My grandmother bought me my first pack of baseball cards when I was seven years old. Thus began an obsession that lasted until middle school, where I amassed a giant collection of cards and collectables from all sports.
I was really into sports as a child. I was never good at playing them, but I enjoyed following them on television and keeping up with the standings. I always knew what teams were the best and which players were having all-star seasons. My awareness of this sort of thing today is next to nil. I still enjoy sports but find myself unmotivated to “keep up” with them.
My fondness for professional sports as a child was certainly motivated by my hobby of collecting cards, which I spent far too much of my meager allowance on and surely drove my parents to chip in on more times than they ever should have. I was obsessed with keeping my collection in mint condition, not simply out a sense of pride for it, but because I honestly believed that it would appreciate in value over time and really be worth something in the future. We all knew how that turned out.
I bought Beckett price guides every month or so, and treated their word as the Bible of collecting. If Beckett said that an Ozzie Smith card was worth $2.80, or that a Gary Peyton card was worth $0.65 then their “worth” was decided and non-negotiable. Beckett brainwashed me and hundreds of thousands of other kids like me into believing that their cards held actual monetary value, and by including of card values going back to the 1950s (with the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card being the “proof” that cards were a winning investment), Beckett shrewdly conditioned us to buy into the idea that we could all be rich someday, so long as we held onto our cards and followed their guides.
The hobby soon exploded with the debut of Upper Deck in the 90s, which introduced new levels of elitism into the hobby and made it impossible for younger collectors without deep pockets to ever keep up. The arrival of “insert cards” destroyed the hobby, rendering 99.9% of all cards worthless as everyone began buying packs, if not entire cases, just to find the rarest insert cards. By the time I turned 13, I realized that I was caught up in an elaborate racket designed to shake me down for all I had, and I essentially got out of collecting for good. But I still kept my collection. Maybe I still hoped that it would be worth something in the future, but I never could have predicted the impact that the Internet would have on collecting. With people selling off their entire collections on eBay for next to nothing, it became hard to even give away cards from the late 80s/early 90s.
No, really. Years after the bubble burst, I found myself without a single card worth more than $5.00, and even if I had one, I don’t know how I’d begin find anyone out there willing to give me even half that amount for it. And who wants a box of 3,000 commons and “All Star” Topps cards of Dale Murphy, Tim Raines and Jorge Bell?
Well, turns out someone did. I actually wrote this entry six months ago and left it sitting unpublished in my drafts folder until today. Between then and now, I sold my collection to someone on Craigslist for $20 (who was nice enough to insist on giving me $40 when he came by to pick it up). I held out on giving him the “good stuff,” though, which includes my 30+ card collection of John Paxson cards (sadly, not including cards from his two years with the Spurs) and two dozen autographed cards that may or may not be authentic (mailing them off to team headquarters with a SASE included, who knows how many of the few that actually came back to me bare real signatures and not scribbles penned by assistants).
The one thing that’s remained the same for me from the beginning of my collecting days until now? I’d gladly trade it all for this card if I could.