Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A sense of normalcy at the flea market, almost

This past Sunday, for the first time in over a year, I got to dig through real, actual baseball cards.

There was never much doubt about what my first card event would be in the post-vaccination era: a trip to the local flea market seemed obvious. It's outdoors, it's spaced out, and it's just generally a good reminder of the oh-so-beautiful cards and card people I've been missing over the past year. Despite the temperatures being a bit chilly last Sunday, it felt so warm to be back among actual tactile card experiences, and enjoying at least a tiny slice of whatever "normal" might look like in the world from here on out.

Of course, things have changed in the past year, and a lot has changed with cards. One reason I wanted hit the flea market because it was my first chance to really observe in-person how and if the card scene has changed, a bit of a test run. And yes, I'm here to report that it most definitely has. I counted no less than a dozen different vendors with cards on Sunday - about double the pre-COVID count - and huge crowds of young dudes swarming around tables where I'd had plenty of elbow room in the past.

Halfway into the very first aisle, I spotted a vendor I recognized - I've bought a few cards from his dollar boxes in past years. This time, however, he had a slew of new binders on display - the cards inside also a buck a piece, with volume discounts for bigger purchases. The guy told me he'd bought a collection from someone, took out all the "good" cards to be graded, and left the rest in the binders to sell. I leafed through those binders while he was regaling a few curious youths with tales of PSA, rookie cards, and other card boom happenings.

Oh, and while that Ted Talk was going on, I pulled this orchestral Dizzy Dean card out of those "leftover" dregs for what amounted to a 50-cent purchase with my eventual volume discount - a card that's recently sold for no less than $100 on eBay in the past.

That is what we in the real world would call irony.

One table in, and I'd already unearthed one of the greatest treasures in my long flea market history. The magic was back - I just couldn't believe how quickly it happened. And it didn't stop with Dizzy - I found just about two dozen legend variations in those binders, most of which are damn near impossible to find in the wild for anything near affordable numbers. 

These cards aren't going anywhere - Dizzy Dean on the Sousaphone will be in my binders for all of eternity! - but I can't help but find it funny that all this happened in the middle of a lecture on "value" since lot of these are of the gimmicky "super short-print" variety and easily fetch $20-30 a pop. 

I still wonder two things: whose collection that vendor bought (who has this many super short-prints?!) and what the "good" cards were that he specifically removed to get graded.

The guy obviously knew about the monetary side of the hobby, but I guess if some cards don't have MIKE TROUT plastered across 'em, they're as good as dirt to that crowd.

End result: more short prints for me, including not one but two Sandy Koufax legend variants from 2011 Topps(!!!).

Here's a staggering run of four different Stan the Man variants - yes, all mine for 50 cents a piece.

It seems like a good time to note that even among this 50-cent madness, I did see some retail flippers in the flea market crowd - I spotted a couple people trying to hock 2020 Chrome Update blasters for $40-50 a pop, and standard 2020 base cards for a dollar each.

It's one thing to laugh at it on Twitter and wherever else, but it's quite another to see that thievery up close - and if they're already invading the flea market, I can only imagine how bad it'll be at the card shows to come...

But in the end, I guess all that won't matter much to me if I'm still able to find gargantuan stuff like this for loose change.

As you've probably already noticed, these binders were heavy on legends, and I stand by my statement that putting magazine covers on baseball cards is one of the greatest things ever.

If you would've asked me to conjure up a list of things I would've most wanted to see in those binders, it would've looked pretty darn close to the cards I actually ended up finding.

I absolutely love anything and everything from Topps Retired Signature, but they're tough to find on the cheap, which made this excellent batch of 50-centers all the more thrilling.

My interest in the whole Topps Living Set phenomenon is minimal at best, and I've bought exactly one of them (Ichiro) in the few years it's been going on.

But I'll certainly take them for 50 cents, because apparently the world's gone mad all over again.

This is just insane: all these Throwback Thursdays for 50 cents a piece?!

Anyone who's read my COMC posts in the past knows how much I love scooping these up on the cheap, and this single dig just about doubled the number of 'em in my collection - I'm especially fond of the Lou Brock/Grease mashup.

All this felt like something close to robbery, and I had quite the sly grin on my face as I was leaving that table - not that anyone could see it under my mask.

The rest of this post might seem a bit underwhelming in comparison to that table, but I basically still had the whole afternoon ahead of me at that point, and an entire flea market parking lot left to go.

I was happy to see my main card guy from the past few years set up at his usual spot as if nothing had changed, and he still had his usual box of 50-cent vintage - as usual, it'd mostly been picked through by the time I got there, but I still managed to find a few fun team-card oldies.

I'm admittedly a bit late in recognizing the greatness of Ryne Duren's Coke-bottle shades, but this table helped me make up for a bit of lost time there.

That '63 is even more glorious since Topps accidentally slapped Duren's picture onto a card of a completely different guy.

As the day wore on, I started to spot a few of the same twenty-something dudes following my own trail of card tables throughout the flea market, and I got the sense that a lot of them didn't really know what they were looking at - they'd grab a couple stacks of cards, turn them over curiously in their hands, and put them back without buying anything.

Heck, I actually had to wait for a spot to open up at one card vendor's table midway through the day, and I don't think that's ever happened at the flea market before - still worth it, because in addition to these 25-cent finds...

...came an entire box of Kellogg's!

Granted, most of these were from the late '70s/early '80s era, which I already own way more of than the earlier '70s stuff. But I still managed to nab a few 3D greats I didn't already have, reaching past a couple card youths who seemed to be especially confused at the sight of these weird cards of guys named Hooton and Easler.

And even though the vendor originally said they were a buck a pop, he gave these beauties to me at 50 cents per.

I made another brief stop on the trail to sift through one vendor's small basket of quarter cards - nothing spectacular, but I can't stress enough how good it felt to dig through random cardboard again.

This vendor, and all the others I talked to throughout the day, said to a T that they were selling more stuff at the flea market now than they ever did in the past - another sign the card boom is still going strong, for better or worse.

Whether it's because of the boom or not, the flea market's always good for some laughable prices along the way - one guy tried to sell me a box full of '88 Topps singles and unopened packs of '89 Topps Big for a scant $200 because, and I quote, "there's a lot of rookies in there."

So you can understand why I'm a bit wary when I see baseball cards without a price attached to them - midway through the day, I saw a few small boxes of singles sitting on a table that seemed halfway interesting, and preparing for the worst, I hesitatingly asked: How much are these?

I let out a deep sigh of relief when the vendor said: a nickel a piece.

Tables like these were the kinds of hidden goldmines I'd missed so much in the quarantine era. I ended up buying 80 nickel cards in all, and while there weren't any super short-prints or anything, it was just a generally fun tour through a couple boxes of complete randomness. It truly felt like the card universe was back again.

Sure, it gets dull flipping through stacks of '88 Donruss along the way, but if I can find even a few Pokey Reeses or dudes wearing absurdly loud shirts in the mire, it's all worth it.

I also unearthed a small treasure trove of '82 Fleer in the nickel boxes at one point, and I will fight anyone who calls this set ugly.

Maybe more than anything else, it just felt great to be part of the card community again.

One vendor who my more veteran readers might remember as the Penny Box Guy was there on Sunday (sans penny boxes), and I was shocked by the fact that he actually remembered my name. I didn't end up buying much from him - this nifty Roger Maris insert was one of only three or four cards I wound up purchasing - but we still had a nice chat, and in that single moment it was like the past year had never happened, that everything was back to normal, almost.

And really, after the first glorious Sunday I've spent at the flea market in a long time, all I can say is: it's good to be back.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The fate of dime boxes

One of the reasons I'm anxious to start doing card stuff again is because I'm interested to see what shows look like in The Flipper Era.

Specifically, I'm looking forward to seeing the fate of my beloved dime boxes. Early reports from others on present-day shows have almost all confirmed what I'd feared: most vendors are eschewing the cheap cardboard in favor of the fancy high-dollar stuff. Dime boxes are becoming as rare as the hits people seem to be chasing. And from a purely monetary standpoint, I can't say I blame those vendors - with limited table space, why display that dime box of weird niche '90s stuff when you can bring another glass case of $100 cards?

From a collecting standpoint, however, this is obviously disappointing news. To me, dime boxes are the lifeblood of card shows. It's not that I'm hell-bent on finding "deals" left and right - I buy expensive stuff sometimes, too - it's just that cheap cards are where I get the most sheer pleasure out of the card show experience. The feeling of seeing those white boxes with thousands of cards inside them is unmatched anywhere else, the thought that anything could be in there. It's magical.

And I don't know about you, but when I see a table with glass cases and nothing else, I almost always walk right on by, because I know I'm not going to want and/or be able to afford anything in there.

At this point, I'm targeting next month's monthly local show as the Grand Return, and needless to say I'm going in with a great deal of excitement, and a twinge of nervousness.

I'm not so much worried that people are going to start charging a dollar a pop for cards that are otherwise dime box fodder. I bet that's gonna happen, too, but the solace there is that I at least know there'll always be someone out there who's pricing stuff like a normal, sane-thinking person. I don't think for a minute that dime box-loving collectors will ever go extinct, or anything close to it. I just get worried our voices will be drowned out by the almighty dollar.

But maybe that's an irrational thought, because as I've detailed many times on the blog in the past year, (or The Online Dime Box) has been a saving grace for cheap cards in this strange era, and I received yet another order from them a couple weeks ago.

There's a certain sense of peace in knowing there's a whole site of dime boxes out there for us low-end collectors, a place that, best I can tell, is still going strong.

In addition to everything I've shown so far, I grabbed this quartet of '80s greats that flew under my radar this whole time - that U.L. Washington joins an extremely short list of cards featuring toothpicks.

This Online Dime Box order saw me perusing the inventory a few different specific sets, rather than just pure all-out randomness.

Most people seem to agree on the greatness of '93 Leaf - especially given the inclusion of arguably the greatest card backs of the modern era.

'95 Pinnacle is a set that seems to keep spawning great cards I've never seen before, even though I feel like I've gone through this checklist ten times over by now.

The 1992 Bowman Fashion Show - cards so bad I want to collect every darn one.

Like any good dime box, oddballs are a fun delicacy, and that stretches into virtual dime box land too.

I still feel a little weird about putting playing cards next to Topps and Donruss in my binders, but in they go - also I'd forgotten Twizzlers once made baseball cards.

I'm always here for minor league cards of my binder guys.

Famous dudes wearing wrong uniforms - I still don't quite believe Dante Bichette ever played for the Reds.

It's a bit daunting to collect guys like Tony Gwynn and Kenny Lofton, given the spans of their careers spanned the era when there were like 87 different card companies each producing 932 sets every year.

Still, on the bright side of things, that means there'll always, always be cards of them to chase, like these two new ones that popped up on the Online Dime Box (Kenny Lofton Pirates sighting!).

Fun new hits for a few of my up-and-coming player collections.

Each passing Online Dime Box order seems to add new stuff to some of my most obscure player collections, which is nice since it's not every day I get to add stuff to my page of Gookie Dawkins cards.

The mini-collections keep on coming.

PSA: I'm still very much a fan of minis and other bite-sized baseball cards, and will always take them for a dime.

A few other random knick-knacks from the Online Dime Box - and no, I have no idea who Saburo is, but if you throw a BBM card at me for a dime, I'm gonna buy it. 

A bunch of easy dime buys here - I remember opening a ton of Turkey Red with a card-collecting friend back in 8th grade, and we'd go absolutely nuts waiting to see what red or other-colored parallel we'd get in each pack.

Dudes bunting, a Graduate shot, and other generally fun horizontal heroes.

Just to be clear: I'm definitely excited to attend post-vaccine card shows again, and I'm already dreaming about that fateful day of the first one, whenever that may be.

It's just that, at the risk of sounding whiny, I liked how shows were before, and I really don't want that to change. As much as I complained about bros or unpriced cards or other general card show annoyances before, I always felt there were enough cheap cards for me and glass-case stuff for others to keep both parties happy. And I want those scales to stay balanced. I want my physical dime boxes back to go along with the joys of the virtual world. I don't think that's asking too much.

Because a world with dime boxes is a better place, plain and simple.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021


Good news from Dime Box HQ: yours truly is fully vaccinated!

I'm obviously glad to be vaccinated, but with the stressful firestorm that the last year has been, I feel more relief than anything else. I'll also freely admit that one of my first thoughts as I was driving home the other day was: hey, I can do card things again! I don't even remember the last pre-COVID card show I went to, and the excitement at the possibility of going to one came flooding back to me in that moment. 

But even though a couple local shows have started to open up again, I had to catch myself and say let's wait a little bit. I don't wanna immediately jump back into huge gatherings right away, because there's still risks and responsibilities in post-vaccination life. The flea market around here is re-opening this week, and for now I'm planning on shooting for that since it's outdoors. Apart from that I think I'm still a month or two away from truly feeling comfortable at a card show, or large enclosed spaces in general. (Still planning on the National this summer!)

But even without card shows, there still hasn't been a lack of incoming card excitement around here, by any means - take the above '69 Topps Willie Mays I randomly won in a contest from Kevin of "The Diamond King" blog, a card that just so happened to also be on my Keep Dreaming want list, too!

I also requested this fun quartet of Score Superstars from Bo of "Baseball Cards Come to Life!" recently, all of which hit various player- and mini-collections of mine.

(Is it wrong that I get just as much enjoyment out of my Billy Ripken cards as my Cal Ripken Jr. cards?)

Blogging legend Mr. Fuji of "The Chronicles of Fuji" was nice enough to help me out in a big way with my 2020 A&G wants, which was nice because I seem to buy less A&G retail with each passing year.

Fuji also helped me out with a couple A&G insert needs, and I'm especially fond of that Luis Tiant since he's criminally underrepresented in the world of modern baseball cards.

I've also had a steady stream of surprise PWEs show up from longtime friend of the blog gcrl of "cards as i see them" fame, one of which featured this nifty Dustin Pedroia double dip off my Dime Box Dozen list.

As is the plague that afflicts many card collectors, I owned a mini of this one without having the standard base card, and I just couldn't abide that.

A couple big surprises here - not sure if that's a real signature on the Wally Moon, but even if not it's a cool card of the Mighty Unibrow I didn't already have.

Also even though Senior League mostly became a short-lived footnote in baseball history, I love that their baseball cards were high-quality enough to feature fancy multiple-exposure shots.

I never did see a single pack of 2020 Topps Fire at any of my local Targets - not a huge tragedy, but I probably would've bought some if I had.

Thankfully people like gcrl were luckier on that front, and decided to spread the wealth - the Kemp is especially welcome since it's a zero-year card that somehow got the green light from Topps, as he never played a single game with the Marlins.

Another envelope I recently received from gcrl suggested he'd done a deep dive through my want lists - don't get to cross off many cards from my 2018 Topps Big League needs these days.

It was such a deep want-list dive, in fact, that he found cards I forgot were even on there in the first place - I have absolutely no recollection of creating lists for these.

Gotta love when that happens.

Greg of the legendary "Night Owl Cards" blog also sent me a stack of cardboard out of the blue recently.

No card shows means less current cards coming off my want lists, but thankfully people like Greg have been nice enough to help me whittle those needs down bit by bit.

Greg also sent one of the more puzzling items I've ever received in a trade package - a laminated baseball card.

On the left is the weathered '62 Santo that's been in my collection for many moons now, and while it's tough to tell from the scan, the card on the right is indeed laminated(!). Never once have I ever thought to laminate my baseball cards, and I can't help but wonder why someone else would. I found myself in a bit of a conundrum deciding which copy to keep.

In the end, I decided to hang on to the beat-up Santo since I've had it for so long, but I thank Greg for allowing me the odd pleasure of holding a laminated baseball card in my hands.

A million bonus points to Greg for sending me a Kellogg's card I needed with this spiffy Griffey Sr. 3-D beauty.

(How long until we have to start saying things like Fernando Tatis Sr., or Vladimir Guerrero Sr.?)

I claimed a nice little lot of minor league cards as part of an anniversary giveaway from Gregory of the "Nine Pockets" blog.

This design....well, isn't the best, but I always love getting minor league stuff of guys I collect - yes, I still want your Allen Craig cards even though he fell off the face of the earth sometime around 2015.

Finally comes a quick two-card envelope I received from local blogger Tom of "Waiting 'til Next Year," someone I'd like to meet in-person at a local show sometime in post-COVID life.

We've exchanged a number of cards and packages through the mail over the years despite not living terribly far from one another, and Tom floored me by tracking down this tough Donnie Baseball Gypsy Queen SP off my Keep Dreaming list, which is an especially glorious hit for my interview mini-collection.

I don't know what I was expecting when I saw that package from Tom on my doorstep, but I certainly didn't think I'd see a 1963 Topps Al Kaline in there!

It's understandable that I'd want to start planning my post-COVID schedule the minute the vaccination needle dried, but again, I have to remind myself there's absolutely no rush here. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, yes, but still a ways to go before things are truly back to normal. Anything to keep me from fantasizing too much about those sacred dime boxes and discount vintage. In due time, Nick.

But I can't really call the COVID era a dry spell for my collection, not when people are sending me '63 Al Kalines and stuff.