Three Busy Months

I thought I was taking it easy with baseball cards this year, but somehow the first three months of 2024 have already been packed with things to talk about. The first creases are beginning to appear on my Bo Jackson wallet cards. Thank you gifts were sent to a handful of card bloggers. I even managed to stay off eBay for all but one pick up, but it turned out to be a duplicate so it won’t stay in my collection too much longer.

A small card show experimenting with my city set up for a second year in a row in January. The location was moved to an indoor youth sports facility for 2024’s iteration and looks set to move to a third site in 2025. I didn’t make any acquisitions, but my kids had fund finding Pokemon cards among what was on offer. I counted 17 dealers set up at perhaps 45 tables. I asked a few tables if they had any Canseco cards, which was generally met by dealers’ surprised laughter. Asking prices seemed to still be elevated on mid/low-grade vintage cards. The kids and I went out for donuts afterwards, so the outing can still be counted as a success.

The background operations and logistics of card shows are a fascinating subject. I have recently found myself reading Fat Daddy’s Sports Blog, which is run by Milwaukee-area dealer and show promoter Tony Gordon. He has been posting on a regular basis for at least a dozen years with most of his writing consisting of recaps from a dealer’s perspective of weekly regional card shows.

Hobby Reading

I didn’t read much at the outset of the year, but then March hit and suddenly I was deluged with reading material. My local library booster organization gave away some books in February, among which was Ronald Ampersad’s 1997 biography of Jackie Robinson. I added the title to my “future reading” pile and moved on to other pursuits.

Rocco Cosantino’s Beyond Baseball’s Color Barrier was a new addition to my library’s audiobook catalog and was subsequently slotted into my regular commuting playlist. The book started off as a fairly promising one, but seemed to lose its momentum once it progressed beyond the 1940s. I don’t know if the author was working with fewer sources for later eras, or just bogged down in trying to acknowledge minor players with scant biographies in between the deeper storylines of guys like Reggie Jackson.

While the Cosantino book was the sports title I completed through the end of March, it wasn’t the only baseball reading I undertook. Research into backup catcher’s brief stint on the St. Louis Browns somehow led to trying to find how his career intersected with that of Satchel Paige. To that end, I have been moving back and forth between Larry Tye’s Satchel and the pitcher’s own 1962 autobiography Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever. Every time I think I’ve found out all I wanted to know about Paige I always find another thread to follow.

Another book with a big “in progress” notation next to it is Mike Cramer’s Cramers’ Choice. Cramer is a fellow card collector who went on to found Pacific Trading Cards. The book is sneaky, with its brevity giving off a lot of self-published vibes before carrying the day with Cramer’s underlying love of the hobby. This really comes across in his telling the story of Pacific, and I could not help but think how well the upstart could have done if he had been the face of the business in the age of social media. There are a lot of good nuggets in here, and I have set aside the book in favor of giving it a much more thorough reading when I can devote more time to the subject. I judged the book by its cover and admit to underestimating the underlying story. So far I am left thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t mind talking baseball cards for hours with this guy.”

Not all my reading came in the form of books. I received a response from 1952 AL MVP Bobby Shantz after asking him about any memories he had of a relative of mine. I detailed the results in a post last week, as well as the results of a couple grading submissions that had been reviewed by PSA and SGC.

Let’s Talk About New Baseball Cards

The first three months of 2024 brought in 543 cards, though I am counting only 27 of them. 516 pieces of cardboard were the result of a spur of the moment purchase of a complete set of 1997 Collector’s Choice when I visited a new-to-me card store.

As is usual, my Mom mailed me a birthday card with $100 in it and a note telling me to buy clothes with it. Ha! Just like old times I put the funds towards baseball cards instead.

Player Collections

Five new Jose Canseco cards were duly added to their storage box in the opening months of the year. One was an absolute monster of a card: The 1990 Donruss Aqueous Test Issue. As we’ll get to later in this post, I think I already have what will be top three cards of the year in hand and this will be one of them. I’m still excited about landing this copy.

Two weeks before finding the ’90 Donruss, I picked up a group of four long-time favorites in spotless condition. These consisted of 1990 Leaf and 1994 Collector’s Choice, as well as 1995 Skybox E-Motion and a 1991 Donruss All-Star. The E-Motion addition was sparked by rediscovering The Angels In Order’s E-Motion set blog. It’s a fascinating set with sometimes hilarious one-word descriptors for each player. Canseco was given “strength” as his signature word, though “free agent,” “juiced,” and “mullet” would have also been acceptable answers.

My favorite of this quartet comes from the ’91 Donruss set, as it reconnects me with the first card I ever pulled from a pack. This All-Star card was of the only name I recognized at the time and pretty much imprinted itself on me in the same way a baby bird will lock onto whatever happens to be near its nest upon hatching. Glad to finally have a copy in hand again.

1952 Topps

Steady progress continues to be made towards one day completing a 1952 Topps set. I purchased 15 cards from the set, 13 of which knocked out new names in the checklist while two upgraded particularly beat up examples that were already in the collection. Helping this effort was a COMC seller who blew out of their inventory in a 70% off sale, allowing several pick-ups at prices of less than $2/card. A pair of auction house pick-ups at price points above $2 yielded a half dozen low grade high numbers (if anyone has a Bobby Thomson corner for sale I am interested). Most of these met my budgetary goal of equaling the cost of going out for a pizza, so no complaints there.

On a side note, I saw Heritage sell a ’52 Topps Mantle for $5k in March. The catch with this card is the fact that someone had trimmed away 48% of its surface area, giving it the same dimensions as a 1950 Bowman card. I wasn’t a bidder, but it did prompt some internal dialogue on just how low grade I would be willing to go in order to land one. I don’t think I would go for one this mangled, so the ultimate completion of this set is a goal that will remain a very, very long way from being successfully finished.

1949 Leaf

Five commons from this set were added, a quantity much higher than I would have predicted coming into the new year. A Dizzy Trout card was part of this number and was highlighted last week as one of the cards I sent off for grading with SGC.

Remember when I said earlier that I had already assembled my top three cards of the year? When laying out collecting goals for 2024 I made a list of cards that would prompt me to instantly ditch all my preprepared plans if I ever came across an affordable copy. One of those cards was the short-printed Larry Doby, a rookie card perhaps 10x as scarce as that of Jackie Robinson. I was pleasantly surprised to find an example made financially attainable thanks to someone stubbing out a cigarette against a blank section of the card’s background. Doby doesn’t smile on many cards, but he is grinning on this one and so am I when I look at it.

1993 Finest

The final “drop everything and figure out a way to get this card” addition to the collection came as the culmination of a conversation that took place over a 9-month period. That discussion ended when I acquired a mysteriously hard to find Ivan Rodriguez refractor for my set project. The seller used the proceeds to augment his budget at the Dallas Card show, walking out of the building with a Hank Aaron rookie as his reward. Not only did this put me one card away from completing a long held collecting goal, it allowed another collector to get a component of his “cardboard Mt. Rushmore.” A good trade, all around.