Baseball card collecting: A pastime with suicidal tendencies

Derek Jeter takes his final bow at the All Star Game at Target Field July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN. ] Jerry Holt Jerry.holt@startribune.com (Photo By Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
Derek Jeter takes his final bow at the All Star Game at Target Field July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN. ] Jerry Holt Jerry.holt@startribune.com (Photo By Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
2 of 2
Next
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

Baseball card collecting: A pastime with suicidal tendencies

No Longer a Kid’s Game

Such developments are extensions of the reality of card collecting since the ’80s – the activity is no longer a kid’s game or pastime. It is simply too expensive for all but the wealthiest kids in the neighborhood, or maybe no kids in your neighborhood.

More from Call to the Pen

In other words, card collecting is something arguably childish that adults spend money on for fun, hoping to buy into a situation that turns the activity into an investment. The problem is that the money spent is largely unlikely to be recouped. To begin with, the cards themselves, a penny apiece 65 years ago now cost anywhere from 35 cents to several dollars apiece, and few if any cards in a given pack are worth the average cost put out.

Second, the engineered scarcity involved in having a given card professionally graded in the hope of gaining a certified “gem mint” evaluation for your favorite Derek Jeter card involves the expenditure of even more money for protecting that card and then gambling on mailing or shipping it to the professional grader.

Which brings us back to the suicidal tendency of the card collecting industry. Twenty-five years ago, the card makers nearly died by producing too many cards, running totally counter to an important notion for any collecting activity – a rarity. Now, though, the card companies are flirting with the edge of the cliff by over-engineered scarcity, some of which involves searching the backs of cards for serial numbers in tiny fonts, and some (not quite as aggravating) that involves looking for cards with somewhat minor variations on their faces.

I will use a football card I own myself as an example. This is a red variation of the 2018 Panini LeSean McCoy card, which means that the card has a partly red border that on the regular issue McCoy is entirely white and that the brand name (Score) is also printed on the card face, inside the red portion of the border, in a metallic red. This, by the way, makes the brand name almost unreadable, but whatever.

Such variations are typically three to ten times as rare as the regular presentations, although sometimes card companies print actually unique cards. Do you hear the folding money flapping in the wind as it flies out of your wallet? Some of those dollars will pay for internet or hard copy lists of cards with all their variations, and then some more money will chase serious alcohol consumption while you try to understand those variations.

The engineered scarcity Moskowitz writes about will eventually die the death of the four-dozen rookie cards phenomenon. It will not continue to “thrive.” The question is whether that death will be the final, successful suicide attempt for card collecting altogether.

Next. 2020 Fantasy Baseball: Top 10 Catchers. dark

See, I don’t have very high hopes for my McCoy card – entirely aside from the fact the guy is basically a talented jerk. He had already rushed for over 10,000 yards before the card was even made. I don’t see the red variation making up for the late-career nature of the item.