I have a confession. I have several thousand baseball cards sitting in my closet. What are they doing there, you ask? Nothing. They are sitting there gathering dust, waiting for me to pull them out again and relive my childhood.
I started collecting baseball cards in 1987, and I finished the summer after high school graduation in the late 90’s. In ten plus years of collecting, I amassed a very large quantity of baseball cards. Now the cards just take up space. But I don’t want to sell them.
During my high school years my best friend and I often drove to Houston Astros games where we would get player autographs. Sometimes we would get there before the players arrived and wait at the player parking lot. We would get a few autographs, then we would wait outside until the gates opened. As soon as the gates opened we raced down to the dugout to stake out the best spot. There we would get more autographs. On occasion, we even waited for the players after the game. It made for a long day, but we were young and it was great fun.
In my years hunting autographs, I collected over 300 signed cards, a few dozen photos, a half dozen baseballs, and even a couple bats. More importantly, I had a good clean hobby, and was able to meet some of the game’s greatest players.
Here is just one great memory from dozens:
I remember getting an autograph from recent Hall of Fame inductee, Tony Gwynn. I was standing atop the visitors dugout in the Astrodome, and I was wearing an Astros cap. Tony came up to me, grabbed my card, started to sign it, then stopped.
Tony looked at me and said, “Hey, are you an Astros fan?”
Me: “Tony, I’m a baseball fan!”
Tony: “All right, all right.” Tony started to sign the card again.
Then he suddenly stopped signing my card. He looked at me with a stern expression and said, “Hey, you didn’t answer my question. Are you an Astros fan?” I sneaked a glance at the card and I could see he had only signed “T” and “o.” I didn’t know what to think! When I looked back at him, he had a huge grin on his face.
I promptly replied the only way I could: “I’m a Tony Gwynn fan!”
Tony chuckled, and said, “OK, I’ll give you that.”
He signed one more letter in his name, stopped again, chatted, signed another letter in his name, and repeated the process until he had finished signing T-O-N-Y G-W-Y-N-N.
The entire time he was signing my card, everyone else around the dugout was pushing and shoving and trying to get his attention. People were putting cards and photos in front of my face and yelling “Hey, Tony could you please sign this for me?”
Amid this semi-chaos, a future Hall of Famer literally took five minutes to have a chat with me. After he signed my card, he told me to enjoy the game and told everyone else he had to go take batting practice. He had only signed 2 or 3 autographs, and mine was the last he signed that day.
I have seen a lot of autographs, and Tony Gwynn has a very nice signature. But this was one of the ugliest I have ever seen him sign. In fact, if I didn’t watch him sign it in person I would have thought it was a forgery. But it’s real, and to me it is more beautiful than his normally practiced and fluid signature because it represents a memory I will pass on to my children one day.
I have kept my baseball cards because I loved them as a kid and the memories I associate with them. I knew all the player stats, I could name all the players on all the teams, and I read each edition of the Beckett like I was studying for exams. Baseball was a way of life for me.
There is also a lot of history in baseball and baseball cards are a visual representation of the times. When I was growing up, my friend’s dad let us look through his childhood baseball card collection and he had cards of Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Maris, Koufax, Clemente, Drysdale and every other big name from the 50-60’s. It was like taking a trip back in time into his childhood. These were Hall of Famers! These were guys I had read about in books and magazines!
So what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, yesterday I was reading The Simple Dollar and Trent wrote a great article called Personal Finance and Nostalgia. In it Trent talks about his baseball card collection, and his wife’s collection of Breyer horses. These collections of theirs are potentially worth a substantial amount of money and Trent wondered it it was better to sell them or hold onto them. I don’t want to quote his entire article because I think it is great and you should read it if you are a collector of anything. But I can strongly relate to one quote: “If an item provides significant emotional value to you, you should keep it.”
If someone told me I didn’t need my baseball card collection and I should sell my collection for a few hundred dollars, I would laugh at them. Do I need the cards? No. But I also don’t have a pressing need for a few hundred dollars, at least not at this time. (Though if I ever needed the money, I wouldn’t be so hesitant to sell my cards. Food is more important than cardboard.)
The point Trent makes, and that I agree with, is if the cards bring happiness to you, you should keep them. Though I do not often look at my cards, when I do look at them, I remember standing outside for a few hours in the sweltering Houston summer to get autographs of some of my favorite players such as Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, and others. I remember the afternoons and evenings spent at the Astrodome with my best friend, or with my family. I remember the Home Run Chase of ’98. I remember going to the last game at the Astrodome, then to the first game an Enron Field, later Minute Maid Park.
When I have kids, they will one day get to look at my baseball card collection and hear me tell my stories about going to games and seeing some of the greatest players who ever played the game. They will get to see and hold cards of Gwynn, Ripken, Brett, Griffey Jr., Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, A-Rod, Jeter, and every other star of the 80-90’s. More importantly, my children will be able to share some of my memories. I’m sure my kinds will be just as impressed as I was when I was holding cards of Mantle, Mays, and Aaron. And that to me, is worth more than the dollar amount my collection would sell for – if it were for sale.