Tales of a former card collector

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 2:07pm
By: Kevin Wandra

There are times when I like to turn back the clock and think of the glory days when I was an avid sports card collector back in the 1980s and early 90s.

Packs of cards were cheap — less than a $1 — they came with gum, although the taste of it lasted less than a minute, and there were only five companies from which to purchase cards: Topps, Donruss, Score, Fleer and Upper Deck. I would always do my best to locate packs that had clear covers — Topps was good for that — and see if any New York Yankees were inside, either the first or last card.

I would go to flea markets and garage sales, looking for any and every Yankees card I could find. I had stacks of three-ring binders filled with plastic sheets that held my cherished cards, everybody from stars like Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson to scrubs like Steve “Bones” Balboni and Wayne Tolleson.

I didn’t care much about how much the cards were worth; I was more interested in building my collection of athletes I loved and emulated in wiffle ball games in my backyard, which was almost as exciting as playing in the greatest ballpark in the history of baseball, Yankee Stadium. Well, at least in my child-like mind it was at the time.

Besides my extensive Yankees collection, I collected football, hockey and basketball cards. I tried to accumulate as many cards of stars in each sport as I could. Trading cards was part of the fun, too. Man, I could swing some sweet deals. One really stood out: I traded a 1986 Topps card of the Chicago Bears’ Steve McMichael, a good but not outstanding defensive tackle, to my neighbor Rob, a die-hard Bears fan, for one of the best cards I own, and a collector’s gem: a 1986 Topps rookie card of San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. What a steal!

As I got older, I was more focused on the value of sports cards, so I began to seek out rookie cards of star players. I spent significant amounts of money at card shops and shows.
The most money I ever threw down for a card was $150 for a 1997-98 Topps Chrome Tim Duncan rookie. It’s a great card, but looking back, I say to myself, “$150 for a piece of cardboard?! What a waste!”

I stopped collecting cards when I entered college; the prices of rookie cards went through the roof, and many packs of cards were exorbitantly priced ($15 for a pack of cards? Fuhgeddaboutit!). I became more interested in buying music cassettes — I’m definitely showing my age — and spending money on concerts.
As for my current hobbies, well, I love books — I buy more than I have time to read — and still hunt down music that makes me want to whip out my air guitar and rock out like Eddie Van Halen.

But deep down inside this child at heart, I miss collecting sports cards. In fact, I would love to add two cards to my collection: Joe Namath’s 1965 Topps rookie card, which, from some estimates I have seen, is a pricey $1,600, and Don Mattingly’s 1984 Topps rookie card, which I have seen for $12. I just cannot imagine spending money again on little pieces of cardboard.

I would hate to waste even more money on things I cannot use; however, if I could find one of the original He-Man figures — they’re not toys! — I might have to think about it for a while. Just kidding. Well ...

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