Sorting It Out: Trading Card Organization written by Matt Gilman

Photo by Matt Gillman

In a world of stress and worries, I can say as a card collector, there is one thing about collecting that can help squash that stress and wash those worries away, it’s called sorting. Believe me, if you haven’t used sorting as a stress relief before, you should! Imagine sitting in a quiet area looking at sports cards, maybe even in-depth at the stats on the back or the minor details of the design, putting them into sections or piles and figuring out how you want these to be displayed afterward. Taking your time and enjoying every piece of cardboard along the way. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Sorting is something that we all need to do in this hobby and we all have our own ways of doing it. In my newest series, I will walk you through how I do my sorting and hopefully, it will give you some tips on how you may want to do yours.

I collect all sports and non-sports cards, so, we’ll be taking a glance at each of those types, starting today with baseball cards. Each sport and non-sport have their similarities with how I sort them, but let’s focus on the differences.

First up, baseball cards. Keep in mind you don’t have to sort your baseball cards as I do, but I am hoping today’s post may inspire some ideas in your mind of how you may want to approach your collection.

Sorting It Out: The Act of Sorting Baseball Cards

Before I will even begin a sorting project, I always make sure to have plenty of supplies from Bags Unlimited on hand. I don’t want to go into sorting without enough items to take care of the cards I’m prepared to sort out. I don’t think my wife would be very happy to come to a dining room table covered in cardboard.


So I always grab multiple 3” three D-ring binders and make sure that each has at least 50 9-pocket pages.

Next, I always make sure to have a few acrylic 15-card hinged holders. I will discuss what I do with these in a few paragraphs.


I also grab some acrylic 100-card hinged holders.

Of course, you got to have some  Toploaders on hand. I like these two different sizes. The regular Ultra Pro toploader size holds standard thickness cards while the ‘Super Thick’ Ultra Pro holds cards with up to a 180 pt thickness.

And you can’t use Top Loaders without “penny” sleeves or, Card Sleeves, as they are technically called. At least you shouldn’t go without them unless you like your cards with a scratched surface.


800 ct storage boxes are a must have, as well, in my sorting world. I like to have at least two empty and ready to fill.


Along with its 3200 ct storage counterpart. I try to have at least one of these per sport to make sure I have enough space for what I use them for. We will discuss it below.
Now that we’ve added all of the right pieces together, we have enough supplies to get started.

So, let’s get started!

After doing some trading, eBay buying, pack-busting or maybe finding a surprise in the mailbox, I always end up with many stacks of baseball cards. The picture above was from a recent smaller purchase but it’s better to take care of these two smaller stacks now than to be too far behind in sorting. It can be overwhelming to have too much to sort at once.

I can always come up with roughly sixteen piles from those original stacks of baseball cards. Here I show fourteen, though normally, I have a pile for the relics or Aaron Judge there was none in the main stack this time. Below I will use examples for both on how I put them away.
Across the top, starting at the left, you will find a pile for minor league/USA or oddball issues, a pile for Prizm or Topps Chrome refractors, doubles or as some call them dupes, baseball inserts, rookie cards, and autographs.
Second row: starting at the left, Derek Jeter cards (since I collect him), Ken Griffey Jr. cards, 90’s inserts, NY Yankees, Trade Pile, and non-sport cards that you will find in baseball cards.
Bottom row: star players and remaining cards. Other piles not added in here are the aforementioned relics pile and a pile I do for Aaron Judge cards. Soon, a Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar pile will be added when their 2019 cards are released.
A lot of these cards will be added to binders, but many others will have a variety of new homes.

First: Let’s take this 1994 Signature Rookies Tetrad autograph of Marlins Catcher Charles Johnson and put it away. I first slide the card into a penny sleeve and then slide that into the regular top loader since the card isn’t thick. I always make sure to use a toploader along with my penny sleeve so it protects the card more. The firm edges of the toploader border protect the card corners and also make sure it doesn’t bend when you put it into storage. Using just a penny sleeve could leave it susceptible to damage as it’s only a thin layer of plastic. Those are mainly meant to protect the surface of the card.

Here is the finished product next to a Bud Harrelson through-the-mail autograph that I will finish up after I am done with this article. (More on the different types of autographs in a previous article The Card Collectors Beginners Guide Part 5: Autographed Cards)

Up next are these relic or memorabilia cards. One is a 2016 Topps Allen and Ginter relic of Sportscaster Michelle Steele and the other is a 2018 Topps Pro Debut Fragments Of The Farm of minor-leaguer Ryan Vilade. I chose these two because both have different card thicknesses and I wanted to show you how I handle both.

Michelle Steele is made of thinner cardstock than Ryan Vilade as you can see. So what I like to do is use two different holders/cases for these cards.

First the Michelle Steele, I like to use the thicker toploader for. I don’t like to use the thin toploaders for even the thinner relic cards as I have the fear of jamming the card into the sleeve. I prefer just to let it slide in. I first put the card into a penny sleeve and then insert that into the toploader. Badaboom! Protected!

Next up, I know some of you would use a thicker toploader to put a thicker card into, but I don’t like to and here’s why. I don’t like inserting the card into the penny sleeve. Every time I have attempted to do so the card corners end up with a ding even with the thicker sized penny sleeves that are made.

So instead, and I have found this effective for over ten years, I take the 15 card count plastic hinged box, open it up and lay the card in, then close the cover. It’s that easy. I have never once had an issue with damaged cards using these and I can even say that after a few dropsies. Never one dinged or damaged card.

Here’s the final product. These crystal clear cases also make for great displaying if you have a display case to put them in.

I, on the other hand, don’t have a lot of room for displaying cards so what I do is use the 3200 count boxes and put the relics and autographs in them by sport, standing upright. It makes for easy access to grab the box out and search for hits. In 2019 I plan on putting all of my hits by a team in these boxes.

Now that we are done with the easy work, it’s time for the challenging part, ‘binder-ing’. Most of my cards go into binders.
Each of the following has their own respected binder.

Ken Griffey Jr.
My all-time favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr. There will never, ever be another Ken Griffey Jr. or a swing like the one he had. He is one of the greatest hitters ever and some forget about how great he played in the outfield. Just Google some of his highlight reels when you have time if you haven’t seen him play before. Be prepared to be amazed.

Derek Jeter
I have always been a Yankees fan, but baseball didn’t really interest me until the 1996 World Series and watching some guy named Derek Jeter. Above is his 1996 Pinnacle “rookie card” that needs to be put away in my Derek Jeter binder. I put rookie in quotes since his real rookie card season is 1993.

I recently acquired this Upper Deck Yankee Stadium Legacy card of Pope Paul VI and it tops off my pile of Yankees who I mentioned above were my favorite baseball team. When it comes to my Yankees cards, I break them down into mini piles as well. I used to just toss them into a binder, but now I put them all by player and oddballs like this Pope Paul.

Since I put them all by player, I once again turn to the above process of putting the cards in the right piles before placing them into the binder. Yes, I know Derek Jeter is a Yankee but he has his own special binder since he was a special player to me, as I stated above. The rest of the Yankees, however, get added to this binder.

This includes Aaron Judge for now. He may have his own binder someday.

I‘ve mentioned this before but I am a huge 90’s collector, especially when it comes to the inserts in the late ’90s; 1995-1999 are my main years of collecting them. I will occasionally dig back to 1994 but not very often. These inserts bring back my beginnings-nostalgia, they were some of the coolest cards on the market and many hold their value to this day. A lot of the cards from then, including base cards, I have started to chase down and began building sets of and I am always looking for help towards completing those.

I have a binder specifically for shiny cards. Anything that’s a refractor from Topps Chrome or Panini Prizm, it goes right in this binder unless it’s a Yankee or specified star player that I put in a different pile. A lot of collectors, without me explaining why will understand why I collect the shiny stuff all in one binder.

Baseball inserts are all tossed into the same binder unless they are Yankees, star players or cards valued roughly at $20 or more. I do something a bit different with these. In 2019, I plan on working differently with baseball inserts and will start to sort them by team, finally after 20 years of placing them into binders this way. I need to be even more organized than I already am so it makes my searching much easier.

The baseball rookie pile also goes into binders unless the rookie card is valued at $20 or is unique. The rookie pile I sorted above gets broken down into team piles. I used to just toss all of my baseball rookies into a binder like the baseball inserts, but, when I went to look for a specific rookie card I couldn’t ever find it because they were everywhere. So in 2018, I reworked my baseball rookies and sorted them all by team.
And that does it for my binders. There are many different binders in use to sort my cards as you see, but I may expand upon this in 2019 if I continue to get myself even more organized.

I put the more valuable inserts and unique rookie cards in toploaders and penny sleeves like this Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell above. These are pretty rare oddballs that I haven’t ever seen.

Onto Trading Card Storage Boxes

Now we get into the next part of my sorting and the final few piles on the sort mat. Star Players, Minor League/USA or oddball issues, duplicate pile and trade pile.

Before I begin, I always make sure I have index cards on hand. These I cut to fit the slots in the 3200 count boxes that go upright. It usually measures out to be ¾ of the size of a full index card. However Bags Unlimited does have a full line of trading card box dividers and spacers that work very well.

Notice how the card fits nicely, slightly under the index card top. That is where I write the players name or team name and index them. Before I can do that, I must sort them all into piles first such as team.

I then start with a team in the back for each row,

Then place the index card in front of each team row and put the next team in front of it such as I did here. Of course with having collected since the mid-’90s, I have multiples of these boxes now with some of the teams filling up a row and more. That’s when the indexing becomes even more important.

Now I sort the players by player and get them ready to be placed into the box just like the team ones.

I start with the players with one in each row

Then add an index named card to each before adding the next player in the front.

The next two parts of my sorting project goes in the 800 count boxes. I only need two of these boxes for this.

The minor league cards go into one of the boxes, not sorted in any fashion; just tossed in there. Not sure if I will improve that method down the road or not.

My trade pile is also placed in the 800 count boxes. I turn the index cards sideways and label in front of each section of cards for who I am sending them to. This makes it so I won’t have to look all over the house for my trade bait for my usual trading buddies.

The final thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is I take the 100 count plastic hinged boxes and use those to store smaller sets in or sets that are a tad more valuable. I didn’t have any set examples in this stack but most sets today are made up of 100 cards or less. I find these to be more efficient to use because they don’t take up as much space one of the white boxes do and they stack nicely on a bookshelf.

I didn’t forget to mention my duplicates. I just stack those in a box to donate, trade with friends, send as gifts or hand out to kids at my yard sales in the summer. Either way, I find a good home for them!

That does it today for my baseball card sorting. I hope there was something above that will give you an idea on how you may want to sort your collection or maybe spark an interesting idea for yourself. Up next I will be breaking down on how I sort my basketball cards. They are not quite as in-depth or complicated as my baseball ones but there is still a lot of steps in the process as there will be with any of the sport or non-sport cards I sort.

Til next time, keep on collecting!

Matt G