I Pulled a Rare Mike Trout Card and It Took Me Days to Notice

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Recently I was picking up a couple of things at the local Walmart. Of course, as a sports card collector, swinging by the card aisle was a must. Some 2020 Topps Series 2 Baseball had made its way to Canada so I grabbed a hanger box to see how it compared to the couple of hobby packs I’d gotten a day or two before.

I was very much in sample mode and wasn’t expecting much. And after a parking lot break, complete with balancing everything on my knees as I went through the stack of 67 cards, I didn’t see anything that caught my attention. No big rookies (or in the case of Series 2, no Luis Robert) and the inserts were all run-of-the-mill.

Or so I thought.

When I got home, I put the contents of the pack on my desk and left them there, not thinking much of them. A week went by before I decided to sort them. That’s how exciting it was.

While putting the inserts in penny sleeves like I always do and merging them into the couple of inserts I’d gotten in my earlier hobby packs, I noticed something on the back of the Player of the Decade: Mike Trout insert that was in the hanger box.

A serial number was sitting right there on the back like a cat sitting in a midday shadow — not drawing attention to itself, but not exactly hiding, either.

31/50.

What the heck? It turns out there was something interesting in this otherwise unassuming hanger box.

It was just so unassuming that it took me days to realize it.

Cool Cards or Rare Cards?

Make no mistake about it, I like getting something rare from a pack of cards. I don’t necessarily expect to, especially a Mike Trout out of 50 from a random pack off the shelf at Walmart.

I also love cards that have a cool factor. These don’t need long odds. A one-per-pack insert that grabs me is often enough to make me go much longer on a product that I might otherwise (hello, Prizm Red, White and Blues).

Often we give a serial number a pass due to their rarity. But should we be?

My feelings are mixed. I’m not going to complain about getting card of the best player in baseball that’s 1:1,051 hanger boxes (and translates to 1:5,001 hobby packs).

But even after my discovery, I can’t say I’m excited, either.

A rare card should stand out. The 2020 Topps Player of the Decade: Mike Trout Golds do not.

Upon spotting the serial number, I had to look to see what the difference was. On the front, it’s minimal. That thin tear in the background about a third of the way has a slight gold tint. That’s it. That and the serial number are all that make it Gold. No foil, no sparkle, nothing that even remotely stands out. A change in hue in a small spot that your eye isn’t drawn to in the first place.

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen it, either. We’re in an age of parallels. Not only does almost every base set have them, but a ton of inserts do as well with long lists of versions. In this particular set alone, all 25 cards have base, Blue, Black (/299), Gold (/50), Red (/10), Platinum (1/1) and Autograph (1/1) versions.

Go Big, Go Bold

Are all these parallels on virtually every part of virtually every checklist necessary? I can see both sides. As a collective, the modern hobby demands rarity. Adding parallels and expanding those lineups is one way to have a lot of aspects with smaller print runs. But if we’re going to get lots of parallels for everything, it’d be nice if they stood out more. Use different technologies, something over-the-top — anything as long as it’s easy to see and makes a difference in the card. Small slivers of color don’t count as a big difference to me, especially when they go with the design already.

Relying on a serial number to definitively know that it’s a parallel definitely isn’t enough.

That’s what I like about a lot of chromium products today. Not only do the various colors often pop in unmistakable ways, but there are patterns. Waves, Pulsars, Scope, Velocity, Mojo Superfractors — all have strange names but they add to a card’s overall presentation. And when I get something that looks cool and makes me want to study a card, I care a lot less about how many there are. If enough collectors feel the same way about a particular card type, strong demand leads to higher prices.

Look at how Silver Prizms have become a benchmark, especially in basketball, in the past couple of years. For the most recent Prizm NBA sets, they’re the only parallels available across both retail and hobby. They’re among the most popular (and valuable) cards in the product despite others having significantly smaller production numbers.

Again, I have a fondness for landing something tough. It feels like the cardboard gods were looking down on you during a particular parking lot rip. But combining “rare” and “cool” (or at the very least, noticeable at first glance), cards become much more appealing. That gives them more opportunity to be chased and appreciated instead of being something closer to checklist bloat.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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10 comments

  1. Jordan L 11 August, 2020 at 19:21

    You are on point with parallels need to stand out! Die cuts, foil, different ink, surface finish, card stock, something big and obvious!

  2. Anthony Leveillee 11 August, 2020 at 19:39

    You mention “putting the inserts in penny sleeves like I always do”. I’d be curious what system you use to determine how each card gets stored (e.g. penny sleeve, toploader, one touch, slab, etc.)?

    • Ryan Cracknell 13 August, 2020 at 18:31

      @Anthony – Pretty random. Inserts, stars and rookies get penny sleeves. Things worth more than a couple of dollars go in top loaders. One touches are fairly hard to come by in my neck of the woods so only big stuff get those. But there are always exceptions for sets I page, what I have on hand at that point, etc.

      But my inserts go in a separate box so penny sleeves are a must before I put them away.

  3. Joseph Visaggi 11 August, 2020 at 21:22

    Completely agree.

    I’d rather have cool/interesting looking inserts and parallels than low numbered cards that are boring.

  4. Kerry Orton 11 August, 2020 at 22:16

    I get what you are trying to say, Ryan. I am not a parallel chaser by nature, but I like unusual differences, like the zebra prizm of Panini and the blue wave of Bowman Chrome. Putting a serial number on a card because of a small difference in photo or border color does not do anything for me. But, make the background pop in color or change the texture and it makes sense.

  5. Angel 12 August, 2020 at 01:32

    Cards with gold serial numbers are they worth something now and silver and colored serial numbers have value today also i have a ty cobb cigarette card bat in shoulder need to knw if its worth anything or is a fake what do i need to do to find.

  6. alex majors 12 August, 2020 at 06:34

    Funny, the EXACT same type thing happened to me in Series 1 with one of the Rhys Hoskins insert cards highlighting his career. I had someone trade me 10 blasters for a vintage card, and they all contained some of these inserts. I noticed that I had pulled a “black” one to /199. But, nearly a month later, when I had a fat stack & figured I could complete the 30 card set, I started sorting. And, after about 15 minutes I was to the last dozen or so cards, just as I was about to sort out another double something caught MY eye, & it was the SAME thing, a gold parallel /50. And, while I could (barely but could) differentiate the “blue” & “black” parallels, they have “their” color more concentrated from the top right @ about 1pm & it goes clockwise down and around to about 8 or9pm. But the Gold, though, were supposedly worth $10 vs. $3 for blue & $4 for black parallels (and $20 for the red /5’s). So, hey, SWEET LOVE, a Gold /50 card! Never a BAD thing, but, I know that every rainbow foil card I pull, I notice. And no matter if it’s the Lux RC or a Jean Segura, I’m like a RACCOON with a shiny object, transfixed for a few minutes, checking out the colors poppin’, and the 3-D-ish effect they have to differing degrees if you look. So, I TOTALLY agree that there ARE a lot of cards with manufactured (i .e. “forced”)rarity these days. I’m sure there are collectors that, whether because they’re trying to complete a set or are just BIG Rhys Hoskins fans (which I totally understand!), would be willing to plunk down the $10 for the gold card. But, I have found that, even if some of the less flashy, obvious, maybe visually appealing cards are produced in lower #’s and are by definition (more) rare, I rarely get the “HI” value for them on the secondary market. I’d expect probably about $5 for it if I listed it on eBay w/no reserve, and at the same time, a “rainbow foil” Gleyber Torres, which books “HI” at $6, I could see anywhere from $6 all the way up to $10 for it. So, I COMPLETELY agree with the sentiment that it’s always nice to get a card that is, by production standards, pretty rare. When I’m ripping packs, it’s all about the look of a card that gets my attention & makes me pause to appreciate it, if not howl & pump my fist. Thanks for what I think is a pretty relevant article especially with the growing aftermarket values sports cards are seeing in 2020. And, fellow cardboard collectors, LOOK AT YOUR INSERTS!! I also saw a guy who was sorting thru his 2019 Topps inserts counting them up for cheap “lots” on eBay, and almost flipped right by (again) a 1/1 Trout insert card! You never know what you got if you don’t really look. And if I am having to buy reading glasses to check the MICROSCOPIC print codes on every card, best believe I’ll take at least a quick glance at every single insert card I pull. Good luck everybody, hope you pull somethin’ SWEET on your next rip!

  7. fred 12 August, 2020 at 08:47

    You hit on something I have been harping on for years. It’s fine if Topps (or any other brand) wants to make endless paralells for cards, but it is utterly counterproductive if the differences are too subtle to notice. It goes all the way back to the 90’s when Topps first started doing refractors of the finest issues and the only way to tell was to hold them up to the light. Pretty annoying and time consuming. Then there’s 2007 Ultra trying to tell the difference between hobby and retail pack cards. Apparently the tiny bit of foil on the front of the card is different. 2006 Upper Deck Special FX has a blue parallel that had me staring at cards trying to figure out if the card was the parallel or just had a blue sky in the background. 2018 Topps Inserts all had unnumbered blue parallels, many of which you wouldn’t notice unless you knew exactly where to look for the color changes (I still haven’t figured out the MLB Awards insert set. I’m sure I have “blue parallels” in my regular set but I have no idea how to tell them apart. Any help would be greatly appreciated).

    I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.

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