Ponder This

I want to remind everyone that this blog is part of SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee.  I urge any of you slackers to join SABR , an organization filled with lots of great groups like this one, people who love to talk about (obsess over) biographies, records, the Negro Leagues, the 19th Century, statistics, poetry, board games, and dozens more.  You are free to join any or all of these groups, and you are free to start your own.  This group started last fall because Chris Dial and I said, “Hey, I wonder if anyone would be interested in a Baseball Cards committee?” Yes, in turns out.

After less than four months of work, this is our 100th post — a pretty fine output for a bunch of part-timers. I want to stress that this blog does not take an editorial position on what people should collect, or how people should collect.  I have my likes and dislikes, and I am one of the more active posters, but the only thing keeping your favorite sets (or your favorite collecting habits) from getting their due is that you aren’t writing about it.

So step right up!

If you are a frequent blog reader, you might have noticed an annoying tendency to write disrespectfully about high-end collecting: extreme grade-sensitive cards, using grading services, and storing cards in lifeless albums and blocks of plastic.  Qui, moi?


If I am guilty of anything, it is that I want to spread the message that high-end collecting is not the only game in town.  I would suggest that the rise of grading services and condition-sensitive collecting drove a lot of people, people that didn’t want to spend $125 for this Jim Davenport card, out of the hobby.  One of the reasons I was motivated to start this committee and blog was to show people that you don’t have to be rich to collect and enjoy your childhood hobby.  (I have heard from many of these people in the past few months.)

Put away the price guide for a second and find out what cards you actually like, and how you enjoy your cards.  That’s what we want to blog about.  (You can buy a perfectly excellent 1965 Davenport for $5, and for $10 you can get one that would require a magnifying glass to find its flaws.)  If you like collecting high-end graded cards, great, write a post about it and we’ll run it.

Thought of the day: “Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ would be such a cool painting, but two of the frame corners are chipped, so meh.”

So: if you want to want to build a set of 1961 Topps, all Near Mint, knock yourself out. If you don’t have 100 grand laying around, there is still a place for you in the hobby.

The card below would run you about $50 because (oh, the horror) it is only in “EX-MT” condition.  The Davenport above, I remind you, is $125.

s-l1600 (1)

Ponder this question.  If you woke up tomorrow and every baseball card in the world was suddenly worth 10% of what it is worth today, would this make you happy?  Your collection just lost 90% of its value — that is horrible!

Despite a sizeable collection of vintage cards, I would be thrilled.  I like getting more and different cards, and in this alternative universe I would be able to afford a lot cards that I can’t afford now.  This would be wonderful.

I have read blog posts that “review” old card sets, and I am struck by how often I read: “A fine attractive set filled with stars, but the lack of a tough high number series drags the set down a bit for most collectors.”  In other words, the set is less popular because the cards aren’t expensive enough.  Pardon my French, but WTF?

My message is: if you like baseball cards, there is a place for you.  Collect the cards you like.  And for God’s sake, play with them.



Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, founder and past chairman of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, current President of the SABR board of directors, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

13 thoughts on “Ponder This”

  1. Yeah, high end does nothing for me. I’m back collecting the base cards, Heritage (not chasing short prints), updates / traded for all Topps sets, Upper Deck base, Collectors Choice base, and some Fleer, Stadium Club, Ultra, Donruss, Score / Pinnacle, and Pacific. But I’m already sad because the 2011 Update Mike Trout is crazy expensive. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Though I never really stopped collecting and I was inching my way back into the hobby last year, this committee and blog has really brought me back to the true happiness of collecting cards.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m with you!

    At least with cards you can still see the whole card. Imagine the high end comic collector who puts his comic book in a slab and will never read it again! Seriously people…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OK, so I have a bunch of PSA graded cards, My apologies. But I am proud that I have a complete set of the ’63 Topps safely encased in plastic. Most of them are 7 and 8s (the Rose rookie is a 5. I’m fine with that) and I assure you I didn’t spend a fortune slowly collecting this set. I love looking at them, just as I love looking at the hundreds of ungraded cards I have. Sure, the difference between a nice 5 or 6 and a 9 ain’t much in most cases, so I often look for inexpensive 5s. I could recount horror stories about the terrible things that have happened over the years to my unslabbed cards, so l am not ashamed of having graded sets to keep me amused, any more than people who don’t like slabbed cards should have any shame over that preference.


  4. I agree completely with the premise of the post. I love the “collector grade” cards for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s what I can afford on a lot of things. Also, I love to think about the stories of how cards got where they are. I have some graded and of course it has a place in the hobby. I do get tired of reading so much about high-grade vintage. Maybe it’s just because I identify more with the average collector.


  5. I was a graded card holdout for a long time. Then I found a few oddball Keith Hernandez cards in PSA 10 that were fairly cheap and from there I started building up a collection on the cheap (I already had an extensive ungraded Hernandez collection). Once you get started, you kind of want to finish it off, and yes, the ranking system on PSA certainly does inspire a little bit of competition. No doubt about it, a few cards have been pricey (high grade 1970s Topps cards in particular), but most of his cards aren’t more (or they weren’t more) than $20 graded PSA 10, and many are much less than that.

    The other graded cards I have are a 1951 Topps Red Backs near set. I started out cautiously, buying PSA 6s and 7s, but then realized that 8s were not that expensive for most cards, and neither were some 9s. It’s not a big set (52 cards, or 54 cards if you’re going for the master) so that keeps the cost down. Berra, Snider, Hodges, Feller, Rizzuto, and Spahn were the only cards that cost a decent amount, and even most of those were under triple digits. I went graded because I don’t have a good “feel” for those cards (literally) so I wanted to make sure I was getting cards that had been authenticated in some way. On the other hand, I’ve put together what I think is a pretty nice ungraded 1960 Fleer set, to the point where there are only 2-3 cards I want to upgrade because they have a bad crease or stain.

    But graded cards are a small portion of the collection, and they are confined primarily to the Hernandez and 1951 Topps cards, plus a couple of other things. For me it’s about picking spots. An entire graded Topps set isn’t part of my personal collecting goals, but I have seen some people who have done that and it’s pretty cool. But of course, I’m the collector who is less than 10 cards short of having a copy (ungraded) of all of the Beckett listed items for Jose Lind AND also has a nearly complete set of PSA 8 or higher 1951 Topps Red Backs (yes – vastly different price points for those two collections), so I just kind of enjoy collections for what they are 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Agree with you all down the line, Mark. (Love the Starry Night analogy.) Right now, I’m working on completing my Topps 1968 set – got about 120 cards to go. Part of the joy is definitely in “the hunt” – window-shopping, comparing, looking for the big-score bargains. If my last name were Trump, I guess I would have just gone out and grabbed everything I wanted right off. . . but I know it would have been a joyless exercise.
    I’ve bought only 3 cards that were in slabs (& only one of them was professionally graded) but I immediately removed each one from its rectangular coffin. So my bright, clean, uncreased Mantle and my nearly as beautiful though a bit off-center Bench rookie card sit in penny sleeves alongside the rest of the league in a shoebox. I do feel some curiosity about how they might grade out, but I know for sure I wouldn’t have got them at the prices I did if they HAD been graded. As mentioned above, the difference between a “5” and a “9” can be very hard to see – everywhere except for the price tag. I don’t buy marked cards or ones with heavy creasing, but, given my budget, the 5 is gonna win out over the 9 every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with all this. Once I got back into card collecting I saw how much things have changed. It went from Card shops where you would go and hang out and sift through all the cards to try and find that one that really jumped out at you to an Ebay world of graded cards. My first reaction was I must have been doing this wrong and need to start worrying about condition. Then I realized that took all the fun out of collecting cards for me and that I was doing this for fun, not a long term money investment.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I also second your point on joining SABR also. I live in the PNW where out SABR group’s footprint is huge so while I am a member I have only been to one event. I still find it well worth being a member though.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My recent card collecting has been getting the Topps base set and filling in with buying single cards from Topps update and Heritage. In the past, I also bought single cards from Fleer, Score and Upper Deck. Mostly now, I buy cards from Beckett online. In the past, I bought cards at shows and from shops.


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