I’ve talked about the most valuable baseball cards of the 1970s and 1980s. But what about the least valuable baseball cards? What does it take to be on that list? What is the Kmart blue-light special of baseball cards?
If you collected baseball cards in the 1980s and you’re disappointed that your Jose Canseco rookie cards didn’t achieve Mickey Mantle-like values, you probably already guessed 1980s baseball cards are among the least valuable.
You’d be correct. Huge popularity in the 1980s led to huge overproduction in the 1980s and even into the 1990s. Baseball cards of people who played shortstop for the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s in less than perfect condition are worth less than a penny. Think of players like Angel Salazar, Rafael Belliard, and Al Pedrique.
Bench players and any other non-stars from the same era fall into the same category. Even star players, if they aren’t rookie cards, aren’t worth much. The thing to remember is that in the 1980s and even the 1990s, almost every boy collected cards. Even kids who didn’t like baseball very much collected and traded cards for the social aspect. And more of us saved our cards than saved our other toys.
Perhaps the least valuable baseball cards of all: 1982 Kmart
But when I think of the least valuable baseball cards, one thing comes to mind. The notorious 1982 Kmart set.
In 1982, Kmart celebrated its 20th anniversary with a commemorative baseball card set made by Topps. The bulk of the set reprinted the vintage Topps cards of MVPs from every year from 1962 to 1981. For Maury Wills, the 1962 MVP, and Fred Lynn, the 1975 MVP, Topps had to fabricate cards. Topps didn’t have Wills under contract in 1962, and Lynn shared space on his 1975 card with three other rookies.
Topps rounded out the 44-card set with a handful of cards commemorating records set between 1962 and 1981.
Some baseball cards of retired players became valuable. The 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie and 1948 Leaf Babe Ruth come to mind. But normally, cards of retired players don’t. Overproduced cards of retired players really don’t.
And Kmart overestimated demand on this one. Initially Kmart priced the set at $1.97. But by August, Kmart was selling them at two for $1. By the end of the year, Kmart had marked it down to 25 cents or even 10 cents, and some stores still had inventory into 1983. By comparison, a pack of 15 cards from Topps’ regular-issue set cost 30 cents in 1982. The 1982 Kmart set may have the distinction of being the most overproduced set of the overproduction era.
The set hasn’t recovered much value. If you shop around, you can still find this set for less than its original retail price of $1.97 on Ebay.
What to do with your least valuable baseball cards
The first time I saw a coffee table decoupaged with 1980s baseball cards, it gave me a bit of a jolt. There was the prized possession of my childhood, permanently altered. But common cards in not-quite perfect condition have negligible value. The only thing rare about them is someone who wants to buy them. Most of the people who want those cards already have as many as they want.
So, if you’re a baseball fan and wallpapering your wall with 1980s and/or 1990s baseball cards sounds like a way to enjoy them, go for it. You’re not hurting anyone by doing so.
But I have another idea too. That 1982 Kmart set was a bonanza for kids like me. For pocket change, we got 44 big-name players. I make fun of that set now, but I sure liked it in 1983. If you have or know kids who show an interest in baseball, turn them loose with some of the stars from the junk era. They might get something out of it. You almost assuredly will.