How I ended up being a Mets team collector…
I’m a Mets fan; I have been since I was old enough to understand what baseball was. I mostly missed out on the 1986 World Series run (I was 10 and had a bed time), but I got to see more of the 1988 season (and unfortunately all of the NLCS defeat to the Dodgers.)
I also suffered through the Buddy Harrelson, Jeff Torborg and (some) of the Dallas Green eras. I only walked away when the players did in 1994.
I didn’t start collecting cards until 1988. My very first pack of Topps cards was geared towards a New York-area fan. It had cards of Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry. Mattingly was my friend’s favorite player, so I traded him that card and kept Strawberry’s. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of my focus as a team collector.
I didn’t really bother to try to build a set that year… I just don’t think it occurred to me. I was just interested in the Mets, and to a lesser extent, the hot players of the day. That Christmas, I got Topps and Score factory sets. From that point on, I figured that was how you got sets — you didn’t build them, you waited for the factory sets to appear.
Now I did collect a bunch of the weird oddball sets that were common during the late 80s. (My favorite were the Topps Doubleheader sets put out in 1989 & 1990.) And I finished a bunch of them — they were small, and there were never any factory sets to pick up later. But it wasn’t really that fun after awhile. You’d always end up chasing after somebody like Alan Ashby that you really didn’t care about but you needed to finish the set.
Still, I was undeterred. In 1990, Donruss put out the set to end all sets with errors and variations. Now this I felt, was something that was worth building. So I did… with all the errors & variations — from the famous ones like the Nolan Ryan cards and the All-Stars to the obscure ones like players who had a black line running through a letter in their name. I couldn’t tell you if I ever finished because to this day, I can’t stand the sight of a 1990 Donruss card. That set also cured me of any lingering interest in price guides, speculation or expectations that modern cards would ever really be “worth” anything in the short-term.
From that point, I started focusing strictly on the Mets and filling in my Gary Carter collection. I also started to get interested in collecting autographs. (I think somebody must have given me a copy of Jack Smalling’s address list for Christmas around then.)
When Carter retired, I needed a new favorite player to collect. My Mets were terrible, so I latched on to an obscure middle reliever who was actually doing pretty well — Jeff Innis. This was around the time that all the card companies were beginning to experiment with parallels, so even a middle reliever was guaranteed to get a dozen or more cards per year. I think I realized at the time that parallels were a sucker’s bet. (Mario’s got it right — they are doubles for dummies.) But they were new, and shiny and I played along.
By the time the players went out on strike in 1994, I’d had enough. My team stunk and the card companies were starting to get out of control with the number of products they produced and the number of inserts they had. More significantly, I was starting college that fall. No time, no money, and nearly no interest led to a stop to my card collection.
Well, not quite. I still sent Neil Hoppenworth a check each year to send me the basic Mets team sets. I’d spend a few minutes looking at them when I got the box, and then I’d put them away. It took a Subway Series to get me really intersted in baseball again, but I didn’t get back into cards until 2002.
For some reason, I decided to start collecting autographs again that year. I dug out some of my old cards, but I wanted something to send to the current players. I ended up buying a blaster of Fleer cards at Target. They reminded me of the old 1988 set, so I started collecting them. $200 later, I was still missing about 50 cards from the set. (I did, however, gain many doubles which were used to attempt to get autographs.) I sent Hoppenworth a check to finish the set and vowed “never again.”
I went back to collecting the Mets, though I didn’t bother choosing a new favorite player to collect. Between the 1/1’s and the way the card companies create checklists today, it’s just not worth it.
I still collect autographs, and I’m learning to have a great fondness for rookies and minor league prospects — it may be the only time you’ll be able to get them. I focus on Mets, but I don’t limit my autograph collection to just Mets… you never know who might play for your favorite team someday.
And sometimes, I still entertain thoughts of being a set collector.
I realize that all the high-end cards with the endless parallels, relics and autographs to drive up the price are here to stay. But I wish there was a little bit of room for low-end sets like Topps Total and Upper Deck 40-Man that featured all the players on a team.
Acording to Beckett’s online database, David Wright has over 700 cards already this year — not counting 1/1’s. Mike Pelfrey, a rising star in the Mets rotation, has 12. Ten players who appeared in a game for the Mets this year didn’t get a card at all.
Don’t get me wrong — I like getting a relic card of a player I like — just like anybody else. But I don’t understand the folks that just want the relics and numbered cards of the stars and hot rookies of the moment.
I’m happier to get a base card of some obcure Met that I thought Topps and Upper Deck would forget than I am to get another David Wright. And I’d rather have a nice-looking David Wright base card than an ugly David Wright 1/1.
But I’m a Mets fan, and we’re not really known for always making smart choices. 😉