Getting Back into Baseball Cards

I collect sports cards, or at least I think I do. 😕

When I was much younger, there were basically three companies that made baseball cards – Topps, Donruss and Fleer. All through the Ronald Reagan Presidency I could count on those companies producing one set of cards (plus update) each year. I knew where to find cards and what to look for to complete the sets. I knew what to expect, and I was happy about all of this! 

Rickey and Raines. Rose and Ryan. Darryl and Dwight. Mark and Clark. Horner and Murphy. These were star players during my teenage years. Saw them all play. I knew I wanted to be like them one day, so I did the next best thing – I collected all their cards. 

Check me out from April 1982! 

But this all changed in the late 1980s – early 1990s, Bowman and Leaf began producing cards again, followed by new guys – Upper Deck, Score, Sportflix, and some other companies I have long since forgotten. By this point (1994-ish) life got in the way, so I stopped collecting for almost 25 years.

Then lightning struck – in a good way.

Check out the SVA Card Collector Podcast! A daily sports card show!

About ten months ago, I found my cards again.They were upstairs in a storage room full of long-forgotten stuff.  One evening, I started looking through them, and two hours later the interest to collect had returned. The cards were still organized in cardboard boxes and three-ring binders.  Reggie. Hank. Roberto. Thurman. Lemke. MY guys! MY cards! Virtually untouched for more than 20 years. I even found a Beckett guide from May 1993 (Greg Maddux!). That evening I was not yet sure what I was going to do with the collection, but then … 

(📸: Paul Katcher, Target near Fenway)

…  a few days later I happened to be in a local Target near the checkout aisles and saw tons of boxes and packs on the shelf. (Very similar to Paul’s photo above.) What I saw actually confused me. I chuckled because I did not recognize what I was looking at except I knew they were baseball cards manufactured by Topps. There were so many different sets and packs. (Series 1. Series 2. Heritage. Chrome. Bowman. Allen & Ginter. Archives. So many!) I bought 3-4 different packs, not really knowing what I was buying at the time. My enthusiasm to collect had returned, but I had no direction or focus on how to do it! I felt a little like Nuke LaLoosh – full of potential, but in need of lots of coaching in a hurry. (“Well, he really hit the sh@! outta that one, didn’t he?” Love Crash, but that will have to hold for another day.)

Once I got home and ripped open the packs, I went to the Internet to figure out what I had purchased. I recognized most of the players (Judge, Scherzer, Altuve, and a few other recognizables) because I am an avid baseball fan, but I truly didn’t know any values or what was preferred from each pack.

The more I read, the more I became confused. An actual headache found me,  so I went to bed. Prior to purchasing those few packs, I had not read much of anything on the Internet, joined any Facebook groups, or really been involved in the modern hobby. Although I had grown up going to local card shops in several cities, I had not been in a store since the early 1990s. (A quick Google search showed there are currently only five card stores in the entire state of Alabama.) I recall there being more than a dozen when I was a teenager. This is what I was used to seeing in local card shops… 

(📷: Tyler Nay)

During the following few weeks I found Facebook groups, podcasts, and YouTube channels so I could catch up with the modern hobby. Too much, too soon! However, one of the best things I learned in those first few weeks was to start focusing on what my collection goals would become. Since my entire collection at that time was vintage and raw (For hobby terms and other thoughts about getting (re)started :Tips on Getting Back into Sports Card Collecting), I decided to stay in my comfort zone with older cards. I learned the importance of slabbed cards and found the current prices in the eBay sold section. I also really like many of the modern cards, so I also focus on just the ones I really like. Since I am a lifelong Braves fan, I now concentrate on  their current stars and prospects. Also, with the White Sox AA squad (Birmingham Barons) in my hometown, I focus on these players, too.

Here is where I really made my move into the hobby … 

I soon learned how to list and sell cards on eBay. However, I quickly realized I did not like the monthly eBay tax bill, so I created an Instagram page (BudsBallCards) to sell my cards. While I still purchase cards through eBay, I sell through IG. There are pros (no tax, easier to list and communicate) and cons (no auctions, smaller marketplace, less protection from shady deals) on IG, but since I started the page in June, I am pleased with it so far. Ball card listings and trades on IG are growing, and so is my page. I have averaged 5-6 sales each month and have reached almost 500 followers. Slow and steady – I am in no hurry. Consistency is the key. Regularly listing cards. Interacting with others. Commenting on their comments. Deleting the negative posts.  Using IG Highlights and Stories, combined with the occasional video, have helped increase the page’s presence in a rapidly growing market. Since many pages I have seen concentrate on the popularity of modern cards with their inserts, autos, numbered relics, etc., I have pivoted in a different direction. The majority of my page (and collection) targets vintage raw cards. While I am adding more graded cards as they roll in from PSA, 90% of what I have is ungraded. I do throw in some hot modern cards, but that really is not my main focus. I am just trying to stand out a little bit. 

My education during the past several months has largely come from joining hobby-related  Facebook groups and subscribing to podcasts and YouTube channels that focus on collecting. I quickly learned that some FB groups are filled with some really mean spirited folks who are quick to criticize when basic collecting questions are asked. (I did not stay in those groups very long. Who needs that garbage?) My main group is hosted by David Reyes from New York. I happened upon his page (SVA Card Collectors) in February. David is quick to tell you that he recently returned to the hobby and wanted to create a page where others can learn about collecting without being harassed or intimidated.  I visit this page daily and have made some new friends (and trades!) from around the country. I interviewed David a few months ago, and he shared some strategies about getting back into collecting (David Reyes). David also has a podcast that is growing. In between sips of (no sponsor) coffee, each morning David shares his research, insight, and thoughts about collecting. 

One great thing about YouTube videos is that I get to see the newest cards hitting the market when hosts hold “breaks”–when sealed cases, boxes or packs are opened on video. Viewers often can buy into the break (by purchasing packs for x$ per pack that the breaker offers the viewers) and see cards being opened in the live video. Breaks have become very popular and have helped to modernize and rejuvenate the hobby. Watch a bunch of these breaks to get an idea of how they work. It’s like playing the lottery – you never know when a pack will contain the next Trout or Zion auto rookie! 

I have also begun visiting my LCS (local card shop). Mike with  All Star Sports Cards Emporium near downtown Birmingham is a great fellow and is quick to discuss anything and everything card related! He recently hosted a trade night that was a lot of fun. My next goal is to attend a regional card show, and hopefully  The National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City next summer. The national convention hosts a few thousand dealers over most of a week when 200k+ people attend. 

📷: // 

If you have read this far …

… thank you. There is so much to share, but this has gone on long enough. I am enthusiastic about the hobby. It seems I am in a fast growing community. I hope to interact with you sometime. Please find me! 

Bernard Nomberg 

IG: BudsBallCards /  I’m just a fan back in the hobby. Go Braves! 

Tips on Getting Back into Sports Card Collecting

Wow! Collecting cards is not like it was when I was 12 years old! Why is this fun hobby so difficult to figure out?  I need help!* 

See if this resonates with you a little… 

You collected as a kid, but then life got in the way – school, college, marriage, kids, work, whatever.  Thankfully, your mother (or spouse) did not throw out your collection (like my mother did in 1976 which contained Mantle, Aaron, May, Clemente!). You recently found your cards, and now you have some free time (and a little bit of money) to get back into the hobby. Looking through those favorite cards (no rubber bands!)  has piqued your curiosity, and now you want to get back into the hobby. You googled “collecting baseball cards,” but then your head exploded! Yup. Happens every time. 

We have all been there. For me, I took a break for almost 20 years (see above) until I recently jumped back in. I am loving it again! Beginning almost a year ago, I reviewed my collection and started reading online about what’s happening in the hobby. Holy smokes! The hobby now is so different. Graded cards. Raw cards. Vintage cards. Modern cards. Slabbed. Breaks. Relics. Trimming. Junk Wax Era. Blaster and Monster boxes.  What are these terms? I did not understand the new lingo! I love baseball, but the hobby had left me way behind! 

When you first get back into collecting, it can be like trying to drink from a fire hose. Not fun, confusing and frustrating. This article will hopefully ease your fears as you get back into collecting and trading.

Social Media is a game changer. 

Monthly print price guides and local card shops (LCS) were important when you last were collecting. They  are still important, but social media has changed the way the hobby reaches its audience. YouTube breaks (learned the new lingo yet?). EBay stores, solds, and auctions. Buy it Now. Make an Offer. Instagram pages. Facebook groups. Daily podcasts (Check out SVA Card Collecting Podcast) Blog articles. Grading companies. Online pricing guides.  All of these entities make up the modern card collecting experience. And through these social media platforms, collectors now can immediately view their favorite cards. Pay online. Never meet the seller. And a day or two later receive the precious purchase in the mail.  

From SVA Baseball Card Collectors Facebook group. Click here:

From a recent eBay listing.        

Screengrab from YouTube of a sample cards break.

However, … too much of a good thing can be too much. Way too much.

What is your collecting plan?

Ask yourself – Why do I collect? Have you evaluated your collecting goals? Try to focus on what interests you – favorite players or teams or sets or trading company.  

Are you collecting to maintain a personal collection?  Is this your way of connecting with the sport you love so much? Are you sharing your hobby with your children, spouse, siblings or friends? Collecting can be such a fun multi-generational experience. Are you out to make money by flipping? Are you in it for the hunt and quick score?  In short, determine your goals first. 

If you jump back in too soon and without a plan, you could be spending way too much money on cards that are not worth it – financially or sentimentally. Learn how eBay works. Do you know about eBay bucks? You should.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn who you are dealing with online. Most sellers are honest and great for the hobby. However, if you have read any of the hobby news in the past year, you will learn that there are some shady characters out there. Big time.  Look up the seller’s eBay ratings, read reviews, ask others. Join Facebook groups that discuss these topics. Learn this new version of the hobby from those who have experience. SVA Card Collectors Facebook group is a great resource. See above for link.  

You have figured out your plan, but what about your budget?  

Unless you are Gary Vee or have an unlimited budget, try not to chase everything that looks shiny and new! Some cards are very expensive, and you might not yet know why. Print guides have their place, but they are not really useful for current information. For the card you are interested in, go to eBay sold section and use other online tools to determine the most recent comparable prices. 

The prices of cards, much like the stock market, can fluctuate.  Here’s a quick example … A starting veteran quarterback goes out for the season with an injury, and now the young backup is the starter. The youngster’s cards will spike until his on-the-field-play is evaluated. Knowing when to buy and when to sell can make a big difference

(📷 cred: dubmentality)

Junk Wax Era (JWE is late 1980s to early 1990s) cards will not likely make you much money. Unless your cards are graded as 9s or 10s, selling in bulk or even donating them to non-profits might be the best way to get rid of your thousands and thousands of  worthless cards. (One quick example: 1989 Donruss KGjr raw sharp looking card might go for less than $10. However, a PSA 10 of the same card is currently selling for about $300.) Making money trading cards is not easy. So many people are online trying to do the same thing you are attempting. If you create an online store or page, figure out your niche so that you can begin  to build a specific audience. This will take lots of time and patience. Lots. Below is the front of my Instagram page – BudsBallCards. 

There is also a big difference in buying or selling graded (slabbed) and ungraded (raw) cards, see above example. The price of a raw card is more subjective and typically carries less value then the graded version. There are several grading services – some are better than others – and you need to learn how they operate and the reputation of each.  

Ungraded (raw) card. Graded (slabbed) card.

Find your local card shop! 

Local card shops are a dying breed. There used to be thousands of them around the country, particularly during the height of the JWE.  Most of them closed many years ago. However, some of these shops are still around and should be supported! How many of you remember visiting your LCS to hang out,  meet fellow collectors, shoot the s**t, and pick up some new cards? I try to help my LCS as much as I can. I have purchased some nice single cards there recently. I do not mind paying a little more there than what I would pay on eBay.  One advantage of purchasing cards at the LCS is that you can examine the cards up close in your hands. You cannot do that on the internet! I also buy all my supplies there even though I could buy them in bulk more cheaply online. I recently went to a trading card night at my LCS. We had a great time and I got some nice cards! 

I could go on and on about this awesome hobby – there is so much to write about. Just try not to be overwhelmed. Take it slowly. Enjoy what you are doing. But, most of all … have fun! 

Thanks for reading! 

Bernard Nomberg 

IG: BudsBallCards /  I’m just a fan back in the hobby. Go Braves! 

*You are going to make mistakes. We all do. Cut yourself some slack. Do research. Have fun! 

Links to helpful resources.

Beckett Media:


Glossary Of Baseball Card Terms:

National Sports Collectors Convention:

Old Sports Cards:

Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA):

Sports Card Collecting 101:

Sports Card Guaranty (SGC):

Sports Cards Database:

The Cardboard Connection:

Wax Pack Gods:

1989 Fleer Baseball Card Set: The Marlboro Man, F-Face, and The Kid

There were many lessons learned from the Junk Wax era.  The 89 Fleer set may have inadvertently stumbled upon an important self-regulation tactic that is common in the modern era of card collecting: Variations and Parallels.  

The 1989 set had its share of Hall of Famers and stars.  Set right in the middle of the Junk Wax era, there is no shortage of these cards floating around and every 35+ year old’s mom’s basement.  There are 3 cards (3 types of cards) that survived the “Card Armageddon” of the 90’s a little bit better than their peers: Randy Johnson #381, Billy Ripken #616, and Ken Griffey Jr. #548.

Randy Johnson’s 1989 Fleer card has as many as 11 and as few as 3 variations.  Currently, PSA breaks these out into 4 or 5 different types:

In addition, there is an extremely rare (or just newly recognized) “Tinted Green” with a population count of 2: 

 You can still find the general “1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381”, however these are seem to be only found in the old PSA holder and are most likely the least desirable “Ad Completely Blacked Out”:

Error DescriptionAvg PSA 10 Price

Ad Completely Blacked Out
Ad Partially Obscured$76 
Marlboro Ad on Scoreboard$219 
Marlboro Sign Tinted Green$491 

It remains to be seen if PSA will continue to separate the card into more “ad variations”, which allows for interesting prospecting proposal in the dollar bins at your local card shops and shows. There is a backstory and you can go down a rabbit hole of discussion and analysis of the Marlboro Ad on the card.  However if you do come across one, take an extra second and look at the top right of the card and you might find a limited parallel of a Randy Johnson rookie card.  If you are unsure about Johnson’s legendary credentials you can get caught up here.

The Billy Ripken #616 card adds another interesting feature to the set, the story has been “clarified” since the news first broke in early 1989.  It might be the most infamous card of the Junk Wax era and has its own set of variations:

Error DescriptionAvg PSA 10 Price

Black Box Over Error

Black Scribble Over Error
FF Error$149 
Scribbled Out in White$999 
Whited Out Vulgarity$1,166 

Just like the Johnson card, there seems to be many different variations that are yet to be recognized by grading companies. The count is up to at least eleven according to .  As much as the Bill Ripken gets the attention of the set, the timing of the print run may prove to be real indicator of value/rarity in the set. According to eBay listings, the FF error was printed as late as 1/19/89.  This is generally corroborated with, which dates 1/17/89 as the date.  

To round out the most valuable cards in the set, there is a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.  While it’s not the iconic Griffey rookie from the 89 Upper Deck set, it is a somewhat rare PSA 10 card.  

There is about an 8.15% gem mint rate on the card and the average auction selling price (excluding PWCC) has gone up about 166% in the last 2 years.

Put this into perspective across the most popular Griffey base rookie cards, see the below population reports for Upper Deck #1, Topps Traded #41T, Donruss #33, Bowman #220, and Score Traded #100T:

Until we can nail down a value formula for these cards based on factors such as total cards graded, gem mint rate, and nostalgia premium to find undervalued cards, we are just going to have to use a relative value approach.  The gem mint rate is on the lower end compared to its 1989 base set counterparts.

Card DescriptionAvg PriceGem Rate %
89 Upper Deck #1$506.00 5.25%
89 Topps Traded #41T$55.00 16.01%
89 Donruss #33$290.00 5.38%
89 Fleer #548$76.00 8.15%
89 Bowman #220$161.00 8.95%
89 Score traded #100T$51.00 15.03%

So to wrap all this up, if you want to take the plunge or just relive some childhood nostalgia, what is the best approach?  You can find single packs as cheap as $1 and boxes (36 packs) as low as $19.99 on eBay. However, the real opportunity may reside in the boxes/cases that are known to be printed before the errors were corrected.  You can search by error box or case and there are listings that “guarantee” an error print. This will obviously more than double or triple the price of the box or case. The detective work and research is yet to be found on the most worthwhile print run overlap of a rare Johnson variation and a Ripken Error card.  Therefore, the timing of the print run of the Ripken error paired with the Johnson variation could be worth a gamble.


The Golden Ticket during the Junk Wax Era: 1993 Upper Deck Gold Hologram Derek Jeter #449

There is one year in the prime Junk Wax Era that sticks out compared to any other in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s: 1993.  The year contains at least 13 high-value Derek Jeter cards taken from the PWCC 2500 Market Index ( shown below.

TitleMarket Value
1993 Bowman Derek Jeter #511 PSA 10$466.66 
1993 Classic Best Derek Jeter #1 PSA 10$809.00 
1993 Classic Best Greensboro Hornets Derek Jeter #1 PSA 10$970.74 
1993 Classic C3 Derek Jeter #4 PSA 10$478.33 
1993 Fleer Procards South Atlantic League All-Star Derek Jeter #21 PSA 10$526.67 
1993 Pinnacle Derek Jeter #457 PSA 10$469.00 
1993 SP Derek Jeter (FOIL) #279 PSA 10$82,835.00 
1993 Staduim Club Murphy Derek Jeter #117 PSA 10$661.35 
1993 Topps Colorado Rockies Inaugural Year Derek Jeter #98 PSA 10$1,311.67 
1993 Topps Florida Marlins Inaugural Year Derek Jeter #98 PSA 10$1,057.51 
1993 Topps Gold Derek Jeter #98 PSA 10$852.03 
1993 Topps Micro Derek Jeter #98 PSA 10$1,680.56 
1993 Upper Deck Gold Hologram Derek Jeter #449 PSA 10$2,115.15 

Derek Jeter’s SP 1993 has become the quintessential 90’s card.  The PSA 10 has reached $99,000, before settling back at $76,105 most recently on 8/11/18.  Here is a line chart for the 6 sales going back to 2012 

Since the PSA 10 is so rare, a sample size of 6 makes it difficult to see the appreciation in price.  Therefore, if you take the PSA 9 and graph it, it will show a more liquid rise of value with 155 sales since 2012 on a quarterly basis.

Without going into the charts for packs and boxes of 1993 SP, current prices reach into around $100 a pack and $2,500 for a sealed box.  In other words, if you wanted a 93 Jeter Foil at a bargain price the train has left the station.  

So what are your other options?  You want a Jeter rookie that is scarce and at a reasonable price.  

Let’s look into the 2nd most valuable PSA 10 in the same year: 1993 Upper Deck Gold Hologram Derek Jeter #449 card.  The important part of this card is the “Gold” part of the description. Back in 1993 when the printing presses were working around the clock, Upper Deck was ahead of its time by creating scarcity with the gold hologram.  The gold hologram set was only available at the rate of 1 out of every 15-set case. The regular or silver hologram was available in packs and in the other 14 factory sets in a case.  

To put things into perspective, let’s compare the pop reports from PSA.

The most striking thing you will notice is that there is almost twice as many graded SP Foils versus the Upper Deck cards combined.  It does make sense when you think of the raw value of the SP Foil being at least $200 and the Upper Deck card raw value being less than $5. People are more likely to grade higher value cards.

The other striking observation is the gem mint rate:  SP Foil 0.14%, regular hologram 9.2%, and gold hologram 20.8%.  As the rate shows, the perfect foil card is extremely difficult to find.  However, the gold hologram has a relatively high rate of perfection. This may be due to the fact it was only released in factory sets.  While sealed and packed tightly with 800+ other cards, it may have been insulated from the handling and other pitfalls that conventional cards in packs were exposed to.

Let’s do a basic probability breakdown of how we can manually go about getting the perfect gold hologram, in other words what are the pack odds?  If the gold holograms are 1 in 15 sets, you would have a 6.667% chance. If you are lucky enough to find a gold hologram set, we can use the 20.8% gem mint rate to reach our final probability of 1.39% or 1 in every 72.1 sets.   

The other side of this bet is the cost. At what point does it cost too much to make it not worth a bet?  Taking the market value of $2,115, and carrying over the 1/72.1 odds, you can back into a cost of $29.33 as a fair bet.  Please note this does not include other results including a gold hologram PSA 9 or regular hologram PSA 10.  It’s not hard to find a sealed set under $30 on eBay excluding shipping.  Unfortunately, the shipping is usually high which will decrease the risk/reward.

Jeter comes up for Hall of Fame nomination in 2020.  There are many reasons why he should be there along with his former teammates Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina.  However, above all that, he was the captain of the team that brought 5 World Series Championships to the most popular team in the nation.  Therefore, there is a huge fan base that spans many decades that will always be Mr. November fans.

There are plenty of sealed sets available online, at local card shops, and probably at card shows.  It’s important to be patient and have a price in mind that you are willing to pay. Chances are the guy who is selling these sets does not distinguish this from any other junk wax era set.   

 By: Casey A.


A Gem Mint in the Rough: The 1985 Topps Cal Ripken Jr. #30 Card

The 1985 Topps Baseball Set is headlined by the Team USA Mark McGwire card #401, which in a PSA 10 fetches more $750 according to recent sales.  There is also a Hall of Fame rookie card of Kirby Puckett #536 and possible future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens #181. However, there is one card that is more valuable in a PSA 10 than every other except the McGwire: the Cal Ripken #30 card.

Entering into his fifth full season, Ripken had already won the Rookie of the Year in ’82 and his first Most Valuable Player award in ’83.  He also won a World Series to cap off his 1983 MVP season. So he was well on his way to becoming a household name in baseball by 1985.

When looking at Ripken’s most valuable cards, he is not unlike most of his Hall of Fame counterparts where his rookie card in a PSA 10 is their most valuable card.  He actually has 2 different Topps rookie cards, #21 alongside Bobby Bonner & Jeff Schneider in the base and his own #98T in the topps traded set.

If you were to chart his Topps 1980’s cards, you see an odd bump in 1985:

1982$628 21
1982$1,286 98T
1983$79 163
1984$35 490
1985$515 30
1986$45 340
1987$17 784
1988$29 650
1989$16 250

What makes 1985 so special?  Why does the value go up 6 to 30 fold compared to his other non-rookie 80’s cards? Let’s pull the pop report:

First off there is not a whole lot of cards graded in total with it currently standing at 898.  However, that’s not uncommon for a 4th year star. Gwynn, Sandberg, and Boggs all have a lower total population. 

It becomes a little more clear, under 5% of Ripken’s total population is a gem mint, compared to Gwynn(25% / $43 average price) , Sandberg(22% / $35 average price), and Boggs(19% / $30 average price).  

While we are on Gem Mint PSA 10 percentages, let’s peak at the top rookies of the set:

The McGwire rookie is valuable for a reason, recent  sales show an average of more than $700 with 0.67% being a gem mint of the total population.  Roger Clemens, although not a Hall of Famer, has a 1.4% gem mint rate and $389 average price. Meanwhile Puckett is closer to Ripken with a 5% gem mint rate and $255 average price.  

Naturally you may think if the base set Ripken card is highly valued, the O-Pee-Chee and Tiffany equivalents would have a higher premium.  His O-Pee-Chee PSA 10 averages under $60 with a 16.8% gem mint rate:

While his Tiffany averages under $100 and has a 36.6% PSA 10 gem mint rate:

To make this more interesting, the raw card is extremely available and basically the cost of shipping ($3 or less) on eBay.  Would this attract the flippers or “card restoration specialist” to a possible 160x+ return? Or would the increased supply drive the market down to a more normal price?

What makes the base set #30 so valuable?

Most likely a combination of things, the Ironman streak was landmark in many childhoods across America.  In the current mindset where giving players a rest day is commonplace; it is difficult to see that record being broken any time soon. The card itself is a nice looking action shot with him looking into the distance after his follow through on the swing.  As with anything of value in the baseball card market, the price is driven by supply and demand factors. In this case, it appears the demand for the perfect 1985 Topps Ripken card is outpacing supply.

By: Casey A.