Monday, August 2, 2021

The National is what you make it

I knew I was in for something unprecedented the minute I pushed through the doors of the convention hall.

Yes, friends, I attended the manic card frenzy known as The National last week, and Dad & I changed it up a bit by deciding to go on the Thursday rather than the usual weekend plans, for a couple reasons. 1) I was able to meet up with Jeff, who also decreed Thursday his National Day, and 2) I figured I'd beat some of the foot traffic. After all, could there really be that many people there at 10 AM on a Thursday?

The latter, I see now, was just plain naivete on my part. I swear there must have been close to a thousand people milling around the lobby when I got there (see above). The line was so long I literally didn't even know where it began - it snaked around and around and around to where it just kind of morphed into one big mass of humanity. Not ideal for a crowd-shy and slightly claustrophobic person such as myself, but then again I guess you kinda have to expect that at The National.

Just the sheer task of getting into the place was insane, and it instantly confirmed everything I thought (feared?) about what this year's National indicated - this was, and is, a hobby explosion, and not just a tiny boom. 

Thankfully, the line moved fast, and I was in the card-filled aisles by 10:15, where I stayed until just about closing time at 6 PM - which, yes, that's darn near eight hours of digging, and every minute of it was glorious.

Sensory observations: 1) I don't know who was in charge of air conditioning here, but they royally screwed up - the place was boiling the whole day. 2) The show was another reminder that I'm not a teenager anymore - the concrete floors made my legs sore all night and the following day. 3) I'm still a little weirded out by a lot of what goes on at The National. Every two minutes, it seemed, there was a big whoop or holler from one corner of the place, collective applause in a different corner, then a big chant-like countdown somewhere else. So yes: yours truly, a claustrophobic man who lives in slight fear of mob mentality, isn't exactly the banner attendee of this show.

But the great thing here is that there's more than enough to distract me from all the uncouth happenings - such as this dime box haven which I instantly and fervently declared The Best Table at The National.

And that was before I found a card in those dime boxes I later sold for $150(!!!).

It's true. I threw this Yadier Molina into my purchase pile merely because I collect him & liked the photo - I thought it was a variation, but didn't figure on it being anything that spectacular. I got curious when I was thumbing through my finds again the next day (a ritual that's almost as fun as the show itself!) and, wouldn't you know it, it's some mega-super SP in the $150-200 range. I threw it up on eBay, and it sold over the weekend. I rarely sell cards, and I still collect Sir Molina, but I don't think you can blame me for parting with this one.

This is not a precursor to me selling off my collection, nor an absolution of the #fliplyfe - it's more a comfort to my consciousness over going to The National while unemployed, and knowing that a 10-cent card ironically covered a good chunk of what I spent the whole day.

And so after the infinite observations & money-pocketing dime finds, let's get to the most important part of the day's events: MY STUFF!

All things considered, I'm just glad The National had dime boxes - much less one as good as this that necessitated two separate trips and resulted in over 700(!) purchased cards. It was one of those rare dime digs that has both quantity and quality, and just generally a whole lot of stuff that probably shouldn't have been a dime (even besides the Molina). 

We're talking minor league cards of big-time stars - including a Pro Debut card of ex-Cub Anthony Rizzo (still hurts to say) that Jeff was thoughtful enough to turn over to me when he spotted it in the dime depths.

I always kinda feel bad for my dad when I'm spending 45 minutes at boxes like these - to his credit, he stands right there with me, or goes out on recon missions for goldmines at future tables.

But for me, time and attention span is no object if it results in a plethora of mini-collection hits like the ones I found here.

Top-tier hits for some top-tier collections - certainly didn't plan on finding a SC Paul Konerko rookie for 10 cents, nor an Ichiro that was actually on my Dime Box Dozen list.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the camaraderie was still present here, at least at the cheaper tables - the guy next to me noticed I was pulling Frank Thomas cards from these dime boxes, and started handing any he found to me.

After all was said and done, I had a stack of darn near 50 new Big Hurts thanks to that fine gentleman - as well as a whole lot of other ten-cent star power.

I always try to follow the thought process of the vendor in determining what cards he/she decided to banish to the dime box, and I was left with nothing but more questions here.

The 700 cards I bought featured everything from high-end stuff to nifty refractors numbered to a scant 35 copies(!) to 1st Bowmans of Cy Young winners, and a whole lot more goodness I couldn't fit into this post.

This isn't to say the rest of the show was a bust, by any means - there was a lot more randomness than I expected to find in the somewhat corporate-themed halls of The National.

I did, however, see a lot more overpriced stuff than I remembered coming across in years past. One guy had a dollar box full of unopened overproduction-era packs, which good luck finding anyone to take those. By some miracle I found an oddball A's set in that same dollar box issued by The Mercury News out on the west coast, which I quickly snapped up because there's no chance I'll see that again here in Illinois.

That, plus Topps TV and auction advertisement cards I found in a few of the dime boxes, made it a good day to be an oddball collector at The National.

More oddballs - including that Larry Doby which was, in a fun bit of happenstance, given out at one of the first Nationals in the '80s.

One of the deepest regrets of my collecting life was not going wild for a big tub of Japanese packs a guy had at The National here maybe five or six years ago - I bought one, single, lonely pack back then.

I don't know if the guy with the big tub of Japanese packs at this National was that same vendor, but I have to assume it was because how many people are carrying around big tubs of Japanese baseball cards? There were seriously a few hundred NPB packs in there for $3 a pop - and I half-jokingly, half-seriously asked the guy how much he wanted for the lot.

I was running a bit low on money at the time, so Dad was nice enough to front me the cash for ten selections from that immaculate tub.

Just the sheer visceral experience of opening Japanese packs makes it all worth it, and to get anything I actually need is icing on the cake.

Lo and behold, I actually pulled a Yu Darvish out of one of those packs, as well as a few other future MLB stars (Kenji Johjima! Kaz Ishii!), and even what I'm pretty sure is an autograph card there in the bottom-center!

Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough, but I didn't see a lot of newer singles for sale during my trek through the halls - boatloads of unopened wax and blasters, sure, but not many loose cards.

Against all odds, I even found a nickel box minutes after I walked into the convention hall.

I could've easily spent the whole afternoon there - it's easy to see why most people attend this show all five days - but I pulled myself away after a couple fun-filled boxes because I didn't want to say I went to The National and only saw the first two aisles.

Obligatory dime box wackiness.

When I say I'll buy pretty much any Diamond Anniversary parallel I see for a dime, I mean it.

Today on Card Or Not A Card? - a Joe DiMaggio life insurance advertisement!

(I say Card, obviously.)

Some high-quality dime box legends here - I really need more of those "What If?" Donruss inserts.

There was a time in this blog's history where I'd divide my finds here into two, three, even four posts - but I don't really like to do that anymore.

So keep in mind that, despite all the dime-and-discount box joy I've shared thus far, it's really just the tip of the iceberg to the haul I brought back from The National.

I mean, let's face it, I haven't even gotten around to the vintage yet.

My concerns on vintage in the modern boom are two-fold. 1) The market's talking money will replace card show vintage with more glass-case Trout & Ohtani, or 2) The boom will eventually leak over to vintage and cause everything to skyrocket. The current hobby, thankfully, seems to still be operating in that middle ground where vintage is accessible and mostly affordable - which should be evident by the cards I'm about to show here.

I've never been wild about these flimsy stamps issued in the early '70s, but now I'm furious that all this time I've been ignoring a Denny McLain card I didn't know about, and the only card I've ever seen of Oscar Gamble's brief cup of coffee with the Cubs(!).

There's been a weird rule of thumb at most of the local shows in my lifetime: I seem to either come home with a lot of Hostess, or a lot of Kellogg's - never both.

Like most local show trends, of course, that doesn't seem to apply to The National - Hostess and Kellogg's were both present in spades.

I even bought that Reggie Jackson despite the fact that the vendor pulled out his Beckett to price it for me - guess that guy knew I was in a vulnerable spot, because Beckett or not, there was no way that Reggie wasn't coming home with me.

I still think early '60s Fleer is the best-kept secret in the hobby - these just look great, and even with names like Ott and Cochrane, none of these set me back more than a buck a pop.

The Golden Press cards from the same era are more pricey, but every bit as beautiful - ol' Diz set me back five bucks, and the Speaker was four.

The vintage gods also bequeathed a couple new OPCs to me - my only complaint about the earlier '70s OPCs is that there's no OPC logo anywhere on the front, so you'll have to take my word for it on the Cleon Jones.

I found these at about 10:17 AM at the very first table of the day as I was still trying to fight my way out of the incoming onrush of attendees.

I don't know about you, but there's two big rushes for me at the beginning of a card show - first the basic joy of walking into the hall, and then actually making the first purchase of the day, confirming that now the show's really started.

One of the many reasons I'm eternally grateful for my frankenset is that it gives me joy to discover all the wonderful photos I would've otherwise ignored, and even more of an excuse to dig through cheap vintage at card shows.

Add Steve Korcheck to the roster of Baseball Players Who Don't Look Like Baseball Players (a lot of whom seemed to come out of the 1950s, oddly).

I don't mind a hole punch if it means I can buy a '55 Hank Sauer for 90 cents, and given my fascination with Japanese baseball, it's a crime it took this long to secure a copy of the famous '65 Topps Masanori Murakami rookie (and for only four dollars!).

Like any good card show, I did treat myself to a few bigger purchases - or at least whatever qualifies as a "big" purchase to this cheapskate.

One vendor had a neat little wall of affordable big-name vintage on proud display - the '59 Frank was $12 & the '63 Brooks was $8, which is far cheaper than I've ever seen either of these cards priced at before.

That aforementioned first table of the day had a small glass case in a corner that said LOW GRADE VINTAGE.

See also: HEAVEN. I don't see many discounted Whitey Ford cards come around, so nabbing that '62 for a cool $7 was a treat. And believe me, even I'm surprised that I spent a whole $20 on anything of Tommy John...but that's a dreaded '67 Topps high-number, and actually the very last card in the set. You'd be hard-pressed to find a no-name high-number that cheap, much less a collection favorite like Tommy John. An easy, if unconventional, $20 score.

(It's also further support for my theory that Topps specifically designed vintage high-numbers to make us poor collectors miserable 50 years in the future.)

The oft-quoted tagline for The National is true - no matter what card you're looking for, it's probably somewhere in those halls.

Whether or not you can afford that card is a different story, but thankfully the finances shook out and I was able to grab these two dream cards I was specifically targeting for a solid $20 a piece. The Rose is creased down the middle, which explains the heavy & glorious discount, but the Teddy Ballgame is in good shape and just a great deal all around.

But only at The National would these not be the Big Finds of the Day.

This was probably the #1 card on my radar as I was patrolling the aisles, mostly because it's somehow become the last one standing in the way of my somehow realistic quest to have all of Roger Maris's Topps cards from 1958-68.

It's not a rare card, but tough to find at a good price. I saw one for $100, another for $75, one other for $60 before I saw a copy in a glass case for $35 near the end of the day. I was almost out of cash at that point - Dad and I pooled our resources and had $27 together, but the vendor wouldn't take anything lower than $30 & wouldn't cut us a three-dollar break even though their litany of glass case stuff probably totaled a few hundred grand all together. Thankfully, they took Paypal, and one $30 electronic transfer later, Mr. Maris was mine!

It's impossible to put a nice, tidy bow on an event as sweeping and gargantuan as The National. There's so many different storylines, so many different observations, just simply so much cardboard humanity crammed under a single roof. I've gone on record as saying smaller village hall shows are a better match for my personality. But here's the weird thing: if you're like me and stick to dime boxes and polite people and discount vintage and all the other perks of being a low-rent collector, it's almost like you're right back at those small village hall shows, hypnotized by the cheap thrills this hobby so often has.

Because after all is said and done, the great thing about The National is that it can be anything you want it to be - The National is what you make it.


gcrl said...

Sounds like a great day. Lots of great cards to boot. Hope Jeff is doing well.

Mike said...

Had a fantastic day with ya, time they better have lids for the damn soda,haha!

The Diamond King said...

Seriously wonderful! I am jealous for sure. That Molina caught my eye immediately, but when I found out it was a SSP, there went any hopes of me ever grabbing a copy. Congrats!!

Salgado said...

My son and I went Saturday and a few vendors said it was much slower than expected. Worked out for us! I tracked down some cheap, well-loved 55 Bowman’s for $1-$2 per at a few tables. Then found some Cubs-specific dime boxes and went crazy. My son found his white whale Pokémon cards. And I’m one of the rubes who bought some junk era packs for a $1 each. Noah loves ripping wax so it’s an affordable entry for him into the hobby. And how could I pass up American Gladiator packs for 50 cents each! (LOVED that show growing up)

Jeff Laws said...

I went Friday and Saturday, my first time there, and I think the first couple of hours I just walked around with my mouth open. I'm still in shock of all that went on there. Watching thousands of dollars change hands all around me.

I'm with you on the concrete floors, we'd walk around for a couple of hours and then sit behind a table of one of the dealers that we knew. I'm not sure I could have made it without sitting here and there.

I knew I should have sat down at the dime boxes but I skipped them thinking there wouldn't be much in them and to be honest, the few tables I saw them at they had a bunch of them and so many cards to look at kind of scared me.

Mike said...

When Nick was younger,he would have been ALL OVER those dollar packs! Haha!

Shlabotnik Report said...

Too much to comment on, but I'll say that the 1990 TV Biggio is probably worth a couple of bucks by itself (not $150, of course), and I'm jealous about a bunch of those cards.

I'm pretty sure I bought Japanese packs from the same guy at the 2012 National... and I got several of the same packs. :-D

GTT said...

Wow, that's a ton of great stuff.

I've been having a hard time already seeing folks on Net54 showing their finds, and you made it worse. Happy now? :)

Elliptical Man said...

Good write-up.

night owl said...

Convinced I would come out of that scene with PTSD. Hoping when I finally get to the National, the bust is in full effect. Most jealous of that '67 Tommy John.

SumoMenkoMan said...

Awesome pick ups for sure!! I was there on Saturday and Sunday and we covered almost every inch of the place. I bought some stuff from Robert at Prestige Collectibles with all the Japanese stuff. Was a fun time for sure!

Zippy Zappy said...

"(W)hat I'm pretty sure is an autograph card there in the bottom-center"

Sorry to burst your bubble but the Kudoh is a facsimile autograph. Yomiuri Giants players aren't allowed to sign certified autographs (they can sign in private for IPs but not for companies for likely reasons related to promotions/arrangements made by the parent company that owns the team).

But looks like you had one hell of a haul.

Brett Alan said...

Awesome stuff.

Just wanted to mention that I got that Larry Doby at that 5th National, which remains the only one I attended. So I can confirm that it's legitimately from that event. IIRC he was one of the guests who signed, although I didn't get his autograph--he may not have been there the same day I was.

Daniel Wilson said...

So many great cards! We’ll done. I hope to be able to attend the National one day, but would love to do just what you did by scouring the nickel and dime and dollar boxes as well as some well loved vintage discounts.

Jupiterhill said...

Saw your tweet about the Molina card so while a couple days later, I had to see if you've blogged about your trip. So glad I got to read about your journey, and for many of us, a journey ourselves just from how you wrote about it. One day I'd love to go to one, but I wouldn't have gone this year even if I could. Great post and loved seeing all the cards.

Bo said...

Looks like you had a great time. Thanks for the virtual tour!

Jon said...

8 hours? That was one long show! Congratulations on your big sale, I wonder how many people passed on that card before you. And obviously there's tons of great stuff here, but the Maris is tops for me.

Larry said...

You have a great eye for spotting diamonds in the rough.

Fuji said...

Super jealous of that stack of Japanese packs you purchased. Not so jealous of the interaction with crowds. My claustrophobia would have been kicked into high gear. Congratulations on finding and selling that SSP Molina and that Murakami rookie card.

mr haverkamp said...

Agreed, Nick.....this National truly was dime box heaven! I saw a huge crowd at one of them on Thursday afternoon and swore I'd get over there at some point to see what all the madness was. Fortunately I had a vendor badge so got in to the hall a touch earlier and spent 1.5 hrs digging at same table on Friday morning. Notes from an old guy: buy brand new foam cushion inserts for your favorite tennis shoes just before a National; they allow you to walk and stand just a bit longer without soreness!

Jeff B - Wax Pack Wonders said...

Wow great finds! Must have been tons of fun.

sg488 said...

Congrats on your findings,eventually you may get tired of spending 8 hours digging thru dime boxes.

P-town Tom said...

Great write up. I've still never been, but hope to go someday. I'd be inspecting the same dime boxes and discounted vintage!
My favorite find of yours is that beautiful Frank Robinson card. But, I have to ask about the slabbed DiMaggio. That surely wasn't a dime card, right?

Adam Kaningher said...

What a post! Quite the gold mine. Or more like Scrooge McDuck's vault.

GCA said...

Glad you made out well. I was there somewhere - probably over at the far end from the door under the Aisle signs at the insert vendor I went to all three days.
I got one of those MJ '86 style Broders from a shop in Michigan the next week...