Friday, December 21, 2012

Generation gap

I've been collecting for about a dozen years now.

Although I couldn't tell you exactly when my obsession with cardboard first started, it was likely around the ages of seven or eight.

Needless to say, It's been a wild ride.

I've seen a lot during my time in this hobby. 

I was there when heaps of serial numbered parallels began flooding the market. I was there to witness hundreds and hundreds of different sets come and go.

And, of course, I was there to see the ascent of the almighty "jersey card".

On the whole, though, I'm fairly happy to have grown up in the era I did. 

While I may express my dissatisfaction with the whole "jersey card" or "book value" craze from time to time, I'm still proud to be a so-called "child of the '90s".

Still, I can't help but wonder one thing.

Was it the best era for baseball cards?

It's hard to answer a question like that with any kind of objectivity.

I'm sure collectors who grew up during the '70s or '80s would say that their era was the absolute greatest. 

The few collectors around my age would probably be swayed towards the current generation of cardboard.

It's a question I've thought about many times before, and one I've always wanted to answer.

And while I don't consider myself to be an "expert" on this hobby by any means, I thought I'd take a closer look into what exactly the word "best" might entail.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, my dad has told me about his childhood collecting days on many occasions. 

He was there to see the first appearances of "rookies" like Brett and Fidrych on baseball cards. And he was there to see Roberto Clemente and "Hammerin' Hank" say their final cardboard goodbyes.

Best of all, he got to see it all through the packs he bought at the local corner store.

I've never much liked the fact that almost all of my pack-busting experiences have come courtesy of a big-box store like Target. It just doesn't have a very "personal" feel to it.

Between the disinterested cashiers and the aisles of boredom, I never really feel "at home" when I'm in one of those types of places.

Maybe I'm glorifying it a bit, but I can't imagine how awesome it must've been to walk down to the local corner store and plop down a quarter for a pack of baseball cards. A pack that could've contained the likes of Manny Sanguillen or Carl Yastrzemski.

And not to mention that brittle, tasteless, glorious piece of bubble gum.

Times change, though.

The local corner store that my dad used to get his cardboard from is now an OfficeMax.

I guess that's typical in a lot of ways.

Then again, I don't know how long I could've sustained my collection with just a corner store.

Growing up with the Internet has certainly helped keep my interest in cardboard.

Without it, my present-day self probably wouldn't care about baseball cards. Much less one that features a relatively obscure player like Endy Chavez.

Even in today's age, I still had a few friends who collected when I was growing up. We'd revel in each other's new "finds" on a daily basis.

Over time, though, those friends stopped collecting. Eventually, I lost touch with them all together.

For that reason, I credit technology for helping me stick with this hobby through middle and high school.

Without any friends who collected, I myself probably would've eventually lost interest in baseball cards as well.

However, the Internet opened me up to a whole other world of people who shared the same feelings I did about cardboard. Even though a lot of them were thousands of miles away, it didn't matter.

I was just happy to be part of the "club".

Although I haven't had a whole lot of great things to say about forums during my time as a blogger, I will say this.

I'm not sure if I'd still be collecting today without them.

On top of that, virtually any baseball card I could ever want is at my fingertips these days.

Even if I had somehow stuck with collecting without trading forums and the like, my collection would be a far, far cry from what it is today.

Through the Internet, I have managed to add thousands and thousands of awesome new pieces to my binders, pieces that I probably never would've acquired otherwise.

It could be a simple PWE trade on the forums. Or a monumental swap with a fellow blogger. Or even a Listia auction. (Especially one that allows me to add such a tremendous Johnny Evers card to my collection for a mere 100 credits.)

Every single one has helped my collection in some way, shape, or form.

And none of them would've been possible thirty years ago.

Still, I can't help but wonder how simple collecting would've been had I grown up in the '60s or '70s.

Of course, I understand that the rest of the world was far from "simple" during that time period. Between Woodstock, a faltering economy, and the Vietnam War, the times were a changin'.

But, through it all, baseball cards pretty much stayed the same.

Although smaller, more obscure sets were being released, basically all the collector had at the time was reliable ol' Topps.

No hint of an uber-short printed base card that I'd never acquire. No "scammers" to be found. And no obnoxious amounts of parallels made for the sole purpose of netting a quick buck.

The concept of the baseball card seemed to mean more back then.

I'm sure thousands of Tiger fans were ecstatic to pull Al Kaline's card in 1967. The fact that it was his only card of the year made it even more cherished among hoards of young collectors.

The fact that I own over 600 cards of Vlad Guerrero is certainly a testament to his "Dime Box MVP" status.

At the same time, though, 600 cards sure is a lot once you stop and think about it. And a lot of them are from one-and-done sets that barely made a blip on the hobby's radar.

As a player collector, it's basically my "job" to chase down as many Vlad cards as possible.

But does any collector really need six hundred cards of a single player?

Probably not.

I guess a little variety never hurts, though.

As much as he loved collecting, my dad says that he used to get more and more doubles with each passing pack as a kid. And he couldn't just go and pick up a pack of a different set because...well, Topps was the only game in town.

After the demise of "high-numbers" in 1973, Topps released all their cards in one series. And there they'd sit for the rest of the year.

If Flagship was the only thing on the shelves these days, I'd probably get bored with it by July or so.

Admittedly, I sometimes take the variety of this hobby for granted. There's a new set on the shelves every couple months.

Once I get most of the Flagship cards I need, it's on to Heritage. And then A&G. And then Update.

New sets like Triple Play even pop up every once in a while, much to my pleasure.

Kids of the '70s didn't really have that.

Although the current "Topps Monopoly" has limited it a bit, I still have quite a few ways to spend my dollar.

And I couldn't be happier.

So, now for the million-dollar question.

Although both generations certainly had their ups and downs, which era of collecting really was better?

The "simpleness" of the past or the "variety" we have now?

Truthfully, I couldn't tell you.

It's not for me to decide.

You'll have to figure that one out for yourself.

I doubt I'll ever really know the answer.

If there even is one.

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