April 25, 2005


How the baseball card game is played (Robert Tuttle, 4/26/05, CS Monitor)

Shortly after the 1952 World Series, executives at the Topps Co. had a problem. They had boxes and boxes of baseball cards that nobody wanted to buy. So, in a decision that would echo through the baseball-card market for decades to come, they tossed the extras into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

And so, only a fortunate few ended up with that year's Mickey Mantle rookie card. Today, a near-mint condition Topps No. 311 Mickey Mantle from 1952 is worth more than $20,000.

Back then, baseball cards were for kids. They were made of cardboard. Each one-cent pack of cards included a wide stick of (usually dried-out) bubble gum. Kids would wrap their stacks of cards with rubber bands and stash them in shoe boxes. Cards got lost, worn, and thrown out. Few knew they'd be valuable. Not many of those cards survived to the present.

Today baseball cards are mostly a grownup hobby. Twenty or 30 years ago, the cards were marketed mostly to kids. Most collectors now are over 30. And in this age of PlayStations and the Internet, kids are less interested in baseball cards.

"We are competing with lot of other things that get the kids' attention these days," says Lloyd Pawlak. He's senior vice president of sales and marketing for cardmaking company Fleer.

Trading-card companies like Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck, and Donruss still make cardboard varieties (for $1 to $2 a pack), but they also make lots of expensive cards designed to appeal to older collectors. Topps removed the bubble gum from most packs of cards in 1991 after numerous complaints from collectors that the gum was staining the cards.

No gum. No scaling on the playground. No putting them in your bike spokes. What's the point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2005 7:35 PM

Now where did I put my treasured Dick "Stonefingers" Stuart card?

Posted by: Jim Siegel at April 25, 2005 7:57 PM

It's true that fewer products have gum, but the quality of the gum in those that do has increased tremendously. It's no longer like chewing a wood chip and actually makes bubbles.

Posted by: AC at April 25, 2005 9:14 PM

Mickey Mantle's rookie season, as all serious baseball fans know, was 1951, not 1952.

To Jim Siegel:

Wasn't Dick Stuart also known as "Dr. Strangeglove"? (I seem to to recall the moniker from Ball Four, but don't quote me on that.)

Posted by: Nicholas Stix at April 25, 2005 10:30 PM

Each one-cent pack of cards included a wide stick of (usually dried-out) bubble gum.

I just assumed that it was supposed to be that way.

Posted by: Rip Van Winkle at April 26, 2005 12:17 AM

I ruined untold thousands of dollars in my bicycle spokes. The hated Yankees always were used first, followed by the Mets and then the rest of the American League.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 26, 2005 10:34 AM

"Dr. Strangeglove" it was.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 26, 2005 2:04 PM

My brother and I completed a 1961 set when we at summer camp. My mother threw it away when we at college. I have not forgiven her.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 28, 2005 12:49 AM