Has the Collecting Community Prematurely Written-off Steroid Users? 

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I am a huge fan of 1990s baseball cards.  As I have expressed elsewhere on this site, the innovation and relative scarcity associated with many 1990s insert sets keeps me coming back to this era time and time again.   Unfortunately for the card collecting industry (and baseball more generally), the 1990s are also known for being smack-dab in the middle of the Steroid Era.  The list of 1990s star players associated with performance enhancing drugs is quite extensive: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and so on.  Generally speaking, the monetary value of cards featuring such players has diminished over time as the collecting community made clear its disdain for steroids.  But will things stay this way?  Is there a chance that card values will bounce back? 

I wish that Major League Baseball had instituted drug-testing long before actually doing so.  While it will always be impossible to identify every individual who uses performance enhancers, the general consensus is that baseball is much cleaner now than it was during the prior couple of decades.  This is a good thing.  At the same time, however, I believe that it is wrong to simply dismiss the careers of players who have taken performance enhancing drugs.  The steroids debate is a complicated one, a debate that I am not looking to discuss here today.  But I will say that over the past few years, I detect less vitriol being directed towards the performance enhancers of the 1990s.  Looking into the future, as the baseball viewing public ages and is replaced with newer generations of fans, fewer and fewer people will feel a direct (i.e. emotional) connection towards the Steroids Era.  Just like collectors of today who pursue cards of a known racist by the name of Ty Cobb, it is possible that collectors 50 years from now will be clamoring for rare cards of Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod.  I’ll be the first to admit that the Cobb comparison is imperfect – steroid use directly affects on-field performance while bigotry does not – but my general line of reasoning still holds.  Just as few present-day collectors have an emotional connection to Ty Cobb (or many other great baseball players of the past who were less than angels), future collectors will not have an emotional connection to known and suspected steroid users from around the turn of the century.  Career assessments will become more empirical in nature, and as such, an appreciation for the talent of known steroid users may begin to reemerge.  To be clear, I’m not saying that such a scenario will happen, only that it could happen.  I would not be surprised at all. 

All of this makes me wonder if now would be a good time to obtain cards of known steroid users.  I have no qualms about including steroid users in my collection.  I see my collection as a museum of sorts, representing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the various sports that I enjoy.  For the reasons outlined in the preceding paragraph, it is my guess that future generations will appreciate the “good” of the Steroids Era a little bit more than we currently do.  History has shown us that time often heals wounds.  In fact, there already seems to be some momentum for the likes of Clemens and Bonds to enter the Hall of Fame.  Collectors may want to take note of this development, because cards that are relatively cheap and available today may not be so in the future.  The card hobby, baseball, and the world will look quite different half a century from now.  I plan to still be collecting then.  My guess is that the octogenarian me would appreciate it if I took some time now and put some rare Bonds, Clemens, etc. cards away for safe keeping.  Not because I hope to make financial profit (cards that I add to my collection will be passed on to my children), but because 1990s cards are great, and many steroid users were likewise great players.  If collectors of the future figure this out, prices will rise.  We’ve all seen high prices associated with rare Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., and Cal Ripken Jr. cards from the 1990s.  What if card prices for A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, and others of their ilk follow suit someday?  That is a party that I don’t want to be late to.  What do you think?

Word of the Day

tripe – something poor, worthless, or offensive; that’s just a load of tripe; it’s shocking that an esteemed newspaper like this one would publish such tripe


  1. For me I collect to document the history of the sport and that includes good and bad. A couple years ago NASCAR driver Kurt Busch was falsely accused of domestic violence and in the less than a week’s time before he was cleared I was able to add two rarer relic cards to my collection at reduced cost. I know the baseball situation is different but the principal is similar.


  2. Thanks for your comment. While I am not too familiar with NASCAR, your anecdote is thought-provoking. One of the reasons why I like to collect a variety of players (in addition to documenting history), is that diversifying players helps maintain value in my collection. If I only collected one player for example, I’d always be worried that a single bad decision by that player (be it steroid use, domestic issues, etc.) would drop the value of my collection overnight. Generally speaking, it is wise strategy to have a diversified financial portfolio. I base my collection off this strategy as well.


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