Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Baseball cards by the numbers

When I left the employ of Krause/F+W publications in May, 2006, I arranged to buy about a million sportscards that had accumulated in the company's warehouse.
These were mostly cards that had been sent to our sports collectors' periodicals (SCD, Tuff Stuff, Baseball Cards/Sports Cards, et al.) by the card companies for product reviews, cataloging, etc.

The vast majority of the cards were from the 1990s.

As I sorted through these cards, a couple of themes caught my attention, and I thought it might be fun to see how many cards I could find that fit that theme. I limited my searching to baseball cards, though I imagine the same, or similar, themes could have been found among the football, basketball and hockey cards. 

By the mid-1990s the proliferation of card companies, and the proliferation of card sets from each of them, flooded collectors with new cards. At the peak of (over)production, there were at least 20,000 new baseball cards being produced each year.

Most of these cards used at least two, and sometimes three, photos on each player's card. This created unprecedented demand for player photos . . . portraits, candids and game-action. 

One theme that I pursued involved players' uniform numbers. I wondered if it would be possible to put together a set of cards showing players wearing each number from 1 through 99.  

Naturally, for all of the numbers from 1 into the 90s, I had a wide range of choices, and could pick a card showing a favorite player, or a number being prominently displayed. 

Beginning at #80, however, things got tight. While a few players chose numbers in the upper reaches as a matter of personal preference, a high uniform number was usually relegated to spring training use. And even in the days when the card companies were scrambling to produce "rookie cards" of every player with any chance of making the big clubs, there were just not a lot of cards issued showing players wearing numbers in the 80s and 90s. 

I never did find cards depicting uniform numbers 80, 81, 82, 85, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96 or 98 . . . though I did find players with #0 and 00.

Putting together a collection like this proves that the card hobby can still be fun, and isn't exclusively the province of superstars, autographs, game-used inserts and 1/1s. 

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