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Observations from an 'average guy' at The National

By Barry Blair

After returning home from 'The National', I saw the news story about the Wayne Gretzky card that sold at auction during ‘The National’ for $475,000. You read about the

Blair and pal

Collecting pals, Max Huff from Oneida, Tennessee, (on the left) and SCD contributor Barry Blair (on the right) enjoying The National. (All photos by Barry Blair)

autograph signers there who charge over $100 for their signature. If you have never been, don’t let these things scare you away, thinking you have to be a big spender. ‘The National’ is all things to all people.

On my way into the National on Saturday morning, the lady in front of me in line tells me she has two Ted Williams cards that her father left her. I ask her if she would mind letting me look at them and she pulled them out of her purse. Sure enough, she had two 1939 Play Ball Williams cards that to my eye appeared to be in great shape. She was headed to the PSA booth to have them graded. A 7 or better would bring her a lot of money if she decides to sell them.

Yes, there are a lot of cards sold at the National for a lot of money, but there are cards available for all budgets. Everything from the highly graded to boxes and boxes of 10 and 25 cent bargains. You just have to look; and the show is so large it is impossible to do it all in one day.

Planning ahead aids in show success

Every year I go to the National with one particular card in mind I want to purchase. This year I want a Kris Bryant rookie that has been graded. I found a 2015 Topps with a grade of 10, and got it for $40. I also picked up a ’62 Topps Charlie Lau, PSA 8, which was a great condition card from a set that doesn’t have a lot of high grades, for only $5.

Last year in Chicago I was looking for a ’64 Topps Willie Mays in good condition and shopped around until I got one at a very fair price. The year before, in Cleveland, it was a PSA graded 10 Mike Trout, not a rookie, but his second year Topps card I would come away with.

How many times have you told someone you collect cards and the first thing they say is,

Older baseball cards picked up

Some of the older cards Blair purchased at this year’s National. Every year, collectors come to The National in search of cards with the hope of completing their older sets. Dealers who come with the right things “can do very well.”

“Boy would I like to have the cards back that my mom threw out.” Hey – Give your mom a break and go get your cards back! This is the place to do it.

I shopped around and bought cards from the 1960s and 1970s of Tony Kubek, Joe Pepitone, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Carl Yaztremski, Joe Torre, Whitey Herzog, and Bucky Dent, not paying more than $3 for any of them. They weren’t in perfect condition, but I’m guessing if you still had your old cards from that time period, they wouldn’t be so hot either.

Freebies available to be had

You can pick up free cards at the National, too. At the Topps booth I was able to get Bowman redemption cards of players like Greg Maddux, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Dansby Swanson, Corey Seager, Mike Trout, and an autographed Austin Meadows; all of which were specially made and numbered for the show. Panini gave away football packs with rookie cards of Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley, and Amari Cooper among others.

The Beckett booth was giving out a Topps football card of Tom Brady. Upper Deck was giving out packs of hockey cards. All of them had special events and raffles where assorted prizes were given out, if you participated. The Topps ‘Pack Wars’ contests held each day is one of the more popular events each year. It doesn’t cost you anything to participate and you can win great prizes.

Autographs were available throughout the show, and though it was not something I participated in, the lines were long and busy every day. There seemed to be a lot of Phillies fans coming in with bats, jerseys, and pictures – especially for Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. I ran into a friend of mine from college, Max Huff of Oneida, Tennessee, and he and his brother were there in pursuit of the hard-to-get autographs. “It’s the only place you can get some of these guys,” he said.

Free baseball cards at National

There were plenty of free cards available at The National. Blair was able to pick up Bowman redemption cards of Greg Maddux, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Dansby Swanson, and others, including an autographed Austin Meadows from the Topps booth.

I am always amazed at the number of people who show up every year with their lists to work on completing older sets. You see them set up around the floor going through the cards and marking them off their book as they find them. I talked with two veteran dealers – Wes Starkey of Floyd, Virginia and Edward Lawson of Morristown, Tennessee – about this. Both specialize in older cards. “If you come with the right things to sell, you can do very well,’” Starkey told me on Saturday afternoon.

Lawson seemed to be pleased with the show as well, saying, “I think it has been a good one.”

One man told me that he had come up with a software program to track his cards. I got away before he could ask me if I was interested in buying it from him. At this point I’m sticking with my notebook.
It is not just about the cards. If you are looking for anything sports related, chances are you can find it here, or if not, you can find someone who can help you find it.

Last year in Chicago, I met two gentlemen who were collecting ticket stubs. One was looking for stubs from every game that Carleton Fisk had ever played in and the other was pursuing stubs from every game where Jose Bautista has hit a home run. I was hoping to run into them again to see how their pursuits were going, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. They very well could have been there, but I didn’t see them. One of them helped me locate a ticket stub from a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field that went with an official scorecard I bought at the Baltimore show.

Only at “The National.” Next year you need to go.

About the Contributor: Barry Blair is an author from Jonesborough, Tenn. He can be reached at or

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