No one was more unprepared for the brief and preposterous baseball card boom of the 1990s than the companies that manufactured and sold those cards. This is not to say that I, as a tweenage idiot, was capable of assimilating and comprehending the fact that the baseball cards I’d stockpiled out of rote guppy-brained acquisitiveness were suddenly Worth Some Money. I absolutely was not, and while my brain was filled exclusively with useless dopey bullshit at that age, none of it was more useless or dopier than the idea that I would, someday some years down the line, be able to parlay my collection of Phil Plantier and Kevin Maas rookie cards into the purchase of a decent sedan.
The fact that the league figured out Plantier and Maas after a couple hundred plate appearances definitely didn’t help, there, but the bigger problem was that the card companies of the era had no idea what to do about the fact that people—adults, even—were suddenly so interested in buying their products. Their response, which was printing huge volumes of some of the ugliest and most useless cards ever seen on earth, suggests that they didn’t know why people were interested, either. Scarcity still drives the market for baseball cards, which the remaining card companies leverage by scattering rare parallels and autographs and cards with little swatches of uniform pants throughout their products; the common cards exist in large part to pad out the distances between those scarce and valuable hits. In the early ’90s, card companies responded to demand with a buttload of supply and nothing else. Even if Phil Plantier had gone on hitting dingers, I was never going to get anything for those cards because there were millions of them in print and every little idiot like me was holding onto them.
But that’s not the end of the story, of course. All those cards—the junky, blurry, tossed-off anti-collectibles for grimacing fourth outfielders and porky situational lefties—didn’t simply disappear because no one wanted them. They are not worth anything in the conventional sense, but there’s some value there all the same. You need only witness how deliriously excited I was upon being shown a Glenn Braggs card pulled from the reader-submitted Treasure Trove Box Of Guys to know two things: all those Guys still have some strange and hard-to-define value despite the card companies’ best efforts to the contrary, and also I haven’t really gotten any smarter where this shit is concerned than I was when I was 12 years old.
So yeah: I was excited to see the Guys, which in this case include a young Dante Bichette, an older Lee Smith, the return of both Spanky LaValliere and my terrible French accent, and a fucking manager card, of course. Lauren was mostly excited by the possibility of making me chew gum that I didn’t want to chew, but that’s nothing new. Yes, these cards are worthless because of bad business decisions and because of how baseball talent is distributed throughout the broader population. I was, and remain, glad to see them anyway.