Getting Back Into It: Rediscovering Baseball Cards in 2019

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

A couple months ago, I got a Facebook advertisement for a group that does “breaks” for baseball cards. Basically, you buy into a piece of a case of boxes of cards, and you receive any cards from the particular team you bought for the break. It was an interesting concept, so I thought I’d check it out.

They were also running a special promotion that anybody who signed up for the group would be eligible to win a hobby box of the 2019 Topps Chrome release. I don’t usually win things, but I thought — what the heck? And then I won. And now, I’ve gotten back into the baseball card game big time.

It’s completely different from the last time I really collected, so I thought I would share a little bit of the information that I have gleaned if you, too, would like to get back into collecting.

Base Sets

A base set is exactly what it sounds like: the basic set of cards from a particular collection. The majority of what you are going to find in just about any pack, box or case is going to be the base set. Generally speaking, in terms of value, these will be the cards that have the least value simply because they are going to be so common.

Parallel Sets

One of the interesting changes in the baseball card world is the abundance of parallel sets and special inserts.

A parallel set is the same card, but printed with a different sheen or border. For example, I won a drawing for a 2019 Topps Chrome Hobby Box earlier in the summer, which is what reignited my interest in the hobby. As I opened the packs, I noticed that there were some cards that looked different than the others. This is called a parallel set.

Now, there are different types of parallel sets, and some are more rare than others. For example:

Author’s photo, Rhys Hoskins 2019 Topps Chrome — Refractor

As you see, there is “shimmer” on this particular card that the base card in the set does not have. This is called a “refractor”. Now, there are different types of refractor cards available — some are common, some are rare. I also opened a “green wave refractor”, which has a green shimmer to it.

Author’s photo, Tommy Pham, 2019 Topps Chrome — Green Wave Refractor

Same idea as the regular refractor, but a different color. Here’s where it gets really fun (and a little crazy): there are 18 different types of refractors! Some people attempt to collect the “full rainbow”, which means that are hunting for every color variation that is available for that card. And, since each base card has all these different colors, that’s a lot of cards!

To make things even more interesting, some of these are limited print runs. Here is the back of the same Tommy Pham card that I own.

Author’s photo, Tommy Pham, 2019 Topps Chrome — Green Wave Refractor, back

Notice in the bottom right corner where it says “53/99”. This is not a simple math problem. It means that there are only 99 copies of this particular card in circulation. It is a pretty rare card, but not the rarest that one can find when it comes to refractors. In fact, the “SuperRefractor” is a one of a kind find. Only one gets printed. There’s also a Red with only 5 prints, Orange with 25 and a Gold with 50. Certainly those are the ones that people who are real serious about collecting are looking for!

Variations

You would be tempted to think that a variation card is simply another parallel, and to that I would say, “Yes… and no.”

Variations are similar to parallels in that they have the same card number; however they differ because they have a different picture on the front of the card. Here’s an example from 2019 Panini Diamond Kings.

Author’s photo, 2019 Panini Diamond Kings, Ty Cobb and Ty Cobb variant

Notice how both are #26 in the base set, but there are different poses, and the variant has a silver frame on the back of the card instead of the normal brown.

Not every card is going to have a variation, which does make them a little more valuable than the regular base cards themselves.

Special Inserts

As if the variety of cards available via parallels and potential variations isn’t overwhelming enough, there are also special inserts to find.

Some highlight new players such as the 2019 Topps Chrome Freshman Flash or Future Stars. Other harken back to older designs, like the 1984 subset. Oh, and don’t forget, there are refractors for all of these as well.

2019 Topps Chrome Freshman Flash insert sets: Freshman Flash, Future Stars, 1984 Topps

And then there are the autograph and relic cards…

Autograph Cards

An autograph card is exactly what it sounds like: a card with an autograph on it. Now, there are two types of autograph cards. There is the type where the player signs a bunch of labels, and those labels are affixed to the card. And there is the “on card” autograph, where the player signs the card directly. Most collectors would prefer the on-card autograph because it is the one that will probably have a higher value in the long term, but both can be valuable.

Now is where we start getting into the potentially high dollar cards — if you get the right ones. And here’s what I mean by that: there are autograph and relic cards of players that few people care about unless they are a fan of that particular player or team. There are autograph cards of players that won’t pan out in the long term, who will be forgotten (in a baseball-consciousness sense, don’t worry, their lives are still infinitely valuable), and who will never have any significant time in the Majors.

You are going to have to play the long game on many of these, unless they separate themselves from the pack right away as an elite player.

Here are two cards that I received from my 2019 Topps Chrome Hobby Box:

2019 Topps Chrome, Cionel Perez rookie autograph, purple refractor & Aramis Garcia rookie autograph

The truth of the matter is I don’t know if either of these players will pan out in the long term.

Garcia plays the same position as All Star Buster Posey, so he is not getting a lot of playing time, but it’s possible that he is Posey’s heir behind the plate if Posey were to retire or move to first base sometime in the near future. If he does get a chance, he’ll have to hit better than his .133 batting average has shown so far.

Perez has made a few relief appearances this year, and is sitting at 1–1 with a 10.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched. That doesn’t seem to bode well for his long-term prospects. However, in 2018, Perez was 7–1 with a 2.08 ERA in AA and AAA; so, there is some hope for his future prospects if he can figure things out.

Also, what do you notice about the Perez card? It’s a purple refractor card. This one is numbered to 250, so it’s not quite as rare as the Tommy Pham card above, but still not a card that is going to be super common either. If Perez plays well, there could be some value in that card down the road.

Relic Cards

A relic card is a card that includes some sort of memorabilia in it. Most of the time, it is a square from the player’s jersey. Occasionally, you will also see bat fragments or pieces of a glove. There are all kinds of variations on the relic cards based on the size of the “patch” (the material that is included in the card) or if there is more than one color of the jersey showing through.

Author’s photo, 2019 Panini Diamond Kings Juan Soto dual patch jersey

This card is a “dual patch”, which simply means that there are two patches of jersey included in the card. This is another area where if you hit a big name player, the card could be very valuable down the road. There are also relic cards that are autographed. I would imagine the value on those is probably among the highest in the hobby. I’ve never gotten ahold of one of those, so I can’t give you an example, but just imagine that card above with a signature on it. You get the idea.

Conclusion

As you can see, if you are (like me) thinking about getting back into the baseball card collecting game, it is a whole lot different than it was back in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s also a lot of fun. There’s a thrill in getting a new pack or box to open up and see what treasures await.

Now, I will also say that not everybody is in it for the fun of collecting. There are some people out there who are just trying to make a quick buck and have no problem trying to scam somebody else. I’ll say more about that in a future post.

So, friends, what are you waiting for? Go visit your local card shop, and happy hunting!

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Matt Swisher

Matt Swisher

Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.