I remember it like it was yesterday.
Several years ago, I received a birthday present from my parents. It was a box of 2006 Upper Deck Future Stars: the first “NEW” cards I had opened since my childhood. Holographic foil board cards, different colored parallels and autographs that were actually inserted into the packs!
Lady luck was on my side, as I landed a true rare gem. A card sure to put me on the fast track to being a millionaire.
It was an Alex Rodriguez card numbered to 99.
I thought it would surely be worth a mint because it was serial numbered … and only to 99. When I was a child in the early 1990s, they serial numbered the rare cards to 10,000! Someone broke the news to me that in the current market, a card wasn’t considered all that rare even if they were numbered to just 99. I still held out hope though – after all, it was Alex Rodriguez! Though I had stopped following baseball closely, I just knew that he was a hot player.
Or was it Alex Gonzalez?
While my first instinct on A-Rod was correct, it simply didn’t matter. My gem of a /99 card ended up being worth about $2. Today at a card show, you could probably pick one up for a quarter. Of course, there were some of his cards that would fetch many hundreds (thousands?) of dollars back at his peak, but the gravy train for his cards ended a long time ago.
This is nothing new though. For every meteoric rise in value, there is a catastrophic fall just around the corner. That doesn’t mean that you have to ride the hype train to make money in baseball cards, though. You just have to know what to look for … or rather, what other collectors are looking for.
Player Collectors are a Loyal Lot
As a reseller, I didn’t think much about player collectors at all. It wasn’t until I started seriously collecting Jose Canseco cards that I understood the player collector psyche. While they may not be nearly as hot as Trevor Story or Bryce Harper are today, many of yesterday’s stars have a strong cult following. Is the legacy of Mark McGwire tarnished due to steroids? Sure, but those who loved watching him as kids remember one thing: the long ball.And guess what? Those kids are now grown up and have a lot more expendable income than they did before. There is still an audience for his cards.
The same holds true for certain cards of many other players such as Will Clark, Barry Bonds (it’s true), Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and others. Even some players who were never really considered superstars have a cult following among collectors who aren’t shy about spending for them. Two players of notable interest are Omar Vizquel and Andres Galarraga.
If you have not been following the sales trends of these two players, you may be scratching your head a little bit as to why I bring up the names of guys some people still can’t spell right. This case study shows that the value of a player’s cards doesn’t necessarily match up with what he did on the field.
Interest Not Always Reflected in Pricing
Resellers need to get out of the mindset of following price guide values and start following sales trends online. Some Vizquel and Galarraga cards sell so well, those who do follow what’s happening know that it can sometimes be far more lucrative to pull one of their low serial numbered cards than some of Trout, Bryant, Jeter or Griffey.
This might sound like craziness to many collectors, however, even the card companies have taken notice. I’ve seen both players pictured in certain sell sheets and Panini put an autographed card of both Venezuelan players in its 2016 set.
While these two players may fetch the highest money, there is a catch. Well, two catches, actually. In order to realize a nice profit, you must either find a rare version of their card, or be among the first to list a card for sale. 1/1’s of either guy can fetch thousands of dollars. If you are the first to market with a new card, a premium profit can be realized. After the first few sell, the bottom can drop out.
Jeter may have a MUCH stronger following than Vizquel or Galarraga, but these two guys have out-sold him on numerous occasions. Jeter however, has a much wider fan base, so while his 1/1’s may not sell as well, his cards to /50, /99, rookies and base cards will sell significantly better overall.
In the last 90 days, nearly $46,000 worth of Vizquel cards have sold on eBay. Some are newer inserts and autographs. Others are rarely seen inserts from 15-20 years ago.
Kid Collectors All Grown Up
As fans from the 80’s and 90’s continue to increase their income (well, we hope so, anyway), you can expect some of yesterday’s minor stars to have a bump in pricing. Earlier in this article, I mentioned Alex Rodriguez and briefly touched on the fact that before I dove back into baseball and the hobby, I really didn’t know if Rodriguez or Gonzalez was THE Alex to have. While Rodriguez will go down in history with one of the highest home run totals ever, Gonzalez will be remembered by few as a journeyman shortstop. That must mean that his cards should sell for nothing, right?
A fellow reseller recently sold a nice cache of rarer Alex Gonzalez cards for over $3,000 to a collector. This is not exactly a lapse in judgment by the buyer. This is what collecting has come to for many. A 1994 Score Dream Team of Don Mattingly recently sold for over $400 (it was a PSA 10, but still…) and a 1998 Crusade Red of Will Clark reached over $2,000.
Seldom Seen=More Green
So what is the underlying theme for all of these sales? The cards that sell the best are the cards that are harder to find. This may sound like common knowledge, but the truth is that the rarer cards – *especially* the older serial numbered cards that don’t pop up often – can go for much higher than you may think. Before you start listing that hoard of Carlos Delgado serial numbered cards with a 99 cent starting bid, beware that if the player on the card doesn’t have a wide net cast over collectors and his strongest collectors already have the card you are listing, your mega-low numbered card may go unsold … or sell for 99 cents.
With the glut of serial numbered cards being pumped out today by card companies, it can be difficult to think of a /99 card as being truly rare, but if a card is over 10 years old, finding a /99 card for a particular collector could prove to be quite challenging for a player collector and he’ll be willing to pay a strong price for it.
The moral of the story is this: The next time you find a box full of “minor stars” from the 80’s and 90’s– don’t just throw them out with the commons – they might be worth sifting through to find a few gems that will make it worthwhile.
Read more by Tanner Jones here.