If you’re like me, you don’t know what the hell anybody wants for the holidays. I always try to get people stuff they might like, even though it’s all stuff that I wish I could get. That’s why this year I’ve decided to give more than one person on my list a baseball or baseball card-related item, because I enjoy shopping for that kind of thing, I know how to spot a good deal, and that’s what I would want to receive as a gift. Plus, baseball and baseball card-related gifts are great for friends and relatives of any generation, and they work as both a straight and ironic gift.
I think more people should give baseball cards as gifts. They’re small, they don’t cost very much in the grand scheme of things (unless you’re giving someone a Ed Walsh T-206 or something), and for those who may not appreciate them on a sport or obsessive collector level—or even on a nostalgic childhood level—can appreciate them for what they are: little pieces of modern art.
Here are 10 ideas for your holiday shopping for collectors or not. I’ve used $20 as the max spending limit per item. (with links where appropriate)
Jose Canseco’s 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie One of our readers has dubbed this ‘The Mona Lisa of 1980s Baseball Cards’ and they couldn’t be more spot on. Let’s see…if you shell out around $8 for the card (if even that), you still have $12 to spring for a tiny gold picture frame. Then lop off the stand on the back of the frame, put a hook in the wall, hang it up in your living room and aim a track light at it, set up a velvet rope two feet in front of it and put a piece of Tupperware over it. Nice. Just like the Louvre, only better.
Old Unopened Wax Packs & Boxes An old wax box from the 1980s is a great gift. Not only should it not cost you very much over the $20 spending limit, but it’ll give you a pretty good snapshot of baseball in that time period: the mullets, the mustaches, the bad skin, the bad teams, the bad uniforms, the bad names. A good time will be had by all—just don’t eat the gum. In fact, handle the gum with rubber gloves if possible.
A Stack of Worthless Mid-Nineties Fleer Inserts (Any Sport) It’s incredible, but it seems like Fleer had a corner on the foil-stamping business back in the mid-Nineties, didn’t it? There was a point there where they inserted one insert a pack, and sometimes there were whole packs of nothing but inserts (hot packs). It’s a wonder they bothered putting out a base set at all. Anyway, now you can find just about any hobby shop with heaps of this garbage, ready to sell it way under book value (hopefully). The cards are fun, but they’re worthless. They make nice bookmarks.
A Box of 200 Semi-Rigid Card Holders I’m pretty sure you’ll strike out with this gift if you’re not giving it to a collector. But if you know a collector, they’ll thank you for it. If there’s such a thing as the semi-rigid card holder bandwagon, well, I jumped on it a few months ago and I’m trying to get as many new converts from top loaders as possible. I can’t say enough good things about these little sheets of semi-rigid clear plastic. They’ve made it possible to house valuable cards in a shoebox without worrying about jostling and bent corners in the night. If you have no idea what a semi-rigid card holder is, visit this online retailer. Many places sell them, including probably your local hobby shop.
Little Sets There was a time when I looked down on glossy cards as cheap and not to be trusted. Then the major companies started giving their cards a thin sheen and I slowly forgot about my problems with gloss. But then the other day I found a big box of cards and after going through a few stacks I came across an old Kay-Bee Toys ‘Superstars of Baseball’ card and a wave of memory hit me: the thick front gloss to mask cheap, papery white cardboard backing. But then, after momentarily contemplating throwing it away, I pulled it aside and got as many of them together as I could.
Kay Bee Toys, Rite Aid, the various Fleer offshoots, Toys R Us—I had all these little sets. I even had most of the Topps Kmart set (you know, the one that looks like a Turn Back the Clock card on every card). You’d buy these sets complete in deck form, in their own box with a checklist on the back. Some would be cheaper than others, but none of them cost very much. I think you could find most of them today on eBay or in hobby shops for under $10.
High Series Commons This would work as a gift for collectors only. And really for those collectors trying to complete a vintage Topps set. Giving someone a common may not sound like a great present, but a high series common—especially to a set builder—is another matter entirely. If the collector isn’t looking to fill the set with near mint specimen, you can find a lot of lower grade cards under the $20 price limit. And if you know of a card show or convention coming to your town, that’s a perfect place to look.
A Trip To See The Best Kept Well-Known Secret in New York City Of course I’m talking about the Honus Wagner T-206 on permanent display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. While the Museum’s suggested donation entry fee is high, it is ‘suggested’, so you can pay whatever you want. I went a few weeks ago and spent about ten minutes just standing in front of the Wagner. It’s part of the incomparable Jefferson Burdick Collection, the collection of cards that all others must be judged against. Whenever I see Alan Rosen’s full-page ads in Beckett and Krause Publications, I can’t help but think that he’s suffering from some sort of Burdick-envy. Anyway, the Wagner is right there on display, sort of tucked away on the mezzanine of the American Wing. So if you happen to be in New York for the holidays, or you live here, like me, you should visit.
The 2007 SCD Standard Catalog Because of my own dumb rules for this list, this great book can’t be here. I think it costs somewhere around $40. Oh well. If you have kids, buy for them to share. If you want to teach yourself about the history of baseball cards, or admire the sheer breadth of what’s available to collect, I recommend purchasing the SCD Standard Catalog. I had an old copy from 1990 that I tore through in my youth, and I just purchased the 2006, so I don’t think I’ll be buying the 2007 anytime soon. But you should, especially if you know someone who has a penchant for reading the dictionary, an encyclopedia or the phone book. Available from Krause Publications.
Minor League Team Sets If you live in a town with a minor league baseball team, buy team sets for anyone and everyone you know. Minor league team sets are awesome. They aren’t very expensive, they’re usually sponsored by a regional product or business that nobody outside of your town or state has heard of, and the players on the team usually provide more entertaining characters than any major league team. I mean, if you live in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and you’re a friend of mine, I would want you to give me a Pawtucket Red Sox team set with a card of Izzy Alcantara (you know, the wacko who karate-kicked the opposing catcher in the chest).
With minor league team sets there’s the possibility of up-and-comers, down-on-their-heels old timers, minor league lifers and a card of the mascot. Jeez, I could go on forever, and I haven’t even got to the very good possibility of the washed-up ex-major leaguer who’s now the manager.
Individual Star Cards If you’re a friend of mine, you’ll probably get a star card this year as a present (hello, Vince Coleman rookie card). Some cards are perennial favorites, like any of the all-star cards from 1958, 1960 and 1961, or older team rookies from the Sixties. If you’re looking for just one card (and you’re relatively new to baseball cards), you may want to stick to the big names. But if you don’t have big-name cash and want to dig a little deeper into the hobby, here are a few years when Topps produced great-looking star cards: 1959, 1965, 1967, 1971, 1975-78, 1981, 1985.
And if you really want to cheat, Topps Archives is a way to get the big names for under $20. You won’t be buying the real thing, but Archives has been a great addition to the hobby, and an especially good way to get younger collectors into older sets.