Hobby Musings: The State of the Baseball Card Market – With a new baseball season already underway, collectors will be searching for new cards from all that 2019 has to offer. While hobbyists like to get the new cardboard, baseball is also noted for its passionate vintage collector base. To take stock of the current state of the baseball card world, I had the chance to catch up with Sports Collectors Daily editor Rich Mueller. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Rich, we saw some big signings near the end of the offseason with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper joining new teams. Out of the two of them, which one do you think will have the bigger hobby impact with his new team.
RM: Machado has really energized the Padres fan base which had been looking for something to get excited about, but Harper’s been on the hobby radar since high school and his move to a sports-crazy market for a massive contract will put a major focus on him. He’s been associated with Topps for quite a while and if he plays at a high level, he’ll become an even bigger deal in the hobby.
KS: Not to be outdone, Mike Trout signed the richest contract in baseball history by staying with the Angels. How has the market reacted to that?
RM: I think there’s always a little buzz around a player when he makes big headlines, but the contract will take a backseat to his play and whether the Angels can surround him with more talent. I think the contract helps when it comes to awareness about him from outside the hobby. The longer he plays, the more records fall, the bigger impact you’ll see inside the hobby. I’m not much for investment advice when it comes to current players, but he’s about as safe as there is, as long as he stays healthy.
KS: Baseball has been blessed with some tremendous rookies in the past few years and this year seems to be no different. Headlined by Eloy Jimenez, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., which rookie do you think will have the biggest hobby impact this season?
RM: The buzz has been about Tatis Jr. since the Padres decided to have him start the year in the big leagues. Assuming he doesn’t have any more issues with the oblique injury, I suspect Guerrero will be a huge star pretty quickly. I think playing in the eastern time zone always helps as the entire country can watch a player or see highlights during prime time. Having a Hall of Fame father doesn’t hurt either.
KS: Who’s an under-the-radar rookie you think could shake up the card landscape?
RM: That’s probably a better question for a good scout and I’m not sure there are many under the radar prospects anymore. Guys who are into collecting and investing in those guys know every top prospect really well. It’s just a matter of keeping an eye on which teams might have an opportunity for a young player to reach the majors by mid-season and whether that player proves worthy in the first month or two of the minor league season, then getting in on the next wave of interest before anyone else.
KS: Veteran wise, who’s someone that you think could be due for a big hobby season this year?
RM: Since he got hurt and missed most of last year, some have kind of forgotten about Corey Seager. He’s one guy I’d probably have on the list. Alex Bregman is becoming a major star, too, who will probably have a much bigger national profile pretty soon. Don’t forget Miguel Cabrera is getting closer to 500 homers and 3,000 hits, which could move the meter a bit by the end of the year.
KS: Overall, what is the state of the baseball card market?
RM: Seems like it’s pretty strong to me and I think that’s true for both modern and vintage. I’m still not crazy about so much of the current era focus on buying only to get a big hit so you can flip it for a profit. That’s not really collecting to me. Still, the major online retailers are still selling a lot of Series 1 and Heritage, which means there are a lot of people still collecting the old-fashioned way who have very little interest in autograph and memorabilia cards or parallels.
KS: Where do you think baseball ranks among the other major sports in trading cards?
RM: I can’t really give you a definitive answer without having any real sales data, but there’s a longer history and the vintage market is much bigger in baseball because there’s a much deeper, broader history. I know shops have been having a really hard time finding some of the better football products from the 2018 season, so there’s obviously tremendous interest in the rookie class. I think baseball is where you find more old school collectors who might not necessarily be well-versed on every product and don’t care for the bells and whistles but just build sets or collect whatever they can afford just for the fun of it. The basketball market has a huge global following which bodes well for the long term as it continues to grow overseas.
KS: Who would you say is the most popular player in baseball cards right now?
RM: If we’re talking active players, I think it’s Trout by far.
KS: Vintage baseball tends to rule a good part of the landscape, but we’ve seen some impressive sales for more modern cards recently. How would you compare and contrast the markets for both vintage and new baseball cards?
RM: There’s more money being spent these days on high-end, low-numbered modern cards than ever before. There’s a finite number of each because of serial numbering and that drives prices. And often times, prices can change depending on player performance. The vintage market is much broader because it encompasses so many different eras, but there’s not as much fluctuation. Some collect Cobb and Ruth; others prefer Mantle and Clemente.
For more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer, follow him on Twitter @KelSchroy75.
Hobby Musings: The State of the Baseball Card Market
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