Baseball cards re-imagined for modern day collectors

Sports Illustrated covers as Topps baseball cards

I left a shoebox full of baseball cards at my mom’s house when I went off to college in the early-1970s.

It was the last time I ever saw them.

My collection was nothing more than a mix-and-match assortment of Topps baseball cards I began buying with allowance money in the early to mid-1960s, along with cards I cut off the back of Post cereal boxes.

As a kid, I gave no thought to their future value — financial or sentimental.

Instead, I played with them all the time. I built my own all-star teams out of the cards and played a made-up game with them. I pinned them to the spokes of my bike with a clothes pin, giving it that awesome motorcycle sound for about 30 seconds until the cardboard wore out. I traded them with friends.

Anyway, for more than a decade I never gave them another thought.

Then I rediscovered card collecting in the mid-1980s and searched my mom’s house high and low for that shoebox of cards. I came up empty.

My folks had moved two or three times since I left them with her, so I assume she threw them out at some point.

But baseball cards lured me back in a small way in the ’80s. I went to baseball card shows and began buying unopened boxes of Upper Deck cards. I put them in a closet and hoped they would grow in value over the decades.

They haven’t.

Then a couple months ago, my friend Ed Godfrey rekindled my interest once again in baseball cards. He showed me some recent Topps cards he bought that were replicas of old Sports Illustrated covers. They are impressive.

“I’ve started buying some cards again online,” Ed said. “Stuff I like.”

What he likes are the SI replicas and another Topps series called Project 70 that takes historic Topps cards of the past and adds artistic flair.

Ozzie Smith Project 70 card from Topps

“They describe Project 70s as a re-imagination of cards,” he told me. “They’ll take a ’57 card of Mickey Mantle and have an artist add their own style to it. Some of their cards are looking like pieces of art and not baseball cards.”

So, Ed bought some of the Project 70 cards, as well as Sport Illustrated cover cards of his favorite St. Louis Cardinals players.

“It’s a way to get old guys like me to buy cards again,” he said. “I’ve got a cover with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, and a cover with just Musial. A Mark McGuire 60 home run cover. I got an Ozzie Smith cover, ‘The Wiz,’ that’s cool. I bought several of them.”

He’s displaying some of these cards on his fireplace mantel.

“I need a bigger house with a man cave just so I can display them,” he said with a laugh.

About a month ago, a small package arrived in the mail for me. I opened it to discover it was a Topps Sports Illustrated card of my favorite baseball player, Nolan Ryan.

Ed bought it for me. It’s on my fireplace mantel. And I’ve spent the past few days cruising the Topps website just to see what else is out there.

I’ve also discovered that baseball card collecting has made quite a comeback during the pandemic. So much so, that fights have broken out in some stores as collectors compete with one another to add the latest cards to their collections. Target suspended baseball card sales because of the melees. 

(An aside: Sad news. Topps is going to be displaced in a couple years as official baseball card producer by an outfit called Fanatics, which signed an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball and the Players Association.)

Not sure that I’m going to dive headfirst into card collecting, although I love the SI cover series. I’m content with the stash I have in my closet from the ’80s.

But I’m still mourning the loss of my baseball cards from the ’60s (thanks, Mom).

Then there are the lucky ones like my friend Ed.

“I have all my old cards I bought as a kid,” he said. “My mom kept them. Most of them are from the early ’70s.

“I’ll never sell my cards. My daughters will probably sell them when I die.”