There has been a debate within the hobby of card collecting about the effect of Game-Used and Autographed cards. Some people say that they have enhanced the hobby and brought in a new life and interest, while others see these premium cards as the slow cold death of the hobby itself. The reason for the latter is that more and more people will only collect the premium cards and leave the base cards to rot in a box. It is not my intent here to further this debate only to give it as background for the effect that it has had on team collectors; namely small market team collectors.

Even though ESPN would have the world believe differently, baseball does not hinge upon the Yankees and Red Sox. Although they may be the teams with the largest fan base, two teams do not make a league. What this means in the world of card collecting is there are thousands of cards produced every year that are essentially worthless. These are base cards of the small teams of players that have made little or no impact upon the game.

While it is true that there are some superstars on these small market teams, when compared to the superstars of large teams it is not even funny. Although baseball is used as an example; football, basketball, and hockey share similar fates.

More and more people have turned to collecting a single player. This shift makes sense in the era of free agency and trades as many people are not sure what team their favorite player will be on next year and in some cases next week. Even within these player collectors many will only collect premium cards and leave the base for fodder. This type of collector seems to be the most common. They attempt to be price savvy, but because there are so many of them out, their competition is fierce.

The small market team collector is a small animal. They look for the base cards of the fifth outfielder that only played for half a season. Meticulously cataloging all the cards they have, and the ones they need. Some use boxes to sort what they have while others are in binders sorted by year, brand, and card number.

The biggest issue that is faced by these collectors is that they are looking for “worthless” cards. Many people in the hobby do not want to waste their time looking through their thousands of cards for a few pieces of junk. As the old adage goes, “one man’s garbage…”

Because they are so small, small market team collectors get easily brushed aside for bigger prey. To illustrate here is an example from a recent visit to a hobby shop:

Customer 1: Walks in to shop.

Man behind counter: “Hi, what are you looking for today?”

Customer 1: “Hi, I’m looking for some base cards of the A’s from the last few years.”

Man: “You are free to look in those boxes over there, good luck.”

Customer 2: Walks in shop, “Hi I’m looking for some game used and autographed cards of A-Rod and Jeter”

Man: “I have a lot of those, anything in particular or just generally looking?” pulls out a box from behind the counter and begins talking to the second customer about the difference between on card autos and sticker autos; pays no more attention to the first customer. Also mentions to the second customer that they have a lot more Yankee cards if they would like to look at them.

Now it is reasonable that the man behind the counter has the probability to make a lot more money on the day from the second customer, but the first customer is almost a guaranteed sale as long as they can find what they are looking for. How many times has a person walked into a hobby shop asked to see some of the most expensive cards only to walk out not purchasing anything?

In the case sighted above that is exactly what happened. The second customer said, “I will come back later.” In retail speak that means, “I’m just a ‘looky-loo’ and not really interested in buying anything.” The first customer after searching a 5000 card box has about fifty cards that they would like to purchase. The man behind the counter thumbs through them and says, “How about five bucks?” The price is agreed and money changes hands.

After all is said and done, the owner of the shop made five dollars on cards that were ultimately deemed worthless, and nothing on the premium cards. It is also very likely that if the “worthless cards” were a little better organized that the first customer would have purchased more. The team collector is not detoured by this as it is understood that is the way of things.

As you may have guessed, I was the first customer in the above story. On my next visit I asked the owner if he kept all his base cards in the boxes to the side. He replied saying that he keeps the newer Giants, Yankees, and Red Sox cards in separate boxes because more people ask for them.

In the wild, it is a thing of beauty when two team collectors meet up for the first time. There is an immediate coupling as want and have lists are exchanged in a fury and checked against current inventories. They believe that they are true masters of the hobby as they see no card as being worthless. They only have to find the right person.

They know they will spend more time looking for a nickel card than it is worth, but the moment they find it there is a feeling of triumph. After a trade is worked, out there is an agreement to do a trade in the future again, but like the romances of Don Juan, those feeling are fleetings and the collector looks for its next coupling.