If I Could Give You One Piece of Sports Card Collecting Advice for 2021


It’s officially a new year. For many, it means a time for resolutions. Speaking from personal experience, these are often wishy-washy, broken in a couple of days and forgotten following a brief period of guilt. Over the years, I’ve become more a fan of having running goals and a sense of continual improvement and growth.

Getting better at something, whether that’s a job, skill set, health or hobby, should always be on your mind, not for just one day that often follows a late night of festivities and, sometimes, a killer headache.

This year is different, though.

But there should be one overriding theme that needs to be constant: collect what makes you happy.

Fresh Starts

Thanks to the events of last year, January, 2021 is a great time for a fresh start in the hobby. The new NBA basketball card season normally kicks off in the fall. But thanks to the delay to the start of the 2020-21 season, it’s just around the corner.

The 2021 baseball card season is coming up soon as well. That’s normal, but there’s still lots to look forward, especially if you’re a rookie collector. Because of the very late start to last season, it made for sparse RC offerings. But that means all those 2020 debuts from high-profile prospects like Joey Bart, Jo Adell, Casey Mize and Nick Madrigal will start getting MLB Rookie Cards.

But with new card seasons comes more cards, more choices and, sometimes, more stress.

The Moment

As collectors, we often get caught up in the moment. We see something new and we naturally want to chase it. And just as we start digging in, another new batch of cards comes along and the cycle repeats. That was fine and realistic when there were less than ten products per sport each year. Now there’s often 40-50 mainstream sets plus weekly side orders of online-only releases, both one-shot products and ongoing sets.

That makes focus more important than ever when it comes to collecting sports cards. I’m a strong believer that focus is a key to hobby happiness.

Just because there are lots of products out there, it doesn’t mean that you’re meant to chase everything. You’re not. When you go to your favorite restaurant, you probably have some favorites. When it comes time to pick a movie to watch, you probably gravitate towards certain genres or filmmakers.

Sports cards are like that now, too. Each product is geared towards a specific audience. Forgetting this and chasing everything often leads to stacks of stuff you might like but most of that probably doesn’t bring the kind of joy that a more focused collection could. If the only reason you go through old monster boxes is to look for forgotten cards of breakout stars, there’s a good chance a lot of that is more accumulation than a personalized attention.

Hype Isn’t Happiness

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of popular products and hot cards. But what other people are collecting doesn’t mean that you have to.

If you haven’t taken the time to figure out what kinds of cards you like. Is it a style of card? A particular type? A certain era? There’s probably a few factors involved, but it’s important to narrow it down. If you’re still not sure, look at your favorite cards or the ones at the top of your want lists. What’s the common thread that connects them? And don’t limit it to eras and the type of material they’re printed on. Price point is key here as well, especially today when there’s a massive difference in price points.

Once you’ve figured out what you enjoy most about collecting, and that means really narrowing it down, everything else should fall into place.

When something new comes along that doesn’t it with what brings you joy, don’t worry about it. A pack or two might be fun, but going deep is more likely to result in clutter and neglected stacks.

If it doesn’t make you happy, think of it as noise. If a set is truly made for a specific audience and it doesn’t click with you, then you’re not the target.

Move on.

Wait for to come along something that does speak to you. Or revisit a familiar friend.

Say No to Fomo

If a something comes along that you pass on or miss out on, don’t worry about it. You’re not actually out anything. FOMO, the fear of missing out, is natural in today’s hobby. A lot of things happen online, including exclusive releases. These are often short in supply or available for a very limited time. That means we have to make quick decisions to secure a box or that one-day-only print-on-demand card.

Trust your gut. If it doesn’t speak to you right away, pass on it. And if it turns out that something explodes in value and you skipped it, try not to worry about it. There was a reason you didn’t pull the trigger. Jumping on everything as an easy flip is a different kind of animal that can get expensive fast. Not only that, but it will take your hobby in a very different direction that may not be centered on happiness.

The combination of FOMO and speculation gave us more than 99,000 Topps Project 2020 Ken Griffey Jr. Keith Shore cards last year. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

A 2021 State of Mind

Like anything, all this doesn’t mean not to try different things. Hopefully 2021 brings some new lines, new themes, new technology. But just stop and see if it’s within your parameters before diving in too far.

You’d think that sticking to what makes you happy would be easy. It’s not. There’s too much vying for your attention, time and money. The wild ride the industry had in 2020 isn’t going away because we’ve all hung new calendars on the wall.

If you need a reset, there’s no time like today. If you need to stop and assess where you’re at, start now. They longer you wait, the more distractions you’ll find coming at you.

But no matter what’s going on, how many things are coming and going, if you stick to what makes you excited and brings a smile to your face, 2021 will be a great year for your collection.


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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  1. Buchanan Easley 1 January, 2021 at 13:36

    Great advice for both new and veteran collectors.

    Happy 2021 collecting to everyone!

  2. Mark 1 January, 2021 at 16:30

    This is a really good article. There are too many offerings and some are way too expensive. One thing I’m dreading is a huge jump in prices.

  3. Richard Bennett 1 January, 2021 at 17:34

    Will ne 1 card from the over filled late 80s n early 90s baseball. Players b epic soon if not already???

  4. Jason Pronti 2 January, 2021 at 16:56

    Its nice to hit a big price card, but I am always hoping for my team….. My 9 year old daughter collects as well, she doesn’t care if a card is valuable or not, so long as there are Miami Dolphins involved….. Have fun, thats what its about.

  5. Chris Toomey 2 January, 2021 at 19:38

    would be great but you can not buy cards in the stores anymore. There are lines of card flippers waiting every morning on delivery days to buy everything. Not that they are doing anything wrong but it sucks that I have to pay double the price or more online. The recent surge in the hobby will go away again as cards are priced out if the market. I guess my 8 yr old son and me will wait for the correction

  6. Greg G 3 January, 2021 at 04:23

    Agreed, well put Ryan. You need to do what it is that brings that smile to your face, in collecting and life!

  7. mo P 4 January, 2021 at 06:49

    great article. had zero interest in those project 2020; and didnt mind whatever hype they received.

  8. Ryan 27 April, 2021 at 21:16

    Agreed. Great article! I love Panini One Football. Its just my thing ever since they were released in 2018. I get that panic feeling when other new products come out but I have really just stuck to collecting Bengals cards and Panini One. The prices were good and value was good and then Covid happened. I really am trying to get ahold of a PatricK Mahomes 2019 PA which I could’ve bought for about $400 if I wouldve bought at the right time and now they are selling for $5k. It’s insane! I really hope prices drop so I can snag one eventually. I also had to take a step back after getting a couple Burrow RPAs to see if everything calms down again.

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