This article marks the conclusion of my series on collector issues, which began a few weeks ago with my look at Mike Aronstein and TCMA and was followed by an article about Larry Fritsch. This week, I’ll be looking at Mike Cramer, who, as T.S. O’Connell wrote, “parlayed his initial foray into minor league cards and collector issues into full-fledged licenses with baseball, football, and hockey. In other words, a collector-issue company became one of the big boys, no small feat when considering the size of some of his competitors.”
Hobby Figure Mike Cramer
Cramer was a fan of baseball cards from an early age. The details for his book Cramer’s Choice: Memoir of a Baseball Card Collector Turned Manufacturer notes that before high school, he had a mail-order trading card business before founding Pacific Trading Cards.
In his early days, Cramer would buy vending cases of Topps baseball cards and collate sets from them. In a Sports Collectors Daily article, he shared that his wife Cheryl did a lot of the work while he was off crab fishing to make money.
After doing this for a while, Cramer started making his own sets and also innovated collecting a bit around that time. They produced plastic sheets to put cards in binders and cardboard boxes designed for cards.
Key Mike Cramer Collector Issues
Before getting those big licenses with the major sports leagues, Cramer got his start with a few minor league sets and Baseball Legends releases.
1975 Phoenix Giants Minor League Set
It seems Cramer actually produced a few different sets for the Phoenix Giants, but his first is cataloged as the Circle K Phoenix Giants set and included a card of Cramer from the Phoenix Giants thanking him for his work in helping produce the card set. It added that his collection had almost half a million cards!
A search on TCDB also turned up a 1976 Cramer Phoenix Giants set that included a sponsorship from CocaCola.
Some of his other late 70s minor league sets included ones for the Seattle Rainiers, Tucson Toros, Salt Lake City Gulls, Spokane Indians, Tucson Toros, Albuquerque Dukes, Tacoma Yankees, and Hawaii Islanders.
1980-83 Baseball Legends
From a collector issue perspective, Cramer is probably best known for the four Baseball Legends sets he released between 1980 and 1983. The cards have a sepia-toned photo on the front with a black frame. The backs are brown and include personal data, stats, and career summary. The key cards across the series include Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson’s portrait card, Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, and Joe Jackson.
Each series had 30 cards, but the 124-card total comes from the four fourth series cards Cramer printed on this box in 1986.
Notice the ad for Pacific Trading Collector Sheets on the wrapper! Also, the wrapper has a 1985 copyright, as does the box, but I usually see them advertised as a 1986 product.
Cramer would develop another series of Baseball Legends cards from 1988-90 under the Pacific name that were printed in color.
Conclusion and Further Reading
Along with Mike Aronstein and Larry Fritsch, Mike Cramer was pivotal in moving the hobby forward since they were creating many of their now-famous collector issues at a time when Topps had their monopoly. However, the role of collector issues slowly diminished after 1981 when three major companies, Donruss, Fleer, and Topps, started competing to produce the most popular cards. Given the current market consolidation under Fanatics, one has to wonder if the hobby might need collector issues again.
Here are a few related pieces you might be interested in checking out:
- First, I discussed the marketing showdown of 1981 and wrote about how Donruss, Fleer, and Topps tried to differentiate their baseball card products in an article back in February.
- Some would categorize collector issues as oddballs, and in September 2022, I wrote an article about the ten oddball baseball cards I would buy with $1k.
- I’ve also written articles about another hobby legend, Alan Rosen; the first was about his second major find, and the other was a review of his Insider’s Guide.
Also, be sure to subscribe to The PostWarCards Newsletter so you don’t miss any future articles or discussions about collector issues I produce!