Baseball Card Fad Is Growing in a Minor Way

Associated Press

New York Mets infielder Gregg Jefferies may be starting the season slowly on the field, but the rookie’s minor league baseball card is a hit among collectors.

His 1986 Columbia (S.C.) Mets card is selling for $70. Not bad, considering a set of the entire team could have been bought for $3.95 two years ago.

The card is not unique. Chicago Cubs’ Mark Grace’s 1987 Pittsfield (Mass.) Cubs card and Philadelphia’s Ricky Jordan’s 1986 Reading Phillies card go for $27 each. A 1986 Omaha Royals’ card of David Cone--a Mets’ pitcher--goes for $16.


Minor league cards are a big hit, and a printing company in suburban Philadelphia is considered the main reason.

The owners of ProCards, Inc., started small--producing a set of cards for the Reading team in 1985. “The fans loved them. The players loved them,” said Jan Marcus, head of the team’s marketing.

ProCards owners--Jeff Rogovin and Jon Metzger--then went to baseball’s meetings the following winter, hoping to sign 30 to 35 teams. Instead, 88 teams wanted sets. After a boom of 102 teams in 1988, the company this year is producing cards for 77 teams, including all 26 Triple-A teams, 16 of 26 double-AA teams and 23 single-A. There are about 150 minor league teams in the country.

“The teams give them away on promotion nights and sell them from the souvenir stands,” said Rogovin.

The players enjoy the cards as much as the fans.

In the past five years, “We’ve only had one or two players refuse to pose,” Rogovin said. “Its amazing. The players will be at practice all day in the hot sun, but they’re willing to stand in line to get on a baseball card.”

Only a handful of players have refused to pose, “and they’ve called back later to see if there was any way to get one,” Rogovin said. “But by then they are out of luck.”

Unlike major league cards--which are printed in the fall and begin appearing on stands after the beginning of each year--the minor league cards are printed at the beginning of the season, after spring trainin begins.

“That way, we get up to the minute team rosters,” Rogovin said. “We’ve even had guys traded at the beginning of the spring on both teams’ cards.”

ProCards also receives a player’s current stats from Boston-based Howe Sports Data International, the official statisticians of the minor leagues.

Mary Huston, publisher of the Minor League Monthly Price Guide, said the stats are a major reason ProCards stand out from the cards produced by four other, smaller firms.

“Their stats go back the furthest, while some of the others only use the last two years,” Ms. Huston said.

The stats are important because most collectors guess which players will move into the major leagues, thereby increasing the value of their minor league cards.

Unlike major league card collecting--where complete team sets are important--minor league card collecting focuses on individual players. “You have to dig a little bit more to find cards that may turn out to be blue-chip investments,” she said.

Irv Goldblatt, a Philadelphia card collector known as “the baseball man,” agreed. “There usually is only regional interest in a team. Only the fans in a minor league city want the set.”

Only cards of stars like Jefferies sell well, Goldblatt said, “but even that’s a limited market.”

Limited because ProCards produces only a certain amount of cards per team. The number produced overall--about 20 million--sounds enormous, but that’s fewer than 9,000 cards per player. And the 20 million seems tiny compared to the major league card producers such as Topps, Inc. Topps spokesman Kenneth Liss said “well over a billion cards” are produced each year.

Ms. Huston’s guide indicates interest in minor league cards has been growing. She began the North Lima, Ohio-based guide in Nov. 1988, producing 3,000 copies. Currently, she sells about 5,000 each month. There have been minorleague cards of some sort almost since the beginning of organized baseball, but collecting had almost died out before ProCards jumped into the market. “This is the heyday of collecting,” she said.

Ironically, neither Rogovin or Metzger are avid collectors. Metzger’s mother threw his collection out years ago, and he now collects sparingly.

Rogovin collects only items connected with his cousin, Saul Rogovin, a journeyman pitcher who posted a 48-48 record back in the 1950s.

Last year, the two branched out of minor league baseball cards and into minor league hockey cards.

They approached the local American Hockey League club, the Hershey Bears. “We looked into it,” said Doug Wingst, a Bears spokesman, “And decided they would be good publicity.”

With the Bears’ help, the other 13 AHL teams and five International hockey League teams signed up for the season.

“They’ve been received tremendously,” Wingst said.

Are major league plans in ProCards’ future? Rogovin declined to comment, but Metzger said, “I wouldn’t rule that out.”