Ramblings: The Base Card Conundrum

While up very late one evening, I was checking the Beckett Alumni postings on Facebook. One of my fellow alums, now working for Panini, posted that he and several others had lunch with Jim Beckett the other day. In the course of the discussion, someone mentioned that Dr. Beckett had asked about why base cards were so lightly regarded in the secondary market and among collectors.

Richs Ramblings base cards For many collectors base cards are the most affordable way to build collections of players. The last time I spoke to Rob Veres of Burbank Sports Cards, he had just received a massive order for Alex Cora cards. Most of the Cora cards he sold were base or cheap parallel cards and a great majority were available at a quarter or a little more. In addition, many base cards posted on sites like COMC often sell rapidly. And as I have pointed out, when a player doesn’t have many cards beyond a low end base or two, those cards  can be become more popular such as the 2012 Playoff Playbook Richard Sherman card which is his only rookie card.

Troy Polamalu Topps InceptionCasual collectors or sports fans who aren’t really avid hobbyists tend to appreciate them a lot more.  When I was working for a non-profit called Hannah’s House (a place where court-ordered supervised visits take place) one of our long-term clients had a young man whose favorite player was Troy Polamalu (probably because of his cool hair) and since I had a few of his base cards lying around I was happy to give this seven-year old some Polamalu cards.   He loved them.  The previous year, I donated a huge box of cards to charity and they were thrilled to be able to pass them out to youngsters.

In each case, neither of these people cared about book value or “hits”, instead they just enjoyed what was given to them. Sometimes we forget that any cards are pretty cool, especially considering the quality of today’s issues.   And by the way, Hannah’s House is looking for a new home so if you know of a church in the Allen/Plano/Frisco area with a day care that would take us, we’d be very appreciative.  It’s a great program.

2014 base cardsThat is the positive of base cards, however within the organized hobby that is counterbalanced by the negative. As I have previously written,  when my friends Henry and Hans were running H&H in Garfield, NJ during the 1980’s boom tDoc Goodenimes, their kid customers would leave countless cards on the counter if their perceived best players were not pulled from their opened packs.  In a sense, the standard Mattingly, Gooden, McGwire cards, etc were the “hits” of the 1980’s.  Within a decade as the insert craze began,  and I remember going to a card show where 1996 Playoff Football sets were sitting on a dealer’s table for all of $5 each. Now, I think book price was like $15-30 at the time and when I reported that back to the Beckett football analysts, they did not want to believe those sets sat all day so cheaply. Again, even in the 1990’s, the early ‘hit mentality’ had struck and reduced the value of base cards, which were now perceived as inferior.

Boxes 1960s baseball cardsThe base cards of many products are almost considered worthless. If you check any message board, usually the topics involve the various major hits one pulled from a box or purchased on eBay or elsewhere.  In addition, at a show, the risk/reward of bringing commons is not worth the volume to most of the dealers who need to sell more to get their table money back. Plus, in many cases, those collectors who attend shows are more advanced than other collectors.

You need a volume set up such as Burbank (they have over 1.8 million cards listed on Amazon) or a card store with a lot of room such as my local card store, Triple Cards, which has boxes of commons available in numerical order and usually at a discount.

Otherwise these commons go into black holes and get sold at very reduced rates. I have personally noted a slight pick-up using the Net 54 Message Boards of selling larger bulk of team lots and I’m currently working on sending away a large grouping of Toronto Blue Jays cards in trade for a few pre-war Canadian issued cards. That trader may not remember but I bought a bunch of cards from him about four years ago. I have moved large boxes of several other teams and am always looking to do more. So there is hope for base cards, but you just have to work harder for them then you do about the hits.  That frankly, is somewhat systematic in our society as well as we now increasingly look for the quick hits rather than for longer-term success.

Those are some of my thoughts on base cards, what are yours?

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]


  1. […] the Sports Collectors Daily Facebook page, there has been a lot of great feedback from my recent Base Card Conundrum post.  It turns out that base cards have a lot of fans.  As I have suspected, there are many […]