How I discovered I was a baseball card "investor" for 30 years.

You can find audio to this post here.

The Garage Sale

It was the summer of 1996, and I was a carefree kid whose only goal in life where to ride my bike faster and farther each day. Sega Genesis was the console of choice, soon to be blown up by the Nintendo 64. Kids were still shouting, “To infinity and beyond.”

Garage sales were still a thing people regularly did, and you could often find hidden gems there. I would love looking through items and haggling prices for something I knew people didn’t want. I was really into sports, predominantly basketball. Jordan was in his prime and taking things personally on a day to day basis. He was fresh in my mind since he had just won again.

That’s when I came across a collection of baseball cards. At the time, I found baseball to be relatively dull and wasn’t exposed to it to get its finer details. The entrepreneurial garage salesman did notice the basketball I had strapped to the back of my bike, and he went to work.

He asks if I had ever collected anything before, and I firmly told him, “No.” The only thing I collect are ankles on the basketball court. He then pulled out this binder of UpperDeck baseball cards marked the year 1991. Flipped a couple of pages and showed me a baseball card of one the only Michael Jordan.

michael jordan

I couldn’t believe it. Michael Jordan plays basketball. How does he have a baseball card? I must have it. So I ask, “How much for the card?”. He replies I am selling the entire binder for ten bucks. Ask your mom. My mom, busy with my siblings and preparing diner, sends me back out with my close family friend so she can haggle. She makes sure we can’t buy just the card. He persists. She offers him 5 CAD (investor report below) bucks for the binder.

Sold!

I was the proud new owner of 1991 Upper Deck #SP1 Michael Jordan! Probably the reason why I still don’t have this card today. I probably lost interest after some time; it was either destroyed or lost. I tended to throw things I was no longer interested in, hated clutter. When I first saw the card, the excitement I exuded to my mother would stick with her long after I had lost the must-have SP1 Michael Jordan card.

A few years later

Fast forward, a few years, my dad took a job overseas, and we were moving! Being merely ten years old, I wasn’t in charge of anything other than what I could carry. The cards surviving all these years were simply because my mother kept packaging them up each time we moved. I forgot we even had them and never thought about them once in my adolescence.

So while visiting my mom, she said he was going through some boxes, and I still have those cards you bought from when you were a kid. They might be worth something; take a look. I was skeptical they were still there, let alone in a condition where We could sell them for anything. Yet there were in the binder I bought them in excellent condition, binder showing its age and all the countries it had traveled.

I am, married in my 30s, looking at baseball cards I didn’t want, and the one card I would have interest in is long gone. Bored, and even though it’s a new year, the same pandemic.

I tweet this out.

There isn’t an app, which could be a simple, fun weekend project to build. But there wasn’t a shortage of advice online.

But first some background on what has been happening since opening day 1991. Speculation on the baseball card market has been on the rise. Gary “New York Jets” Vaynerchuk had some thoughts.

Take it away, Gary.

You have to give Gary his credit; under a year later, this happened.

Mike Trout’s rookie card has gone for 3.1 million at an auction. Some believe in Bitcoin; others believe in hype.

Grading

Now just because you have a card doesn’t mean you hit pay dirt. There are various levels of care and quality. Here is my quick rundown of grading when it comes to card grading.

There has been this authority that has risen called PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator). Fascinating, moving on.

They will take your card and, for a fee, certify its grade.

What’s the Difference Between Gem Mint, Near Mint-Mint, and Excellent-Mint?

GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint): A PSA GEM-MT 10 is a virtually perfect card, from its four sharp corners and no creasing to its sharp focus and full original gloss intact. A card that earns this distinction must be free of any staining, though allowances are made for slight printing imperfections if they don’t impair the card’s overall appeal. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front and 75/25 percent on the reverse.

This grading level is checking the grade of the card and the quality of the original print. Yikes. So you could have had a sealed card and stored it away, and it still couldn’t hit this grade.

MINT 9 (Mint): A PSA MINT 9 is a superb condition card that exhibits only one of the following minor flaws: a very slight wax stain on the reverse, a minor printing imperfection, or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 60/40 to 65/35 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

Still extremely good, but not a 10.

NM-MT 8 (Near Mint-Mint): A PSA NM-MT 8 is a super high-end card that appears Mint 9 at first glance, but upon closer inspection can exhibit one or more of the following: a very slight wax stain on the reverse, slightest fraying at one or two corners, a minor printing imperfection and/or slightly off-white borders. Centering must be approximately 65/35 or 70/30 or better on the front and 90/10 or better on the reverse.

I have already lost interest, but you get the idea.

Very cool though, I must say I am a fan of things like this taken to extremes. After taking a look at the grading for the cards I discovered in my hidden stash, I will come back here. I will likely have a greater appreciation for this later.

Profits

Come on, Mahdi! How much did you make? Let me put it this way. I am still writing a blog post about it. :) It was fun going through the cards with my wife and finding the specific cards worth more than single digit dollars.

The total somewhere close to ~800USD if the prices are to be believed, and with a little effort, I am reasonably sure after grading I could find a buyer for some of these cards, but the returns are negligible. The experience of discovering something you thought was mildly worthless has had an entire market built up around it since you were a kid is priceless.

I likely won’t sell any of them, but I might get them graded and keep them around as gifts to my children or a sweet memory of a mother who hauled these cards all through her life country to country at the memory of her son’s excitement one summer afternoon.

5 CAD > ~800 USD, which works out roughly to a 20256.2% increase. Not bad.

Here is a breakdown of some of the notable cards in my collection.

  • 1991 Upper Deck #SP2 A Day To Remember - Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $30 USD
  • 1991 Upper Deck #555 Ken Griffey Jr. - Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $20 USD
  • 1991 Upper Deck #345 Nolan Ryan - Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $15 USD

Now what?

I am now looking at a rookie Zion Williamson card currently going for 170 CAD on eBay. It feels like a fun hobby, more about the process of collecting and less about the money. Money doesn’t hurt, though.

Golem vibes, for sure.

zion

Do you collect anything? I hear Pokemon cards are even crazier.