Klein’s Korner: How Has The Hobby Advanced Since 1991? – Recently, when I discussed some events of 1991 one of our readers asked me to talk about how the hobby was in 1991. Now, 1991 was not only 28 years ago but also several lifetimes in terms of hobby advancement. We will not be comprehensive in any way but here are some aspects of 1991 which are the same today and some which are totally different.
1) Base cards were very well respected
Just about everyone was putting together sets because sets were considered to be the best long-term investment over any single player. For example if you purchased a 1981 set for believing Fernando Valenzuela and Kirk Gibson would be future Hall of Famers and the key to these sets you would have been incorrect. Now the Hall of Famers with 1981 rookie cards are Harold Baines and Tin Raines. That was why one of the investment advice was to build sets for just that eventuality. Nowadays, with rare exceptions, base cards are languishing after all the breaks and autograph and/or relic cards are the keys. In 1991, we were just beginning to have a few autograph cards available in packs.
Two of my favorite hobby people: Rob Veres and Joe Davis getting ready to discuss hobby matters at Burbank Sportscards. Should I mention Burbank has nearly 45 million cards, most of which are base and most of which are in perfect numerical order.
2) The primary ways for people to collect were shows and stores.
If my memory is correct, Beckett had over 30,000 active accounts in those days. By having what today would be a “corporate“ booth at the National we paid for everyone’s expenses by literally selling current magazines, books and back issues. Almost every town had a store. When my old friend Wes Seaman moved from New Jersey to Minot, North Dakota there were actually seven stores in that small town including two at the military base. Now Minot might not be the end of the world but you can see the end from there. Plus there were shows, and in some areas in person auctions on a constant basis. I could go to a show almost every single weekend in the DFW area. It was just a fun way to get around and on those rare weekends without shows, I could go to one of several stores. Heck, there was a small store within a long walk from my apartment. Believe it or not, the owner of that particular store is still active in the hobby. The man’s name is Wendell Bell and he donated more than a half million cards for our Adat Chaverim shows late last year. His dad who ran the store on a day to day basis was the epitome of what a baseball card store manager should be during those days.
Right around this time, Gary Sipos was beginning the Garfield Card Show which has continued to raise money and bring awareness for the Garfield Boys Club for more than a quarter of a century.
Gary is one of the many fans in this photo at a 2019 Spring Training game. He and his lovely wife attend Mets training camp every year.
3) Internet, what’s that?
While we were awaiting Al Gore to invent the Internet, the primary way of disseminating information was through print means. Our Beckett magazines probably had a combined circulation of more than two million copies a month and the weekly Sports Collector Digest was required reading for perusing ads. There were always interesting items available and SCD was coming in at nearly 400 pages each week. While Beckett magazines and Sports Collectors Digest are still functioning print is now a more limited source of income than 1991.
I’m currently employed by COMC and my role is totally done on a remote basis. I’m fortunate in I have an office (we just brought a second person into the office). Now in 1991 who would have thought such a company could basically exist. Today, along with eBay, these are two of the easiest ways for anyone to purchase cards.
4) However, certain aspects of the hobby really do not change.
Collectors are still collecting older cards to finish sets while most people chasing newer cards and still looking to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle so to speak and get the next Frank Thomas or Ken Griffey Jr. (1991) or Mike Trout (2018). We still want to see our heroes on a nightly basis through highlights. One advantage sports cards have over almost every other hobby is we are a living breathing hobby which evolves on a day to day basis. There is something about seeing how Pat Mahomes exploded for the Kansas City Chiefs this year or Luka Doncic for the Dallas Mavericks. We all know that Tom Brady and Dirk Nowitzki are heading straight to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. We are now hoping these players and plenty of others follow their route.
Panini Instant created this card of Pat Mahomes during the rookie showcase and this is amongst his very first cards.
5) On a personal note, there are two things I’m very proud of during my years in the hobby.
First when Beckett did “Cards for Kids” we probably gave away more than a million cards to various charities to either sell or give to kids. Secondly, when I started the Adat Chaverim show on behalf of the Brotherhood I had no idea that would be the first step in the revitalization of the DFW card collecting community. When the great Raymond Jones came to visit me today to help prepare for the next Adat Chaverim show we actually lost count of all the new stores which have opened in the past year. We are probably missing a few but we counted five new stores without much effort. Some of the stores are open as an office/public place to buy cards while others are open so the owners can purchase directly from card companies. And a third group is opening because people see an opening for a good retail card experience. So far, all the activity has only helped the DFW hobby and we’re doing fine in terms of both shows and stores.
“Arkansas” Kyle in action at an Adat Chaverim show.
6) Grading was truly in its infancy in 1991.
The biggest news was the PSA8 Honus Wagner T-206 card which sold to Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall for nearly a half million dollars as part of the amazing Copeland sale. One can argue the 21st century of card collecting truly began with the sale of that card which also helped to get card grading as a whole off the ground. Today, many collectors would not want to buy a card for more than about $20-30 unless someone has already inspected the card to verify authenticity and their opinion of the grade. Many of the card company graders have been doing that for 20 or more years now so there is a wealth of experience available every day at the three major third party grading companies.
Those are some of my thoughts of how the hobby is changed/remained the same since 1991 and we’d love to hear your opinion as well.
Find more from Rich Klein on Twitter @sabrgeek.