My favorite hobby as a boy was collecting baseball cards, and in my infinite nerdiness–present even then–my first-ever magazine subscription was in 1990 to the now-defunct Baseball Cards magazine. I have been unable to ascertain when Baseball Cards stopped publication, though a safe guess is that the major mid-1990s sports card market crash caused its downfall. Its publisher, Krause Publications, is still in existence and publishes magazines and books on various hobbies.
I subscribed to Baseball Cards after receiving an advertisement in the mail for it sometime toward the end of 1989 (How was I already receiving junk mail as a nine-year-old? I suppose it is in junk mail’s [and now spam’s] nature to be all-pervasive. Maybe my Little League sold the address list of their players to vendors of children’s magazines?) and actually had enough allowance saved up to subscribe. It was something like $14.95 for a year’s subscription, which included twelve issues plus six special-edition cards per issue. The cards used the 1969 Topps design to showcase current players, and were the major selling point for me. Unfortunately, they came in sheets rather than separately, and my young hands mangled some of them pretty badly when I tried to cut them out.
I read the magazine thoroughly, and I still remember some of the articles vividly. However, unfortunately at some point I got rid of my copies. I still buy baseball cards occasionally, mostly for nostalgia’s sake, and during a recent card-hunting session on ebay decided to buy an issue of Baseball Cards as a part of this nostalgia. I bought the April 1990 issue because I found it for a good price (less than $5.00 including shipping).
While this issue does not have any of the articles that I remember (so I might have to buy more…), reading it was thoroughly enjoyable. Nearly a quarter-century after it was published, three points stood out to me from the issue:
1. I had a horrible sense of foreboding as I read the generally well-written and light-hearted articles knowing that in a few years all of the hype about rookie cards, limited-edition sets, and cards as investments would be proven hollow as the hobby came burning to the ground. The emphasis on cards as monetary objects, as business, rather than as an enjoyable hobby pursued because of the love of sport is what ultimately gutted the market (as Karl Marx says, capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction…) because it got too glutted with, not just special issues, but with cards in general: the card companies were to blame for the collapse just as much as dealers were. The hobby forgot its roots as a pastime for children, thus losing its fiscally-essential base along with its soul as it became over-professionalized by adults.
2. The hype about all of 1990’s rookies, the special focus of the issue, is hilarious because so much of it is inaccurate in hindsight, which goes to show how elusive baseball success can be. Todd Zeile was hot stuff in 1990, and he had a very respectable career, as did Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker, but players such as Eric Anthony, Andy Benes, and Jerome Walton, all of whom get fawned over in the issue, did not. The only player mentioned in this section of the issue to make the Hall of Fame (or to have a legitimate shot) was Frank Thomas.
3. The numerous ads were a delight to read (unlike when I was a child and mourned my lack of funds), in part because they illustrate how different the card-collecting landscape is now than it was then, and in part because they make me wonder what happened to all of the businesses and their proprietors. Some might still be hanging on as dealers via the internet, but a good number must be out of business. What did their owners do once the bubble burst a few years later? Where are they now? Does anyone remember the businesses, or are they basically lost to history (thinking about this question always makes me depressed when thinking about businesses that close)? Answering these questions would make a fantastic research project, albeit one with a limited audience. My favorite ad, which is for The Card King in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, urges customers to make their purchases quickly because “These stunning… cards are disappearing faster than communist dictators.” Ah, those halcyon days.