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Baseball Cards Aren’t Fun Anymore

This article was written by in Fun and Contests. 11 comments.


Back in the late 1980s, I collected baseball cards just like millions of other kids. That’s around the same time that popularity of baseball card collecting skyrocketed and the producers of cards — and Major League Baseball — ruined the hobby, never to recover.

Taking advantage of collector — and even investor — interest, the companies tried to make as much money as possible and increased supply to meet demand. By the early 1990s, there were too many brands of baseball cards producing too many variations and too many prints of each. Card collecting became a chore rather than a fun and exciting exciting. (Plus, like millions of other kids, I was simply getting older and less interested.) Looking to make money on baseball card appreciation, fewer cards were handled and more cards were kept in pristine condition, ensuring that no cards would ever be “rare” in top condition.

Endy Chavez 2007 Topps baseball cardRecent;y, I had heard that Major League Baseball finally realized that they had helped ruin the card collecting hobby (with additional help from the public distaste with the sport for a time). They recently cut back the number of baseball card producers to just Topps and Upper Deck. Perhaps, due to limiting the production of baseball cards and the resurgence of the sport, card collecting and trading would become popular again.

As I tried to complete team sets of Mets cards for myself and my girlfriend, not for investment but just because we’re fans of the team, I discovered that not much has changed. It’s true that there are only two companies producing baseball cards, but there are so many variations and sets that keeping track of everything would still be a chore. For example, Topps sells factory-sealed sets for each team. The team sets contain only about 15 cards, but these cards are slightly different from the cards you would find if you looked through the traditional random baseball card packs sold in delis and convenience stores looking for the cards you want.

Here is what it would take the be a true collector presently. If you’re an enthusiast looking to complete just a 2008 collection for one team, not only do you need all the cards from Series 1 and Series 2 featuring players from that team, but you’d need a second 55-card “special edition” team set that includes cards for the managers, coaches, and mascot. You would also need cards from the “Opening Day” series, the “Chrome” series, the “Co-signers” series, the “Finest” series, the “Milestones” series, and the “Heritage” series. Don’t forget that Topps also owns the Bowman brand, so you would need to find the “Bowman” series as well.

Even for kids who spend their parents’ money with reckless abandon, it’s simply too expensive to properly be a child interested in being successful at collecting cards in the traditional manner. You might as well just give up now. I certainly understand why millions of kids have left card trading and collecting behind.

Here’s how to make card collecting popular (and perhaps even profitable) again. Lower the price of baseball cards. Reduce the number of cards in a complete set to fewer than 1,000 for the year. Don’t print as many. Keep investors away. Convince kids that the cards should be traded, handled, and even abused, not placed in pristine holders to be kept in mint condition forever.

Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published July 20, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jennson

a similar thing happened in comic books too where the publisher began to take advantage of the collector by printing the same comic in multiple covers and creating these humongous epics that involved every character in their roster. Not only that, but they steadily increased prices of comic book issues in the 90′s to the point where each book is about $3 an issue now. It got to the point where Marvel overleveraged and had to file for bankruptcy. I just simply could not keep up anymore and have since chose a handful of titles that I could read up on my own time. I totally agree with you that collecting just becomes a chore after a while and it’s just nowhere near as fun as it used to be.

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avatar KC

With baseball cards ( as well as comic books) the companies aren’t focusing on children nor should they be… if their goal is to make money. I’m 35 and have collected baseball cards since I was 9. As a child and teen I could never afford the cards – even at 35 cents a pack getting lots of cards wasn’t easy. However as an adult I can pretty much buy anything I want…and I do. These hobbies are no longer for children and I’m not sure they should be. How can a child compete financially with me when I can spend $1500 on a case of cards that I want? And there are lots of other people out there like me – they are accountants, lawyers, computer programmers, etc. Kids won’t be able to compete in an adult hobby.

But my suggestion to anyone with kids is to just let them collect what they want. You are talking about pieces of cardboard with pictures of 20 year olds on them. They are not an investment. They can burn up in a fire, become damaged in a flood, be trampled on by the family dog. Your kids should collect what they want – be it Mets players, cards with pictures of catchers in their gear, players with the same birthdate as them.

Also there are certain products that are geared to less expensive collectors. You’ll know by the price on the pack. If its a $1 pack of cards chances are its just cards, nothing fancy – which is great to some people, even me sometimes :) If it’s a $10 pack of cards then you can expect to get an autograph or a game-used jersey or bat card. That’s what drives up the prices – the “quality” of what’s in the pack. So stick with the lower dollar items and you’ll have fun at the hobby. But mostly just collect what YOU want – whether you are a child or an adult – that’s what makes the hobby fun.

Oh and as for collecting just a certain teams Topps cards or every card on a certain player…I’ve given up too. There are just too many 1 of 1 cards out there. If I like a player I just try to get as many cards as I want/afford. There will never be a way to get everything anymore. I suggest you just try to get a card of every player in a MEt’s uniform that year…1 David Wright, 1 Jose Reyes, 1 of Joe Schmo relief pitcher if he has a card made that year. Then you don’t care about brand so much, just getting a card of each player if they have one in a set that year.

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avatar VTCastle

Nice article and I agree as a lifelong collector. It’s true that “your Dad’s tactics” of taking you to the corner store for a pack of $0.99 Topps is over, but in a way it almost shows the maturation of the entire hobby.

As a holder of some the highest value cards out there, I find the research behind the investment to be rather enjoyable. Then again, I’m a stock trader so the research aspect of any investment comes w/ the territory.

My particular strategy is checking sites like Ebay or Naxcom for the “new and upcoming” star, and grabbing a few of his rookie cards of the manufacturer who’s card demands the highest price. This has worked very well for me when considering examples like ARod and even newcomer Evan Longoria.

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avatar Doobie

I gave up collecting cards about five years ago, even though the industry tanked before that. I just couldn’t justify spending that kind of cash for something that was just going to sit on a shelf or box that no one besides me would notice.

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avatar Adam

What you say is true – the cost of baseball cards exceeded their value in fun to you. I think the action word there is you. If you had decided that the collecting was more important, you would have scaled up that part of the hobby and enjoyed that. Probably, you enjoy baseball more than you enjoy baseball cards – I know I do. I loved collecting baseball cards as a kid, but now I enjoy playing catch and taking my kids to (minor league) games more than baseball cards.

Two last items:
1. I work closely with an art auction house. The people who are experts in the various items (modern furniture, american furniture, various paintings) all started as collectors, some as baseball card collectors. It is a collecting thing rather than a baseball thing.

2. I took my older son to the all-star fanfest last week. We had cards made of ourselves, got autographs, played games – all for the price of admission (about $25). At the end of the day, he turned to me and said – can we do this next year. (Answer – no, it is in Missouri).

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avatar Dave

It sounds like you’re about the same age as me (28) and had a similar experience with baseball card collecting. I loved collecting cards as a kid, but gave up on it in 1994 mainly due to there being too many sets, the strike that year, and the fact that I developed other interests as I got older. But I have gotten back into collecting this year. I’ve found that it’s best to just ignore the sets that are out there that are too expensive or just aren’t interesting to you. If you focus on 4-5 sets per year, or even less, collecting can be a lot of fun today. Some suggestions would be Topps Heritage, Allen & Ginter, Goudey, and Upper Deck. Try buying a few backs and see what you think.

I’d also recommend checking out my blog (Fielder’s Choice) or an even better blog called Wax Heaven to get the perspectives of people who have gotten back into the card collecting hobby recently. You’ll also find links on our blogs to many other card-related blogs. Reading some of them is a great way to keep informed about the current hobby and talk to other collectors and former collectors.

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avatar Patrick

For me it was a combination of everything you listed above – getting older, too many card sets and variations to keep track of, and the high prices. I collected through high school when a friend and I frequented games at the Astrodome. We collected hundreds of autographs. It was a time I remember fondly. I don’t collect any longer (at least with any purpose or regularity), but I do buy at least one pack of Topps cards every year. They end up sitting in a stack not doing anything, but a couple dollars is worth remembering the times I had growing up.

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avatar reddyfreddy

Lots of baseball fans are turning to collecting posters. The Cincinnati art museum just created a limited edition poster of a portrait of Pete Rose painted by the pop artist Andy Warhol. It’s pretty cool. When I called to get mine, they said the phones have been ringing off the hook! People still love Rose.

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avatar Steve

Don’t give up Flexo.
Baseball card collecting takes much more effort and research….not only to get good deals, but to simply know what’s going on like so much variety and premuim sets and inserts.
Don’t abandon the hobby.
The investors and tycoons who we think of as imperialistic invaders into a Rockwellian pastime are pushing us in to a newer direction….I’m not sure where but it’s gonna be good…..

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avatar Bryce

im 14 and im goin to be a freshman and i love collecting but im afraid my friends will make fun of me what do i do

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avatar Johnnyb

Bryce,

Be yourself and people who appreciate you for who you are keep as friends. The others…well they are not worth your time.

Cheers!

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