Friday, July 26, 2013

Bargain hunting

My collecting life revolves around bargain hunting.

While I do make an occasional cardboard splurge here and there, I pride myself on being able to sniff out some of the best deals in the business. With my extremely modest budget, it's pretty much a necessity.

That's part of the great thing about baseball cards, though. Unlike many other hobbies, I can easily get buy without having a ton of money to spend.

Heck, collecting might even be more fun when you don't have the budget of a high roller. That way, you have to scope out the best buys possible. And, as many of you probably know, there are few better feelings than scoring a great deal on an awesome piece of cardboard.

My purchasing tactics have become an essential part of my collecting life over the years. So much so, in fact, that I've compiled a few "Best Bargains" nominees from my travels.

Sadly, you're not likely to find many steals in your local Target's card aisle. All three bucks will get you is a measly six-card pack of Gypsy Queen. Or a four-card pack of Panini Prizm. Or perhaps an underwhelming eight-card assortment of Archives.

Even worse, the $1.49 "power pack" boxes at most retail outlets aren't anything special these days. (At least not at my Target.)

Still, as much as we might rag on Topps for one thing or another, their Flagship set still manages to give the collector a good bang for their buck. Two bucks still gets you a pack of 12 quality cards.

And, unlike the odd-but-great Panini Triple Play release, they provide the benefit of team logos as well.

For my money, Topps is still the best bargain around.

In terms of recent cardboard, the topic of bargains begins and ends with one brand.

Topps Total.

I'll admit, I have quite the love affair with this set. I've probably mentioned it on this blog a few dozen times already.

Unfortunately, I got back into baseball cards just after Total said its goodbyes in 2005. And, although it'll probably never happen, I've pleaded with Topps to bring it back over and over again since then.

With Total, 99 cents got you a stack of ten great cards. Of course, the biggest draw of this set is the massive player selection it featured.

Their 2002 and '03 checklists were comprised of 990 cards a piece. At just 880 subjects, their '04 release was a bit of a step down. And, in their smallest set, 2005 Topps Total featured a mere 770 different cards.

I repeat, their smallest set still had 770 cards in it.

Such large checklists were nothing short of awesome for someone like myself, given that I like to chase down cards of relatively obscure players. I mean, how else was I supposed to add cards to my Travis Harper collection?

And, yes, I actually do collect Travis Harper. I didn't make that up.

Without bargain-minded sets like Topps Total, though, not many of his cards would even exist.

In terms of my personal collecting interests, Conlon Collection may well be the best bargain out there.

Much like Topps Total, it's a set I've mentioned on this blog a number of times before. I'm absolutely head over heels when it comes to old-time baseball, and, thanks to the photographic efforts of Mr. Charles Conlon, this brand features exclusively that.

And, while the set has its Ruths, Gehrigs, and Mathewsons, it's a great source to find cards of lesser-known old-timers as well. Many players received their only cards from the Conlon Collection brand.

Former White Sox hurler Charlie Robertson threw a perfect game against Ty Cobb and the Tigers on April 30th, 1922. Although the rest of his career was fairly mediocre, you'd think that a perfecto would earn him a little bit of recognition in this hobby.

As it stands, though, I own just three cards of Robertson. And two of those came courtesy of the Conlon brand, including the one you see above.

Best of all, it's a set that works well with a budget. Right after I started to get back into the hobby, I picked up a box of '91 Conlons for just 20 bucks shipped.

I should mention that the box came with 36 eighteen-card packs. If my math is right, that's a total of 648 cards. At 20 bucks a box, that comes out to a little over three cents each.

Now that's a bargain if I've ever seen one.

However, most of the best bargains this hobby has to offer come in the form of vintage.

Throughout the course of a card show, you'll usually see quite a few different kinds.

First, there's the "eye candy". I always see the same dealer peddling T206 Ty Cobbs and Goudey Babe Ruths at the local shows. I know they'll probably forever be out of my price range, but I can't help but drool over them every time I pass by that table.

After that, you'll probably come across a few dealers with horribly overpriced vintage. Then, there's the tables that have every card neatly organized by set in binders. Great for set builders, but not necessarily bargain hunters such as myself.

But, if you dig deep enough, you'll usually come across a few heavily discounted vintage scores. Most of the time, they're fairly random. However, I have found a common thread between my finds throughout my collecting career.

Like many fellow budget-minded enthusiasts, my chances of owning an actual Topps card of the great Ted Williams are slim to none. Even massively beat up copies still seem to command quite a bit of coin.

However, I constantly seem to find issues from the infamous 1959 Fleer checklist in the discount bins, a set which was exclusive to the "Splendid Splinter".

Sure, the allure of owning a Ted Williams card is highly diminished when you consider that every single card in the set featured Ted Williams. Still, that's not to say the set doesn't have its high points.

I found the card you see above in a two-dollar bin at a show last year. A beauty, is it not?

And, while not entirely ideal, it is still a real card from the playing days of Ted Williams.

At just two bucks, that's hard to pass up.

Are Hank Aaron cards a little out of your price range?

Can't seem to find one that fits into your budget?

Well, then, try these great All-Star cards on for size!

I apologize for sounding a bit like a bad TV infomercial there, but it really is true. Base Topps issues of guys like Aaron and Mays will run you quite a bit.

While I'll admit that the base Flagship cards are better, these All-Star subsets are awesome alternatives to those. A while back, I picked up this 1970 All-Star piece of "Hammerin' Hank" for a song.

The bargains don't just come in the form of All-Star cards, either. The '72 "In Action" issues can be had on the cheap. As can the "Boyhood Photos of the Stars" from 1973.

And they're all still lovely authentic vintage.

Much of my vintage living is based on acquiring imperfect cardboard.

I can't afford pristine Harmon Killebrews or flawless Sandy Koufaxes. So, if you're a bargain hunter like me, chances are you're well aware of the "well-loved" sector of this hobby.

If you ask me, it's the better one. I don't mind picking up a rare mint older card, and I can certainly see why some collectors prefer their cards to be well-conditioned, but I absolutely love finding cards with character in the discount bins.

I'm not saying you have to live with cards that look like they've been through the wash. Only hardcore crazies such as myself probably enjoy those monstrosities. 

Still, even the smallest imperfections can have a shocking impact on the discount depths. A little crease here, a rounded corner there, or perhaps even a slightly off-center disposition can slash a card's price to a mere fraction of what it'd normally command.

Sure, this '54 Preacher Roe has a couple creases. And a few rounded corners as well. As a whole, though, it's definitely a passable card. All of its beauty is very much intact.

And, due to the well-loved nature of this piece, I was able to snag it for just two dollars at a show last year. 

I feel honored to have such an amazing piece of baseball history in my collection.

However, imperfections aren't always necessary for a card to be considered a bargain.

Sometimes, a card is just underrated. With underrated cardboard comes unbeatable prices.

If you asked me for my one surefire bargain in the world of vintage, well, I'd have to point you to the above '71 Topps Bud Harrelson.

While not a major star, Harrelson was an integral part of the great Mets squads of the late '60s and early '70s. Plus, I think many of us would agree that '71 was one of the all-time best years for Topps.

Harrelson's issue in that checklist is an absolute masterpiece. No less than three Mets players, one Astro, and an umpire are shown in this fantastic action shot. Bud is on the far left, applying the tag to the sliding Houston runner.

I can't be sure on who the Astro is, but I'm fairly certain that it's either Joe Morgan or Jimmy Wynn. Not bad in terms of star power either way.

Oh, and speaking of that, I should probably note that the Met wearing #30 in the foreground is none other than Nolan Ryan.

I nabbed my copy of this for about fifty cents a while back. There are currently four different copies of this one sitting on Sportlots for less than a buck as we speak.

I'd never say that anyone needs to own any specific card. Yet, at such a great price, Mr. Harrelson is probably about the closest to such a thing in the hobby.

Yes, sir. Even in today's high-dollar world of baseball cards, you can certainly find your share of bargains.

You just have to know where to look.


Metallattorney said...

I may have to keep my eyes open then if you were able to find that Williams. I have only been able to add one of the cards from that set so far.

petethan said...

That Williams is friggin' awesome. Funny, I also picked up that '71 Harrelson for less than a buck when I was on vacation. Great minds, and all that...

Metallattorney said...

The nice thing about 2005 Topps Total was that even though there were fewer cards, there were still a lot of players represented because they had two players to a card a lot of the time.

petethan said...

By the way, looking closely my guess is that it's Jimmy Wynn sliding into second. I think I can see those killer sideburns from the seats Topps gave us at Shea.