They say poker players only remember the bad beats. They don’t remember when they caught a miraculous card on the river, and they don’t remember when they masterfully bluffed someone into throwing away their hand. The baggage they carry with them are the improbable losses that were nothing short of devastating.
I like to think sports card collectors are the exact opposite. It’s easy to forget the boxes that had absolute garbage in them, the ones that are worth only a fraction of what you paid. Pulling that monster hit and immediately plopping it in the one-touch you have on standby — that’s the high you remember forever, the adrenaline and endorphin spike that fuels the entire hobby.
Everyone has a handful of cards that made them the collector that they are today. I’d like to share some formative moments, mostly from my childhood, that helped shape the hobby for me.
Power Rangers (1994) — Battle Bike
Before I cared about sports, I cared very deeply about Power Rangers. They were the first cards I collected (although I think I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie sticker book before that). I wanted nothing more than to have a full set of Power Rangers cards.
But, alas, it was not meant to be. The Battle Bike card was the bane of my existence as a first grader. (There’s not a lot to get worked up about when you’re in first grade.) Despite having every other card in the set a few times over, I could not pull the Battle Bike. In hindsight, maybe it was short-printed or something. I was probably just very unlucky. It’s a tough lesson to learn as a seven-year-old, the first time you realize how cruel and unfair the world can be. I remember the bad beats.
Side anecdote: A kid named Austin lived down the block from me and he also collected Power Rangers cards. He tore up my Red Ranger card for no reason other than he was a malicious jerk. I ran home crying. He ended up going to prison after high school. Probably karma.
Fleer (1996) — Greg Maddux Smoke ‘n Heat
Once I got into sports, I quickly got into sports cards. I’d regularly sit down with my monthly issue of Beckett and meticulously look up every single card I owned. I needed to know if I owned any gems.
This Greg Maddux insert was an absolute treasure. I distinctly remember Beckett saying it went for $6, which might as well have been $600 in my eyes. It certainly wouldn’t have fetched that much. It was banged up all to hell — you know, the way kids take care of stuff. I loved this card though. As an adult, I still kinda love this card.
In hindsight, it’s kind of weird to have a Maddux insert called “Smoke ‘n Heat” because he wasn’t known for throwing hard at all. A friend across the street had a Roger Clemens Smoke ‘n Heat, which is definitely more apropos. I liked the Maddux card more because I had impeccable taste even as a nine-year-old.
Topps Black Gold (1994) — A/B/C/D Winner Redemption Card
In 1996 or 1997, my parents would buy me boxes of ’94 Topps on occasion. I had a binder separated by teams, and I’d put every player in order by their corresponding team and then in numerical order. I had a very organized system.
I’m sure they probably didn’t pay a whole lot for these boxes seeing as they were a few years old and super prevalent. I didn’t care. I was happy to crack into a million packs of junk wax and sleeve them all up.
These Topps Black Gold inserts were pure heartbreak, though. Topps had redemption cards where you’d win a predetermined lot of Black Gold cards (which I believe were the fanciest ’94 Topps ever got). For instance, the D set would’ve gotten you 11 cards with players like Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa.
I pulled my share of winners, but one day I hit the jackpot. I pulled the A/B/C/D card which entitled me to redeem every single Topps Black Gold card. The only problem was that it expired in 1995. Absolute tragedy. Outlaw redemption cards.
Collector’s Edge Advantage (1996) — Cris Carter
This card follows a very similar trajectory to the Greg Maddux insert. I was convinced that this Cris Carter Collector’s Edge Advantage card would be crucial to my early retirement. I remember buying it off a kid at school for a couple bucks and thinking that I absolutely fleeced him. Beckett probably said it was worth twice that amount!
I have no regrets though. The Vikings are my favorite team, and Cris Carter was my favorite player until Randy Moss rolled into town. I got sentimental value out of this card both as a collector and as a sports fan. Those are the best cards.
How did I pay that dude at school? Straight cash, homie.
Upper Deck (2018-19) — Elias Pettersson Young Guns
The detail-oriented among you might notice a 20-ish year gap between the last entry and this one. Yep! I took a long break from cards, but now I’m back — hook, line, and sinker.
When I started buying hockey cards, this was among the first ones that I pulled. That is nothing short of the card gods making sure I wouldn’t slip away again. Elias Pettersson is the best rookie of the crop, and it took no time at all to find him. I couldn’t have pulled a single better Young Guns from this set.
It’s easy to give up when you immediately run into a brick wall of bad luck. It’s a lot tougher when fate smiles upon you right away. It was a big hit, one that had me inspired to spend more money on hockey cards. The luck has evened out, as it always does. C’est la vie.
Which cards are the ones that you remember most fondly? Which ones are the biggest hits that you treasure to this day? Let us know in the comments below!