Featured Card: 1973 Topps #615, Mike Schmidt (RC)
It is not merely sufficient to state that this past week I was finally able to add Mike Schmidt’s rookie card to my collection — as with many collectors, the addition of such a high profile item inevitably comes with a story.
During my teen years, before I started to focus solely on collecting Phillies baseball cards, I wanted nothing more than a Mike Schmidt rookie card. However, for all practical purposes they were priced completely out of my range. In fact, the only way I could potentially add one to my collection was to put one on layaway; so, that’s exactly what I did. The local card shop — Beachcomber Coins & Collectibles, which is still in business today — had one in VG-EX condition for $200 (this was in the late ’80s when his rookie card was booking for $600 in NM condition), and I made the appropriate arrangements. For reasons that I now no longer recall, I only made a few payments before deciding that I really couldn’t afford the expense — even spread out over many months. I lost some portion of the initial deposit, but got the rest of my money back.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to only collect baseball cards that exclusively pictured Phillies. That meant that the Schmidt rookie card was no longer an object of my affection. In fact, when I made that decision I had a Bob Boone rookie card, which was from the same Topps set, in NM condition that I either sold or traded (can’t recall which) in an effort to acquire other vintage Phillies cards that I needed for my newly reconfigured collection. Until fairly recently, the notion of acquiring Schmidt’s rookie card, or reacquiring the Boone card, just wasn’t on my radar.
With his 1973 Topps card outside the parameters of my collection, the closest I came to acquiring an actual Schmidt rookie card was the various reproductions issued by Topps starting in 2001 (The Phillies Room has a comprehensive post detailing these efforts by Topps). Unfortunately, none of these efforts resulted in a satisfactory solo Mike Schmidt card done in the 1973 style.
That changed last year when I decided to slightly relax the strict limit I imposed on my Phillies collection and start collecting any baseball card that pictured a Phillie, regardless of whether or not players from other teams were shown and designated as well. That suddenly meant that various Topps league leaders and combo rookie card subsets, Fleer Superstar subsets, and a host of other cards were now suddenly on my radar. Of course, that meant that acquiring Schmidt’s rookie card was finally an active concern again.
Luckily for me, things have changed quite a bit in the 25 years since I put that card on layaway. So much so that Schmidt’s rookie card now books for $150 in NM, but not professionally graded, condition. When you factor inflation into the equation ($600 in 1988 is the equivalent of $1,180 today), the value of this card has dropped over 90%. By waiting 25 years, the card eventually become very affordable to me — especially since I was extremely content to purchase one in a lesser condition. I also knew that with a certain amount of dumb luck on eBay (where dumb luck plays an inordinate role in the final purchase price of individual auctions) that I could probably get a slabbed copy of the card in an acceptable condition and a more than fair price. I was right, and I was able to purchase the Schmidt card shown here — which is in better condition than the one I placed on layaway 25 years ago — for just over $50.
The primary takeaway from this for me is that this is a stark reminder of a couple essential facts about the current state of baseball card collecting. One, there is no such thing as using baseball cards as a long-term investment.* Yes, it is possible to make money buying and selling them, but those financial rewards are based on short-term fluctuations and, to a very unsettling degree, dumb luck. Second, and the first fact derives from this one, collecting baseball cards is a dying hobby. I recall reading somewhere in the past couple years that the median age of a serious baseball card collector is approximately 45-50 years old — which means that after nearly 30 years of seriously collecting cards (as opposed to the way my 9-year-old son collects them), I am still younger than the average baseball card collector. Younger collectors are not appearing fast enough to replace older collectors as they leave the hobby, and I truly believe that nothing is going to alter this trend until card collecting becomes just as niche a hobby as toy train collecting.
As a result, it will continue to get easier and less expensive to acquire items like Schmidt’s rookie card. I’m certain that in 25 more years, my Schmidt card will be worth even less than it is now, but I don’t care. I finally have one in my collection.
* It is certainly likely that pre-WW II vintage cards will continue to see hold their value and/or see it rise, but I believe that it the result of these cards becoming antiques that are sought after by people who may not have any interest in baseball cards as a hobby.