When you’re fortunate enough to retire, here’s some advice…keep busy and do stuff you love. It may sound simple but a number of my friends who haven’t retired yet always seem to wonder, “What will I do”. The answer for me a dozen or so years ago was to immerse myself in the game I love…baseball. From Spring Training to Fantasy Baseball leagues to the Arizona Fall League, to a community sports interest group, it was an easy transition.
Then, I luckily stumbled across the idea of dealing with baseball card collections. At that point, no one would have considered me an expert, but it is amazing how good your study habits can be when you’re motivated. I became a regular customer at a North Phoenix baseball card shop, printed up some business cards (Rotisserie Duck Baseball Cards) and started advertising on free websites. After acquiring a few small collections and utilizing some cards from my personal stash, I became an eBay dealer. There were many mistakes along the way but the end result has been over 10,000 sales through the years with a 100% positive customer feedback rating.
The other positive outcome from this experience has been a valued friendship with a great guy I met at that original card shop. We obviously had a mutual interest in collectibles and it evolved into endless talks about sports over lunch, rounds of golf and dinners where his lovely wife would put up with our sports-related conversation. 3 1/2 years ago, fate intervened and another local baseball card store became available due to the untimely passing of the owner. My friend jumped into the void and negotiated a purchase with the family of the owner. Almost everyday prior to the deal being finalized, he would say, “You’re going to help me with the store, right?” The purchase got done and it has been an unbelievably wonderful experience. Two days a week, I set up my “office” behind one of the counters and people make appointments to bring in their collections. The results have certainly been positive for us financially, but it is so much more than that. My friend is meticulous about continually upgrading the look of the store (his background is in retail space construction) and the atmosphere is incredible. Customers describe it as a baseball card version of “Cheers” with bar stools, island seating, counter space, sports events on TV, etc. Due to my continuous pontificating about baseball, I’ve acquired multiple nicknames including, “Senior Buyer”, “OG” (Original Google) and “Don Cardleone”, who will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Can you imagine a better way to spend your time in retirement?
As a public service, here’s the latest version of Card Collecting 101…
Baseball fans fall into categories – 1) card collectors…2) former card collectors…3) wannabe card collectors…4) or as George Carlin once said, “Grow up, these are just pictures of grown men”. For those of you in the first three groups, maybe a primer on the basics of collecting would enhance your experience or motivate you to get back into the hobby. For this exercise, we’ll stick to new products as opposed to secondary markets that sell older cards.
- Where do I buy cards?
- Card shops, hobby stores, retail chains and Internet dealers.
- Are the products from these outlets all the same?
- No, there are “Hobby” packs and “Retail” packs. A hobby pack will have more autograph, memorabilia and insert cards…and will have a higher price.
- Huh, what are autograph, memorabilia and insert cards?
- When the card manufacturers re-invented themselves about 20 years ago, they created interest in new products by inserting cards autographed by players or including a piece of memorabilia in the card (jersey, bat, etc.). Insert cards include parallel versions of the regular card or a special set highlighting certain players.
- Can cards be purchased directly from card companies?
- Yes…some manufacturers sell on their websites, but the pricing will be comparable to other outlets
- What is the configuration of today’s cards?
- Baseball cards still come in packs which have a certain number of cards (depending on the product). A sealed box of cards will include a specific number of packs. For example, the Topps Heritage brand arrives from the factory is a case of 12 boxes, each box has 24 packs, each pack has 8 cards.
- What size are cards?
- Today’s standard is 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches.
- What is a rookie card?
- Usually, the first regular issue card of a player in his major league uniform.
- What is a short-print card?
- This goes back all the way to the 50’s and is a card made in smaller quantities than others. Again, using Topps Heritage as an example, the 500 card set has #’s 426-500 made in lesser quantities.
- Sometimes when I open a pack, there’s a blank card inserted – why is that done?
- Companies insert them to discourage people from trying to “search” unopened packs for thicker memorabilia cards. If they weren’t used, a buyer could just buy the one thick pack in a box to acquire a more valuable card.
- What is a “common” card?
- The Beckett price guide only lists certain star players in each set. The remaining cards are listed as commons or semi-stars and have equal value.
- What is a “redemption” card?
- When card companies contract with players for autographs, the timing doesn’t always allow for those cards to be in the original production run. So, the manufacturer puts an insert in the pack that describes the card and gives the collector guidelines to redeem the insert for the real item at a later date.
- When were the first cards made?
- Baseball cards first appeared in the late 1800’s when they were inserted into packs of cigarettes and tobacco. The modern era of baseball cards really began with the 1952 Topps set.
- When I was kid, there was a piece of bubble gum in the packs…when did that end?
- As collectors became more aware of card condition, they complained about the gum staining or damaging the cards. Topps removed gum from the cards in the early 1990’s.
- How can I protect my cards?
- For newer cards, many collectors still use albums and nine-pocket pages…especially for sets. For loose cards of any value, always use “penny sleeves” (a clear plastic sleeve that covers the card) and then a “top-loader” (a more rigid holder). Never use rubber bands!
- What about really valuable cards?
- Don’t use the old-fashioned “screw-down” holder (two pieces of hard plastic screwed together). Instead, use a “one-touch” holder (the same concept but held together by a magnet).
- What is grading?
- Third-party companies will inspect your card, give it a grade (from 1-to-10), encapsulate it and include a serial number on the case. This is the best way to protect valuable older cards and enhance their marketability. The two major vendors in this field are PSA & Beckett.
- What is an error card?
- A mistake on the card such as the player’s name spelled incorrectly or his position missing. If the mistake was never corrected by the manufacturer, it is listed in guides as “UER” (uncorrected error). However, if the mistake was corrected, these cards become variations and can be more valuable.
- I see some cards referred to as “Refractors”…what does that mean?
- A Refractor is a card manufactured by Topps using a technology that creates a shiny version of their “Chrome” cards. It reflects light and can be found in a number of colors. These are always made in limited quantities.
- What is a rack pack?
- Not as prevalent as in the past, it was a pack of cards made from clear cellophane that usually had cards in three separate compartments. Today, they are primarily found at retail outlets.
- Who should I collect?
- The most difficult question of all. Think about your own personal history involving baseball and go from there. Your favorite player(s), your favorite team or maybe your favorite year…including the year you were born. Above all, create a collection you can enjoy and share.
AZ Sportscards is at 10045 W. Camelback Road…drop in and say hello or check out the website at azsportscards.com