Return of the Base Card!

by Joey Shiver

If you were a kid in the 1980’s like me, you know how much the world has changed over the last 30 years.  We used to play video games on an Atari 2600 and we were totally blown away by the clunky square pixels that moved like robots.  Now, we have next generation consoles that make you question whether you are playing a game or watching actual television.  We used to be able to make phone calls from the phone in our kitchen and only travel as far as the cord would allow.  Now, we have phones on us 24/7 and don’t even make many calls anymore.  My granddaddy had a car when I was little that I am certain I couldn’t parallel park to this day.  Now, we have cars that do it for us!

Sports Cards are really no different when it comes to change and innovation.  When I started collecting, you hoped to pull the hot Rated Rookie but you were equally as excited to pull a base card of Nolan Ryan or Jose Canseco.  Inserts were rare and usually consisted of All-Stars or Diamond Kings.  I remember putting a 1989 Topps Gregg Jefferies Future Star in a toploader and then putting it in my sock drawer to make sure it never got touched.  Excitement came with the names on the cards and the potential of the rookies back then.

Randy Johnson Rookie Card in Top Loader 16 gauge crystal-clear rigid vinyl

Along the way to 2017, card companies changed and introduced so many more interesting pieces to the sports card collector.  It started in 1990 with Upper Deck.  After exploding on to the scene with one of the more famous base rookie cards, the ’89 Ken Griffey Jr., they inserted autographed cards of Reggie Jackson in their High Series packs.  There were only 2,500 of those made and are considered a shorter print than a 1:10 by todays standards.  Whether you were one of the lucky 2,500 people or not, there was a new layer of excitement when opening cards.  We had an autograph hunt!  Donruss expanded the chase in 1991 with a serial numbered card (non-autograph), called The Elite Series.  There were 8 subjects with serial numbers of 10,000 and then 2 other players serial numbered to 12,500, total.  In 2017, a number like 92,500 would be meaningless.  However, based on calculated print runs, there are estimates that they can be found in only 1 in 75-80 boxes.  I only ever saw one pulled….EVER!

Today, you never know what you may find in a pack.  There are autos, relics, patches, printing plates, artist sketches, cracked ice versions and 1:1 versions just to name a few.  The relics and patches are growing as well.  They have extended to all sports and entertainment and could be a piece of a baseball, football leather, jersey swatch, NASCAR tire, zombie shirt or even a kiss from a WWE Diva.  The growing number of inserts and special cards has taken a large focus away from the base card for the modern collector.  Many collectors throw the base cards in a storage box and put them in the closet.  Because I come from a different era, this hasn’t effected me as much but I do have friends who could care less if they pull a Mike Trout base card out of 2017 Topps Archives.

Well I’m here to tell you that the base card is starting to make a comeback.  It has been noticed over the last year or so that base rookie cards are beginning to hold serious value again in the hobby.  Back in the 80’s, we looked to the ’85 Topps Mark McGwire, ’86 Donruss Jose Canseco and ’89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. as the “must haves” in collecting.  Now, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the rarity of printing plates, multi-colored patches and numbered autos.  While that is still fun, I miss the days of pulling a rookie base card and having some potential value in my hand.  We are a long way from where we were in 1989 but just look at a few of the recent sales of non-autographed rookie cards.  If you are like me, a set builder or an old school card collector, it’s a pretty exciting sight!

The following cards are all recent eBay sales and are ungraded and non-autos:







2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James RC – The most recent sale was $305 on 7/23/17.  In fairness, this is a variation but it is still a large sale for an unsigned card.








2008 Topps Update Clayton Kershaw RC – This card sold on July 23, 2017 for $97!







2009-10 Topps Stephen Curry RC – A sale on July 24, 2017 totaled $98.63.







2010 Bowman Chrome USA Bryce Harper RC – A nice $50 sale was recorded on 7/23/17.







2011 Topps Update Mike Trout – This card sold on July 23, 2017 for $149.27.  How many Topps Update sets have we bought over the years that don’t have this type of value??







2012 Topps Chrome Bryce Harper – Harper’s second card on this list comes in with a $57 sale on 7/23/17.








2013 Bowman Draft Aaron Judge Chrome – The current darling of the hobby is no exception.  This first issue Bowman card sold for $155 on 7/24/17.








2017 Panini Optic Prizm Aaron Judge – Current issue cards are on the list too!  This Judge sold for $29 on 7/24/17.  While that may sound like pocket change to some, remember, we are talking about a base prizm card!

This may be a blip on the radar to some, but to me it’s a trend.  I see enough activity here to give me hope that the base card is coming back around.  Will the ’86 Canseco or ’89 Griffey ever get back to their high values?  Probably not.  But when you open cards, all you want is a chance at something big that isn’t a tremendous rarity!  And it seems those days are coming back around and the cards don’t have to include autographs or lipstick kisses.