Using Hank Greenberg as an Example of the Problem with eBay

I buy a lot of product off eBay, It is hands down the easiest way to buy baseball cards. But you must watch what you are doing or you will be paying way too much for your cards. The easiest way for this to happen, as most of you probably already know, is to not include the shipping cost in the price you will pay for an item. That ’92 Donruss Factory set looks like a steal at $2.00 but when you see $75.00 shipping, are you really getting a bargain?

Another way is to not do your research. You impulse buy and regret it later when you see the card you purchased for $50.00 posted in the same grade a week later for $25.00. Every card or cards you look at should always include a look at previously sold listing for that card/cards. Also it is good to look elsewhere (the grading sites such as PSA/SMR) for the latest pricing on cards sold in the grade you’re buying at. Even a look through a Beckett magazine can give you an idea of a ballpark figure for the card.

But don’t let this discourage you from buying a card that looks, for all intents and purposes, overpriced, if you really want the card. In this case the research will have given you the info you needed and if you buy anyways, you won’t feel bad afterwards because you knew what you were doing.

Here is an example of what I mean:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

This is a Hank Greenberg Rookie Card from the famous 1934 Goudey set. How much would you pay for this card? Its ranked GOOD by SGC (a 30) and is equivalent to a 2 rating from PSA. The card shows up on eBay frequently in different grades and without grading, but this is the first time in a long long time that a SGC 30/PSA 2 has been on eBay. Those that are looking for a lower priced Greenberg rookie would definitely be interested in this card.

So how much would you pay? Without any research, my first guess would be $150.00. That would be what I would be willing to pay for it. That’s my ceiling. A $100.00 price tag would move the range more within my comfort zone (over $100.00 for a card is a bit much for my budget). The listing for this card on eBay was a Buy It Now price of $259.00.

My guess, before research pegs this as overpriced. This is a dealer who is testing the waters with a high price just in case he can find some bites at that price. If no one buys, he may after a few months lower his price. But let’s see what the research tells us.

Looking in the latest Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards the listing shows a price of $275.00 for a VG grade of the card. Meaning a G grade would be around $100.00 to $125.00 as I guessed. Looking at PSA/SMR pricing a graded VG has been sold for an avg. of $150.00 and an PSA 2 grade $100.00. Looking at past sales of the card on ebay:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

This SGC 20/PSA 1.5 F sold for $117.50 on eBay recently

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

This PSA 3 VG sold for $281.03 recently as well.

So logic dictates that if a Fair card sells for $117.50 and a VG card sells for $281.03, then a SGC 30/PSA 2 should be in the $150.00 range, not $259.00. The seller is trying to get a high price for this card. Although when it comes down to it a person can sell a card for whatever he wishes, and these sellers who consistently price their cards high can do so, calling it “testing the market” rather than “suckering an idiot or novice collector,” it doesn’t mean we need to buy their cards. There is no needed behavior to drive prices for cards upward as sellers will do this on their own, but there is a behavior that’s needed to get sellers to be reasonable with their pricing, that is, refuse to buy their cards at the prices they’re asking for them.

If I didn’t do my research, my gut saved me in this situation. It doesn’t always do that. I learned to be disciplined before buying cards because it has saved me hundreds of dollars. Even if you are rich enough to forgo a budget, do you really want to one of those guys who sellers look on as a great “mark”? Wasting money is stupid in all economic groups. So, I will pass on this card even though it is one of the cards I have been looking for to add to my Hall of Fame collection that I have been adding to lately. Let’s hope others do the same.

The Rookie Card, Obliterated

At some point after World War II, The rookie card became important in baseball card collecting. It no longer is so. It’s hey day (1948 to 1993) is long gone and collectors no longer find this designation as anything important. This may be a bold assertion, and many may disagree, but read on and you can voice your opinion below.

The main reason why the rookie card had such an important role in the history of baseball card collecting was because it became synonymous with a player’s first major league card. Let me explain…

To put it another way, it wasn’t that a card was a player’s rookie card that made it most desirable, but it was because it was the player’s first major league card. There is a difference. But because, for the most part, a player’s first major league card was his rookie card, the two terms became practically synonymous.

If we realize that it’s the player’s first card, not his rookie card, which is the most desired by a majority of collectors, then we can see that all the fuss over the last decade on what defines a rookie card, is all just smoke and mirrors and mostly unimportant to the experienced collector. It may be something a new, or novice collector might like as it would be easier for him to identify a player’s important cards, but for the experienced collector it matters little as he knows it’s the player’s earliest major league card which is most important.

We must also factor in scarcity when we speak of first cards, if the card was mass produced like cards back in the 80s, then alternatives will be looked for. If they are so rare that no one looks for or sometimes even knows about them, then collectors will pass them over as the most desired of the first cards.

Lets look at some examples that show my point.

The most famous first card/rookie card difference was concerning Mickey Mantle. Mantle’s rookie card comes in the 1951 Bowman set. It is quite a desirable card selling in the $4000.00 range in VG condition. But it is not Mantle’s most desirable card. That belongs to Topps 1952 card which sells in the $20.000 range in VG condition. Here is an example where a rookie card is less wanted than a first card. Topps has become the most desired brand name over the post war years and when Bowman was beat out by Topps in the cardboard wars of the 50s, the Mantle Topps card was seen to be a better card than the Bowman issue.

Mickey Mantle Cards

Mickey Mantle Cards

If we move forward to the 80s a few more examples come to mind…

There are cards from the 80s that easily spring to mind that shows that first cards are more important than rookie cards. And here is where the definition between what is or is not a rookie card first started.

The first card pertains to Darryl Strawberry and his 1983 Topps Traded #108T vs. his regular issues from the next year (Topps #182, Fleer #599, Donruss #68). Most argue that a true rookie card of a player is the player’s card which is first issued by a major baseball card manufacturer in a regular nationwide set. If you agree, as Beckett and others did at the time, it would mean that Strawberry’s Topps Traded card is not his rookie card since the traded set was not issued as a regular set but distributed to hobby dealers in limited areas. But as a experienced collector, we all know that if we chose to buy a Darryl Strawberry card it would be the Traded version we would be looking for. If you compare pricing the Traded card sells for around $100.00 (PSA 10) and the regular issues sell in the $20.00 to $60.00 (PSA 10) which further proves the point that it is the first card not the rookie card which is most important to collectors.

Darryl Strawberry Cards

Darryl Strawberry Cards

Other important examples include: Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett’s 1984 Fleer Update cards and Barry Bond’s 1986 Topps Traded card.

Extended and Update XRC cards

Extended and Update XRC cards

The second card pertains to Mark McGwire and his 1985 Topps #401 Team USA card vs. his 1987 cards from Topps and Donruss (Topps #366. Donruss #46). Fleer missed McGwire in their regular set issuing their first card of his in their Update set later in the year. Since McGwire never entered major league baseball until 1987, some argued that his Team USA card from two years earlier was not his true rookie card. Others disagreed since the Team USA set was part of Topps regular issue and not an insert. To experienced collectors the issue was pointless as the Team USA card would always be the more desired card because it was McGwire’s first card. If we look at pricing for the cards we draw the same conclusion ($500.00 compared to 20.00 in PSA 10).

Mark McGwire Cards

Mark McGwire Cards

Before we move forward I must also note that if I was to be perfectly precise the most sought after and desirable cards from this era of baseball are the Topps Tiffany cards (and to a lesser degree Fleer Glossy). Many experienced collectors forego the regular sets of cards from 1984 to 1991 (with some individual exceptions) to avoid buying cards that were produced in the millions. They believe the cards in the Tiffany sets are the cards that are most collectible from the era. A Tiffany card sells for much more than its regular set counterpart. For example the Team USA McGwire card in the Tiffany parallel sells for 2500.00 rather than 500.00 in PSA 10 condition. The regular sets would technically hold the rookie cards as the Tiffany cards are a parallel but again this rookie card designation is unimportant to the experienced collector.

If we move up to the 2000s there are two more cards that can be looked upon. They can be found in the 2006 Bowman Chrome release, that is, 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Evan Longoria #66 Autograph, and 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Clayton Kershaw #84 Autograph. Both are examples of cards that are more desirable that the player’s true rookie cards which didn’t come out until 2008.

2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks

2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks

Lastly, as there are exceptions to everything, there is one card that balks the rookie/first card comparison. That would be the cards of Barry Larkin. Larkin’s first issued major league card was Sportflic’s 1986 Rookies #34. At first this was argued to be his rookie card, but as time passed and Sportflics cards were looked on as a novelty item rather than a regular issued set (3D multiple image plastic cards did not catch on with collectors) Larkin’s 1987 regular issues from Topps, Fleer, and Donruss became his official rookie cards. Larkin’s Sportsflics card, now considered his first card, sells for less than his 1987 cards.

Barry Larkin Cards

Barry Larkin Cards

There are probably more examples that readers can come up with on both sides of this argument but it is not too much of a stretch to say that in truth experienced collectors prefer a player’s first card over a player’s official rookie card, when the two cards are not one in the same.

2006 and Jeff Francoeur

2002 Bowman Chrome #23 PSA 10

2002 Bowman Chrome #23 PSA 10

After leaving the hobby in 1994, because of stupid investors and speculators and greedy sellers, I moved on to book collecting as my main hobby. I wanted a nice library of all the books I read over the years. But for a period of 2 years (2006-2007), I happened to become better acquainted with my nephew who was 13 at the time and we decided it would be a fun hobby we could do together (that is collect baseball cards). He fell out of it after about a year and I continued on for awhile but then returned back to the continuation of my book library.

But during that time you might remember a player who was a shoe-in for greatness. His cards were crazy hot. He came up with Atlanta and promptly hit .300 and popped 14 HRs in 250 AB. The man was a press and hobby darling. His next two years re-enforced the idea that he was going to be a superstar, (.260 29 103 and .293 19 103). Only Felix Hernandez was giving Jeff Francoeur any run for a monopoly of hobby love during this period of time. But then the excrement hit the electric wind maker and Jeff’s production tanked. He didn’t reach 20 HRs again until 2011 while with Kansas City and he never drove in 100 runs again. Seven teams and 10 years later the man is still around (playing in Philadelphia) and he is only 31 years of age.

2009 Topps Heritage #37

2009 Topps Heritage #37

Francoeur is the perfect example of how sometimes when a player is brought up to the majors at a very young age (19-21) they slump, become prone to injuries and generally suffer over the length of their career. Some young players rise to the challenge stay mostly injury-free and play long enough to enter the Hall, but many like Francoeur, have negative effects after a few years.

Avoid the hype of young players and be patient before you start dishing out 20 dollar bills for rookie and limited insert cards. Let those young phenoms prove their worth and your wallet will thank you later on.