by Rich Klein
While busting the new boxes the card companies are nice enough to send is always a treat, going back in time and opening some vintage wax is just as much fun. At the recent Craig Ranch card show in McKinney, TX, I had a bunch of Mike Trout 2011 Topps Update Rookie Cards that one of the promoters was very interested in trading for. Somehow we had both opened a great deal of the 2011 Topps Update product as he showed me all the Cognac parallel cards he had pulled from the packs. I had also opened a ton of the product as my goal was getting the million dollar giveaway cards and to me almost everything else I got out of those packs was a bonus.
Last winter, I reviewed all my back up stock on Topps cards and found more than a dozen of those Trouts I had picked up out of the packs. Meanwhile, the other dealer had only gotten three Trout’s out of all the packs he had opened and wanted to trade some of his inventory for them. I ended up picking up a nice stack of pre-1970 cards, a 1999 Hillshire Signed Harmon Killebrew card and… a 1987 Donruss unopened wax box. Several weeks later I finally got around to opening that box.
Before ripping into it, though, I started thinking about 1987 and what a wildly different time that was for the hobby. The internet as we know it was still several years away. No email. No online shopping. The hobby was alive and well. In the New York metropolitan area, there were shows or in-person auctions almost every night and weekend and while cable was making great inroads, there was not a way to watch every game as there is a today. We had “Super stations” such as TBS, WGN, WPIX and WOR available to cable watchers. Also, the 1986-87 period gave us a plethora of exciting young players who all were either just debuting in the majors or were beginning to make names for themselves.
The list of young players taking off was endless. From Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire to Barry Bonds to Wally Joyner to Bo Jackson. Of course, many of the players who later became the key players in those sets were yet to really make their way like David Cone, Rafael Palmeiro and Greg Maddux. Plus there were many other players who were popular for a day, a week or even a few months. Remember Joey Meyer?
The constant flow of young players and the “player of the week” mentality helped bring the growing hobby to a real simmer as we were chasing not only the players who appeared to be future superstars but also those who were destined for short term success: Chris Bosio, Benito Santiago and Dave Magadan were all amongst the 1986-87 players du jour. The monthly Beckett price guide was still highly anticipated.
Also remember in 1987, we were also several years away from the beginning of the “major hit” pattern for packs. Upper Deck would not seed in signed Reggie Jackson cards until 1990 so at this time, the plain old rookie cards were the hit and we were not looking for autographs or game-used anything. We just wanted the best players.
It is also hard to imagine, but these boxes were inexpensive enough that virtually anyone could become a dealer. You opened a box, put out the key cards, made a profit from the legions of hungry buyers and repeat the procedure. The hobby entry point was nowhere as difficult financially as it is today. Now, the lowest end barrier to entry is $20 blaster boxes at WalMart or Target and your chances of making a profit are not very strong. Hobby shops often sell more of the higher end product where it’s more like playing the lottery. If you want a box of something, you can find it. Back in ’87, you waited for the distributor.
The 1987 Donruss wax box, similar to other hobby boxes at the time, had 36 packs per box with 15 cards per pack. My local card store does not stock anything that old but on-line sellers these days get between $25-35 for these boxes thanks to a pretty strong supply and diminished demand for Bonds.
With that, it was time to travel back 26 years, open the waxy feeling packages and see what we saw back then.
I did not sort the cards but I did see several duplicates so let us say I wound up with about 500 of the 660 cards in the set. The first pack opened convinced me these packs were not tampered with as both David Cone and Rafael Palmeiro came out of that pack. I did receive most of the key rookies in this set featuring Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson,. Greg Maddux, Palmeiro, Cone, Jamie Moyer and many more. In other words, this box was loaded with rookie cards of players who made it. Yes, it was an easy profit back then but the memories are priceless.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]