasing but keep people attracted today can be hard, the baseball card market today relies on special edition cards that will feature things like pieces of a bat or sand from the field, another way companies like Topps keep collectors coming by offering older rookie cards from past stars that are very popular, I was also very shocked to hear that the National Sports Collectors Convention had its highest attendance since 1991, while the seen has vastly changed and the conventions are mainly centered around things like Twitch and DraftKings but this is still a sign that the baseball card hobby is alive and well. These “breakers” that open baseball card packs live on stream bring in collectors and baseball card fans like the writer of this article who keep coming back for more and more when it comes to purchasing a break.

  6. I think it’s safe to say we live in a time where there is a niche for buying and selling almost anything. However, when I think about people buying, selling, and trading items for far more than their initial cost, the first thing that comes to my mind is the sneaker industry. Companies like StockX offer an online platform somewhat comparable to that mentioned in the article, but for the buying and selling of shoes. Shoes ranging from Yeezy’s, Off-White’s, Air Jordan’s, even the limited edition, insanely expensive Air Dior’s, can be found on this site alone. With each shoe, the website allows the buyer to select a size, and shows the price of the shoe based on the size. Unfortunately for people with average sized feet, they can expect to pay more for their shoes, where as someone with abnormally small feet will enjoy the lower end of the price point. StockX connects buyers to sellers in a way that ensures a good experience for both parties. The company authenticates every pair of sneakers it sends out, ensuring reputability.

    While sellers have the ability to buy “limited edition” shoes and turn an insane profit, the reality is, in comparison to the baseball card situation, these shoes could be considered common. Arguably, one of the biggest differences between the sneaker industry and the baseball card industry (aside from the product itself) is the intent of the original owners. People buying and selling shoes, or collecting limited edition Birkin bags, know exactly how much value these items will one day hold. Owners of baseball cards, specifically for the all time greats, had no idea the value the cards would one day hold, and bought them as a means of fun with friends. With this in mind, it’s no wonder certain cards, especially ones in great condition, hold so much value. Companies will come up with special collaboration projects almost every year, but a Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card from 1909 is irreplaceable. Quite frankly nothing can or ever will compare.

    Though it might seem out dated to some, as the article mentioned there are plenty of people willing to put a great deal of money and time into finding and purchasing these cards. Some buyers being collectors, long time fans, or even those looking for something different to show off, etc. several different buyer demographics can be found at these online auctions. Also, as the author mentioned, even though his hopes of getting an epic card were low, the anticipation of the “what if” kept him and other buyers alike entertained for up to several hours. Having grown up with a dad who collects cars, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I can’t even count how many times we went out to Scottsdale to the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction, looking for the next addition to his collection. When I was around 8, I distinctly remember the trip out there with his sights set on a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette L88 in immaculate condition. I’d seen him excited about plenty of cars, but nothing compared to that one. That was his Honus Wagner. In the weeks that followed its arrival to our home, my mom and I joked he was never going to come out of the garage ever again. The point is, buyers in every different industry, from shoes, to cars, to baseball cards, all share the same feelings of excitement when they are able to make the purchase of their dreams and the sadness felt when they are outbid. For this reason, I fully believe the baseball card industry will stay alive as long as the cards and excited buyers do.

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