Contributor: John McTaggart
Every week I’m charged with coming up with about 400 words about something hobby related.
Sometimes I write about hockey (because people need to know more about hockey). Other times it’s more reflective on the three decades I’ve enjoyed in the business.
Either way, I try my best to be relevant, open, honest and unfiltered.
This space is an excellent place to be each of the above, for sure, and for this I am grateful.
But this week’s column I’m going to spend telling a story about something I witnessed at a card show this past weekend.
Now, the show that is the backdrop of this tale is the farthest thing from the National, or even most regional shows.
It’s in a small hall in a small town.
The dealers there, many of them the same faces I’ve seen at this show for a long while now, are certainly not among the wealthiest or biggest volume dealers in the country.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of these men and women do this for the love of the hobby and a few extra dollars, which they will likely throw back into the hobby in some way or another.
In a lot ways, these small shows are the lifeblood of the industry.
There aren’t many, if any, $10,000-plus deals.
There are very few selfie-sticks jetting in the air, very few camera crews following someone around the show, and even fewer faces you’d recognize from YouTube or other social media.
This show is, truly, the grassroots level of the hobby.
In most cases, it’s where these huge dealers, the shops with huge followings and huge inventory, started out.
It’s where a lot of us, myself included, learned the ropes and found mentors, in many cases.
It’s where so many of us discovered our love for the industry, and the passion for making deals, fair deals.
Which brings me back to the show this past weekend.
I was chatting with a dealer I’ve known for decades, just tossing out thoughts on the hobby, a few baseball prospects and the likelihood of my beloved Pistons will make the playoffs this season.
On one side of me was a kid about 10-years old, I’d say, with a Houston Astros t-shirt-style jersey and cap on, complete with Justin Verlander’s name on the back.
He asked my friend how much his 2005 Topps Justin Verlander RC PSA 9 was going for, and pointed to it through the showcase on the table.
“$85.00,” he replied, puling it out from the showcase and handing it to the young man.
Meanwhile, a gentlemen, who I later learned was named Scott, who looked to be in his early thirties, took a step up from the aisle and stopped in front of the showcase, to my left.
He looked over the selection of cards before pulling out a stack of slabs. “You trade?” He asked.
“Absolutely,” my friend answered. “What do you have?”
He pushed the slabs forward and the dealer leafed through them.
All the while, the kid in the Verlander shirt admired the 2005 Topps.
“You a Verlander fan?” Scott said, to the kid.
The kid nodded and pulled out a stack of Verlander cards he’d found in value boxes at the show.
“I’m trying to get all of his cards,” the kid said.
“All of them? Wow, that’s a lot of cards. He’s been playing for a long time,” Scott said. “That one you have there is a tough one to get, isn’t it?”
“Yea,” the kid answered. “It’s his rookie, when he was a Tiger. Right now I have like 75 of his cards, but not any rookies.”
My friend was finished looking through the stack of slabs and held out a pair of cards, handing the rest of the stack back to Scott.
“I’m interested in these two,” my friend said. “What were you looking for in trade?”
Scott glanced through the showcase cards quickly, then looked at the young man.
“I’m looking for a 2005 Topps Verlander rookie, actually,” he said. “Something in a PSA 9 would be ideal. You have anything like that?”
My friend shot a quick glance my way, understanding what was going on here.
“I do,” my friend said. “This young man is looking at it right now.”
“Oh, I see,” Scott answered. “I’ll wait until he’s decided then.”
The kid looked up at Scott, then handed him the card. “Here you go. I was just looking.”
Scott took the card from the young man and gave it a good look. “Seems perfect to me. A strong 9, for sure.”
“Straight up?” My friend answered.
The two shook hands.
The young man looked on as the two shook hands, then dropped his head in what seemed to be disappoint.
“You know,” Scott said, to the kid. “I’m a huge Verlander guy myself.”
“I am. I’ve got about 50 of his cards, two rookies just like this one,” he said, holding up the 2005 Topps Verlander he just traded for.
“That’s cool,” the kid said. “It’s a cool card.”
“You said you’re a Verlander collector, right?”
The kid nodded.
“And you have lots of his cards, but you don’t have any rookies, right?”
“How about I give this one to you, and then you can have a rookie, too.”
The child’s eyes lit up.
“Really. Here you go, from one Verlander fan to another.”
“Thank you so much!” He grabbed the card and looked it over in amazement before walking away.
“That was really nice of you,” I said.
“When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a Cabrera Topps Traded,” Scott said. “But I didn’t have that kind of money when I was 10 years old. I tried to save, but just never could. And my folks didn’t have it to give me either. Then, I was at a show with my dad, and some guy comes up to me and says he heard me telling one of the dealers over there how much I loved Miguel Cabrera and how I didn’t have a Topps traded Cabrera. Then he just hands me one and walks away. I said if I ever got the chance to do that for some kid, I would. So, this seemed like that chance.”
I shook Scott’s hand and felt so much better about the hobby than I did before I walked into that show.
My friend shook Scott’s hand as well, handing the two cards back to him that he traded.
“I don’t want these back,” Scott said. “I don’t.”
“I insist,” my friend said. “I do.”
“Really,” Scott said. “It’s cool.”
“Let’s split the difference then, take one back at least. Then we both can feel even better.”
Scott mulled it over, “Okay. Deal.”
They shook hands once again, and Scott continued to make his way down the aisle of tables at the show.
In an era when we’re inundated with content about super-sized deals and cards valued in the millions of dollars.
When people judge the strength of the hobby in financial terms instead of human terms, I was reminded this hobby isn’t about money at all. Despite what these clowns want you to believe.
The hobby will always be about people like Scott, about kids and Verlander rookies, and dealers and shop owners who value people more than profit.
These folks are out there, still — lot’s of them.
They’re just harder to see now, harder to hear amongst the noise of screaming breakers and snake-oil-sales opportunists flooding the hobby, chasing the quick buck.