The Forgotten Fraternity of Sports Card Collecting

My childhood collecting heyday was in the mass production era of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Valuation-wise, As Beckett will tell us, cards from this era are notoriously unwanted by dealers due to abundance. Case in point: I’ve firsthand witnessed several local card shops unintentionally break the hearts of wannabe sellers by declaring such cards worthless.

With this being said – and while mass produced – the late 80’s-early 90’s were certainly willing to try new things. Sharper images, glossy printing, and computer designed graphics ushered in cards a far cry from those only a few years earlier. The re-release of Topps Finest and upcoming Stadium Club 1990-91 Skybox Phil Jacksonstand as testament to the innovations this era brought to collectors. To this day, I find 1991 Stadium Club hockey breathtaking.

2014 Heritage SandbergPerhaps my fondest memory of this era, however, was the unique beauty of something off the beaten path: 1990 Skybox Basketball Series II coach cards. Dramatic photography surrounded by symmetric shapes and colors brought the heroes of the clipboard out in full splendor. I vividly remember scrambling to collect the entire set of these bench icons, individuals who had taken a quantum leap in card presentation from the 1989 Hoops set.

Opening up a recent pack of 2014 Topps Heritage brought a familiar smile to my face, with baseball managers – backed by Topps hockey card Don Cherrya slew of interesting factoids on card back – once again staring back at me. Only then did I realize how few and far between coaches cards are in modern sports card collecting. What remains a valuable investment staple in vintage hockey card collecting (Don Cherry, anyone?) seemed to have gone the way of the dodo in decades ahead.

To fill this collecting void, I took to purchasing rookie cards of prominent coaches, the first a graded 1955 Don Zimmer Brooklyn Dodgers rookie. This ushered in a slew of purchased coaching compatriots – dozens, in fact – with the most 1969 Topps Bobby Coxrecent a 1972-73 Phil Jackson adorned in Knicks championship era glory. Some coach cards are more valuable than others, of course, with the demarcation line logically success as a player.  A 1959 Topps George Anderson (Sparky) is considered a Hall of Fame star, even though his playing career wasn’t memorable. The same goes for new inductee Bobby Cox.  Fellow 2014 enshrinee Joe Torre had success as a player and as a manager.

LPro Set Kerry Fraserooking deeper, I remember clamoring for referee cards from 1990 Pro Set Hockey, and most recently got giddy for mascots of Topps Opening Day Baseball. Where have all these sideline stars gone? Would today’s collectors aspire toward a Harry Caray relic pull? What about revisiting auto’s from top executives or even sports agents?

Some would rightly argue that Allen & Ginter plus Goodwin Champions have this market somewhat covered, but even their product shows little love for the coaching masses. Football coaches are perhaps the most forgotten of this fraternity.  The only cards of Vince Lombardi from the Packers glory years are little black and white square photos front of the 1964 and ’65 Philadelphia Gum ‘Packers Play of the Year’.

Is there a forgotten aspect of your favorite sport you’d like to see appear…and collect?