I first became interested in collecting sports cards during the late 1980s. My older brother collected cards and liked sports, so it was only natural that I followed his lead. The first baseball card set from my childhood that truly sticks out is 1987 Topps – this set’s iconic wood-grain border left an indelible mark in my mind as a kid, and the feeling remains with me to this very day. I may have bought a few packs of 1987 Topps from the local grocery store, but I’m sure most of my memories from this set are from cards that my brother already had in his collection.
My brother collected football cards as well. I can remember going through his 1985 and 1987 Topps cards (why he didn’t seem to have very many 1986 Topps cards, I do not know). As the end of the decade approached, I bought various packs of late 1980s Topps football cards, desperately searching for those featuring Bears quarterback Jim McMahon.
I’m from a small town in northeast Iowa, so other than a few small card shows that I attended, I was pretty much at the mercy of local convenience stores as to which cards I had access to. There were no card shops around. Nonetheless, by 1989, I was fully engrossed with collecting baseball and football cards. I bought a ton of 1989 Topps baseball (and picked up Donruss and Score along the way as well). For whatever reason, boxes of Upper Deck and Fleer did not seem to be around. One day, I brought in a handful of 1989 Topps baseball cards to school for some type of 4th grade self-achievement project. I was a serious collector, even at age 10, and wanted others to know.
To this day, I am a die-hard KC Royals fan. And although I have never collected Royals cards in particular, in 1989 few players were as hot in the card-collecting world as was Bo Jackson. During a family trip to Kansas City in (I believe) 1989, I made my first big card purchase. I bought (or more accurately, my dad bought for me) from a card store a 1986 Topps Traded Bo Jackson for $12. If I remember correctly, I actually asked the man working at the shop for a “Bo Jackson rookie card,” expecting to get Bo’s 1987 Topps card. Needless to say, I was surprised when the shopkeeper instead handed me a 1986 Topps Traded card of the World’s Greatest Athlete. Until that moment, I never knew the card existed. That was a good day.
1990 Topps was the first complete set that I ever bought (or again, to be accurate, the first set that I persuaded my parents to buy). As you can see, I was a huge fan of Topps back in the day. I remember other anecdotes from this time period as well, such as paying my cousin a quarter for the 1990 Fleer George Brett Player of the Decade error card, or that my mom once remarked while I was ripping into 1990 Donruss that there was a singer named Kenny Rogers as well as the baseball player. I loved the colorful 1990 Score baseball set as a kid, and still love it today.
During this initial phase of my card collecting journey, I organized my cards by team. Many of the cards in my collection were warped by the summer humidity and general handling. I still used rubber bands from time to time when storing cards away. By the end of 1990, my collection had grown (with the help of my brother) to a few thousand baseball and football cards. Collecting was still pretty simple back in 1990 – there were a handful of base sets to go after, and a few simple inserts sets could be obtained for collectors seeking a change of pace. However, both my personal collection as well as the wider card collecting industry would soon be transformed.
Word of the Day
splenetic: marked by bad temper, malevolence, or spite; very angry and annoyed; splenetic political commentators; a splenetic rant