A case of Topps Sequence 2 comprises 12 bins, every made up of 24 packs, which in flip every maintain 14 playing cards. Some breakers, I’d later study, tear open the packs and riffle via them with the pace of a blackjack supplier, pausing solely to show the rarest playing cards. Byington is extra methodical in his method, fastidiously unwrapping every pack and permitting the digicam to glimpse each card. This break threatened to final almost so long as a regulation baseball sport.
As he began pulling particular person playing cards from the packs, Byington supplied the sort of nice, meandering chatter that may fill the air throughout a rain delay. About an hour into the break, he turned over a card depicting Rickey Henderson, the brash Oakland leadoff man who had set stolen-base information throughout my childhood. “Oooh, take a look at that!” he exclaimed. “Increase! Good, Eric.” Not solely was Henderson a participant I acknowledged; this was a “relic” card, embedded with a shard of a bat Henderson had as soon as utilized in a sport. Within the break’s reside chat room, different individuals gave the rookie of their midst a spherical of attaboys.
Up till that time, the expertise of baseball-card accumulating as a spectator sport may hardly have been extra overseas. Having acquired the limited-edition Henderson card—or, not less than, having seen Byington unwrap it—I now felt a well-known rush, one I hadn’t recognized for the reason that days I’d spent opening packs at Gilbert’s: the joys of the hunt.
Baseball-card accumulating actually should be extinct. It’s an analog pastime in a digital world, an expression of fandom in a sport whose attendance is in sluggish decline and whose cultural relevance is in free fall. However as my expertise in Billy Byington’s break suggests, the pastime has not solely continued; it’s discovered efficient, if peculiar, strategies of adapting to an inhospitable setting.
The story of the baseball-card market is a narrative of shortage. Earlier than the Seventies, various costs for particular person baseball playing cards had been just about unheard-of. Classic playing cards had been traded via the mail by completist collectors searching for to spherical out a set. Within the late ’60s, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle listed for a few greenback—the going fee for any card from the sixth collection of 1952 Topps. It was solely within the ’70s, as Child Boomers sought out favourite playing cards from their youth, that sure stars started to soar in worth.
As children, Boomers had handled baseball playing cards like what they had been—playthings, not museum items. They fondled them and flipped them and caught them between the spokes of their bicycles—then went off to varsity and misplaced shoeboxes filled with playing cards to flooded basements and spring cleansing. Later, when grown Boomers returned to their childhood pastime, ardent demand met restricted provide. By the top of the ’70s, that very same ’52 Mantle approached $1,000 in worth.
By the ’80s, blue-chip playing cards had been outperforming the S&P 500 and accumulating had remodeled from a sleepy novelty right into a billion-dollar business. In 1991, roughly 18 million individuals in the US purchased not less than one newly issued pack, spending $2 billion to accumulate almost 21 billion baseball and different sports activities playing cards. A 1990 market research discovered that 77 % of collectors had been drawn to playing cards partly or absolutely as a result of they thought of them a “good funding.”