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Trading Cards and Trading Stocks Isn't So Different


Whether it's the big leagues or the big board, there's an advantage on the other side of that trade that still exists today.


Relax, it's only money. Here in the 'Ville we like to keep things smart, but we also love to laugh. All work and no know how it goes. With that in mind we give you The "Off-Balance Sheet," a place where Minyans can experience humorous takes on the world of finance, personal stories from our Professors and Minyans and all the other stuff that makes life worth living. So take a break from the flickering ticks and dive in.

I was unpacking some boxes after moving this weekend and found an embarrassingly large number of baseball cards. We're not talking about several individual cards, we're talking about an abnormal past, that I shall now come clean about.

When I could buy Craig Biggio rookies for five cents I couldn't stop until I had over three thousand. When he gets his 3,000th hit this year I will of course wonder why I only "invested" $150. I was also taken back recently when I was asked by a client's grandchild how I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. He also asked me for advice on job interviews. I told him I might be the worst guy to ask, because the two answers are: (1) I still don't know, and (2) I have never been to one in my entire life. But I gave it a shot, sensing a disappointed teenager and a confused grandfather sitting with him.

"Probably when I sold my first baseball card," I told them. All of my friends wanted to collect cards, I wanted to trade them for some reason. Some kids are weird I guess, my mom called it special. I had more fun making a profit than I did staring at a card. A profit allowed for a bigger collection anyhow I figured. In looking back, I learned a lot about what other people liked when I was a 12-year old kid, where my history of never having a job interview started.

I asked the local owner, Ted if I could work in his baseball card shop which I could walk to, sorting tens of thousands of cards in the back room. He gladly gave me a position nobody had ever asked for. I sat there day after day learning math and geography, all on the backs of those cards. I also got to overhear every customer walking in asking about a local player they "knew" and wanted.

Decades later, those same collectors I knew are now investors. They still like to buy what they (think they) know. Sitting in that backroom as a kid with nothing but my active mind day after day, I figured out that there was an advantage on the other side of that trade that still exists today.

I started wondering if Houston's hometown heroes were ever asked for in places like New York or San Francisco or all those other big cities with little card shops like mine. There was a whole different world out there, piquing my interest for some reason. What if I could buy cards where they were not popular and sell them where they were? At this time, nobody had computers and the Net was only used to snag foul balls. So, varying prices for the same cards were not seen in different parts of the country. I had to find catalogs with phone numbers to hundreds of different stores I would never visit. I called and had cards shipped to me. I could find Houston Astros that nobody had heard of in Cleveland for 10 cents, which were selling for 25 cents in Houston. I could buy a 100 card block from one disinterested store far away and sell them one at a time to 100 very interested buyers who "knew" what they were getting back home.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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