I lack many vices. The amount of money I have saved living a clean, boring existence has prevented the types of debts usually faced by writers on newspaper journalists’ salaries. But everyone owns a weak spot, a collecting jones that channels any latent obsessions and/or compulsions and focuses them on a particular “thing.” My thing is baseball cards, and though it may repel potential mates with Albert Belle-like force, it mixes nostalgia with current enjoyment into a passion in mint condition.
Last Friday, I attended a semi-annual card show sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times (Oprah approved!) in Rosemont, Ill. My brother attended to spend big bucks to have Jerry Rice sign a San Francisco 49ers mini-helmet, and he reports one of the nicest encounters he has had in the Sharpie-signing game. I scouted for Christmas presents for said brother while looking for a couple of things:
- Certified autographs of players on the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals
- Barry Zito cards from his days with the Oakland A’s (2000-2006)
- Cards to complete my set of 2008 Topps Allen & Ginter
Walking amid a crowd of older collectors rocking Starter jackets and receding hairlines, I somehow felt both better and worse about myself for joining them in moving from table to table. After picking up a Scott Spezio autograph for $2 and realizing I may be the only one still looking for Barry Zito cards after his last few seasons, I happened upon a table showcasing boxes of packs from the 1990s. Just seeing the boxes brought back memories of the early 1990s and piecing together sets pack by pack after visits to area convenience stores and hobby shops. I moved on to comic books in about 1994, which is when cards continued a trajectory that still exists today – creating a premium over the standard set of cards that existed in the 1950s-1980s.
Collectors and connoisseurs showed interest in cards on better stock, with glossy finishes and great photography. They paid good money for the chance at rookie cards and other cards of manufactured scarcity. And the card companies competed with each other to find new ways to appeal to this collector seeking value on the secondary market. And little 14-year-old Hank learned lessons in economics that wouldn’t be out of place on NPR’s Planet Money podcast.
In any event, a box of 1994 Pinnacle Series 1 appealed to me for a couple of reasons. One, the year featured the cancelling of the World Series and marked an interesting flashpoint for baseball. And two, the cost was $12 for a box of cards that I would have killed someone to own in my rolled-up jeans days (hey, trends lasted longer in rural areas). Here’s the breakdown:
- 226 of 270 cards
- 102 doubles
- Six “Museum Collection” parallels (such as the John Kruk pictured at the top of the post)
- Tribute Bo Jackson
Busting a box like this isn’t going to make anyone their money back on the eBay market these days. A parallel Cal Ripken or Ken Griffey Jr. might draw some interest, but the cost of this box was an investment in traveling down memory lane. I remember some of these cards, and can laugh at others with the benefit of hindsight. Great photography – seldom seen in many cards these days – captures odd moments, including current television analyst Orel Hersheiser having a great time stretching. And I can only wonder if kids in 1994 would have pulled a Brooks Kieshnick rookie card and started planning their future retirement funds.
The trip complete, I hear a whisper. The collecting jones demands completion. Not being privy to a 1994 grade school lunch table, I head online. There, I can finish the set … and have a touchstone for any time I wonder about my favorite sport just before its darkest days.