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These cards are elusive and I don't exactly understand why

The theme for this post might be a bit out of date considering the crazy prices some previously commonly available cards are going for in the year 2022.

But before the last year or two, I separated hard-to-find, too-expensive cards into two categories: the ones where I understood the reasons for their elusiveness and the ones where I didn't.

I get why '50s and '60s rookie cards of future stars and Hall of Famers are elusive and expensive. I get why high-number cards from the '60s and '70s are, too. Same with short-prints from the last couple of decades. They just aren't that plentiful and the card is usually a star player.

But there are a few famous examples of expensive, high-demand cards that I've never fully grasped the reasons for the prices charged.

The 2011 Update Mike Trout is one of them. I've repeated myself on this numerous times. The best argument for me questioning the price and exclusivity of this card is that someone like little ol' me pulled this card from a regular pack purchased from a Target card aisle in 2011. It wasn't difficult to find, no more difficult than, say, Tim Stauffer or Yuniesky Betancourt from the same set.

I put the 1952 Topps Andy Pafko card in the same category. As card No. 1 in the set, it is not a high number. Back in '52, kids pulled this card out of packs just as often as anything else in the pre-300 number range. Yet, through old collectors' tales of Pafko cards repeatedly ruined by rubber bands wrapped around a stack of '52s, the price soared beyond similar cards from that set.

There's no real reason to justify these prices for those two cards. Yet everyone accepts them as the going rate.

(A slight detour into bizarre price tags like those high numbers from the 1966 Topps set in which a limited number of collectors hoard as many of a certain card as they can find, creating a demand on them. That's even more frustrating than a Trout or Pafko).

Fortunately, I own both the Trout and Pafko cards so I don't have to worry myself over the ridiculous prices.

But there are a select few cards still out there that I want but hold prices I can't reconcile.

I still don't own the 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza card, it's the only Dodger that I need from this set and the only rookie Piazza that I need, too.

It's generally understood as the most elusive of the rookie Piazzas from this time. I don't get why. Was '92 Fleer Update difficult to find? If I want to land this card I will have to spend between $50-$70, according to a quick run through ebay. Also, I noticed the majority of '92 Fleer Piazzas are graded, which is the No. 1 dumb reason why people have to pay more for cards that should be much more available.

Another Fleer Update set.

The 1984 Fleer Update set is definitely the peskiest from my formative collecting years. Today, it's known as a set that was issued in more limited quantities than similar Traded sets.
Do I believe that? I don't know, I hear all kinds of stories over the years that I suspect were made up by sellers. I know that if I was actively collecting in '84 (I limited my collecting that year to buying the complete Topps set and a few packs each of Donruss and Fleer), I would find '84 Fleer Update or send away for it or whatever you had to do. My guess is I wouldn't have had that much of a problem. But I don't know for sure because I wasn't an active collector like I was earlier in the '80s.

So now, 84 Fleer Update sets are like $400 or something and each of the above pre-rookie cards, whatever that means, are around $100 (Gooden seems to be a bit cheaper).

And, so, I'm finally at the reason behind this post.

The 1954 Topps Tom Lasorda arrived at my doorstep today. It's been a long time coming.

I needed just three Dodgers from '54 Topps to finish the team set. One of them I need is Jackie Robinson. I get that. Lasorda, I've had a hard time figuring out.

Sure, this is Lasorda's rookie card and sure he is in the Hall of Fame, both good reasons for paying a bit more. But that much more? Lasorda's claim to fame is as a manager. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame. His playing career was barely worth mentioning. He didn't have the playing career of other managers like Frank Robinson or Gil Hodges or Yogi Berra. Yet, YOU.WILL.PAY to land this card.


Is it his personality? I would think that would only be a factor in Southern California maybe. Maybe it's the Bob Uecker effect, but at least some of Uecker's cards are high numbers. This Lasorda isn't a high number.

Other Hall of Fame managers do not have rookie cards that cost this much, unless it's one of those who played long ago, pre-1950s. So what's the reason? Is it just all of those things I mentioned combined together?

I guess none of it matters because this card -- after too many years -- is MINE.

I got it from Trevor in a Twitter sale thread (@Tec872). I probably could've found a similarly conditioned Lasorda for 10 or 20 dollars cheaper but this is in the ballpark for a fairly reasonable '54 Tommy. I could afford it anyway.

A little paper loss but every '54 Topps card should have paper loss.

So this card will no longer lead to any more sleepless nights. I guess that will be the '92 Fleer Piazza now.

It's probably going to be a long time until a grab the Jackie Robinson from the '54 set. And about that other Dodger card I need from that set? It's Rube Walker. And it's in my cart right now.


Nick said…
The thing with '84 Fleer Update rookies has always puzzled me too. I have all the other cards I need from that set, but I don't get why the Puckett, Strawberry, etc. are *so much* more. Those will probably remain eternal needs for me.

I saw a couple '54 Lasordas at the show I was just at, but they were priced well above what I'd ever want to pay. Would love to find a cheap(ish) beat-up copy someday.
My guess is that I need all of the cards you point out here. I was too damn cheap at the prices they were when they came out, let alone now, lol.
bryan was here said…
Don't forget the saga of the '64 Curt Flood.
Anonymous said…
My memory is that 84 Fleet Update was printer in lower quantity. Combine that with the only 84 cards of Clemens, Pucket, and Langston the set price took off as early as 85. I think Fleer also cut production on the 92 update set (that was the rumor). Combine that with one of the few Piazza cards issued in 92, the price took off in 93.
steelehere said…
Having collected in 1984 as well as working in a sports card shop in 1992, I can say for sure both sets were printed in limited quantities. I believe Fleer announced their print run for 1984 (I feel like it was around 5000 sets).

1992 Fleer Update factory sets as well as all post 1991 Traded/Update factory sets from Fleer, Topps and Score that weren’t issued in box and pack form were printed in much lower quantities than the regular base cards from the same season.

Crocodile said…
As far as 1984 Fleer, I collected a ton of it back then but never saw the traded set until years later and by then it was way too much.
Laurens said…
My guess was 1984 Fleer Update was just going to be something that flew under the radar but Fleer added the key rookies that would be making an impact through the rest of the 1980s - that left collectors and speculators scrambling - why just have the 1985 rookies of Gooden, Puckett or Clemens or Saberhagen [among others] when you had their first cards in this 1984 Fleer Update set, released before the 1985 issues.
Fuji said…
I owned the Pafko back in the 80's and wish I could return it to my collection. The dealer who sold the card to me told me about the whole rubber band thing. Never owned the Trout, but I'm hoping I'll stumble across one in a flea market collection one day. No way my hobby budget will allow me to pay the current market prices though. I might accept the current prices for both of these cards, but it doesn't mean I'll pay those prices.

It's cards like the 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe that confuse me.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Uecker effect explains a lot about Lasorda. I'd add that it's not because it's his RC but because it's his ONLY playing-days Topps card.

And regarding Fleer update. In my memory Topps Traded was always available each year but I *never* saw Fleer Update for sale. No idea how those were released since I only ever found commons in repacks when I was a kid.
Bo said…
I got lucky with Trout - I'm not even 100% sure how I ended up with it, but whoever I bought it from probably pulled it at the time and forget about it. I got a '92 Fleer Update set with a bunch of other box sets at a garage sale a few years ago, I didn't even realize at the time that it was rare.

I imagine the '52 Pafko is like the '67 Brooks Robinson, it's price shot up due to possibly unfounded rumors of scarcity.

I wouldn't discount Lasorda's national popularity. Not just a Southern California thing.
BillK21093 said…
I do not understand the 1984 Fleer Update set either.

I remember being at the 1985 National in Anaheim and there were 3 or 4 dealers with stacks of the 1984 Fleer Update sets on their tables. At least 200 sets each.

I think I picked one up on the last day of the show for $12.

It has been in my collection since then.

They were not rare when they came out, but the early success of Puckett, Gooden and Clemens drove up the price in late 1985 and then the hoarding began.

With only Puckett in the Hall of Fame, the hoarding and grading should have diminished by now.

Perhaps there is a huge group waiting to see if Clemens ever makes it into the HOF.
Brett Alan said…
I will say this: I NEVER see that Fleer Piazza. I would really like to land a 92 Piazza true rookie, and when I search eBay I usually see the Bowman rookies, albeit not at a good price. But the Fleer? I don't even see it. I don't quite know why, but really I didn't even know what it looked like. I don't see those 84 Fleers, either, and while I don't really pursue Clemens or Puckett cards, Gooden is a favorite of mine as a Mets fan.
Unknown said…
The 1992 Fleer Update set is higher in price because 1991 Fleer Update was such an overprinted dud and the 92 RC crop wasn't anything special (I think Tim Wakefield and Pat Listach would have been the biggest names at the time). When the dealer pre-order forms came out, nobody ordered any.
Same situation with 1992 Bowman.
Jon said…
I've given up trying to understand why most of the non-obvious pricier things go for the prices that they do.
Doc Samson said…
I vividly remember when the 1984 Fleer Update came out. It was impossible to find, even at baseball card shops. One rumor I heard was that were many more sets printed, but they were destroyed at the last minute by the higher ups at Fleer to create scarcity. This supposedly ties in to fact that 1983 Fleer was so wildly overproduced that many packs collected dust on store shelves. Strange but true: Andy Pafko sat behind me at a Cubs game once. A very nice man who loved fans, especially small children.
GCA said…
I had just stopped collecting in '84 and missed the Update set. Still trying to piece it together.

Just the other day I decided I should probably pull the Trout out of my set and put it in a holder or something since it's worth a few bucks now. Probably still have a few others that should come out too. These modern guys....