By Sean Chaffin
Pack Wars were always a big night for The Sports Page. Scott Blumstein remembers kids, teenagers, and adults gathering inside the card shop in Morris Plains, New Jersey, near where he grew up. Collectors would buy packs of sports cards and the games would begin.
“You would open the packs up and the owner would ask questions like, ‘Who has the card with the heaviest player?’” Blumstein said. “You’d look at the back of your card, and whoever had the guy with the most weight would win a prize. There were about 20 rounds and at the end there was a grand prize. If you won one of the rounds you could win the grand prize, a pretty nice sizable gift.”
After growing up playing football, collecting cards, and eventually working in that exact store, Blumstein’s life has come full circle after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2017 for $8.2 million. In April, Blumstein did plenty of signing of his own trading cards to be stocked in packs of the 2018 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball set. The brand incorporates an antique look in its 350-card set, and celebrates champions from other sports as well as other pop culture.
That includes poker, and for this card-collecting poker champ it’s a dream come true to be featured alongside stars of the diamond like Mike Trout and Derek Jeter.
“I sold and collected cards growing up,” Blumstein said. “So to be able to be a part of the product is really special especially being in the same pack as my favorite baseball players.”
Card shop crazy
Card collecting was always a hobby the poker champ could share with his father. Trips to The Sports Page were a regular part of their routine, and both bought packs looking for some of their favorite players. The young Blumstein even celebrated his birthday there.
A big sports fan, in high school Blumstein was an offensive lineman for the Morristown High School Colonials and his love of sports carried over to card collecting. As a teenager, he eventually landed a job at The Sport Page after school and worked there for three years.
“I just wanted to work during high school and try to make a little income,” said the 26-year-old Blumstein. “It was in a pretty good situation. I had a fair amount of responsibility. I worked the register, helped customers, helped run events like Pack Wars and auctions, and took payments during those events. It was actually a pretty interesting job, it kept you busy.”
Blumstein helped with the owner’s internet presence – scanning cards and listing them on eBay. For a teenage sports nut, he was in heaven.
“It really was a perfect job,” he said. “People would come in and I’d get to talk sports with them. It was great.”
Packs to poker
In a way, Blumstein had always been a bit of a gambler and that included card collecting. Later in his teens, he’d begin turning more toward poker, but said he viewed card collecting as a bit of a gamble the same way he now views poker.
“It’s no surprise that I like to gamble,” he said. “When the industry started to shift more toward autographs and stuff with higher value than just collecting your favorite players, that’s what intrigued me. Now I could open up a pack of cards and get an autographed card of a guy who’s really good and that has more value than the other cards.
“So what made it fun for me was honestly the sweat of buying a pack of cards, opening it up, and hoping to get a cool card that was worth something. It’s kind of a gamble. When you’re not 21 you can’t play poker, so you’ve got to gamble somehow.”
He may have a little gamble in him, but Blumstein showed plenty of skill at the tables in July 2017. Players around the world dream of being in Blumstein’s shoes, and beating out 7,220 players hoping for poker glory. At the final table, aggression and brilliant reads and moves were a huge part of his arsenal.
When it was all over, Blumstein took home not only the millions but also the championship bracelet – the biggest trophy in poker.
And while it may not be a Honus Wagner or Joe Montana rookie card, this sports fan finds it pretty cool that some collector will be opening up a pack of cards and finding his autographed card. The scenario makes the win that much sweeter.
When talking to Blumstein about cards – the sports kind – one story stands out. Even as a teenager he considered himself a bit of gambler, and always seemed to have a little luck on his side.
During his sophomore year working at The Sports Page, he didn’t have a driver’s license yet and and his father came to pick him up at closing. As he did often, Blumstein’s father spent $30 on some card packs.
“Being the nice guy he was he said, ‘Go ahead and make it $50 and we’ll get out of here,’” Blumstein recalled.
His father told his son he could have some packs too.
Never really a basketball card fan, Blumstein was drawn to some hoops cards that night for some reason. He opened a few packs – nothing great.
“So dad’s still talking to my boss and I have of a paycheck of my own, so I couldn’t resist,” he said. “I bought three more and opened them. In the first pack of the three I see this card that turns out to be the Derrick Rose autographed rookie Jerry West logo patch.
“It was one of one, the only one in the world like it. I knew what I had was cool and special. To what extent, I guess I really didn’t know. I did some research on the internet and some forums and people were telling me they spent $1,000 buying cases just to get the card I had. I ended up selling it on eBay for $5,300. Isn’t that insane?”
Years after that big score and then an even bigger poker score, what was it like finally seeing his face on his own collectible sports card?
“It was absolutely awesome,” he said. “The only regret I have about being in Vegas in the summer for the World Series of Poker is that the product comes out in July. I’m not going to be home to go to The Sports Page and do anything with them. That would be a cool experience to go back to where it all started and to see my boss and my dad. To share that with them would have been cool, but overall it’s just been pretty surreal.” u
Sean Chaffin is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast, available on iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, Stitcher, PokerNews.com, HoldemRadio.com, and TrueGamblingStories.com.