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Minor League Sets a Fun Addition to Collection

by Paul Angilly
August 8, 2005

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A dozen years after reaching the heights of their popularity, minor league baseball team sets still fill a niche in the card collecting market.

I first started collecting baseball cards back in the mid-1970s - a time when 8-year-old kids like I was at the time would build the annual Topps set pack-by-pack, then wait for the rest of the year to pass before working on the next year's set.

I was luckier than many kids my age, because my father would often take me to a flea market held every weekend in an area shopping mall. A few baseball card dealers would be there every week, and I was able to beg, plead and promise my way into getting a few dollars from my dad so that I could buy some cards that most kids my age would never even see.

As a young Red Sox fan, I was excited during one trip to find a set of cards with a familiar-looking logo on the fronts, but picturing players I had never heard of before. I got the cash from my dad to buy the set, and it's still part of my collection.

It was the 1977 TCMA Bristol Red Sox set, sponsored by none other than the Bristol Press.

Other than the thick white card stock the cards were printed on, they looked like exactly what they were - minor league cards. The fronts had black and white player portraits - all simple head shots - with the player's name, position and the team logo printed in black over an orange-colored area across the bottom of the card. Across either the top left or top right of the card was another orange band with the words "Eastern League" across it.

The simply-designed backs had just the team name, player name, position and personal information (bats, throws, height, weight, age, hometown). Over the bottom half was the advertisement: "For the BEST in Sports Coverage Get Bristol Press / Valley Press." The TCMA copyright line with a card number was in small type across the bottom.

While the set included future major leaguers such as John Tudor, Ed Jurak and Win Remmerswaal, it also included names such as Steve Tarbell, Mark Buba and Joe Krsnich.

Minor league cards were still a relatively novel concept back then, although TCMA issued no less than 28 different team sets that year. Based primarily on the sheer scarcity of the set (and whatever limited demand there is for John Tudor and Win Remmerswaal cards), that Bristol Red Sox set which originally sold for $2-$3 is now a $200 item.

The popularity of minor league sets grew exponentially in the mid-1980s, as the rookie card craze took hold of the hobby.

TCMA was the leading early maker of minor league cards, producing cards as far back as 1972 and continuing with virtually no competition until a company called Pro Cards took the minor league market by storm in 1986. By the end of the decade, even a AA squad such as the New Britain Red Sox had three different team sets available - from Best, Pro Cards and Star (each of which featured a young Jeff Bagwell, among other future major leaguers).

Minor league cards have been produced since the earliest tobacco card sets in the 19th century, but Star started a new trend in 1989 when it released the first set exclusively featuring minor league players to be released in packs. Soon, other minor league team set manufacturers such as Pro Cards and Classic also released packs of minor league cards.

By 1992, two major league baseball card manufacturers entered the minor league market in a big way. Fleer bought out Pro Cards and began releasing team sets under the Fleer/Pro Cards banner. Fleer also issued a set in packs under the Fleer Excel name. Upper Deck also released its first minor league set in 1992, a 330-card set issued in packs.

As the mid-'90s became the late-'90s, however, minor league cards began losing their appeal. With most of today's major league sets including rookie cards individually-numbered to less than 1,000 copies, minor league cards are not seen as the comparatively scarce collectibles they once were.

Gone now are the days of mass-produced team sets and pack issues from the likes of Fleer/Pro Cards and Star. Instead, most minor league teams sign contracts with companies such as Grandstand, Multi-Ad or Choice Sportscards to create team sets that are sold primarily through team souvenir stands. Gone too are the black and white photos and primitive graphics on the front of the cards, replaced by full-color shots with plenty of attractive design elements.

The best place to purchase minor league cards today is to make a trip to your favorite team's ball park. Another way is to call the team's merchandise shop directly, or go to the team's web site to place an order.

For instance, the New Britain Rock Cats' web site (www.rockcats.com) has team sets from 1999 through the current 2005 season available, along with one from 1994. Eastern League Prospect card sets (featuring the top players from all league teams) are also available for 2002 and 2003. All the card sets from 2001 through 2005 are $6.95 each (plus postage), with the 1994-2000 sets available for $5.95 each.

The Norwich Navigators' web site (www.gators.com) has team sets from 2002 and 2003 available for $7 each, with the 2004 team set available for $8. No team set for 2005 has been listed yet.

There are also a handful of card dealers that specialize in minor league issues - they can either be found on the Internet or by visiting a larger, nationally-oriented card show, such as the annual East Coast National held each summer in White Plains, N.Y., which is scheduled for Aug. 18-21 this year (further information is available at (www.nyshows.org).

No matter where you find them, minor league cards always make for an interesting addition to any collection.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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