Like many kids in the 80s and early 90s, I collected sports cards with a relentless passion. I was lucky to live in cities with iconic athletes and a bunch of professional sports teams. I grew up in Baltimore when Cal Ripken was a perennial MLB All-Star. My family then moved to Chicago, where we got to enjoy Michael Jordan in his prime and watch the Bulls run of 6 NBA championships. I ripped packs and traded with my buddies. In the middle of high school, though, I sold off my collection. 15 or so years later, I jumped back in the hobby.
Here are six cards that mattered to me then and influence my perception of the hobby today.
1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. #98T
As a kid growing up in Baltimore, Cal Ripken Jr. was an icon. And as a child who collected baseball cards, his Topps Traded rookie card was the pinnacle of the hobby. Financially the card was so far out of reach that kids would cut out pictures of it from magazines and put it in cases with the rest of their treasures.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #1
The rookie card of one of the best all-around players is part of a new and exciting company’s debut release? Yeah, EVERYONE wanted this card.
1985 Topps Mark McGwire #401
As a kid, I first knew McGwire as one of the Bash Bros with Jose Canseco. They were immensely popular after their World Series win in 1989. So this card was pretty iconic. My interest in sports cards was slowing down during McGwire’s single-season home run chase in 1998. Still, my interest in sports wasn’t so it’s possible looking back now I put more reverence in this card because of that.
1991 Upper Deck Michael Jordan #SP1
Michael Jordan was it during the Chicago Bulls run. Heck, even today, in 2020, he’s one of the most famous athletes. Anything Jordan was popular, but this card stands out because I was more of a baseball fanatic than any other sport.
1989 Score Troy Aikman #270
Troy Aikman was the QB on “America’s Team” who won Super Bowls and was on TV every Sunday in the 1990s. Yeah, his rookie card was popular.
1993 Pinnacle Rookies Drew Bledsoe #1
I was in Chicago Bears territory, and I was rooting for the New England Patriots? Yeah, well, my dad got me a box of 1993 Pinnacle football, and I pulled the Drew Bledsoe Rookies card from it as my first “Big Pull.” At the time, the card was valued over $100 and got me following that team from the North East.
Collecting sports cards was a big deal to me as a kid, and the hobby has again found a place in my adult life. It’s been interesting looking back at what I found unique about the hobby. I was primarily influenced by where I lived, but also market innovations, team front-running, and a bit by card value.