I collect fully licensed baseball (MLB), basketball (NBA), and football (NFL) cards from all eras. I do not collect college sets, minor league sets, nor various food issues and odd-ball sets (as great as some of these releases are, many are not fully licensed by both the players association and league properties). I am definitely the type of collector who needs to see official team logos, although I make an exception for 1970s Topps football releases.
I am generally not interested in building complete sets, so I spend my time collecting cards that feature star players. I think of my collection as a museum, and want it to be representative of all the best players in the history of American professional team sports. As such, I’ve created statistical measures to base my collection on. More specifically, I collect players that have or that will (think of players like Kris Bryant) surpass the following statistical standards (all stats are from regular season game only):
At least 49.0 career Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (bWAR)
At least 82.0 career Basketball Reference Win Shares and/or Hall of Famer
Yes, the above statistical standards are somewhat arbitrary, but they do a good job of creating a list of the most prominent athletes in the history of American professional team sports. While these standards generate a large group of players for me to collect, they also create scope and exclusivity to my collection. It is actually quite fun for me to watch players’ careers to see if and when they meet the above standards. Results can sometimes be quite surprising. Its been hard for me to figure out where to draw the statistical cut-off lines, but at some point a decision had to be made. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of really good players that fall short of these statistical standards who are still dear to my heart.
I further consider card design, quality of photography, and relative scarcity when determining which cards to add to my collection. Card design in particular is something that I take very seriously (although this is obviously a subjective criterion). Furthermore, I prefer cards that were released during the same year that a given athlete was at or near his best. For example, generally speaking, I’d rather collect Pedro Martinez cards from 1999 and 2000 that feature him in a Red Sox uniform as opposed to 2006 releases that showcase Pedro as a New York Met. However, since I am trying to create a “museum” of sorts, I allow myself some flexibility here.
Additionally, I do not actively collect cards of players who were already retired when a given set was released. For example, I do not pursue Nolan Ryan cards that have been produced since 1995 (his 1994 cards, which really describe Ryan’s final season in 1993, are the last cards of his that I will generally consider adding to my collection). I think about the numerous number of Peyton Manning autograph cards that will be created over the next 50 years. Such cards just don’t seem to interest me as much as cards that were made during his playing days. With the over-saturation of short prints, relic cards, and autograph cards in the post-2000s sports card industry, only collecting cards that align with a given player’s active years seems like a good way to move forward for a non-player collector such as myself. That said, I do like that retired players can be found in a variety of modern sets. Cards that feature retired players (even though for the most part I do not wish to add them to my personal collection) are a great way for collectors to learn about sports history.
Finally, I rarely collect cards that feature multiple players. Only once-in-awhile do I see a multi-player card, and think that such a card would be a cool addition to my collection. All players bring something unique to the game and create a commensurately unique reaction within me. Most of the time when I see a multi-player card, my feelings get all twisted up. I do not think I am alone on this. For example, the 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. has always garnered more collector interest than his regular 1982 Topps rookie card that also features Bob Bonner and Jeff Schneider.
The Bottom Line
I collect fully licensed MLB, NBA, and NFL cards of star players that meet the above listed statistical standards. And although I will make exceptions from time to time, for the most part I only collect single-player cards that were produced during the pictured athlete’s playing days. My ultimate goal is to obtain at least five base or parallel cards from most major baseball, basketball, and football releases produced since World War II. I will likely fail miserably of reaching this goal, but will have fun trying. I have not acquired pre-World War II cards yet, but will.
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, I have a strong like for rare 1990s insert cards as well. I don’t really know what my goal is for these cards, other than to obtain and enjoy more of them.