Most active hobbyists are probably tired of hearing about the “over-production” era because in many ways we are still suffering the aftereffects of all that card production, which was really orchestrated just to meet what was then a phenomenal demand. I received a nice email from a couple last week describing in general terms what they owned and I responded by saying, with a very few exceptions, just about everything from 1986 through 1994 including unopened items can be had for pennies on the dollar. Fortunately the young lady understood and said they would speak to me to see if they had anything truly worth following up on. But did you realize, for a brief shining moment, there was actually one final resurgence on many items from this infamous era?
When I worked at Beckett in the late 1990s, we’d often get calls from reporters doing stories on the market for cards of players who were hitting all those long blasts during the home run chase. I went through a period where I probably spoke to 20 reporters a week during the height of the chase. What was interesting was an AP reporter from St. Louis picked up real early on the chase (I want to say June) and we built a pretty good relationship.
All of that pales to actually seeing what was going on with these cards though. I had scheduled a vacation for early September to visit my father on the east coast and get to see some of my friends as well. Since my dad was still in good enough health to be left on his own for a while, when I came to visit I would stop at my local friends’ stores while in vacation. I always treated those trips as busman’s holidays and got to see some shows and stores while spending time back home.
One day I stopped in at Bob’s Coins and Collectibles in Elmwood Park, N.J. What was amazing to me was just how busy they were. It was a zoo. Mark McGwire had hit his 60th home run on September 5 and I watched in amazement as well dressed business types were dropping $300 per without batting an eyelash or questioning the price on high-grade 1985 Topps McGwire rookie cards, I watched as one man bought three of those cards as well as a few other items and paid over $1000 in cash. 1986 and ’87 Bonds rookie cards were flying out the door.
And that was far from a unique situation. This was the first time Beckett Auctions had actually been selling items and I remember a 1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa rookie selling for $180 through that venue. Today, there is another current iteration of Beckett Auctions and seeing the current Beckett OPG price for a third-party graded 1990 Leaf Sosa card, it will be a long time before that dollar figure is reached again.
In many ways 1998 was a perfect storm for many of these cards, boxes and sets as many collectors—and those who had stepped away without selling–had extra Bonds, McGwire and Sosa rookie cards. In addition, sites such as eBay were just beginning to grow in importance and now there was a whole universe of collectors, even those outside your immediate area, to whom you could sell your items easily. The print venues of the time were still reasonably strong and many collectors utilized hobby publications to buy and sell.
Of course, at the time no one thought it would become such a horrible scandal that the goodwill generated by all those home runs would come crashing down in the wake of a Congressional hearing and revelations of widespread PED use, but a much larger marketplace had opened. A hobby that had gone through tough times following the baseball strike had reawakened toward a different kind of future that also couldn’t have been predicted ten years earlier.
Sales were strong during the baseball season and then continued in the football season as both Peyton Manning as well as Randy Moss were having excellent rookie seasons and stars like Brett Favre were hot as well. For many store owners, 1998 gave them the momentum, especially if they started taking advantage of other ways to sell items online to remain in business for a few more years.