What a wild ride it’s been

What a roller coaster year it’s been for me. I left the hobby in 1997 when packs of baseball cards had skyrocketed to $8-12 per pack. A company that I had grown up with, Donruss, was offering autographs in packs and charging $20 for each pack and a new brand called Bowman Chrome was morphing innocent, fun-loving collectors into profit-seeking investors overnight.

Having returned in mid-2007 I came back into a completely new and very much different realm. No longer did I have to know the difference between Refractors and Atomic Refractors. Today I had to distinguish between a whole rainbow of Refractors from the Red, Blue, and Orange, to Gold, strangely-titled X-Fractors, and finally the mythical Superfractor. Brands like Upper Deck Masterpieces and Topps Co-Signers made their parallels so difficult to distinguish that I would have to own a Beckett Almanac just to figure out which card I actually pulled. It’s even harder considering I am terribly color blind.

What the heck is a printing plate and why would I want one? Game-used relics? Two, three autographs per box? Wow, where am I and how many thousands of dollars is my 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie worth today?

One day while wasting an afternoon at the card shop I witnessed a casual collector buy three boxes of 2007 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects and pull a Superfractor. The card featured a 23-year old prospect who shall remain nameless. The first thing out of the guy’s mouth was a boast about how much he could score on eBay. You see, a Fernando Martinez Superfractor had just sold for $7,000. That’s enough cash to keep most collectors happy for years if not decades. Another customer and a friend of mine jumped in the conversation out of desperation to hang on to his hobby a little longer. You see, he had spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years collecting Hall of Fame game-used relics and autographs and today his cards were selling for %50 of his purchase price on eBay regularly.

“Ive been collecting game-used auto’s for almost a decade and would like to trade for that card” he told the casual collector. Within an hour, the man had driven home, picked up a 5,000+ count box full of nothing but game-used cards and began negotiating right in front of every customer, which on a Wednesday afternoon is about three people. He began sorting through each card looking to add just enough to pull off the trade of a lifetime.

Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, all game-used cards with either double or triple patches and an autograph. The final card was a stunning Lou Gerigh triple game-used with more stripes than Pete Rose in 1990. The Beckett book value alone was in the thousands. The deal was complete and my friend rushed home to list the Superfractor and continue his passion of buying game-used cards.

7 days went by, no watchers, no bids. Once again he listed it, 5 days, no watchers and no bids. Today that card sits alone in a slot that once held several legends of the game. Cards worth more than used cars with serial numbers you could count on both hands. In a matter of hours they were discarded for a now close to 25-year old kid who is still lingering somewhere in AA and all because of hype. So go on and enjoy your Bowman parallels and your eight-piece cut auto, DNA, monster truck, speedo, Aquamarine Hyper Refracoromix. I have a date with a box of commons and a stack of 1989 Topps to sort through.

I’m out,

Mario Alejandro



  1. Nail-on-the-head!! The two best cards I ever pulled were the $600 Hillary PP SP and a $400 game used Babe. Guess which one I kept. I love pulling these astronomical cards with out of this world hype and inflated pricing. If you’re stupid enough to chase the rabbit down the hole and buy the Hillary for $600+ from me on eBay, more power to you.

    I love taking the money of people in it for the money. That’s just more that I can reinvest in buying all of the $1 Manny Ramirez.

    My son and I are going to start going through my commons tonight to try and build one set apiece of 1990 Topps. I may have to find an old wax box of the stuff to bust and finish them. And, I’m going to use the money I made from an autographed card of an astronaut to buy them. Go figure…

  2. Interesting post, and I think your critique is almost entirely justified.

    However, I’m not sure super high end products and gimmicks galore deeply affect the average collector if he or she doesn’t want them to.

    I also recently came back to collecting, after a close to 10 year hiatus. I came back for a specific reason, I was a huge Rutgers football and basketball fan, and in my senior year at Rutgers I had a steady enough income to support some fun. Sure, it is annoying to know that I’ll never have a “complete” Brian Leonard, or Quincy Douby, or Ray Rice collection because some 1/1 printing plate will never cross my eyes. However, at the same time, its that many more cards to try and hunt down. Would I really be satisfied if I could, easily, find every card I ever wanted?

    I don’t open high end products, I’d prefer to just pick up the individual cards I want from the sets on ebay. I open a few packs of more reasonably priced product here and there, not because I’m eager to try to make a buck, or really looking to fill a collection need, but because it is fun and there is still that touch of mystery.

    I think this hobby is mostly what you make of it.

  3. Prospectors are interesting people, but they almost never go for the Supers. Talk about volitile!

    When it comes to supers its almost guaranteed that there will be no money to be made unless you can get it REALLY cheap and the prospect blows up. Most of the time they go for a lot and they dont re-sell for much more because the sellers wont let them go for reasonable prices. The money to be made is in golds and oranges resold as graded 9.5s and above.

    Vet prospectors scour the stats for the minors and pick a guy. They buy hundreds of cards, usually ones that are numbered – all raw. At that point, they grade them all and wait for call up. Then they sell. They make tons of money because of all the people trying to get in when the guy is already out there.

    It basically comes down to this: if you want to make money you are in the wrong business. Buy stocks. Your collection will never be worth that much more than you paid. At most you may make a little money if you know how to play the market fluxuations, but usually that conflicts with personal attachment to your investments.

  4. I forgot to mention that success rate on prospects is very little, and the money they may make on one guy is almost always cancelled out by money lost on another.

    When I say they make tons of money, it pertains to ONE guy – not overall. My bad for not explaining better.

  5. A friends sent this to me way funny but so true!

    The federal government is sending each and everyone of us at least a $600 rebate.
    If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China.
    If we spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs.
    If we purchase a computer it will go to India.
    If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
    If we purchase a good car it will go to Japan.
    If we purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan … and none of it will help the American economy.
    The only way to keep that money here at home is to buy prostitutes, weed, beer, cigarettes, whiskey, and tattoos,and even baseball cards since these are the only products still produced in the USA.
    Thank you for your help, & please support the USA.

  6. When I got back into the hobby, I identified one thing I wanted to collect and this is veteran’s autographs and game used cards. In the end, they will always be worth something. If you want a great way to lose money, invest in rookies, then watch 5 years from now when they are just journeymen. My best example is Ben Grieve. His cards were hotter than a pistol when he was a rookie, you couldn’t get enough of them. Then what happened? He couldn’t live up to the hype. I mean how could he, everyone was expecting the next McGwire. In short, stick with what you love the best. Maybe one player in every 5 draft classes becomes a superstar. The last one was Prince Fielder, in the meantime there have been thousands of no ones, hundreds of one and dones, tens of starters, but only one superstar. Chances are your prospect won’t make it. Do yourself a favor and buy superstars, in the long run they’ll be worth more. No one wants a 50 card stack of Corey Snider 1985 Topps USA rookie cards laying around.

  7. The last two have actually been Jay Bruce and Josh Hamilton. Lets see where they are in 5 years before spending 100 bucks on a RC card. I guarantee there isnt going to be another person like Pujols for a long, long time.

  8. That would be the exact reason why I sold my Josh Vitters Gold Refractor auto. And I’m using the profit to buy Andre Dawson autos, which should always hold their value, at least to me anyway 🙂

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