The Topps

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A few days ago, I was shopping at Wal-Mart when a glittering package of Topps baseball cards caught my eye. After showing self-restraint and avoiding the grasp of nostalgia, I went to the checkout and paid for my groceries. But when I returned home, I began thinking about what exactly has happened to the baseball trading card industry. Naturally, I browsed Google as another excuse to procrastinate my studies at Ohio University.  I was aware that the baseball card market was down, however a news report by CBS News in 2012 on YouTube opened my eyes.

According to the piece with reporter Armen Keteyian, “By the year 1991, more than three million people were collecting baseball cards, driving sales past the $1 billion a year mark…In the early 1990’s, an estimated 81 billion cards were printed in a single year.

In turn, the baseball card market has seen a steady decline from the mid 1990’s until present day. I found some telling information in a New York Times article written by Mike Tierney on June 30 of this year. Tierney spoke to Mike Berkus, the founder and executive director of the annual National Sports Collectors Convention, which will be held in Chicago on July 31. Berkus brought up two interesting points in his interview with Tierney: First, “the inventory devoted to baseball cards will fall to about 15 percent from more than half in the late 1990’s.” He also added “[Berkus] estimated that the amount of money from card sales across the country each year has declined by nearly two thirds from its peak.”

In March, Major League Baseball announced they were extending its licensing agreement with Topps to make them the exclusive supplier of baseball cards until 2020. This is a main point Berkus cites in the article, detailing the fall of the industry. Berkus claims that when the card industry was booming, there were five companies churning out cards. Now with one sole supplier perhaps Topps can try to make a comeback—but they will have an arduous climb ahead of them.

I wonder how much of this so-called new technological generation has been exposed to baseball cards? Nowadays, everything about a player can be reached with a few swipes and strokes on a phone and we don’t need a physical cheap piece of cardboard with art decor to tell us. Perhaps I am from a lost generation, where the norm was swapping baseball cards with the neighborhood kids. I grew up in the early ‘90s transition that was just before the Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh explosion, as well as the advent of major video game consoles.

I personally would have felt there was a huge gap in my childhood without baseball cards.  The dopamine levels of my brain shot up the day I made a successful trade for a J.D. Drew rookie card. Just for fun, I searched for that card on EBAY. It was selling for a dollar. There goes my self-esteem.  

I never cared for making money on the cards; to me the cards were invaluable. Sure, the Drew card may be an easy way to make a quick buck, but I won’t sell it because of its sentimental value. I used to carry my crate of cards to my best friends house. We would compare and trade for hours. When I was growing up, I would count the days until the 12-pack of Topps Opening Day cards was released. It is hard to fathom that the newer generation could be devoid of the simple pleasures I experienced as a kid.

One of my favorite experiences with baseball cards was collecting every single member of the Big Red Machine. I used to spend hours in my room sifting through cards and looking at the glossy pictures and stats.  It’s the kid in me, the same one that goes to Indiana Pacers game and rides an escalator to the balcony level to view the vast amount of basketball cards engulfed in cases. As James Earl Jones says in the movie Field of Dreams “[Baseball] reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” This is the same feeling I receive fifteen years later glancing at card after card.

Yes, baseball cards are becoming obsolete to most of the population, but not for me. In fact, I just found my Cliff Floyd rookie card. If you’ll excuse me, I have some dusting to take care of.

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