Time for another Throwback Thursday post! We decided to rewind back 25 years to take a quick look at how the hobby has changed more specifically over the last quarter of a century. Baseball cards and sportscards overall were climbing rapidly to their peak in 1991. At the time Beckett was the most popular magazine and we feel a July 1990 issue would be the best of all places to take a good look at that time period.
The cover featured a 21 year old Ken Griffey Jr of the Seattle Mariners. He was in the middle of his first all-star season in 1990 and had become one of the hottest players to collect in the hobby. His 1989 Upper Deck rookie cards, which are classics now, were just starting to get hotter, moving up to $18 each in this issue. The back cover featured Frank Viola during his superb all-star season where he won 20 games and finished 3rd in the Cy Young. He was behind 1990 Cy Young NL Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez. Some think Frank should have taken that award noting the highest WAR among the three by a significant amount.
The issue begins as they always did at the time, with a commentary on the time from Dr James Beckett called the "Owner's Box". Being based in Texas, clearly they are very excited for the 1990 NSCC and the All-star game being in Arlington, Texas. Their are prizes being awarded for detailed information on pre-1973 baseball card sets!
In 1990 there were dozens of healthy manufacturers in the hobby. The hobby was still on the upswing approaching the 1991 peak in popularity. You could find cards anywhere at that time from Supermarkets to Bowling alleys. Hobby stores were opening at a fast rate in nearly every town in the United States it felt like. Classic trading cards were big and Collect-A-Books were taking off. New types of sets seemed to be coming out every single month.
The hotlist at the time was headed by Bo Jackson. He was already a huge star at this point but in 1990 he seemed to continue to dazzle in the first half of that season. On July 11th he had his famous running up the wall catch. Even more dazzling is that he hit a homerun in 3 straight at bats against the New York Yankees, driving in 7 runs. He went on the DL after that dislocating his shoulder on a ball ironically hit by Deion Sanders (the other multi-sport star of the time). He then managed to hit a homerun in his first at-bat off the DL later in the season off Randy Johnson to tie the major league record of 4 straight at-bats with a homerun. Bo Jackson rookie cards are still very popular to this day.
Ken Griffey Jr was right behind Bo and of course would go on to pass him and all other players as the "Hottest of the 1990s" overall. From here as a Mariner, Ken was the best selling overall player in the decade. When you were opening packs and hit a Griffey, you knew you hit something good...it was that simple for many years. If you had piled up on his Upper Deck rookie cards back then, you would have done nicely now. His more challenging cards should do very well as he gets elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, his first year on the ballot.
The most notable jumps back then as we remember it, was Cecil Fielder coming in at #17 with his breakout 1990 season featuring 51 moonshot homers. 1990 Score moving up to #12 with some notable error cards being chased coupled with a decent design for the times. 1990 Upper Deck had moved up to #24. Some collectors may or may not remember, in those days Topps was actually lagging for being too traditional with their cards. Stadium Club would come along soon to remedy that, but 1990 Topps is still a design many loathe to see.
Many collectors always want to know... what about the vintage cards? For this post we will mention post-war cards briefly from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. The prices of the vintage cards depends on the year. Overall, we would say many keys cards have done really well, especially in higher grades. High grade cards of all years have done very well through the mid-1960s. For the late 1960s and 1970s the keys and ultra high grade cards have treated collectors well, but overall these have dropped or gone sideways from those days.
Beckett in those days started with 1948 Bowman, but many would be most interested in the 1952 Topps page for fun. An iconic card, the 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle books at $7,000 in Near Mint condition in the July 1990 issue. Safe to say with a recent PSA 7 Near Mint card nearly passing $100,000, you would have done really well buying as many of those as you could have found in any condition. The prices of mid-to-late 1970s cards did not hold up as well overall, we suspect because the hobby is smaller and more of those survived in great condition. There are exceptions in the key cards such as 1976 Topps Dennis Eckersley rookie cards (book up to $10) or 1977 Topps Bruce Sutter rookie cards (book up to $2.50). Players like that were not appreciated fully in 1990. Eckersley's rookie in PSA 10 has sold for over $11,000 in recent years and Sutter's rookie passes $1,000 regularly as well. Amazing prices if you had chosen your cards carefully.
Lastly a couple of pages to illustrate the popularity of the hobby in 1990. At that time in our area (New England) we had shows daily during some weeks and on weekends had dozens and dozens to choose from. Shows were a big deal and the promoters did amazing things with the size of the hobby at that time. We think many collectors would get a kick out of seeing things like this today, so we took a couple of favorites...
Great example of the popularity of shows: One promoter in 3 states, for 3 days!
Another great point on shows: note the hours?! 12 hours of treasure hunting!
We hope you enjoyed this brief look at the hobby a quarter of a century ago! Things were certainly really different in 1990! It's always fun to see how the hobby has evolved and hear great stories of its history! If you have stories of sportscards like this, feel free to share them with us!
If you ever need help with your sportscards collection, feel free to contact us. We would also welcome some comments below if you have any other questions or thoughts on this post. For more general information on sportscards and collectibles, like us on facebook, follow us on twitter, instagram, or pinterest!