Getting back up from love

July 3, 2008 at 1:17 am | Posted in Introduction | 4 Comments

People fall in love. When they stop loving someone or something, why do people say that they “fall out of love”? If you’ve fallen in love, then if you fall even further, wouldn’t that mean that you’re even more deeply in love? If you keep falling, I don’t see how you can fall “out” of love. So when someone stops loving something, I like to say that they’re getting back up from love. In 1994 I got back up from my love of baseball card collecting.

I’ve mentioned a few times now that I would write a post about the reasons why I left the baseball card hobby in 1994 and didn’t jump all the way back in until 2008. Before reading this, I’d recommend reading my introductory post for more information about my collecting history. Here’s what I wrote about the time when I left the hobby:

By 1994, I had a collection of thousands of cards. I worked as a paper boy and I cut grass for my neighbors, and almost all of the money that I earned was spent on cards. I took the most pride in my Yankees cards, especially the ones of my favorite player and childhood hero, Don Mattingly. By 1994, I had about 200 of his cards, which I kept in a special binder.

There were many factors that led to the decline of my interest in collecting, and I plan to write a lot more about those reasons in future posts. But the single most important factor was the terrible event that began on August 11, 1994, a date that will forever live in infamy for me. That was the start of the Major League Baseball players strike of 1994-1995 that wiped out the 1994 World Series. Just like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius effectively ended the civilization at Pompeii, the strike led to a huge decline in my interest in baseball, and I gave up card collecting.

The strike did have a huge impact in causing my interest in baseball and baseball cards to decline. But when I reflect on this, I realize that there is much more to the story. I think that even if the strike didn’t happen, I would have started to buy much fewer cards after the 1994 season. The baseball card industry changed too much and too fast in the early 1990s. Here is what I didn’t like:

  1. Too many sets. In my first few years of collecting, 1984-1986, I only had Topps cards. I didn’t even realize that Donruss and Fleer existed. I discovered them in 1987. I remember initially thinking that Donruss and Fleer cards were somehow “fake”. After all, Topps proclaimed on its packs that it was that it was “the Real one!”. I eventually warmed up to Donruss and Fleer, and I loved Score when it debuted in 1988. I liked Upper Deck when it came out in 1989, but didn’t buy much of it since its packs cost a seemingly astronomical $1.

    When the premium sets started to come out (Leaf in 1990, Stadium Club and Ultra in 1991) I still made sure that I bought at least a few packs of every set each year. I understood the purpose of the premium sets and even the super premium sets. It made sense when every company had one regular set, one premium set, and one super premium set. There was Topps – Stadium Club – Finest, Donruss – Leaf – Leaf Limited, Fleer – Ultra – Flair, Collector’s Choice – Upper Deck – SP, and there was Score and Pinnacle (though I’m not sure that they really had a super premium product). I understood the niches that Studio and Bowman were trying to fill. The first set that I really questioned was Score Select in 1993. What exactly was the purpose of that set? Then I wondered why Topps needed to have Bowman’s Best and why Sportflics was coming back.

    By 1994, it was tedious to buy at least a pack from every set that came out. I didn’t care about most of the sets. I couldn’t figure out which ones were worth collecting. I tried to figure out which sets would be the most valuable in 20 years. I concluded that it would be the super premiums, but they were too expensive for me to collect. So I decided to collect the premium sets and bought a box of 1994 Stadium Club, but wound up hating the cards because of their ugly design.

  2. Topps Finest. When I was a kid, my goal was to collect every Don Mattingly card that was ever produced. I couldn’t afford to buy his 1984 rookie cards, so my collection was always incomplete. In late 1993, I went to a card show and saw Topps Finest cards for the first time. I was stunned to see packs containing only six cards selling for way too much money. I can’t remember if it was $5 per pack or $10, but it was much more than I was willing to pay for a pack of cards, especially one that contained so few cards. I saw a single Mattingly card from 1993 Finest selling for $15. I was disgusted. Why should people have to pay almost as much as they would pay for a Mattingly rookie to get a card made in 1993? Then I heard about the refractors and became totally intimidated by Topps Finest. I refused to buy any cards from it. I hated that a set was being produced that was so expensive that I was forced to ignore it.
  3. Inserts. In 1993 and 1994, collectors were going crazy for inserts. They sold for much more money than “base cards”, which was a term that wasn’t even necessary before this period. Like Topps Finest, many inserts were selling for more money than I could afford. They also caused people to devalue the base cards. I wondered why I should spend money trying to build sets of base cards when the inserts were what people really wanted. With each set that came out, there were more and more inserts. My frustration kept increasing.
  4. Rookie cards before players were rookies. In the early 1990s, the card companies seemed to battle each other to produce the first rookie cards of players. This probably came about because Topps and Score didn’t include cards of Ken Griffey, Jr. in their regular sets in 1989, which caused collectors to spend their money on Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck that year. No one wanted to miss out like that again. So every set contained cards of draft picks and low-level minor leaguers that I’d never heard of. Some of these cards, including many Derek Jeter draft pick cards that I collected in 1993, became valuable, but many sets were cluttered with no-name players who would never even reach the major leagues. I opened a pack of Bowman one year and barely recognized any of the players. That was no fun. And by the time a player would start having a good rookie year, their rookie card was already a few years old, so no one could ever “look forward” to getting the first cards from the best rookies.
  5. Falling prices of cards from the 1980s and understanding their over-production. This was one of the most discouraging things that I learned about in the early 1990s. When I started collecting in the 1980s, I dreamed that the cards that I was collecting would one day be as valuable as the cards that my dad collected in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I figured that by the time I was an adult, they would be worth a ton of money. Obviously, that will never be the case. In the 1990s I was older and learned about economics. I learned about how cards were massively overproduced, and the high supply ensured that they would never be valuable. In addition, kids were now saving and protecting the condition of their cards, so they would never become more rare. In hindsight, this should have been obvious, but I was very disappointed when I first realized that the cards that I collected and treasured from the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s would never be valuable.

So as you can see, I had a lot of mounting frustrations with the baseball card industry by 1994. The strike was probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It gave me a good reason to stop collecting cards. But if I wasn’t frustrated because of all of the things that I’ve mentioned here, I probably would have continued collecting after the strike.

After buying a few cards in early 1995, I didn’t buy another card until around the time that I graduated from college in 2001. I put all of my old cards in a box and hardly ever looked at them again. In 2001, I got a job that paid me more money than I ever had before, so I slowly started building my Mattingly collection again. It wasn’t until 2008 that I would become a collector of new cards once again.

Today in 2008, the baseball card hobby is vastly different than it was in the 1980s, and even very much different than it was in the mid-1990s. There are still some big problems, but they are problems that I’ve decided that I can live with. There is also a lot that has gotten better, and I can expound upon that later.

Update: A day later, I realized that I totally forgot to mention another huge factor that led to the decline of my interest in baseball card collecting. I turned 15 in 1994. Thoughts about girls, driving, working at my part-time job, and what college to go dominated my brain, and baseball cards fell by the wayside. Mostly I thought about girls though. And I didn’t think that many girls would be impressed by my large baseball card collection. It probably isn’t a coincidence that after I got married and didn’t have to worry about girls anymore, baseball card collecting re-entered my life…



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  1. I feel ya man, I do. Only I left the Baseball hobby due to the strike in 1994. I had every Tom Glavine card ever produced. Not so much any more.

    Personally, I actually like all the sets now because of how much actual crap is likely to get on the market with fewer options available. Can you imagine if Topps only put out two sets each year and one of them was crap? That would be awful, we would be screwed until the following year. Im okay with not having every single card any more because I know that there are more likely to be cool ones produced in the vast majority of sets that are produced to offset the pain of not being a super collector.

  2. Very good points, Gellman. My comments were really about how I felt about the hobby in 1994 and not today. Today, I am glad that there are a larger number of sets, even if many of them are totally pointless. I make enough money now that I can afford to buy boxes of most sets that come out, but I could barely afford packs of some products as a kid in 1994. My rants about the current state of the hobby are coming soon!

  3. Wow. Reading this post was like reliving my own experience. Like you I started collecting in the early 80’s (and stopped in the early 90’s. And like you I stopped for most of the same reasons. I think hitting my teens and discovering girls played more of a role for me than the strike. I think the multitude of products today is still a pretty big impediment. Especially for those of us who are trying to collect player or team sets. I’ve decided that I am going to limit myself to just buying the old school base sets. No shiny chromes, premiums or inserts for me. It’s hard sometimes walking into the card shop or retail store and seeing all that other stuff, but I keep telling myself to walk away. Besides, if i really want that game-used card of my favorite player, I’ll just find it on ebay!

  4. Thanks for the comments, Scott! Hearing that one of my posts has hit home for someone makes blogging much more fulfilling for me! I definitely agree with you about buying game-used cards on eBay; that’s a much better idea than buying packs or boxes to try to get them, and you ensure that you’re getting cards of the players that you like.

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