Hobby Musings: Mike Oz making 25-year-old cards fun again – A common anecdote around the hobby has often centered around trading cards from the late 80s and early 90s. Sometimes referred to as junk wax, many have had their hopes dashed over what they thought was a trading card gold mine. To put it mildly, it’s not many people who can take often ordinary trading cards like these and make them interesting.
However, Yahoo Sports writer and Big League Stew blog editor Mike Oz has managed to turn that old cardboard into a rather enjoyable video segment. Opening 25-year-old baseball packs with baseball players and celebrities alike, Oz has found a new way to share their stories while creating a new memory. To find out more about how he came up with the idea, I had the chance to catch up with him. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: What gave you the idea to start the 25-year-old baseball card series?
MO: Like many great ideas, mine came when I was cleaning out my garage. Seriously, though, I had promised my wife I’d get our garage cleaned up before I left for spring training in 2016. I’d been trying to think of a fun video feature I could do with baseball players that wasn’t just a regular old interview. I had this box of unopened baseball cards in my garage I needed to do something with and that’s when it hit me — I could have baseball players open old cards with me.
I was into the idea of doing something with players on camera. I had thought about playing 8-bit video games or something, but that seemed too difficult to set up. Baseball cards are easy — they’re small and everybody is familiar with them. So I went through the cards that I had unopened in my garage and noticed a few of them were 25 years old or almost 25 years old. That’s one of those anniversary type numbers that we in the journalism field love, so I went with it.
The cards were my grandma’s. She and I collected cards when I was a kid, starting when I was 6 and we were chasing down Jose Canseco rookie cards. That helped get me into baseball. She died 14 years ago, and every once in a while, when someone in my family moves, I get some more cards that she had saved somewhere. As you know, the cards from that era aren’t exactly bank-breakers, so really, I just wanted to find something fun to do with them.
I owe some gratitude to the Yahoo video team for helping this become a real thing and not just a crazy idea. Producers Dan Harris and Evan Doherty have helped make it happen. Victor Velasquez, Jason Chan, Craig Rice and Adam Sturgeon have all made it look good. Our executive producer, Ryan Dornbusch, deserves some credit for believing in this. And I think he was the one who suggested each episode needs to have a trade.
KS: For those who may be unfamiliar with it, what does a show entail?
MO: On 25-Year-Old Baseball Cards, we get a guest — usually a baseball player, coach, manager or ex-player from the 80s or 90s, but sometimes celebrities — and open cards from 25 years ago. The guest opens their pack first and tells stories or shares memories about anybody they get. Then I open mine and we finish by making a trade. Some of the guests we’ve had include Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Ivan Rodriguez, Bobby Bonilla, Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, Alyssa Milano, Hank Azaria and Joel McHale.
KS: I’ve noticed you haven’t only stuck with only 1992 Topps. How do you decide which product to use with each segment subject?
MO: The first year we did this, we opened 1991 cards. I had Score and Donruss, so we used those. I actually still have a lot of 1991 Donruss. That’s what I had most of, but we didn’t shoot as many episodes last year as we did this year. This year, we’ve used Donruss, Topps and Fleer. Of the 92s, I have the most Topps, so we use those most frequently. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what I pick for each episode. I usually have all three on me when we’re shooting.
KS: 25-year-old baseball cards isn’t exactly your typical interview. When you are going to baseball players and athletes, how do you pitch it to them?
MO: Early on it was tough. It was more helpful once we had some episodes built up. But mainly I tell them it’s something different and nostalgic and it taps into the notion of being a kid and loving baseball. Everybody loves opening baseball cards, right? One story here: We filmed an episode with David Price that never came out because the audio was really poor where we shot it. I remember that one because he’d done a media scrum for like 30 minutes, answered everybody’s questions. I stood there the whole time with my box of baseball cards. When he was done with everybody else I said, “Do you want to open some baseball cards from 1991 with me on camera?” He said “Heck yeah, I do.” So I think it appeals to people simply because it’s fun and different.
KS: Who was the first person who did this for you?
MO: Rajai Davis at Indians spring training in 2016. We didn’t have any guests set up or anything, we just went to the clubhouse to see what we could get. I was holding the box of cards and he said, “What are those? What are you doing with them?”
KS: You’ve had some pretty impressive guests, including Ivan Rodriguez Alyssa Milano. Have you had a favorite guest so far?
MO: It’s tough to pick just one. Dusty Baker was great because he legitimately loved opening the cards and would have sat there with me for a half hour, I think. A-Rod was great because, c’mon, he’s A-Rod. Alyssa Milano wins for personal nostalgia. Pedro Martinez was a great one because he was one of my bucket-list guests. Not only did we get him, but his episode is fantastic.
KS: Going off of that, you have a mix of old and retired players. Do you have a preference between having a current or former player open the cards?
MO: It’s best when the guests have interesting things to say about the players on the cards, so I think having a former player is my favorite. The current players — especially the older ones — can be great sometimes too. And I like to show off their personalities, so that’s why we keep them in our rotation. But older players can usually speak more freely too.
KS: What do you think is the best story that has come of the series so far?
MO: I loved Pedro’s story about why he loves Lee Smith so much — the idea that Pedro was young and lacked confidence and Lee Smith gave him this super poetic pep talk, it’s great. Runner up is Bronson Arroyo telling us about Denny Neagle’s strip club habits.
KS: Is there someone specific in mind that you would like to have on for 25-year-old baseball cards that you haven’t had as a guest yet?
MO: There are a few and some you can probably guess — Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds. But one guy I REALLY want to have on is Wade Boggs. I want to talk about his beer stories, of course, but he was also my grandma’s favorite player. I feel like every episode is a tribute to her impact on my life, so that would be the ultimate.
KS: Overall, what kind of reception have you received doing the series so far?
MO: It’s been great. I’m always getting people telling me they found it and love it and watched a bunch of episodes. The episodes are pretty evergreen, so you can find the series and watch 20 episodes and they’re not really out of date. So it’s either that — people just being grateful something like this exists — or it’s people asking me if I want to buy their old baseball card collection. And no, I don’t. My garage has enough baseball cards.
KS: How would you like to see it grow in the future?
MO: I have a few different ideas, but mainly, I just want to keep getting great guests. I’m pushing myself to work on booking different people, people who might surprise you. I think we have something good going, but I’m going to keep pushing it to be better. One specific idea I have is taking it to the National Sports Card Convention, filming episodes and doing a live show of some sort.
KS: Being around the baseball world so much and the trading card world with the show, do you do any collecting yourself?
MO: Well, I collected baseball cards and autographs when I was kid, like lots of kids my age. I don’t really do much of that anymore. I buy a few packs of baseball cards each year, but that’s about it. I still have most of my old baseball cards in my garage and a lot of my autographs. There’s nothing that’s terribly valuable or interesting, but I have some great memories of going to the card shop with my mom and grandma or chasing down autographs with my cousin after A’s games.
KS: I’ll get you out of here on this. Is there a dream memorabilia item you would like to have?
MO: Honestly, not really. I think the episodes of this series are my personable memorabilia. I’m lucky enough to get to open baseball cards with all these great players I looked up to when I was a kid or today’s stars the kids look up to — that’s good enough for me. And I got to meet Alyssa Milano.
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