Summer, 1988. The route through Jamesway, same as ever: a slow stroll by the watches, over to the outdoor toys, and finally to sporting goods, to smell the baseball mitts and try on batting gloves, lob a football, touch the slip ‘n’ slide boxes, and pretend-cradle with the mini lacrosse sticks.
I am eight years old. I’m with my buddy Robert, and baseball cards are our thing. I’ve been slowly, painstakingly building a collection, one 25 cent pack at a time. We turn a corner, somewhere due south of sporting goods, and there it is. Box after box of Score ’88 complete sets. Each box that has every single card from that year inside. I’m used to buying wax packs from the corner store and hoping for someone on the Mets, or an All Star. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Score is new on the scene in ’88. They have a semi-glossy, smoother card than Topps, Donruss, or Fleer, a finer grade that feels slicker in your hand, high quality. They are an interesting contender to the baseball card brand hierarchy. Robert’s a Fleer guy. I’m a Topps guy. Donruss feels cheap. Fleer was just off somehow. Canadian? Topps is comfortable. Traditional. Wood grained like my dad’s station wagon.
Robert hatches an idea. How about we share a set? We pester, we moan, we hop around, and inexplicably, my parents give in. We get the box. Bring it home, divide the spoils.
That was a fun afternoon, for sure. But then something weird happens. There are SO MANY cards. And we get them all at once, and now they are just…there. Sure, I’ve scored a Gregg Jefferies, the Mets rookie phenom who practiced by SWINGING A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL BAT UNDERWATER IN A SWIMMING POOL. But yeah, a little bit of the magic is gone.
Now, we all know what happened to baseball cards. In the 1980s, every kid is told the same story: “son, your grandmother threw away my cards. They would have paid for your college tuition.” We all swear to never ever let our parents throw away our cards, the market is flooded. The brands try to differentiate: custom illustrations (eg, Diamond Kings), high gloss, action shots, sports-flicks, advanced stats, minimal stats, all star teams, checklists, manager cards, rookie of the years, future stars, rated rookies, future prospects, ‘do you remember’ throwbacks, upper deck, ken griffey, error cards (the classic billy ripken), off-brands like o-pee-chee, leaf, and hell, dogfood company Ralston-Purina. Then came the other sports: basketball, football, hockey, oh and Marvel comics cards. A great national shame: operation desert storm cards. And of course, the Mark Maguire USA Olympic rookie card.
The story of the bubble has been sagely recounted here, here, and here. But I’m trying to get at something else. I kept collecting for a few more years, but I don’t think it was ever really the same after that box set.
The curtain had been pulled back. My own tiny market was glutted. And those Score cards all kind of fell by the wayside. I’ll take a wood grained ’87 Topps any day.