Not in the cards: collecting baseball cards after the boom
AUSTIN, Texas —
Drew Pickens could spend hours gazing out at Lake Travis from his Dad's place. And he usually does.
"Whenever the weather is nice and I'm in town for the weekend, I spend a lot of time sitting up on that porch," Pickens explained.
Another view--looking down at his baseball card collection--is also one of Pickens' favorites.
"It keeps me tied to the sport, almost," Pickens said of his hobby. "You're able to stay up to date with everything."
The 21-year-old Sam Houston State University student collects baseball cards because he enjoys the sport and the hobby. But after the industry swung for the fences around the time Pickens was born, fun--rather than financial gain--is about all that's left for collectors.
"It's still a very fun hobby," Larry Dluhy noted. "Kids still collect."
Dluhy puts on sports cards and collectibles shows across Texas. By his estimation, the internet now accounts for 90% of card buying, selling and trading. But there's financial incentive for collectors to come out to shows like this one at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
"You still actually probably do better at shows or stores," Dluhy said. Stores like Card Traders of Austin, which Walt Case took over in 1995.
"The industry is still strong, it's just a lot different," admitted Case. "We get probably five to ten walk-ins or phone calls every day with people interested in selling product. 99 times out of 100 it's cards from the 1980s or 1990s."
During the late '80s and early '90s, the baseball card industry was a Nolan Ryan fastball or Barry Bonds with the bases loaded. It was untouchable. Todd Downey managed a memorabilia store during that era.
"I could see people were getting into the hobby for reasons I didn't have any desire to be a part of," Downey said of his decision to leave the shop and merely collect as a hobby.
In describing enthusiasts' rationale, Case said, "Buy this stuff up, put it on the shelf for 20-25 years and think 'I'm going to become wealthy. The only problem is five million people did that."
It's a typical case of supply and demand. Fans were collecting so card companies kept producing. And that caused the value of just about every card from the '80s and '90s to flame out.
"They would probably be better off if they could figure out how to roll [cards from the '80s and '90s] up and make a nice fire log for the fireplace," Case said frankly. "Because the sell-ability of those cards, due to the absolutely saturated market, is virtually impossible."
Even though most cards from that era aren't worth the paper on which they're printed; rather than pitching them out, experts suggest you pass them on.
"If you collected because you were a fan or if you've got kids that are going to be fans, what better way to bridge the gap?" suggested Downey.
"Pass them on to some other kids if they're not worth a lot," Dluhy said. "Then, these kids will get interested."
Drew Pickens' father played a part in his love for the game and collecting.
"It was a way we bonded," Pickens recalled. "We went on a few trips--once to Florida for Spring Training."
So Drew's dad gave him more to see than just a great view of Lake Travis.