Among all of the different ways to collect baseball cards are what are referred to as player collections. Player collections are exactly as they sound — card collections of specific players.
Like anything else, player collections can vary greatly. Some collectors focus on only one player while others chase cards of several. Additionally, some collectors pursue cards of a specific player only with a particular team. There’s really no right or wrong how to do it and player collecting is quite popular. Even non-card enthusiasts have been known to assemble small collections of cards featuring their favorite player.
I primarily collect pre-war cards but as a fan of the Mets as a child, Dwight Gooden was my favorite player growing up. About a year ago, I began collecting Gooden cards on the side. It’s a nice side diversion from my real collecting focus of older cards and allows me to still keep up to date with current sets a little. It also reminded me of my days as a younger collector when I built up collections of Nolan Ryan and Nick Van Exel cards.
But while there are some obvious rewards to player collecting, there are some downsides, too.
One of the best things about player collecting is you’re bound to find some inexpensive cards. Unless you’re pursuing a player from long ago who doesn’t have many, you’re almost certain to find cheap base cards of almost anyone outside of the pre-war era. That even includes current stars to players from the 1970s and 1980s. Even most early post-war vintage stars can be affordable if you’re willing to sacrifice with condition. Modern players, especially, can have a slew of inexpensive cards that can be bought for under a dollar.
If you’re a completist who wants every single card of a specific player, well, that gets a little tougher.
Many players will have very tough cards that are difficult to track down. For a modern player, that can mean rare parallels, autographs, and other hard-to-find inserts. Those sorts of cards don’t apply to a lot of older players. But for earlier players, you can spend a lot of effort trying to find rare food cards or off-brand cards from different companies.
As expected, many of those cards can get kind of expensive. But even if you aren’t forced to shell out a lot of money for some, even finding them can be incredibly difficult. A lot of 1980s and 1990s players, for example, have some rare promotional or regional issues that are next to impossible to find.
And the type of player you’re collecting has its positives and its negatives, too.
Depending on the player, you can find yourself running into quite a bit of competition for their cards. More modern players, such as Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Trout, have plenty of collectors. That can lead to bidding wars for tough cards and, ultimately, some very high prices. If you’re chasing a player under the radar, that usually means less competition. But it can also mean that finding their cards is a bit more difficult. Sellers on eBay, for example, are more apt to list cards of star players that will sell much easier than a lesser player that commands less interest. Collecting obscure players can have its own pitfalls in that regard and finding a rare card of a common player can be significantly harder than finding that same card with a star featured on it.
Heck, even determining which cards a particular player has can be daunting. Online player checklists help but are not usually exhaustive in nature. It is quite common to find cards of certain players that are barely checklisted, if at all. And if you’re trying to collect every card of every player produced, you can see how that would be an issue.
Another hurdle comes in the form of modern cards. Many collectors settle on pursuing cards of vintage players thinking they can avoid having to chase down current issues. That may be fine if you’re completely avoiding a player’s post-career cards. But if you’re someone who has to have everything you can get your hands on, it is tougher. That can mean jumping headfirst into modern sets, which produce cards of older players — sometimes many of them. That often means rare autographs and tough parallels, just as is offered for modern players.
The good thing about collecting any player (or anything, really) is that collectors can choose their own path. There are no rules and no hard lines of how to collect a particular player. If you’re overwhelmed by the number of potential cards a player may have, there’s no harm in scaling back and building a more modest collection.