Sports Memorabilia

A Mickey Mantle baseball card is displayed at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. AP photo

After the coronavirus pandemic struck the world in 2020, most of us were stuck at home, perhaps taking up hobbies during our newfound free time. And many people turned their eyes — and wallets — to a hobby that seems to make mainstream headlines every few years or so.

The sportscard hobby exploded to heights not seen since the early 1990s, as Americans with stimulus money to burn spent it on 2 1/2-inch-by 3 1/2-inch images of LeBron James and Tom Brady and Shohei Ohtani. The card sections of retail stores, once bursting with packs and boxes, became ghost towns as a lucky few made off with a mother lode. (Thankfully, that has come to pass and card sections are back to their pre-pandemic levels.)

Maybe you’re someone who has returned to the hobby — er, The Hobby — after a lengthy absence. For hobbyists new and old, here’s a handy glossary of baseball card terminology. 

(Yes, I know much of what you’ll read is sardonic and petty, but as a collector myself, I’m guilty as charged of many of many of the barbs below. And for the record, I do like Mike Trout and wish he played for a team that knew what it was doing.) 

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie Card: One of the most famous cards ever, even though his real rookie card is in the 1951 Bowman set. (Don’t tell that to the legions of Mantle worshippers and eBay sellers out there, though; a war is likely to break out as a result.) The definitive example of a lie that got told so many times it became the truth.

2011 Topps Mike Trout Rookie Card: A card that goes for enormous amounts of money considering a) Topps probably printed enough copies to satisfy every person in North America; b) Trout is stuck on a team with no recent postseason success; c) No one outside of baseball or The Hobby knows who or what a Mike Trout is (thanks, ESPN).


Auto: Short for autograph, as in autographed cards, photos or jerseys. Many collectors give up their autos (as in cars) so they can afford an auto (as in card) of Mike Trout. 

Beckett: 1) The inventor of the price guide, The Hobby’s Eve-eats-the-apple moment. 2) A pretty good pitcher for the Marlins and Red Sox in the 2000s, but his rookie card can be had for only a couple bucks, so he’s irrelevant to this discussion.

Collectors: Many investors claim they are this at heart. They also claim Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran is going to be an All-Star.

Don Mattingly: If you poll The Hobby, by far and away the greatest baseball player of all time and easily the most famous athlete of the 1980s, if not the entire second half of the 20th century.

Drop: 1) The moment a new product is released. 2) Something you don’t want to do to your 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie Card if it’s out of the holder.

eBay: Where you know you’re going to pay way too much for a card you badly want. Also where you pay $10 shipping for a $1.98 card.


Flip: 1) When investors buy a card at one price and turn around and sell it at a higher price as if it were real estate. 2) Something kids used to physically do to their 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie Cards, thus guaranteeing a lack of mint specimens for future generations to pursue.

Grading/graded: A “service” that judges the condition of your card on a scale of 1-10. Can make your $15 near-mint card into a $1,500 near-mint card. See PSA.

Investors: People who thought those 1988 Donruss Gregg Jefferies cards were going to put their kids through college then and think modern autos, relics and rookie cards will do the same for their grandkids now.

Junk Wax Era: Phrase to describe a period of extreme overproduction of sports cards, from roughly 1987-92. “Wax” comes from what used to coat the card wrappers — and stain the cards. 

Mickey Mantle: The perfect All-American boy who can do no wrong in the eyes of dewey-eyed vintage collectors, none of whom obviously never read “Ball Four.” See nostalgia.

Mike Trout: The only baseball player who comes within a solar system of Don Mattingly’s awesomeness, despite his having played even fewer postseason games (3) than Donnie Baseball (5). 


Mint: 1) The absolute best condition for a card. 2) What it will cost you to get a desirable card. 

Nostalgia: The basis of The Hobby, which was (and still is) built on the back of the 1950s and ’60s, when the best players played and Topps made the best cards, if vintage collectors and old hobby publications are to be believed.

Panini: Maker of NFL, NBA and MLB cards, the latter of which have no team logos because Panini lacks an MLB license (Topps has the MLB exclusive). People buy Panini baseball cards only if 1) their local store is out of Topps; 2) they really, really like Pete Rose, who is banned from Topps cards because of his lifetime ban from MLB.

Parallel: It’s the same card, only with different color borders or something else that makes it more valuable and desirable to collectors/investors because it is short-printed. Because who doesn’t want a Mike Trout card with purple-green borders?

Pasty, middle-aged guys: The backbone of The Hobby since the 1990s, who with more dispensable income, quickly priced out kids, the former backbone. A frankly derogatory stereotype, but as one myself, I can tell you it’s true.

AP F A MA USA Topps Takeover

In this March 6, 2007 file photo, Topps baseball cards are seen in Boston. AP photo

Pull: A preferably expensive card of a superstar like Mike Trout that collectors and investors brag about on social media, while failing to mention the thousands of dollars in packs of worthless cards they probably had to rip through to get that one good pull.


Price Guide: Before eBay and the internet, something that once was in more American homes than Bibles. See Beckett.

PSA: Short for Professional Sports Authenticator, the premier grading service. Where you spend $250 to have someone else determine the condition of your $15 card.

Rare: Any card or set with a print run under 10 million. If you don’t believe me, do an eBay search using the phrases “1990 Fleer baseball” and “rare.

Relic: 1) A card with piece of a player’s uniform that often goes for more on eBay than the player’s actual uniform. 2) Someone who collects for fun.

Rookie Card: The only card of a player that matters. Anything else might as well be junk wax. Also something you probably can’t afford without a second mortgage.

Second Mortgage: How many collectors fund their habit.


The Hobby: Always capital T, always capital H. The Hobby is the only hobby in existence. Collectors of Star Wars, WWE/AEW or Elvis plates please look elsewhere.  The Hobby is a very serious endeavor. The Hobby is a registered trademark and is used with permission of the copyright holder.

Topps: The king of cards, which has made baseball card sets annually since 1951. Many of its products are unabashedly drenched in nostalgia and carry retro themes. Topps seems to churn out a new set every 6 hours.

Vintage: Fancy way of saying old cards.

YouTube: Place where people post videos of their great pulls. Easily identifiable by the high number of capital letters, exclamation points, shocked faces and OMGs in the video titles/thumbnails. 

Comments are no longer available on this story