Baseball Card Dealer's View: Best and Worst Deals of All Time
Consummate Mets Fan
So, for those of you who don’t regularly read my blogs, my name is David. I’ve been collecting baseball cards since 1979 when I was six years old. I’ve been selling them since 1985 with a few years off in the early 1990’s to investigate girls (of course) and then Magic: The Gathering cards which I sold for several years while working for two comic book stores and attending college. Over that time span I have made some incredibly good deals, and some incredibly bad deals. I remember certain trades I made as a kid to grow my collection of great rookie cards but here I’ll lay out some deals I made as a dealer. My only caution for you is to remember the circumstances of the time frame that the deals were made in.
1990 Upper Deck RC
Great Deal #1: 1990 Kevin Maas Rookie Cards
Sounds ridiculous I know, especially almost 25 years later. However, I was in front of this before everyone else around me. At many shows of the time, buyers could expect to see large lots of the year’s current rookie crop. And every year, Baseball Cards magazine had their Top 100 prospects list so we all knew who the best rookies should be. So you could go into a show and buy a 100-ct lot of Gary Thurman rookie card in 1988 (he was rated #1 in 1988 ahead of Gregg Jeffereies) and you could do that for many players for several years. I generally gravitated to the best players on the lists and the Mets/Yankees rookies of each year. I did not prospect much, and I made several mistakes, but this one I got right. That being said, Kevin Maas came from out of nowhere to take the baseball card world by storm as he put up big home run numbers in a relatively short amount of time. I had picked up 2 100-ct lots of Kevin Maas 1990 rookie cards, one block of Fleer cards and one block of Upper Deck cards. He wasn’t worth anything so I got each block cheap, $5 for the Fleer block and $8 for the Upper Deck (1990 Upper Deck was grossly over-produced but we didn’t know that in 1990 so it still had a bit of a premium to it).
Kevin Maas 1990 Fleer RC
Well, once he got hot, every kid wanted one. So did all of the adult Yankees fans. I had 200 of them and they were selling fast. Within a month, those cards went from 10 cents to $8 each. Along the way I sold almost all of the Kevin Maas RCs (I kept 5 of each). I made a fortune on those cards. Needless to say, his career did not continue this meteoric rise and those cards don’t sell for much today, though I still have them in my current Yankee dollar box and they still sell to long-time Yankees fans.
Right Idea, Wrong Player
Bad Deal #1: Ty Griffin Amongst Others
Just as I had bought 100-ct blocks of Kevin Maas, I did this for a few players in 1988 and 1989 who I thought had a great opportunity to make me some money. I had been reading Baseball America and I knew some of the rookies that were coming and were expected to play well. Based on his numbers I bought into Ty Griffin, a 2nd base prospect for the Cubs. In hindsight it was a foolish move. Griffin would never get a shot with Ryne Sandberg in Chicago. At the time, I NEVER thought of that. I also invested in Pete Stanicek, Steve Stanicek, Van Snider and Greg Briley. These were in 1988 and 1989. None of these players panned out and I was stuck with their cards for a while. Again, it may not seem like much, but speculating like this was the norm at the time.
1988 Donruss RC
Great Deal #2: 1988 Donruss Ron Gant
In 1988 Donruss printed a lot of cards, but there was a time when all collectors had thought that the cards numbered over 600 were short-printed. This included Tom Glavine, Greg Jefferies, Matt Williams, Roberto Kelly, and Ron Gant rookie cards. I was able to pick up many Gant RCs while not being able to get the others as they ballooned in price too quickly (even Roberto Kelly moved fast). The Gant card did not, I guess it took people a while to realize he was in the set. I had nearly 50 of them by the time people started looking for them and I sold them quickly at $3 to $4 a piece. It may not sound like a lot of money, but I got them from various dealers and collectors for next to nothing. Of Course, 25 years later we know that the entire 1988 set is very over-produced and while the Glavine, Jefferies and Matt Williams cards have some value, Gant though a good player, did not go on to greatness.
Wasn't a Bad Idea but...
Bad Deal #2: Babe Ruth Bat Cards
Oh I thought this was an awesome deal, and it should have been. I found on eBay a lot of 10 Babe Ruth game-used bat cards with a Buy it Now option. I reviewed the cards and was pleased to see several of the cards that were valued in the $250 range and the lowest was valued at $150. The overall value was right around $2200 and I made an offer at $700 which was quickly declined. I upped my offer to $950 which was also declined. Please note that I NEVER spend this kind of money on cards. Much as I love them, I almost never extend my budget like this for cards. The seller told me he wanted $1200 which I was not happy with. He has every right to look for that amount of money – it’s still a good deal for a buyer, but it’s a bit high for a dealer. I need to buy in the 30% range or less. $1200 was about 55% percent of the value of the cards which is difficult to make back on ANY deal. I jumped on it anyway. I did sell the cards, due to the high value of each card, there were difficult to sell but they all did eventually sell and I made a small profit on them, but not the profit I had envisioned when I first saw the lot.
Magic: The Gathering - Mythic Rare
Bad Deal #3: The Magic Cards That Got Away
This just happened to me last week. While working the Garfield show, I saw that one dealer had Magic: The Gathering cards mostly from newer sets. For those of you who don’t know, Magic is the granddaddy of collectible card games. It came first, in 1993 and was a huge hit – EVERYWHERE. That’s right, it was a global phenomenon, in fact it still is. When it was new and very hot, there were places to play in tournaments all over Staten Island where I live. Over the years, the hobby stores have gone away, along with the tournaments and the popularity of the cards – on Staten Island, has virtually died. But I do much of my business in New Jersey where Magic is very much alive and kicking. While I have some older cards, I have nothing really incredible and players can only use cards from certain sets to play with in tournament play. So this dealer has a binder full of newer cards that includes some great stuff. While I no longer play or really follow the game so much, I still know what players are looking for - Mythic Rares and Holofoils dominate. This binder has a lot of it and the dealer has another box full of 5000 cards including more rares, uncommons and lands needed to play the game. He was asking $150 for all of it and I just didn’t have it to spend. Without knowing the cards really well, I still understood this was a great deal and I wanted it, but I just didn’t have the money to spend. I offered him a trade for $200 in value off my table and he looked interested. He was seriously just trying to move the Magic cards. Unfortunately, another dealer saw the binder and the box and bought the box. Then he got together with another dealer and they bought the binder. This kills me though I completely understand. I even told the guy that if he can sell it, he should, but my offer stood. I think I could have easily made the trade. I’ve been asked for Magic quite a bit so now I have to start looking for it again.
What a Deal!
Great Deal #3: 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle… Twice
I have a very dedicated Mickey Mantle collector who asked me to help him upgrade his collection. He had a 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle rookie card that was in awful shape. It had tape marks on all four edges and half the back was missing after being pulled out of a book it had been glued into (which was common to do to a favorite card in the 1950s). He had paid $800 for the card which I can only assume is the equivalent of paying the Poor price (equal to 10% of the Near Mint Price of $8000). It wasn’t worth it. The card, missing most of the back should have been $400. In any case, this collector is retired and has some money to spend so I went looking for a better condition card. I hit the jackpot on eBay when I found a PSA 6 graded Mantle with a Buy it Now option. The card had been up for sale for some time so I made an offer of $1000 and he accepted it within five minutes. FIVE MINUTES!!! In this grade it’s a $5,000 card. I got the card and turned it around for $3,500 to a very happy collector.
The story doesn’t end there.
He asked me to sell his original card which I didn’t think I would be able to do. I showed it to several other collectors, recounting the story of finding a better condition card. One of these guys asked if I could get him the same sort of graded card. I gave him the same price range which he agreed to and I went back on eBay and was able to secure another PSA 6 card at $1600, which I sold at $3500. Needless to say, Disney World got most of those profits but the family got a nice vacation out of those two transactions. I was not able to sell the original card.
Thurman Munson the Legend
Bad Deal #4: Thurman Munson 1970’s cards
This eBay deal went bad fast. I found a lot of late 1970’s Thurman Munson cards. They don’t have a high value but I live in NY where Munson is a legend so his cards always sell well. I paid $5 total for the lot which was supposed to include one 1976 Topps card, one 1977 Topps card and two 1978 Topps Cards. When the lot arrived, there was no 1976 card and only one 1978 card, replaced by two 1979 Topps cards, one of which was the Burger King card.
THAT WASN’T THE WORST OF IT.
The cards looked ok from the front, but when I turned them over, each card, near the bottom edge of the card, had the value written on it in pen. Can you imagine that? Someone actually wrote $2.50 in pen ON the card. I was irate, I was angry, I contacted the seller to express my displeasure with not only the cards missing/replace din the lot but that the cards were written on. He told me to send them back for a refund. I love this – he wants them back to resell them to some other poor buyer like me. Nope, didn’t happen. I kept them, gave him awful feedback for believing his refund policy was ok when the cards were wrong AND damaged, and promptly gave them to several Yankees fans at the next show to put in their collections noting the damage on the card backs. I made new customers from those cards so at least they served a purpose.
Bad Deal #5: Game-used cards
I’ll admit it. I fall into this trap once in a while. I’ll find a dealer who is just dumping game-used cards and wants to sell a large lot of them at $1 a card. I usually go for this. I don’t like them all that much and they don’t sell well but you can enhance the value of any deal by throwing them in so they can be useful if you know what you’re doing. I’d like to think that I do, but I have picked up some raw game-used deals in the past that included cards of guys so common, you wonder if they ever played for real. This type of deal almost always backfires on me.
One Awesome Set
Great Deal #5: 2000 Upper Deck Yankees master Collection
Sometimes, trolling on eBay deep into the night works. I saw this item up for sale at a very affordable $350. The retail price on this item which includes 1 mystery Surprise Autograph, 10 Yankees Game-used Bat cards, and a serial-numbered set of 25 Yankees cards is in the $2000 range. The break up value is huge and nobody was even looking at it. I was though, and it 1 am Eastern Standard time. I generally put this type of buy through my wife first so I called her, as she was out late with friends. By the time she called back, the item had ended, but I then realized the seller was in California so I emailed them to see if they wanted to relist it and that I would buy it immediately. They agreed. The only issue was that the autograph was missing, but I didn't even care about it. When I got the item it was amazing. It took me five minutes to get in contact with one of my Yankee collectors who bought the thing for $1000 after looking at it for thirty seconds.
The set is limited to 500 and it comes in a wood box. Due to it's limited nature, every card in the box is relatively expensive and since many people don't break up the set, it's difficult to even find singles. Even today, this set sells for big money, IF you can find one.
More Stories to Come
Well, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I'll try to post more items like this since I have been at it a long time, these are just the tip of the iceberg for good and bad deals over 30-years of buying and selling.