Aside from buying boxes of cards for things like my pack searching experiment, I don’t often buy cards anymore. My peak card collecting days were as a boy, from around 1987 to 1995, when I was ages 5 – 13. From there I moved on to SLUs, McFarlanes, and later custom McFarlanes. And while my fascination with this unique hobby has never ceased (which is why I started SportsLizard and why constantly read about it), I’ve always yearned for those days as a kid when collecting was a ton of fun.
Recently I was walking through Walmart and I picked up a pack of 2008 Donruss Threads Football. A funny thing happened: I had a ton of fun opening the pack. The anticipation from the time I left the register to the time I got to my car and opened the pack was awesome. It’s the same feeling I had back in 1988 when my dad would buy me a pack of Topps Baseball at the gas station. The wait from the time he left to go fill up to the time he got back to the car seemed like forever.
However, after I got done with the pack the feeling was completely different. Back in 1988 I would be excited for all of the new players I now had cards of. I couldn’t wait to get home and put them in my binder with the rest of my 1988 Topps. Instead, I felt disappointed. Disappointed because I didn’t get an autograph or a jersey card. Then I thought to myself “why?” The only answer I could come up with was that like everyone who collects cards these days I’ve been brainwashed by all of the parallels and relics and 1/1 auto’s that I’ve forgotten that an actual card can still be fun. Completing a base set can still be fun. Not because it’s “worth” anything, but because it’s fun to collect, just for the fun of collecting. Pulling a jersey card or an auto is awesome. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. But the sentiment that the other cards are so meaningless that you might as well chuck them in the trash takes all the fun out of collecting.
Here’s the modern lie of card collecting: you can make a substantial amount of money by buying and selling cards. If you somehow do a better job of evaluating the card market and predicting the future of highly unpredictable athletic events, you might actually become rich. It’s a pretty ludicrous thought for anyone that’s actually been around the hobby, but it’s what card companies pitch to us. It’s why Beckett somehow still thrives. It not only takes the fun out of the hobby for the individual, but it kind of ruins trading because people are so caught up in getting “more value” in return.
If you only like auto or jersey cards, that’s fine. It’s not about whether the card is “worth” 2 cents or $2k to someone else. It’s about the fact that the card is worth something completely non monetary to you. Most collectors will never sell their collections. So instead of being able to say “I have $25k in baseball cards” isn’t it more appropriate to be able to say “I have all of the cards of my favorite player/team/rookie class”? As far as I know, there are essentially no collectors that have ever profited enough from buying and selling to make a living (I’ve never come across one, but people like CardCollectingRambler are close). Hell, most hobby shops these days close down because it’s almost impossible to run a card business period, even with the aid of UD and Topps.
In the meantime, I’m going to be retraining my brain. Every time I’m out I’m going to try to pick up a pack of cards. Sometimes at Walmart or Target, other times at a hobby shop (if I can find one). But every time I open a pack I’m going to do my best to enjoy the cards I get. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try to complete a base set the old school way, one pack at a time. All I know is that I’m going to have fun doing it. That’s what matters to me.
Quick site update. I think I’m still about 2-3 weeks away from rolling out the new SportsLizard. Overall I couldn’t be happier with the progress, especially the huge leap in usability for the Price Guide. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised at the overall dramatic improvement of our offerings for all types of collectors.