When I got back into card collecting in late 2005, my only goal was to get as many Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz cards as I possibly could. Well, actually, I thought it might be possible to get the vast majority of the cards put out featuring any of the three. As I immersed myself back into the hobby, I quickly realized that things had changed greatly since I last collected regularly in the early 90s. Not only did they each have dozens of cards produced each year, they had dozens of relic cards and autographed cards as well. I know of at least 204 Greg Maddux cards that were produced in 1998, and there’s no way that I know of them all. It was all so overwhelming to me.
I received some advice upon my return and I’ll pass it on to you. If you want to start a player collection, look for player lots on eBay. There was no shortage of Greg Maddux player lots, and Glavine and Smoltz lots weren’t exactly rare either. I’d search for “Greg Maddux Lot” and there would be several pages of listings with titles like “800 Count Lot of Greg Maddux”, “241 Different Greg Maddux Cards”, and “Maddux, Maddux, Maddux!!!!”. I think the first lot I purchased promised 250 different Greg Maddux cards. There were numerous cards from the junk wax era, but there were also dozens of shiny inserts from the late 90s. As someone who had always collected sets, I found most insert sets to be rather boring. Sitting together in a plastic page in a binder they all looked the same to me. Now, I saw them in a new light. The key was not to look at them as a set, but rather to look at them combined with other inserts.
Of course, the initial rush was tempered by the realities of eBay. I once ordered two different lots of Greg Maddux cards on the same day. One promised around 100 different cards. The other promised 75. In the 100 card lot, I only needed around 5 cards for my collection. The 75 card lot was even more disappointing as every single card in the lot was also in the 100 card lot. It turns out that even though I purchased the lots from different eBay sellers, they were shipped from the exact same address in Lexington, Kentucky. Yeah, those things stick with you.
There were other lessons I had to learn. In a fit or irresponsible spending, I laid out several hundred dollars buying 15 different Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux lots on a single day. Some of the lots were nice, but the majority were a major disappointment, but at least I had learned another lesson. In this case, it was to pay much closer attention to words like “Different” and “Assorted”. If a listing promises 100 different Tom Glavine cards, you can be reasonably certain that you will receive at least 98 different Glavine cards. You may even receive 100 different cards. If a listing advertises 100 assorted Tom Glavine cards, you might receive 5 different cards including 96 of the same ugly 1989 Tom Glavine Classic card. That is not a true story. The true story is worse. I bought a lot for around 30 dollars, free shipping, that promised 2000 Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz cards. “There are duplicates,” the listing said. Still, 2000 cards, dirt cheap, of my three favorite baseball players. How could I say no?
I should have said no. I knew I should have said no. What can I say? I was in the grip of my card lot buying sickness. At most, there were around a hundred different cards in the large lot. I received, no joke, a full 800 count box filled with identical 1989 Classic Purple Tom Glavine cards. I still have them. I removed one of them and placed it into a sheet stored in my Tom Glavine binder. The remaining cards are in a giant box of Tom Glavine cards. Occasionally, when I get the bug to reorganize my collection, I pull out the box and allow them to mock me. I threaten to throw them in the garbage, but they aren’t worried because they know I’m just bluffing. I’m not really sure what I should do with them. At this point, they serve as a cautionary tale, reminding me to be careful with every single eBay purchase.
Eventually, I weened myself off of buying lots. They were great for getting lots of cards in a hurry, but they soon became repetitive and I ended up with thousands, yes thousands, of cards I don’t want. I got my collection organized by year by player, put the cards in binders, and documented which cards I had. I was now ready to start buying cards individually. eBay was great for buying individual cards, but the economics didn’t always work out. It was difficult to justify adding two dollars to have a card shipped, when the vastly overproduced card I wanted was technically worthless. Of course, that didn’t stop me, but I did find other sources.
I began to ween myself off of eBay for purchasing single cards and switched to two sources that made it easy to find and purchase a number of cards at a time. (Sure, some eBay sellers might have a few Maddux cards I need, but eBay makes it difficult to determine this easily.) The first source I discovered was Sportlots. The site makes it easy for many different sellers to list the cards they have for sell. You can build a shopping cart and then check out with all the cards you want at one time. After your purchase, each individual seller will then ship your cards. I’ve never had an issue with any of the sellers, unlike eBay. Yes, the amount of postage you pay will be more if you get cards from numerous different sources, but I’ve still found it to be significantly cheaper than using eBay.
My second source for getting individual cards is Check Out My Cards. At COMC, as it is known, sellers actually physically ship their cards to the site where they use a patent pending technology to scan them in bulk. The seller still sets the price, and you can even make offers on the cards available. COMC and Sportlots have many similarities and many differences. Because of the COMC process, you can actually see every card you want to purchase. There are no stock images of any card. With Sportlots, a seller can attach a picture, but because of the work involved in doing so, many don’t. Also, because every card is physically in hand with COMC, you will receive one package and shipping can be considerably cheaper. On the other hand, running a company like COMC isn’t cheap, so they charge a handling fee for every card you purchase. Ultimately, I find the differences between the two services to be minimal in practice. Both make great sources for expanding your player collection, or for that matter, buying a stack of cards to complete a favorite set.
The exception to the rule though is relic cards and autograph cards. Sellers almost always prefer to sell these cards on eBay, especially those for better players. I’ve never gone big time after relic cards of the big three, but when I see one I like at a good price, I’ll pick it up. I’ve even purchased the occasional lot of relic cards for Greg Maddux. As for autographed cards, I decided I wanted a single autograph of each of the big three for my collection. They needed to be hand signed, official cards. No stickers for me, thank you very much. I got my Maddux autograph soon after my return to collecting. It was included in a lot of relic cards. A few years later, I finally pulled the trigger and purchased my Glavine auto. It’s a beautiful Sweet Spot card and I got a really good deal on it.
It took me many years to finally acquire a John Smoltz autographed card. He always had plenty available, but the right card was never available at the right price. Amazingly, in the span of one week, I ended up with two of the same card. The card in question is Smoltzy’s 2012 Gypsy Queen auto. These are utterly beautiful, hand signed items. The first I purchased off an auction I won on eBay. Was it a prudent purchase? Well, in retrospect, no. I got the card at a fair price, but I knew I had a hobby box on the way that would contain two autographs. Of course, I also knew that there was no way I would pull a John Smoltz autograph. From a retail pack, I pulled a Drew Stubbs auto. My first auto from the hobby box was of John Jay. Yes, both Stubbs and Jay are fine players, but they aren’t Braves and they aren’t exactly in demand. (Both of their autos from this set can be had for five dollars.) Still, Stubbs and Jay are the type of player whose auto I typically pull. Not this time though. This time I actually pulled a Smoltz autograph.
I wish there were some way I could turn that Smoltz autograph into a new Maddux autograph. Sadly, my Maddux auto is dying a slow but steady death. My card was put out by Fleer in 2000 as part of the Sweet Sigs subset of the Showcase product. The card features an embedded piece of baseball that was signed with a ball-point pen. The piece of baseball gets increasingly wrinkled with each passing year. The autograph itself seems to be fading slowly, even though I’ve only removed it from the snap case in which I keep it once. The card makes me so-very sad. My search has begin for a new Maddux autographed card.
(Off the record, is it just me, or does Maddux have the single worst autograph of all the Atlanta Brave greats? If it wasn’t for his name and picture on the card, I would never be able to tell whose signature it was. On the other hand, Glavine’s autograph is nearly perfect.)
So, I highly recommend player collecting. Even if you spend most of your time looking to build sets, its nice to have another collecting goal. Flipping through a binder with hundreds of cards of your favorite player is a rush. Go to eBay and purchase some player lots. Sign up for a free blog at Blogger or Tumblr or some other free blogging site and list the cards you have and ask people to trade you more. Build that binder. Have fun.