• Image about Dan Fox

After a boom-and-bust cycle, baseball-card collecting is back on the upswing.

In the minds of nonbelievers, baseball-card collecting has traditionally ranked somewhere between scrapbooking and pet-rock maintenance on the scale of innocuous hobbies. Those who never spent an afternoon poring through piles of the lavishly illustrated, meticulously annotated pieces of cardboard — who never experienced the adrenaline surge that coincides with the arrival of a virgin box or chomped down on the pavement-hard sticks of gum that accompanied the packs of years past — never truly understood what could prompt grown men to indulge in what they perceived to be a young boy’s hobby.

And if they didn’t understand the hobby’s appeal in the days before high-definition TV and multiplayer video games, well, they sure don’t understand it now. But despite the perception in some quarters that baseball-card collecting is a quaint relic of a bygone era, there’s reason to believe that the hobby remains vital. Indeed, as technology affords collectors better ways to connect, and as card companies better tailor their offerings to both pikers and whales (the latter of which is card-store lingo for customers who drop five grand each time they walk in the door), baseball-card collecting is on the cusp of reinventing itself.

“Just like every category in the age of the Internet and technology, the hobby is changing,” says Clay Luraschi — who, as director of product development for venerable card maker the Topps Company, obviously has a vested interest in the matter. “Is it where it [was] in the late ’80s and early ’90s? No. But it’s still here, has a very strong base, and can still excite kids when executed properly.”

The boom period to which Luraschi alludes saw aggressive expansion within the industry. As collectors clamored for more product and upstart card companies fought for the privilege to supply it, Major League Baseball and its players weren’t about to refuse the licensing-fee bounties being tossed at their feet. As a result, the market quickly approached saturation, with longtime collectors bemoaning the quality and ubiquity of the new lines.

“It was just glutted, plus the people buying up the cards weren’t collectors — they were speculators,” recalls Dan Fox, owner of Fox Sports Cards in Marion, Illinois. It certainly didn’t thrill Fox and his ilk when the news media fanned the frenzy, instructing its viewers to raid grandma’s attic for the lucrative cache that may have survived the Great Spring House-Cleaning Purge of 2002.

Alas, that rush followed the trajectory of every other rush, and baseball-card collecting settled into the lower-profile space it currently occupies. Assessing the state of the baseball-card union with any degree of accuracy, however, is a challenging assignment.