A check of the PSA Set Registry will indicate that there are currently 51 collectors actively pursuing a Mike Schmidt master set. Collector Marc Schoenen has had the finest set on the registry since 2002. A master set features several obscure regional and international issues that combine to make a 670 card checklist, whereas the basic set – featuring mostly Topps base set cards – comes in at only 47. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Marc about Schmidt and the eccentricities of some of his cards.
“I grew up in Philadelphia,” Schoenen began, underscoring the most logical reason for his collecting all things Schmidt. “Being born in ’76, I started to enjoy baseball just when the Phillies started getting really good, with Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton on the roster. Third base is a terribly tough position, and Mike Schmidt is one of the few Hall of Famers in the modern era to play his entire career with one team. When the Phillies won in 1980, they made it to the postseason on the back of Schmidt (NL MVP) and won the World Series also because of Schmidt (WS MVP).”
“I saw Schmidt play in person quite often,” Marc continued, describing the personal connection that often plays a role in the drive behind most player collections. “I went to two or three ballgames per year during my childhood, so enjoyed seeing him at Veterans’ Stadium a number of times. I’ve met him once, but it was a long time ago. For a child to meet his sports hero, it’s a magical moment that will live with you forever. Also, I once got a personalized autograph from him in response to a fan letter I sent him. He often sent back signed TLS, so the notion that I got a personalized autograph from him meant a lot to me as a teenager.”
“I first started collecting in a meaningful way in 1981, as a five-year old,” Marc explained, outlining the earliest days of his collection. “My favorite card from that set was the World Series commemorative card with Tug McGraw leaping into the air celebrating the Phillies World Series victory. I collected primarily Topps cards through about 1987, but may have had a few odd Fleer cards as well. I started getting into graded cards in the late 1990s. I always loved 1980 Topps card (MVP, WS MVP and first World Series win for the Phillies), but I’ve likely had 1981 Topps #540 in my collection for the longest – 30+ years at this point.”
“As you collect more and more, you find out about rare/esoteric variations,” Schoenen continued, as we discussed some of the more difficult to obtain Schmidt issues. “There’s a number of very difficult Schmidt cards that I have literally seen less than a dozen examples over the last decade. Although some may call his 1972 Puerto Rican Winter League sticker as one of the toughest, there’s a number that are actually much tougher to find, including: 1977 Venezuelan Sticker, 1982 FBI Foods Disc, 1989 Topps Heads-Up Test, 1986 Donruss Highlights (Highlights in White variation), and 1990 Donruss Blue/White Test with Lance Johnson.”
“I’m an economics and finance guy by trade, so I’m generally comfortable with the laws of supply and demand,” Marc opined, discussing some of the issues he felt were undervalued. “Put differently, there’s a lot of really rare Schmidt cards that don’t sell for more than more popular Schmidt cards, but there’s only a few of us Schmidt completists out there. That said, I think the 1981 Fleer #5 Portrait version of Schmidt is very tough to find centered and in great condition. Many of the panel cards are very tough to find in unfolded condition. Whether Hostess Panels or Topps/OPC Box Bottoms, if they were issued, they’re likely to be replete with surface scratching. To find an unfolded, undistributed example cut cleanly is a challenge. Moreso because of the size. The 1984 Topps Super is another underappreciated gem. Cards were issued one per pack, so even from a fresh box thirty years later, you’re not going to find mint examples. The 1974-1976 OPC cards are each ridiculously tough to find centered with sharp corners. Although OPC is not as widely collected as Topps, from a player set perspective, these are some of the toughest regular issue Schmidt cards to find in nice condition.”
“My favorite changes quite often,” Schoenen explained, as the subject moved on to favorite Schmidt cards. “I’d probably be a tad bored if I enjoyed the same Schmidt card as my favorite for so long. Sometimes I like sheer popularity. There, you cannot go wrong with Schmidt’s rookie card, whether Topps or O-Pee-Chee. OPC was issued in one series, so generally easier to find in top grade. Topps was issued in series, so while the Topps RC is easier to find than the OPC one, it is more likely to be beat up. That it is from the tough high number series makes it all the harder. All the more so, as 1973 was the last year Topps ever issued as a series. Aesthetically, I love the jet black background of the 1987 Fleer All-Stars card. The 1983 Phillies Dick Perez postcard looks like a glorious painting of a star player in his prime. Similarly, the 1984 Donruss Diamond Kings Schmidt card looks great. The 1989 Topps Heads-Up Test is cool simply because it is borderline creepy, with a giant floating Schmidt head, and nothing else.”
“Define your collecting goals and strategy up front,” Marc stressed as his most important tip for fellow Mike Schmidt collectors. “Know your budget and timeframe. The vast majority of Schmidt cards are easily obtainable (graded or raw). More than anything else, have fun with it. Schmidt was arguably the best third basemen in MLB history. He has a few hundred cards from his playing days, and it’s fun to piece together a comprehensive journey of his career from the early 1970s until his retirement in May of 1989. It also showcases a great run in baseball card collecting, from when Topps owned a monopoly in the market, to Fleer and Donruss entering in 1981, and the proliferation of sets by the late 1980s.”