I've collected for a long time. It's kind of difficult to imagine someone picking up collecting for the first time in 2022. This very year.
But I'm sure there are some newbies out there. I'd like to think they're the new kind of collector who goes to the store looking for packs to rip. But probably not. Probably a bunch of newcomers looking for a '54 Aaron to grade.
I'm not sure whether 2022 is an ideal year to start in the baseball card hobby, and this is the thought I had that led to this post. I once wrote a post titled "the best years to begin collecting" six years ago (2016 is 6 years ago? 😳). This will be the opposite of that.
This one will be more controversial, I'm sure. That's because collecting cards is super-subjective. What's good and bad, great and lousy almost always depends on the individual collector's frame of reference. Whatever year that collector started in the hobby was the greatest year ever, and that set/those sets were the greatest ever. How dare you impugn the year of my decision to collect cards!
I get it. I want any person who considers 1975 Topps "ugly" or "inferior" to "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! ... NOW!!!!!!" Clearly they are wrong.
And I may be wrong here, too. But I'm not.
I tried to throw some objectivity in, but it was difficult. These are cards. I have strong opinions about them. So without writing more and rambling on, here are five of the worst years to start collecting:
One of the best things about collecting in the '90s is there were so many sets each year, you could always find something that you liked enough to collect. 1992 is no exception to that, I do like some '92 sets. I like the Pinnacle debut. Topps is decent (but scrapping its longtime cardboard tradition is not). Upper Deck is a step up from '91. Triple Play is kinda fun. Stadium Club was cool.
The rest you can bury underneath the dumpster. I've never come across a year with more sets that I dislike so intensely. The '92 Donruss and Score sets are two of my least favorite of all-time. I can't believe I bought packs of it. Fleer is weird. Ultra is mind-numbing.
If I started collecting in 1992, I'd be resigned to the fact that 70% of the sets were going to suck each year.
I'm being mean to the '90s, but this is the last example from this decade.
Were there actually people who decided in 1995 that they were going to start collecting cards after Major League Baseball just finished canceling the World Series? 1995 was known more for collectors leaving the hobby, and fans leaving the sport, in droves.
Card companies seemed to realize this by either cutting back on their sets or issuing very strange cards in an apparent attempt to win back collectors. Then there were the folks at Fleer who were so despondent about sales tanking that they took some drugs but still came to work and produced that thing above.
I think only Upper Deck and Stadium Club made something interesting enough to collect. I used to like '95 Topps a lot more than I do now, but I'm getting annoyed by the gold foil in that set. I also like SP from this year but no new kid collecting could afford a pack of that.
Yeah, yeah, I know, you started collecting in '68, you road your bike to the corner store and bought cards and candy and it was glorious. All I see is burlap.
But that's not the main reason why '68 is listed here. I'm thinking of the kid who started collecting in 1968, plowing through all those cards with the yellowed wallpaper on the front, thinking, well next year's going to be better!
And then this:
1969 had to feel like being trapped in a time warp with so many images being the same between '69 and '68. I don't know if I would want to collect a third year if my first two years were '68 and '69. Some kids probably thought that name/team circle would appear in 1970 and in every set for the rest of time.
My understanding is a lot of people joined the hobby in 2021. Some of them even probably think it was a great time to do so.
I can't think of a worse year to do so (well, I can think of one, this is only No. 2).
Cards weren't even available! They weren't at the stores, who were too afraid to stock them. They were out of stock at the online sites. And the prices went up. Way up. Also, good god, that 2021 Topps flagship design.
(I find that all of the empty seats in the background of the photos, and the close cropping to avoid showing the empty seats, makes the set pretty depressing).
Kids like this I'm sure don't exist anymore, but can you imagine one of them deciding in 2021 that they wanted to start buying packs of cards in 2021 and discovering the mess that was the hobby/is the hobby right now? "Sorry son, you can't buy your first pack of cards, that big man over there just dumped the entire shelf into his cart."
The worst year to begin collecting I think was 1942.
There is just one set listed under 1942 in Trading Card Database. It's not even a card set. It's the Red Sox picture pack from that year, just a bunch of glossy photos.
With World War II, there were few opportunities for collecting cards. If you wanted to collect in 1942, forget it. And that was just the start. There were only a few minor league issues and postcard sets in 1943, 1944 and 1945. 1946 didn't offer a lot either and the card business only began to rebound in 1947.
The kids who collected in the late '30s all the way up to 1941 were teenagers by the time cards started up again and probably had lost interest by then thanks to the huge gap in time between sets. It was a terrible time for collecting and for a lot of things.
So, there you go, those are the worst years, although I'm sure if you go back even farther you can find much worse years. I mean there were all those years when kids had to smoke tobacco if they wanted cards.
But those old, moldy years aside, if you decided to collect during any of the above years, man, you messed up.
But really, you should've picked 1983 or 1965.