The Jefferson Burdick Award for contributions to the Hobby, now in its third year, is this committee’s most prestigious award. To date, our winners have been Mike Aronstein (2020) and Doug McWilliams (2021). This year, our winner needs little introduction as his very name is synonymous with the rapid growth of card collecting in the 1980s and 1990s. We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2022 Jefferson Burdick Award is Dr. James Beckett.
For an entire generation of collectors, cracking open the latest Beckett Monthly was a ritual as exciting if not more than ripping actual packs of cards. Which new players made the Hot List? How much did the year’s most expensive rookie cards go up? Can I retire right now off my cardboard or do I really have to finish 9th grade first?! 😊
Instant access to the latest prices, which almost always went up, rarely down, surely had its drawbacks. What collector of a certain age doesn’t regret trading away a prized Sandy Koufax or Henry Aaron for a high numbers Todd Zeile or Donruss Eric Davis rookie? How much extra plastic had to be produced when at least three or four cards per pack went straight into penny sleeves if not screwdowns? And did anyone just collect for fun anymore?!
At the same time, was the Hobby ever more exciting for a greater number of people? In the Beckett’s heyday, not only were cards everywhere but collectors were too. Shows were seemingly every weekend, at least in some parts, and the Hobby was enjoyed by young and old alike. Sure, the very idea of a nine-year old cardboard day trader gave many purists pause, but in hindsight we just didn’t know how good we had it.
Kids everywhere having a blast collecting cards. Forget the why. That’s the Hobby at its best. Oh, and thanks to the Beckett, what mom in her right mind was still throwing away her kids’ collections?
But what of so many young collectors who lost their shirts chasing Kevin Maas and Brien Taylor rookies? Aren’t they bitter?
“My grandmother sent me money for my birthday one year, and I bought a subscription to Beckett,” recalls SABR member and artist Scott Hodges.
“Every month when the new issue came I would read every page and study the prices over and over. Years later, I found out my (then) wife and I were having a girl. I just knew this little girl was going to be my favorite thing in the world, just as my Beckett Monthlies had been as a kid, so there was only one logical name to give her. So yes, our daughter is named after a baseball card price guide, but really she’s named for the joy of being a kid.”
How about collector and author Tanner Jones who amassed the most expansive Jose Canseco collection on the planet? “The Beckett was everything to me back when I was a kid. I lived and died by the up/down arrows and articles. Now that I know Jim personally, I’m proud that my son, Beckett, has his name!”
Of course even before “the Beckett” was a thing or the baby name of choice for a generation of collectors turned parents, Dr. Beckett was already a household name thanks to the annual price guides he created along with co-author Denny Eckes of Den’s Collectors Den fame.
While the primary intent of these books was to attach prices to the cards and sets in our collections and want lists, they did much more than that. In the pre-internet era in which they were produced, they also provided every collector with $6.95 to spare or a birthday coming up with an inventory and checklist for virtually all the major sets in the Hobby. Four different Babe Ruth cards in 1933 Goudey? An entire set of Ted Williams cards in 1959? Cards even older than T206? For many collectors, this was how we learned such things. Jim brought baseball card knowledge and history to the masses.
Here at SABR Baseball Cards we tend to avoid the financial or business side of the Hobby. In creating our Burdick Award we were not simply looking to honor the person who amassed the most valuable collection or made the most money in the Hobby. At the same time, success is neither a disqualifier.
In his six decades (and counting) in the Hobby, Dr. James Beckett built what can rightly be called a multisport Hobby empire, one that today includes publications, grading services, livestreams, a marketplace, and a large, vibrant collecting community. The Beckett baseball “hobby talk” forum, for example, has over 800,000 posts! However, Dr. Beckett did not merely build something big. He built something special.
For at least a generation of collectors, Dr. Beckett and his monthly magazines practically were the Hobby. Even as many of the up arrows have turned to down and most of the 1990s hot lists have gone cold, the memories have continued their one-way march toward that rare air once thought only tenable by Gregg Jefferies rookies. That is to say they’ve become priceless. We thought the cards of the that great 1980s and 90s boom would fund our retirements, and we weren’t far off at all. Just take away the “d.”
Congratulations, Dr. Beckett, and thank you to all our readers who submitted a nomination. We’ll be honoring Dr. Beckett this August at the SABR annual convention in Baltimore, and we hope you can join us, either in person or virtually.