Baseball cards have suffered a production glut since the 1980s. So, when you start to buy baseball cards, it’s a legitimate question to ask where to start. Whether you start by buying new cards or vintage cards, you may choose to collect the cards of your favorite players. But which should you collect?
When considering vintage cards — defined here as baseball cards produced before 1980 — you can go by price guides and auction results. You learn that early rookie cards are the most valuable. When considering modern cards — meaning cards produced after 1980 — rookie cards have given way to special, limited-edition inserts and autographed cards.
Which Sport to Collect
Among the most popular, you can buy baseball cards, basketball cards, football cards, hockey cards, or even cards from other sports such as auto racing. With some exceptions, the most popular collectible cards are baseball cards. If you have a preference for another sport, the same rules apply when choosing a player to collect, but the pay-off may be less, since fewer people collect those cards.
Baseball cards have the longest history, and they started the collecting craze. Certain players have crossover appeal. Regardless of your favorite sport, you’d probably love to have a Babe Ruth card. You could say the same for a Michael Jordan card, a Joe Namath card or a Wayne Gretsky card. And therein lies the answer to the question about which player to collect.
Start with Stars
Obviously, the players you want to collect, whether you buy baseball cards or cards from another sport, should be stars. The bigger, the better. The cards of those players will be the most in demand, meaning their value will likely increase. For vintage cards, the players are all retired, so you know who’s a star and who’s not. It’s riskier — but more exciting — to find young players to follow and collect. Picking a winning prospect isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding.
Budding stars in the modern era present some card-collecting obstacles. You can’t merely find their rookie cards. Those cards are still overproduced and readily collected, meaning they’re worth much less and not likely to increase that much in value, thanks to supply and demand. You can still find value in collecting rarer inserts and autographed cards. For example, the 2015 Topps Dynasty Kris Bryant RC Auto Patch is an autographed insert highly prized.
Don’t Overlook Appeal
Buy baseball cards of players who have that crossover appeal, which will increase their card value by generating greater demand. Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Michael Jordan, Joe Namath and Wayne Gretsky all appeal to fans of all sports. Meanwhile, there are dozens of players who enjoyed a great career who don’t generate the same level of appeal. Ernie Banks, for example, has more appeal than Luis Aparicio, even though both are in the Hall of Fame.
Looking at today’s players and tomorrow’s stars, can you guess who’ll have the most appeal? No one really knows if Mike Trout’s accomplishments on the field will translate to greater value for his collectible cards. Ken Griffey had magnetism. Reggie Jackson lived for the spotlight. We’d recommend buying the cards of those types of players. It’s not always just about their statistics.