During my bi-weekly visit to the comic book store (yes, and if you didn’t already know, I make no bones about being a comic book geek), some guy comes in and asks about some Magic spell card (it sounds like he’s speaking in a foreign language to some of us in the store) and I ask myself a question that pops up every once in a while: whatever happened to sports card collecting?
Granted, I know sports card collecting is still around to some degree, but where entire stores used to be dedicated to sports cards back in the 80s, these days, sports cards are mostly relegated to a few counters or shelves in either comic book stores or novelty stores that carry a variety of collectibles (comic books, toys, sports cards, Magic cards, etc.).
As a kid, I remember my brother and I thinking—nay, knowing—that it wasn’t our hard work or the money in our savings accounts that would make us rich in the future; it was, in my brother’s case, his small box full of Karl Malone and Andre Rison rookie cards, and, in my case, my variety of David Robinson and Kenny Lofton rookie cards. At one point, we even had our hands on a few of the special cards that were more valuable than gold: the Ken Griffey, Jr. Upper Deck rookie card. The Billy Ripken “Fuck Face” error card. The Mark McGwire rookie cards (both Topps AND Donruss).
You can blame it on any number of things.
Oversaturation, for one. During the late 80s/early 90s, both the worlds of sports cards and comic books became flooded over with more manufacturers and varieties of cards/comics than the demand warranted, thus contributing to the decline of the industry as a whole as well as to the value of the individual items that so many kids (such as myself) banked on for our future wealth. But while comic books are no longer as viable as they used to be as collector’s items, they are still widely read, mainly due to the exploitation of comic book properties in more popular mediums such as film or television. Sports cards, on the other hand, don’t carry much value beyond one cool picture and some stats, both of which are more easily obtainable these days via the internet.
It could also be that there are such a variety of other options out there these days—video games, youtube, non-sports trading cards (e.g. Pokemon, Magic, etc.), toys—that sports cards have been relegated to a minor niche in an industry (if collecting can be called an industry) it once dominated.
The ironic part of the story is that during the heyday of our card collecting, I remember one particular instance when baseball cards were quite the fad but basketball cards had yet to take off. My brother, godbrother, and I were at a baseball card show taking place at a local Holiday Inn. More or less done with our share of trading, buying, and selling for the day, we were on our way out of the show when my godbrother passed by one of the vendors who happened to be selling a small amount of basketball cards.
Godbrother: “I’m thinking about buying a Michael Jordan rookie card.”
Me: “How much is it?”
Godbrother: “Forty bucks.”
Me: “What a ripoff. Basketball cards aren’t going anywhere.”
Godbrother: “Yeah, you’re right. Forget about it.”
While sports cards across the board have declined in value from that period in the 80s, the Michael Jordan rookie card in question can still fetch upwards of a thousand dollars (depending on the condition).
Sincere apologies to my godbrother’s kids and their respective college funds.