Twenty-eight years is a long time. For many collectors who follow me on Twitter, it is longer than the years they have been walking on Earth. For me, 28 years is how long I have been a baseball card collector. Like most collectors, my first pack of cards were produced by Topps Company, a forgettable to most set that will forever hold a special place in my heart. I now have over 1,200 different Jose Canseco cards. It is a hobby that has survived my teens, 20s, and soon, my tumultuous and very busy 30s.
My collection has seen everything from the introduction of Chrome and Refractors, to game-used memorabilia cards and pack-inserted autographes and everything in between. I’ve been a Jose collector during the years he was considered a God on the field and even the mid to late 90s when every dealer at card show tables would criticize and poke fun at Jose and me for choosing to support such a player. This hobby can be very strange and unfriendly at times.
So for someone who has amassed such a large collection, it may surprise you to hear that April 2018 was my most successful month ever as a collector. Not only did I make a huge purchase off SportsLots but I also went on a massive shopping spree on eBay which meant that for a least a few weeks that month, I got to feel like TanMan every day the mail man came around. On many days, the mail was so large that I ran out of trash bags to dispose of bubble mailers and other packing supplies.
Of course, with every high there comes a low and as June came around, yet another Jose Canseco “Super Collector” bit the dust. I’ve seen dozens of high-profile collectors spend seemingly thousands of dollars for a few years, only to walk away for one reason or another but this particular one, “CansecoKid”, abruptly left and listed his entire collection on eBay all at once, just a day after I paid my rent and car note. It was perhaps the worst timing ever, as I needed a good 20 cards he listed.
Among those cards, was the 1998 Donruss Crusade rainbow and several high-end Pinnacle cards that not only sell for a small fortune but also hardly ever show up on eBay. I thought to myself, if only he had listed these cards a week and a half later, my collection would have improved by 1,000%. I’m not going to lie, I seriously considered going into my savings to chase some of these cards, which will likely never be seen again and then it hit me … WHY?
To me, baseball cards have always been a hobby. I’ve never invested in cards and the idea of paying more than $20 dollars for a single card has always made me feel like a degenerate. Sure, there are rare and low-numbered cards hitting eBay daily but to me, any Jose Canseco card released after 2001 just isn’t that rare or appealing. The game-used and autograph market has tapped out and will never again be relevant. You want rare, find one of Jose’s early “hits” from Upper Deck and Fleer.
I’m what you would call an “old timer”, despite my relatively young age of 38. I came in during the final years of the “Junk Wax” era and was dazzled by the flash and insane designs of the late-90s. Everything else that came after just didn’t impress me much but yet here I am chasing down everything I can find from 2018 that has Jose’s mug on it. The thing is, today I am much more interested in mid to late-90s cards and oddball cards that carry with it, a story.
Above, you see a scan from 1990 Collect-A-Books. It was released by Impel, which around this time was about to break into the hobby thanks to some pretty amazing Marvel comic cards. Impel would eventually become Skybox and by the late-90s was owned by Marvel and producing some of the wackiest baseball cards collectors have ever seen but this Collect-A-Book set was some of their earlier work and let me tell you something, these cheap little books put to shame a lot of cards today.
Collect-A-Books were baseball card-sized mini books that featured full player stats, including Minor League numbers for younger players and several bright and vivid photographs. For the young collectors like myself, each book also had a cute, cartoon-ish caricature on the back, which was my favorite part of these gimmick cards. This particular card is part of my first ten Canseco cards I’ve ever owned and is one of my all time favorite Canseco cards in my collection.
Along with this piece, there is also a sample version which is not rare by any stretch of the imagination and is very crudely done. I don’t recommend it unless you are a hardcore collector like me. Collect-A-Books returned in 1991 but did not find the same success and was put on the shelf rather than tweaked for a ’92 release. That year, Marvel purchased Fleer and Impel/Skybox and merged the two companies. I believe another Collect-A-Book release could have worked but it never came to light.
Fleer/Skybox died an ugly death. Marvel, having paid $150 million in 1992, sold the company for just $30 million in the late-90s and once the company was in its final days, was purchased by Upper Deck in 2006 for just a little over $6 million. Upper Deck released a half-hearted Fleer baseball set around that time but less than three years later, were pushed out of the baseball market by MLB and Topps’ exclusive deal. It’s very likely that Upper Deck owns the licensing to Collect-A-Books.
In a hobby world where collectors only care about how many “hits” every overpriced box has in it, it’s highly unlikely that a company like Upper Deck would have any interest in resurrecting a brand like Collect-A-Books but the mere fact that they likely have the ability to (before the exclusive was extended) is about the most tragic thing I can imagine. I can’t put into words how fun these little books were to 10-year old Mario but I can imagine what they would do for young collectors in 2018.
Sadly, it was just not meant to be.