Many young boys would spend all Saturday working odd jobs to earn money just to run down to the local store and purchase baseball cards. They would look for their favorite player and enjoy the gum that would come inside the packs. If you were a Reds fan you would get excited seeing a Barry Larkin or Chris Sabo card and if you came upon a Los Angeles Dodger you would throw it away! You would spend all afternoon at the local sports card shop or if you were lucky a sports card show where you would see all the cards you wish you owned. From Mickey Mantle to Mike Trout things sure have changed in the baseball card hobby.
When I was young I grew up in baseball card shops. I worked at my first shop when I was 13 years old on Main Street in Richmond Kentucky. The Bullpen, it was just a small hole in the wall, but to me it was paradise. All the newest cards and cards of players from yesteryear; Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Willie Mays. The year was 1989 the year the next Willie Mays was drafted, Ken Griffey JR. His father played for the Big Red Machine and he had all the talent in the world. In 1992 his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card (a players first baseball card) would reach values of $300 or more. This began a trend where sports cards would reach an all time high in value and popularity.
From the late 1980 through the early 2000’s sports cards were selling at high prices and were in high demand and then the switch flipped. No one wanted to buy or collect cards any longer. Cards went down and many people just walked away from the hobby. The hobby would always be around but no one ever thought we would see the popularity that was seen in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
In the past 18 months baseball cards as well as Pokemon have seen a sudden interest in them. You still have the older generation who collect but new collectors have entered the hobby. The new collectors were different though. They weren’t interested in their favorite player or team. They care about the new players coming out of college. It has become almost like a stock market today, you speculate on which player’s card will increase in value and buy those and sell before the price drops. Just in the past year cards of player Zion Williamson, former Duke basketball player who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans sold for $111K! Believe it or not that is not the highest selling card of all time or even this year.
In 2020 a super rare rookie autograph card of LA Angels superstar Mike Trout sold for an astonishing 3.94 MILLION dollars. It is from 2009 Bowman Chrome. In January of this year a 1952 Mickey Mantle card that was graded 9 sold for a record 5.2 MILLION dollars. That is the most ever paid for a sports card. The card was graded by a professional grading company that grades cards on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (Gem Mint). Of course not many cards that are 60 plus years old are going to grade high so the grade of this Mantle was one of only six in existence.
So why are baseball cards so popular right now? I have been selling baseball cards since I was 14. I’ve managed several shops and even owned my own shop from 2010-2017. I still promote a monthly baseball card show in Richmond held on the first Saturday of each month at Galaxy Bowling. In my 30 plus years of being in the hobby I’ve never seen anything like this. You can’t go to Walmart or Target anymore and purchase baseball cards. People are buying every box on the shelf to resell. There have been fights over cards reported at numerous stores across the country.
In my opinion the reason sport cards as well as Pokemon and Beanie Babies are making a comeback come down to two factors. First, during the year of Covid when many were sitting at home drawing extra money they were watching sports and reminiscing about their youth. Number two wanting to reconnect to your youth and spending time with your children. Anytime there is a major world event you see people want to go back to a simpler time. We saw it after 9/11 and now during the Covid-19 pandemic we see it. Will the current popularity of sport cards continue for years to come or will it fade away like it did in the early 2000’s? No one can say for certain but for now the baseball card market is bigger than it’s ever been.