The nostalgia & comeback of collecting baseball cards

Thanks in large part to the pandemic, collecting baseball cards is making a comeback. Over the last two years, eBay reports a 142% and 175% increase in baseball card sales at over 2 billion dollars in gross revenue. The same can not be said for beanie babies; unfortunately for my wife.

“More than twice the amount of buyers came to our site in Q1 of 2022 than we had all of last year,” Nicole Colombo, eBay’s general manager of trading cards, told SC Daily in a recent interview.

So, I sat down with native Houstonian and avid Astros fan Craig Hlavaty at Black Hole Coffee House to discuss this renaissance, his love for the hobby, and to see what he thought of some cards I had kept since my childhood.

“I’m on eBay 24 hours a day looking at cards,” he admits, “but, I rarely buy them. I like trading. For me it feels more authentic and reminds me of why I got into it as a kid”.

Craig likely talking about his love for mullets.

Like most kids in the 80s in Houston, Craig grew up playing baseball and going to Astros’ games in the Astrodome. And he’s quick to show me one card in particular: a signed Ken Caminiti card.

“He’s my favorite Astro of all time. He was just so gritty and intense,” Craig tells me while holding the signed card, “but I used to collect nothing but catchers when I was kid… I was obsessed with Mike Piazza because I was a catcher and he also had a mullet like me.”

Quickly moving past the mullet remark, Craig goes on to describe how a new type of baseball card collector is driving the revival: during this year’s home run derby the auction price of Julio Rodriguez rookie cards on eBay quadrupled to over $200.

“I like to call them mini Gordon Gekkos,” Craig says, describing these typically younger investors looking to turn profit on cards. “They’re all like ‘the eBay suggested price is this and it’s worth this’… and i’m like ‘Dude, I just like the card’.”

Certainly more of a hobbyist than turn-a-profit-quick investor, Craig often gives away cards to his friend’s kids through the mail or surprises a random Redditor who wants to trade.

“Whenever I’m trading with people, I’ll ask them what they collect, who they’re fans of, and I’ll send them the card they wanted, but also a few extra of whatever they collect just for fun.”

Only a small portion of Craig’s baseball card collection.

For Craig, trading baseball cards is more about the history, the nostalgia, the interaction with another fan, and most importantly the thrill of completing a set. His current quest is collecting every Nolan Ryan Topps card.

“The only thing I’m missing is the ’68 and ’69,” he tells me, “I could buy it online, sure, but I want to find it organically.”

Craig scours the few remaining local shops around town and is constantly watching r/baseballcards on Reddit for anyone willing to trade for the once Astros great. And although the Astros hate online has not abated for their questionable 2017 “tactics” he sees deference when it comes to the team.

“It’s funny, they’ll say the Astros are cheaters, but when they trade any Astros cards they want maximum value back,” Craig says, “they still respect the players and our talent.”

As we leave the coffee shop, Craig stops me from leaving and hands me an Alex Bregman card; giving away something just because he loves the sport and the hobby.

“Just a little gift for the fun of it,” he says, hoping I’ll renew my interest in collecting.

Interested in learning more about trading baseball cards on Reddit? Check out the subreddit: r/baseballcards where you’ll find Craig posting or commenting occasionally.

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