A few weeks ago, my dad asked me to list a few baseball cards on eBay. The cards were the 2001 rookie cards of Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols. To my surprise, each card sold for several hundred dollars fast. Listing those cards brought back memories of collecting baseball cards as a kid. This article covers three crucial life lessons I’ve taken into adulthood from collecting baseball cards.
I spent my Saturday nights as a pre-teen trading baseball cards with friends. My best friend lived three houses up the street and was my leading trading partner. We often had sleepovers with wrestling videos, video games, and an all-out baseball card exchange.
Yes, I was (and still am) a huge nerd.
Important Skills Learned from Collecting Baseball Cards
While going through my old collection, I came across the crown jewel of most baseball card collections from the early 90s, a Ken Griffey Jr. 1989 Upper Deck rookie card. First, it makes me feel super old that Ken Griffey Jr. has been retired for more than ten years (well, he’s pretty much been retired since 2000 when he left Seattle).
Even though most of the cards in what’s left of my collection are worthless, it got me thinking about all of the lessons I learned from collecting baseball cards as a youngster.
Collecting cards taught me how to negotiate with friends and vendors at a young age. It also taught me how to make what seemed like tough and sometimes emotional decisions. As silly as it sounds, I used to get very attached to cards in my collection. Last but not least, it helped estimate the future value of an asset.
Even my decision to major in finance was somehow driven by collecting baseball cards. My mom used to say, “You should be a stockbroker; it’s like trading baseball cards only with stocks!” While this didn’t make much sense then, I can see the connection now. Baseball cards are an asset with a present value based on various factors. The goal is to predict the asset’s future value to maximize return.
Below are a few lessons I learned from collecting baseball cards as a kid.
As a kid, I spent a decent amount of time searching the local newspaper for baseball card shows.
Baseball card shows were usually held at hotels or conference centers, and the rooms were filled with overweight middle-aged men. Tables were set up in large conference rooms with people looking to buy, sell, and trade baseball cards. Some vendors sold individual cards, others sold boxes or packs, and some were a mix of both.
My preparation for baseball card shows would involve the meticulous process of building my “selling binder.” This binder would include the baseball cards I wanted to sell to baseball card show vendors.
This put me in situations as a 10-13-year-old where I negotiated the sale of my prized baseball cards with grown adults who had much more experience dealing than I did. As you can imagine, they often tried to take advantage of my youth and lack of experience with lowball offers.
Becoming a solid negotiator only comes with experience. Walking up to someone three times my age and trying to strike a deal was sometimes intimidating. However, those skills learned at a young age have transitioned to many different aspects of my life.
For example, in college, I made money by buying items at garage sales to resell on eBay in college. So you can bet that I negotiated at garage sales to get prices down from the sticker price. No, I didn’t waste time dealing with $0.50 down to $0.25, but I certainly did try to get $30 items for half the price.
Now that I’m older, I must negotiate almost daily with co-workers to ensure goals are met. It has also helped during higher leverage situations such as discussing salary or new work responsibilities.
Almost all of us negotiate daily, even if we don’t realize it. Thus far, my toughest counterpart has been my 6-year-old. Have you ever tried to negotiate to do chores with a little boy? I still haven’t figured it out.
Regardless of who you’re negotiating with, the more practice you have, the better you’ll be.
Determining the Future Value of an Asset
Collecting baseball cards is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. Each card or stock has a perceived value that the asset can sell for in the open market, it can increase or decrease in value and go broke at a moment’s notice.
Baseball cards are usually valued on the underlying performance of the athlete on the field. Similarly, stocks are valued on the underlying performance of a company. Applying the same logic to other asset categories, such as owning a small business or real estate.
The underlying asset is sometimes related to a player’s off-the-field activity.
My favorite player growing up was Mark McGwire. My best friend’s favorite was Barry Bonds. In the early 90s, we used to have passionate arguments about who was the better player. I’ll never forget the epic home run derby between the two in 1996.
Being a St. Louis native, you can imagine my excitement when McGwire was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997. I still remember that day in late July when the trade happened. I was playing baseball in the schoolyard behind my house. My dad ran outside to tell my friends that the Cardinals had obtained McGwire.
As a 14-year-old, that was the best day of my life up to that point. To have the player that you idolized traded to your team was incredible.
The 1998 season ended up being one of the most memorable in history, with McGwire and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs dueling it out to break one of the most prolific records in all sports; Roger Maris’ home run record of 61 set in 1961.
After a baseball strike in the early 90s, people believed the 1998 season officially brought baseball ratings back. And it was all happening a few miles from my house, with the main character being my long-time idol.
I collected hundreds of Mark McGwire baseball cards and other memorabilia along the way. In addition, I had every Starting Lineup (action figure) of McGwire from 1988 until his retirement. After breaking the home run record, he was considered a lock for the Hall of Fame.
While secondary to the memories, I couldn’t help but think about the value of the hundreds of cards and other memorabilia I had collected over the years. How much would all of this be worth years down the road?
Then, in an Enron-like collapse, all of a sudden, the epic collection that I had built was wiped out overnight. Mark McGwire was accused of using steroids (or steroid-like supplements). Steroids were illegal, though not technically banned from Major League Baseball.
Mass hysteria ensued; any ballplayer with even the slightest connection to steroids was black-listed. This included McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, and hundreds of others. Even though McGwire and Sosa almost single-handedly brought baseball back in 1998, they were thrown under the bus and characterized as outcasts.
Like any asset, its value can be wiped out overnight. However, you can make all of the right calls to determine the future value of an asset, and it can still all go to nothing. This happens all the time with stocks, businesses, and real estate.
This is important to keep in mind. Sure, you should use all of the available information, but be sure to diversify since predicting the value of a future asset can be unpredictable. I should have traded some McGwire cards for Ichiro and Pujols!
Eliminating Emotions from Decisions
When you get involved in a passion project, separating the emotion from the business aspect can be challenging. You hear this all of the time with real estate investors. However, many investors are successful because they can take the emotion out of decision-making.
Collecting baseball cards was like that as well. When you open a pack of cards and stumble upon a valuable card, it can be emotional to trade or sell it to someone else. That experience becomes a part of you. You lose a small amount of that memory by trading away that card. However, when you flip the page on your binder and see that card, it brings back a tiny piece of that joy you had when you got it.
One of my other favorite players was Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. I remember one card in particular to which I had strong emotional ties. It was a 1992 Bowman Chipper Jones card worth between $25 and $50 at the time.
For months during our almost weekly trading sessions, my friend tried to get me to trade him this card. This was one of my favorite cards in my collection. At one point, my friend offered nearly triple the card’s value. I still said no and still have the card today.
This is where the delicate balance between emotional and financial value comes into play. Only the individual can determine what more important, money or happiness is.
My experiences taught me the importance of distancing myself from the emotion of work and business where possible. There are plenty of areas of life where it’s perfectly fine to choose feelings of happiness over business. However, there are other areas where it’s essential to separate your emotions from business decisions.
Separating from my emotions is an essential skill in my day job. There are often stressful situations regarding personnel or high-profile projects. Being able to keep my feelings separate from the business side is essential. It’s also important to know when it’s okay for my emotions to come into play.
Life Lessons from Collecting Baseball Cards
Negotiating with others has been one of the most important skills learned from collecting baseball cards. Being willing to step outside my comfort zone to negotiate with vendors taught me much about negotiation and communication.
Approaching adults to negotiate sales took a lot of courage as a pre-teen. I’m sure I was sometimes ripped off, but it gave me experience dealing with strangers at a young age. Collecting baseball cards also helped me understand the risks of valuing future assets and better control my emotions in business situations.
Therefore, even though most cards in my prized collection are worthless, it’s tough to put a price on the life lessons I learned by collecting baseball cards.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.