To those of us who were adults when Ken Griffey Jr. was a young player, it might have seemed a little strange to listen to the discussion after he was elected to the Hall of Fame. The overriding tone was one of nostalgia. The sweet swing. The leaping grabs at the wall.
Wait, is Junior really old enough to be thought of as “nostalgic”?
Yup, because how you classify it depends on your age. Retirees think of the post-War era. For those in their 50s, it’s the 1960s and 1970s. And so it goes. No one generation has a monopoly on memories.
What became obvious in reading the online columns, the Facebook posts and Twitter tweets was that there remains an enormous connection between Junior and baseball cards. I lost track of the times his 1989 Upper Deck card was mentioned, used as a photo or pantomimed on imaginary Junior Hall of Fame plaques. For many, it is still a huge part of what he is.
Griffey is going to Cooperstown and weren’t his baseball card the coolest thing ever?
It was actually pretty extraordinary to see. Other than Honus Wagner, there is no other player in the history of baseball whose career is aligned so closely with one single baseball card. Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is valuable but his fans’ memories tend to lean more toward photographs or his cards as a whole and it really didn’t become a huge deal until much later.
It reaffirms what we’ve mentioned many times. The feeling kids who grew up in the “Beckett era” have toward sports cards is incredibly powerful. Their fondest memories are centered around collecting because from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, a time before the internet became all consuming, just about every kid was into it. The motivation wasn’t always pure. Some hoped their cards would put them through college and we all know how that turned out.
For many, though, it’s the feeling that cards and collecting gave them that they remember most. Riding bikes to the local convenience or drug store to buy packs. Convincing mom to drive them to the card store or a local show. Looking over their collections and making trades with friends on summer days. Spending time with dad, talking sports. Anxiously awaiting the mailman’s delivery of the new monthly price guide or maybe a fresh box of cards. Wearing their cap backwards because Junior did. It was a huge part of the fabric of growing up.
Their childhood rushes back when they see him and money aside, the memories are all good.
The countless references to Griffey’s baseball cards and that era was a huge jolt of free publicity for the hobby and it has a chance to last for another seven months or so.
Kids who were ten years old in 1989 are 36 now. They may have ten year olds of their own. Smart dealers and other hobby businesses were ready to market to that generation in the days leading up to Junior’s election. While the last few years have seen some of those 1990s kids come back to the hobby on their own, Griffey provides an obvious, attractive reference point. Those fathers are looking to buy some of those cards they couldn’t afford as kids. They want their own kids to experience what they did on some level. They don’t hate 1989 Donruss or 1990 Fleer. It’s their youth.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are this generation’s Junior Griffey and Frank Thomas. There are far too many products now and the hobby is far more confusing, but the nuts and bolts remain. Buy a pack, open it and hope. Collect a player. Buy a single card. Get autographs. With the internet, it’s all even more accessible.
Whenever sports collecting makes its way into popular media–mainstream or social–in a big way, it’s a major opportunity for anyone looking to expand a hobby-related business. Join the discussion in as many places as you can. Write a great blog post and link it in your reply or comment. Find people who are talking about it and wondering how to get back in and help them. Post Griffey cards on Instagram. Offer yourself as a guest to local media outlets or sports talk program looking for guests. Put an ad online or in your local paper. Put your Griffey cards on eBay, COMC or another online sales outlet or Facebook group and invite buyers to recapture other players from their youth. Join a local or regional business association (probably made up of guys in their 30s and 40s) and reference Griffey on your business cards and promotional material.
If I were running a show, I’d use Griffey’s cards to market it.
Having more kid collectors from The Kid’s era re-engage and having that wave sweep up some youngsters along the way is incredibly important for the hobby’s long-term future.
Most cards from an era that’s been largely dismissed as “junk” will never be worth much by themselves. That’s not the point. Seeing the big picture and what the most important player from that era is still doing to people is what matters most.