Get your free pack
If you've ever spent hours gazing at the baseball cards in a store display window or dealt with your mom screaming because your collection was taking up too much room, then take note: National Baseball Card Day will be held on March 29.
To celebrate, fans can sign in at mlb.com/cards and receive a free pack of baseball cards. Each pack will contain five base cards from Topps, five base cards from Upper Deck, one chase card from Topps, one chase card from Upper Deck, and one informational card.
Participating hobby stores will also hand out free packs on National Baseball Card Day, as will stadiums that are hosting some of the final exhibition games before the regular season gets under way.
"We're very excited about National Baseball Card Day," said Evan Kaplan, category director, trading cards and memorabilia for the Major League Baseball Players Association. "Building a baseball card collection is a great way to kick off the 2008 season."
Observing the tradition of card collecting with an official day makes sense. Baseball cards have been part of the American culture for a long time. They were around before the Star Spangled Banner became the National Anthem. They were around before the car was invented. They were even around before the formation of Major League Baseball.
The first real baseball cards are attributed to Peck and Taylor, a baseball equipment manufacturer that printed a set in 1868 -- a year before the Cincinnati Reds became the sport's first professional team -- as a means for advertising. Shortly afterward, other businesses followed suit, regardless of whether their product had anything to do with baseball. Tobacco companies, for example, commonly included cards in their cigarette packs.
Baseball cards as we know them today came about in the early 1930s, when the Goudy Gum Co. began issuing cards with biographies and personal information of players on the back. The Bowman and Topps gum companies ran with this concept in the late 1940s and early '50s, churning out cards in large quantities and helping to establish the wide-reaching popularity of the hobby.
The 1980s saw other card companies throw their hats into the ring, as Fleer, Donruss, Score and Upper Deck began issuing sets. The '80s also saw the growth of the baseball card industry as a profitable venture. Old cards that hadn't been torn or mangled were suddenly being sold for thousands of dollars, resulting in a surge of popularity that had all types of investors looking to make a quick buck in the business.
Of course, the market couldn't sustain that pace, and the value of all but the oldest and rarest cards plummeted. With the bubble burst, the profit seekers turned elsewhere and the card-collecting ranks once again thinned.
In a sense, that leaves the industry in a more comfortable spot. The specter of big money may never go away entirely -- you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who still jams cards between his bicycle spokes -- but baseball card collecting is once again about being a fan of the sport and the hobby. There will always be something thrilling about opening a pack and finding your favorite player staring back at you, and there are few things more satisfying than finally completing a set with the card that's eluded your grasp for too long.
So get into the spirit of National Baseball Card Day by logging on to mlb.com/cards on March 29. With a free pack of cards, you can have some new beauties to add to your collection, or you can rediscover the joys of this great hobby all over again.
Tim Ott is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.