How Much Money Can You Make Investing in Baseball Cards?

investing in baseball cardsI’ll admit it: I’m different.

When I was five years old, I secured my first summer job as the cashier at a fruit stand where my aunts Helene and Christine worked.

At age seven, I tagged along with my father, waking up at 4am on the weekends to help him change the cups at a golf course he landscaped.

Compounding on that job, I would frisk the woods of the course and grab all the stray golf balls I could find. Then, I would bring them home, clean them, and set up shop on the short par 3 fifth.

Balls were five for $1 if they had a slice or two for $1 if they were nice, clean Titleists. I made a pretty penny.

My Investment Strategy, from a Young Age

Throughout third grade, I ran my own candy shop. Warheads, Jawbreakers, Tootsie Pops… whatever you wanted, I had it.

Mom and I would go to the grocery store, and I would spend 45 minutes in the candy aisle with a notebook. I put a lot of effort into working my food costs and trying to find the right mix for the boys and girls in my class.

Girls were always drawn to the Fireballs. Even their tastebuds were more mature than the boys’ at their age.

After working for six years at McDonald’s, I went to college and once again started looking for an alternative investment.

At the University of Miami, I made friends with someone from Peru who had an inside track on a Lacoste warehouse. I would buy Lacoste polos wholesale, have them shipped to my on-campus apartment, and sell them for half the retail price ($72).

Sizes ranged from 3 to 9, and if you caught me just after a shipment, I would have 15-20 different colors for you to choose from in any size. I made the mistake of expanding the business outside of my university and selling on eBay, at which point I ran into a bit of legal trouble with Lacoste and their fancy New York lawyers.

Ah, fond memories.

Fast forward to today. I’m a blessed father of two in a family of four, yet I still refuse standard investments. Instead, the majority of my investment portfolio resides in baseball, basketball, and football cards.

Three inch by five inch pieces of paper with no real, monetary value… and my family’s future depends on them. I’ve been investing in sports cards now for five years, and I have to tell you, it’s as stressful and exhilarating as anything I’ve experienced.

How I Got Started Investing in Baseball Cards

I started collecting baseball cards when I was in grade school and lost the hobby when I started racking up student loan debt.

Gone were the days when I had discretionary money to buy the things I wanted. However, after now putting ten solid years of hard work behind me, I was able to look into this peculiar strategy.

Having followed sports closely all of my life, I knew the baseball card market pretty well. I decided to spend a few months working message boards and attending card shows to figure out if I could form an investment strategy that made sense.

Would this ultimately be better than anything I could do in stocks, bullion, or real-estate?

I thought so.

In my research, I found that baseball cards act exactly like shares of stock. When a card company (Topps, for example) would print a particular player’s rookie card, they released shares of that player’s stock into the market.

Some players who had high talent ceilings would initially demand a larger price, and players who were not expected to be starters demanded a smaller price.

As the player rose and fell based on their play, the market would adjust the price higher and lower. eBay acted as the broker, selling tens of thousands of cards everyday and, just like a broker, charging a fee for every transaction.

The only questions that remained was this: Which player(s) should I invest in, and how much of the market could I own?

My Best Investments

1. LeBron James 2003 Topps Chrome RC

I started buying LeBron James just 18 months ago and am now almost finished selling everything I have of him. I purchased his base chrome rookie card along with serial numbered variations, of which I estimated around a total of 15,000 existed.

At my peak, I owned around 250 LeBron rookies and made a total initial investment of over $160,000. With just a few cards remaining in my possession, my profit so far has been $241,000, for an ROI of 151%.

2. Andrew Luck 2012 Playoff Contenders Ticket RC Auto

This investment was my first in football, and I began buying Andrew in the Spring of 2013. This card was very limited, with a known print run of only 550 copies plus 200 variations for a total of just 750.

At my peak, I owned 119 of these cards and invested a total of $95,000. In the summer of 2015, the value on this card increased significantly.  I decided to sell the entire collection, raking in a profit of $177,000 and an ROI of 186%.

3. Madison Bumgarner 2008 Bowman Chrome RC Auto

Madison Bumgarner is the collection I’ve held the longest, and, in fact, I’m still investing in it. I started purchasing his cards in the summer of 2013 and haven’t looked back.

There are an estimated 1,200 base autos and another 950 variation autos for a total of 2,150 copies. Of these, I currently own around 225.

To date, I have invested over $65,000 in Madison. I conservatively estimate the collection to be worth around $150,000, were I to liquidate today.

My Worst Investments

1. Oscar Taveras 2012 Bowman w/ Chrome RC Auto

What I considered a can’t-miss investment at the time, Oscar Taveras was a young prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He was as highly touted as anyone I can remember.

I began investing in his cards in early 2013 and watched him work his way up the ranks of the minor leagues, finally making the Cardinals in 2014. After hitting a game-winning HR in an NL Championship game, I thought the investment would pay big dividends.

However, less than a week later, Taveras passed away after a drunk driving accident. My total investment of $75,000 was liquidated down to around $6,000 in the following weeks.

2. Mike Zunino 2012 Bowman Draft RC Auto

This was my worst investment, top to bottom. Zunino was a masher in the minor leagues with tremendous power, and he plays the most valuable position on the field extremely well (catcher).

However, after investing more than $55,000 in Mike, he’s never provided me the opportunity to make a profit because each time he steps up to the play in the big leagues, he strikes out.

I currently own around 475 of the estimated 2,100 total copies of his auto RC; if I were to sell right now, I suspect the collection would be worth no more than $10,000.

3. Tony Cingrani 2012 Bowman Chrome RC Auto

This was the farthest I’ve reached for an investment by picking a player that few thought would do well. I began investing in Cingrani in the spring of 2013; it was a full year before he made the major leagues, so his cards were cheap and plentiful.

With a total print run of around 2,250 copies, I was able to own a whopping 655 of them, for a total investment of $37,000. In 2014, Cingrani had a terrific rookie season — I should have done the prudent thing and liquidated, and I could have made a substantial three-figure ROI.

However, I made the mistake of holding out for more. Cingrani has since been quite awful. I would gladly sell this entire collection for $5,000, but no buyer appears likely.

How I Track My Sports Card Investments

I track my investments in a simple Excel spreadsheet as featured below, notating the date purchased, card name, serial number (if it has one), the price paid, and whether or not the card is in my possession (vs. if it’s in the mail).

Once the card is sold, I update an additional column with the sale price and transaction ID through Paypal. Then, I mark it as sold.

Every tab in the spreadsheet is for a different player. When a collection is closed, I print that sheet and file it away.

Should You Invest in Old or New Cards?

As you may be able to tell from my investments, I’ve chosen to put my money in more recent players than in vintage.

I’ve chosen this because the market is more volatile as active players gain and lose value at a much higher rate than those that are already retired and have established their legacy in the game.

One could make the parallel that vintage represents the mutual funds of the market, and newer players represent the more risky individual stocks.

Related: Stocks and Bonds vs. Mutual Funds

Is Investing in Sports Cards a Viable Investment Option?

The sports market in general is thriving. Team revenues are up across the board. The increased salary size of the players will tell you that while media is changing in the way sports are watched, and viewership continues to rise as a whole.

Investing in baseball cards has allowed me an opportunity to enjoy watching sports from a completely different perspective, while being very fortunate that my investments so far have come out far ahead.

It’s not for everyone, and the level of risk is substantially higher than most other investments. However, if you take the time to understand the market — and you know a little bit about scouting talent — there’s good money to be made.

Do you invest in a non-traditional way? Tell us in the comments!

Topics: Investing

31 Responses to “How Much Money Can You Make Investing in Baseball Cards?”

  1. It is all about timing, just like the stock market. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to buy 200,000+ cards of various sports and games earlier this year from the estate of a previous card shop owner. I actually had the chance to look at these cards for a few weeks and was able to take what I wanted from over 1 million total cards from the 60’s to 2014. I paid 800 for the portion I bought and made my initial investment back within 24 hours. Of the 200,000 cards I realize 99% are landfill worthy, but the 1% should net me over 30K!

  2. James Robbins

    In three years I’ve spent 200 a week using strictly numbers and logic. So just over 31k. On a bad day I got 150k. And I mean bad. If I auctioned everything and got current value average on eBay I’d easily be over 250. It’s crazy being I’m from the 85-91 collecting era. Numbers don’t lie ,all I’m saying

  3. Ryan R Gagnon

    i bought a few Vladdy Guerrero Jrs flipped already for ovr 200% ROI – wish i had bought 100 more at the time – One of my biggest mistakes was Mike Trout’s 2011 Topps update – had a few and some parallels – never in my wildest dreams did i think base cards like that would get to the values they are at now – hindsite is always 20/20 – the gamble is who to buy and when to sell – collectors are more savy now and thinking the same – buy and sell…..

    • I think he is 100% on point. I now look at my collection differently. The stock market is all about speculation, if it was a guaranteed investment EVERYONE would do it.

  4. Great article – I too am a huge sports fan and have been in the market for many years. I recommend purchasing/investing in graded superstar HOFERS. PSA is the leader in graded cards, has a set registry, and commands higher prices. I try to purchase cards ‘with great eye appeal” and at the highest grade I can afford. Stars that will hold value and continue to have demand in my opinion BASEBALL – Ruth, Mantle, Williams, Musial, Aaron, Mays. BASKETBALL – Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt, Bird, Magic, Robertson, West. FOOTBALL – Jim Brown, Unitas, Brady, Payton, Manning, Montana, Rice, LT, Elway, Favre, Marino. HOCKEY – Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, Howe, Esposito. These are some of the best to play their sport and interest/demand should bode well in the future. PSA is opening up a grading operation in Japan and they are receiving record submissions for collectibles. A very good sign for the future.

  5. Anthony

    Thanks for the info. I collect mostly just vintage baseball cards and I just started in my early 40’s and wishing I would have done this years ago. I usually try to get bargains on Ebay at auctions and only buy graded cards but I do have a few that are ungraded. I have two Roberto Clemente rookies, plenty of Mickey Mantles, 1957 Willie Mays and 1951 Joe DiMaggio to name a few. I have been collecting for around 6 years now and the value in most of my cards have already gone up in value,some by over $200 dollars! My thought process is to sale them at retirement age to make a HUGE profit or maybe giving them to a trusting family member to hang on to them if I feel they are responsible enough. It’s a great hobby and investment. My advice is buy as many Mantle, Ruth’s and even DiMaggio cards as you can buy. Then load up on all the legend rookie cards as you can buy or afford, even if they are just a PSA 1 or 2. They will definitely increase in value over the years. I will probably/hopefully retire in about 20 to 25 years and cash all my cards and they should bring me a GREAT return. Oh and BTW, I forgot to mention that I took a chance on the Aaron Judge bowman auto rookie card from 2013 and paid $75 for it. Well, five years later after my purchase, that card has skyrocketed from $1500 t0 $2000 on Ebay and I feel it will only go up and up with each passing year. Good luck to all card investors!

    • I understand everything you are saying but I have been collecting cards for 30 + yrs now.
      A card is only worth what a person will pay no matter how much the cards worth.
      Obviously some cards like vintage will always be wanted but the problem we will face for the next 10-20 yrs is eBay.
      There are to many people selling cards to cheap and it makes it harder to make money off certain cards and I think it will continue to hurt the baseball card economy.

      • Totally agree, especially with newer cards that are not lower printed inserts. The standard cards in packs will continue to go cheap, but superstars with lower print runs (/100) should do okay.

    • I agree with you, the best cards to invest are Mantle and Babe Ruth. I have not been lucky collecting sports cards but I got back into in a few weeks ago. I am focusing on vintage cards of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron , Mantle and may be I will go for Pujols rookie Topps chome. My plan is to buy as many vintage cards as possible this year and sell them back in 6 or 7 years.

  6. Nathan

    My strategy is completey different. I only trade vintage and complete sets. These are safer speculations because nearly 100% of my players are retired, and 50-75% are either deceased or will be in the next 10-15 years. The only problem with this is that I will probably never make big explosive money off Ohtani, Baumgartner, LeBron, Curry, etc, but I consider my vintage approach a little safer than new stuff. Traders of any asset psychologically tend to bias themselves towards the supply or demand side of the asset. My focus is a supply (scarcity play) investment, while the author’s is trading the demand side. Scarcity trading enables me to make money off cards in even poor condition

  7. Hi! I loved your article! I’m more into football, but am open to investing in other sports. I have done pretty well investing in stocks with dividends only. My question to you is, how do you narrow it down on who to collect? My list keeps getting bigger lol. Also, since I’m fairly new at this, how do you personally organize your collection? Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!!

    Thanks,
    Alice

    • Hi Alice, I would definitely go with the best players of all time – Jim Brown would be my top, with Unitas, Butkus, Rice, Payton, Montana, LT, Brady, Manning, Graham, etc. I think vintage football/basketball/hockey is underpriced compared to baseball. Football is the most popular sport, followed by basketball and their vintage prices are much lower than baseball.

  8. Bud Rambow

    Thank you for taking time to share a little of your investing wisdom ands how to make money investing in sports cards. I found it interesting and it looks like I didn’t do due diligence before starting accumulating baseball cards. At the time I knew I was going to be laid up due to a medical procedure and needed something to occupy my time. At this point I’m sorting complete sets from boxes that I purchased. I’m not crazy enough to think there are any cards of real value in this accumulation but I’ve seen a lot of rookies and now have a plan to go back through and seek out rookies. Thank you again for your thoughts and idea’s. I now have a different outlook on investing and although I don’t think I’ll get rich with these cards, there is still that chance.

    • Exactly, I have a new outlook as well. Too many Large sellers on eBay try to control the “market value” of the card for they list it for pennies. They , then try to scoop up cards from those who don’t understand the true value. I appreciate this site as well. FINALLY!

  9. To be successful, you have to know and follow the sport; in baseball, Jose Altuve has already 1250 career hits; he should be a good investment; Aaron Judge wowed with 52 HRs last year as a rookie, but his card prices already reflect that; Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, same; look for guys “under the radar” that have talent and their career hasn’t taken off just yet; Andrew Benintendi, Rhys Hoskins, Luis Severino, Jose Ramirez are a few I am tracking.

  10. Laurie

    My husband has a closet full of baseball cards he collected as a youth. He got full sets at each Christmas and Birthday. If he is open to selling them now (he hasn’t touched them for 20+ years), what is the best place to place them for sale? Any guidance would be great. Thank you!

    • RedSoxFan

      It really depends on your husbands age (the age of the cards). If they are from the 50’s & 60’s – awesome! If the cards are from the late 80’s, nineties… you’re probably looking at a whole bunch of nothing. Just search eBay for a complete set (year’s your husband has) and see what they’re going for on average.

  11. Time Hedge

    Very impressive! I got into collecting when I was a kid, but with so many brands I didn’t know which ones were worth pennies and which were valuable. It is impressive how you track and treat this like a business. I still think stocks and bonds in the long run are safer, but a great alternative investment strategy to supplement because you have the skill to do it.

  12. Aaron

    This is really interesting – and will be forwarding on to my nephew who loves to collect bball cards. I’ve been surprised at some of the prices he’s cited for some of the cards he has.

Leave a Reply