Baseball Card Shake-Up
Baseball cards were once the currency of this neighborhood’s younger crowd. The cards were hawked and traded like shares on Chicago’s venerable stock exchanges. Local outposts like Grandstand and Paul’s Shoppee were established to meet the growing demand for product. Beckett price guides were available in every store from Balich’s on Armour Square’s east side to La Familia on 31rst and Lock St, just blocks from the Bridgeport’s west end. Countless hours were spent by local kids pouring over their personal collections deciding what to keep and what to sell or trade. Yet amid all this activity no one ever noticed that the oldest and biggest maker of trading cards was carrying out a secret ordering system worthy of a Dan Brown novel.
The New York Times reported this week that the Topps Company has moved away from its traditional number ordering system. This system, which has never been acknowledged by the company, has also gone unnoticed by virtually every collector we’ve met south of the Chicago River. That such a system ever existed and could slip by locals like Grandstand’s famous buyer “the monocled Pete” is a real shock.
Fortunately, Bridgeport collectors know how to handle a shock in the trading card marketplace. Many years back the rogue card seller Frankie Z, of Paul Shoppee fame, tried to introduce his own set of cards to the trading market. Mr. Z printed cards with photos of various famous players like Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson. These cards portrayed players in unique situations, often donning new uniforms or holding a championship trophy weeks before the big card companies could produce something similar. Local traders had no idea how to price these cards. Card speculators began popping up everywhere, Grandstand opened a second store and Bridgeport became the biggest trading card market in Chicago.
Amid all this activity the sharper minds in the neighborhood realized the bubble would burst. While outsiders were buying up all the card stock, locals realized it was time to divest. Table talk at places like Freddie’s 2 revealed the Frankie Z was lavishing in his newfound earnings and neglecting his business. Hoodlums were heisting Frankie's bootleg cards two at a time behind the back of the honorable Mary Corso who was more concerned with tracking the sale of blue Dickies pants and assorted Christmas decorations in the store. The market was oversaturated and most of the cards had no value.
Thankfully, most of the upstanding kids in the neighborhood survived this fiasco and held on to their name brand cards which surely include a box or two of Topps cards whose backsides they will now inspect more closely.