Baseball Cards – A different kind of history

I like baseball cards. There’s no denying that fact.

When I first bought a pack of cards in 1996 at Kay-B-Toys (they still around?) at a mall, of all places, I was hooked. The first set I ever completed was 1996 Score.

Finding any Baltimore Orioles card in a pack has always been a special reward for me, too. The Orioles cards are often better than the serial numbered cards manufacturers randomly insert into their packs.

For me, it is an easy way to connect with players on an Orioles team I have followed since I was a kid.

The game of baseball certainly has a great history. And I have always connected to the game and its history through baseball cards.

I have also connected with my dad more over baseball cards than we ever did playing or watching baseball games. I firmly believe the best seat these days is on the couch watching a game on TV.

But the sounds, smells and overall atmosphere are an awesome scene to be part of every now and then. Save up because it ain’t cheap.

*A card featuring Boston Red
Sox outfielder Tris Speaker
produced by the American
Tobacco Company circa 1910

(Library of Congress)*

The business of baseball cards has grown significantly since pieces of cardboard with player photographs were first packaged inside packs of cigarettes.

It wasn’t until the 1930’s when the Goudey Gum Company included baseball cards in packs of gum that kids became the marketing target.

The year 1948 saw Bowman introduce the first packs of baseball cards for sale that flipped the candy/card packaging. In 1952, Sy Berger with Topps, introduced larger cards with more vibrant colors. In 1956, Topps purchased Bowman, the largest competitor for Topps.

The 1952 Topps set remains one of the most highly sought by collectors. It also remains one of the most expensive, with a graded Mickey Mantle card (#311 – PSA 9 grade) selling for $5.2 million through a private sale in January 2021.

Sports cards grew to show revenue of approximately $1.5 billion in 1992. That number had dwindled to around $200 million by 2008.

The recent purchase of The Topps Company by Fanatics ($500 million purchase price) proves there is still money to be made in the sports cards market. The addition of Topps to the Fanatics portfolio moves the valuation of the company to approximately $30 billion; not bad for a former start-up in the sports apparel market.

Putting the dollars aside, let’s get back to the nostalgia. That is still a thing and is difficult for businesses to replicate.

Kids are, for the most part, priced out of collecting sports cards. They are smart enough to know a $1 pack of cards does not contain high value cards like a pack which costs $100.

Viewing baseball cards as an investment starts early. For those of us that loved the game of baseball before stumbling into baseball cards, our memories drive our collecting.

That 1996 Score set still holds a solid place in my collection and in my mind, but my main collecting focus these days is Cal Ripken Jr. baseball cards and memorabilia. I also collect other Baltimore players when I have an opportunity.

My Iron Man collections currently consist of 3,253 individual cards, with approximately 4,500 doubles. I have magazines, prints, figurines, Coke bottles, lunch boxes, batting helmets and many other items with Cal Ripken Jr. relevance. I also have around 7,200 cards of other Orioles players, from Don Aase to Frank Zupo.

This collecting thing keeps me off the streets and out of the local gangs. I don’t drink or smoke, so collecting Cal and other Oriole players’ cards (and other goodies) is my only vice outside of Dr. Pepper.

To spread the baseball card collecting bug, we will be sharing a checklist of a random Oriole players each week. That’s the plan, anyway.

Life often changes our priorities, but we will do our best to keep adding a checklist or two each week. And we’ll start with Brady Anderson, who played with the O’s from 1988-2001.

He has a total of 1,327 cards, although not all of those are in an Orioles uniform. Our focus for any future checklist will remain Orioles players.

So, since Brady was drafted by the Red Sox in 1985 and finished his career in 2002 with the Cleveland Indians, any cards produced during those times were not included on his Orioles baseball card checklist.

Cal Ripken Jr., with 22,847 different sports cards, has the largest checklist for an Orioles player. There are loads of others, though, including 148,292 individual Orioles player cards are out there. And we’re sure there are quite a few others from smaller local manufacturers that are not catalogued.

Here is the checklist:

Stay tuned for updates. If you’re an avid connecter like myself, you don’t want to miss this series!

Let us know in the comments about your card collections, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter! And, make sure to use the hashtag #baltimorebattery when sharing our content to show your Birdland swag!

Published by Wayland Abernathy III

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. I've been around the world thanks to my Air Force-enlisted parents although I have been in Florida since 1987. I thank my parents for helping me embrace my sarcastic and common sense view of the world.

2 thoughts on “Baseball Cards – A different kind of history

  1. Great piece! I’m looking forward to more articles about baseball cards. I started collecting in 1967 and now only collect Orioles. I figure I probably have 90% (although I could be over estimating) of the O’s cards released since 1954.


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