Baseball cards: Fool's gold discovered in East Potomac Park!

D.C. police on Wednesday put out a notice about a trove of baseball cards discovered in the grass of East Potomac Park. Like anyone who suddenly comes into possession of baseball cards, the police duly noted the “potential value” of this collection of “more than five hundred” specimens.

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Some of the cards that turned up in East Potomac Park. Photo courtesy MPD.

Long story short

The baseball cards found in East Potomac Park are barely worth a trip to the police station.

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Included in the release were two photos showing a portion of the cards, most of them manufactured by the Topps and Fleer companies in the early 1980s. Fred Lynn, Johnny Bench, and Steve Carlton were all in attendance, among many lesser players of the day. Operating on the assumption that whoever lost these cards is frantically trying to recoup them, the department is asking that whoever claims them go into great detail when describing the collection, the better to ward off impostors.

According to police spokesman Lt. Nicholas Breul, the department has already received a number of calls about the cards. “We have taken everyone’s information and will be contacting them to get details on what they know,” Breul says via email. A few of the callers, apparently convinced of the cards’ value, “were clearly fishing for details,” Breul notes.

One possible scenario — apparently not considered by police — is that the "bereft" owner himself ditched the cards in the park.

You see, most modern baseball cards have little or no monetary value. In fact, if the owner’s concerns are financial rather than sentimental, then I’m afraid the cards are barely worth a trip down to the police station. And yet if you're of a certain generation, cards like these have a way of following you around your entire life.

If I sound jaded, it's because nothing will fray your romantic attachment to something quite like writing a book on the subject. As I detailed in my history of the card industry, collectors were the victims of massive overproduction during the 1980's. (For the full-on nerd treatment, please consult Mint Condition chapter 7, "Nostalgia Futures.") Once vintage cards like the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle were fetching thousands of dollars, hobbyists started viewing baseball cards as little investments. They swallowed up all the product that manufacturers were willing to throw at them, and it wasn't until around the baseball strike of 1994 that collectors realized that most modern cards were barely worth the cardboard they'd been printed on.

And yet even today the illusion persists that they're valuable. Craigslist is littered with fools like this guy, who's asking $225 for a pile of cards that go "as far back as 1983." He doesn't get it: We all still have our cards from 1983. They never even had the chance to become scarce.

Judging from the photos released by police, the cards found in East Potomac Park mostly come from this gluttonous era. They may bring back some fine Little League memories, but they can't be traded for much more than a cup of coffee. In fact, a card dealer will often tell you that he won't even look at cards printed after 1969. That's if you manage to find a card dealer who's still in business.

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