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Baseball card collectors becoming traveling salesmen

Updated June 17, 2019 - 3:33 pm

It was Friday after checkout time. Housekeepers were going about their business. In a small meeting room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Henderson, sports memories were piling up on the walls.

There were baseball bats wielded by Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez, jerseys worn by Mark McGwire and fellow Bash Brother (and Las Vegas resident) Jose Canseco, a ball signed by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who recently passed away.

But mostly there were baseball cards.

Shoeboxes of ’em. And lots of binders. Favorite players as well as utility infielders, protected by clear vinyl sleeves.

There weren’t any mint condition Nolan Ryan rookie cards in the shoeboxes and binders. There is only one of those. Somebody offered $700,000 for it on April 13 through the Heritage Auctions website.

But “we probably spent $10,000 today on collections,” said a man wearing a navy blue fishing T-shirt sitting at one of the tables.

Brian Marcy was the guy writing checks for the sports memories, the new owner of the Trout and A-Rod bats, the ball autographed by Frank Robby, the Big Mac and Canseco jerseys, the thousands of baseball cards — some protected by vinyl sleeves, but most just floating around willy-nilly in shoeboxes.

Jerry Lumpes and Coco Laboys mingling with Hank Aarons and Roberto Clementes.

When Marcy gets the cards back to Scottsdale, Arizona, he’ll separate the wheat from the chaff.

“We take a big thing and break into little pieces, and we sell the little pieces,” he said.

Fluctuating market

Brian Marcy, 48, has been in the baseball card business for 30 years. It has changed dramatically, he said. With once prevalent baseball card shops having been shuttered, collectors are hitting the road to build inventory and now sell online.

What hasn’t changed is that almost everybody who walks through the door with a shoebox of memories believes they are worth more than what the market will bear.

Somebody brought in a Jerry Rice football rookie card. A mint condition Rice, a 9 or 10 on the grading scale, is probably worth around $10,000, Marcy said. This one probably would grade a 7 — average quality for a card that winds up a shoebox.

It was a $37 card.

“We’re upfront with people,” Marcy said. “We tell them this is what you have and this is what it’s worth, and if you’d like to sell it here, here’s our offer. And if not, now you have the information, and here’s my business card if you want to sell it later.

“If people are sentimentally attached (to their collections), just keep it. We’re not here to separate you from it.”

Marcy said when he started collecting as an occupation during the 1990s, it seemed there was a card shop on every street corner and two in the local shopping mall. Collecting baseball cards has changed almost as much as the game itself.

“All you had to do was go to Costco and put some boxes in your store, and you made money,” he said. “Now you have to know what you’re doing. You have to know what the value is and have marketing strategies.

“That’s why we run these events. They give us the largest amount of inventory in the shortest amount of time.”

Rookie cards wanted

He was encouraged by the quantity as well as quality of items coming into the meeting room at the Hilton Garden Inn. Much of it was baseball cards from the 1950s and ’60s.

“At the end of the day, it’s a dying market, but the higher-end stuff is as strong as ever,” Marcy said, noting the aforementioned rookie cards of Hall of Fame players. “A lot of people have noticed that baseball cards are outperforming stocks, so they’re putting money into high-value baseball cards.”

A man with a big binder of memories who appeared eager to show it to Marcy was waiting patiently in the on-deck circle. So I finally asked the most pertinent question.

“Did you ever put baseball cards in your bicycle spokes?”

Brian Marcy smiled as if I had just walked in the door with a ’52 Mickey Mantle.

“All the time,” he said. “But I was smart enough to only use common players. I didn’t use the Johnny Benches and Reggie Jacksons.”

The asking price for a Johnny Bench rookie card on eBay is $1,075. One with spoke marks won’t fetch nearly as much, even if it made a really cool sound.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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