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The card on everyone's wish list this year, it would be nearly impossible to explain the reason for the sudden exponential increase in demand for the 1980 WBTV Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card better than Chris Dishman does for Sports Collectors Daily in his excellently written article, "A Grocery Cart, Dumpster, and a Police Officer: The Minor League Cards of Cal Ripken, Jr," so we'll just link to Dishman's scoop here and then try to summarize some of the more compelling points. First, only 1,400 sets were produced and then distributed to fans 14 and under at Charlotte's Crockett Park on August 9th 1981, the eve of Cal's first Major League game, but only a small percentage of those actually left the ballpark that night with fans. In his article, Dishman quotes Charlotte's traveling secretary, Marshall Hester, who recalls how his little brother was tasked with gathering the many sets left behind:
“The night the cards were given out either we had a sparse crowd or there was a distribution snafu because after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of unopened packs left around the concourse. The GM wanted everything cleaned up that night before we left and that included these cards... A grocery cart was always tucked in a storage room on the concourse. My kid brother, age 13 and my clubhouse rat, got the cart and we went up and down the concourse chucking the cards into the cart. It filled the entire cart I know because it was tough trying to push it to the dumpster. Into the dumpster the cards went and that was that. My brother may have stuck a set or two in his pocket but I didn’t take any. It was no big deal.”
No big deal!? Maybe not then, and maybe it isn't the equivalent of Topps' legend Sy Berger dumping all the famed Brooklyn-based company's excess 1952 Topps high numbers (along with Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson) into the Atlantic Ocean, but it certainly stings, and it leaves one to wonder just how many 1980 WBTV Charlotte O's sets actually survived. With only 39 copies ever graded by PSA, our guess is: not many! Which leads to the second important point: as a shrink-wrapped set with chip-prone blue borders, none of these 39 examples on record at PSA have ever graded higher than PSA 8 NM-MT, nor have any of these pop chart toppers come up for sale during the card's recent 2013 promotion to the hobby's big leagues, when several consecutive PSA 6 sales on eBay jumped from $2,500 to $3,500 to $4,500, all in the span of the month of June, followed by a $6,250 sale of an SGC 7 and a whopping $7,400 sale of a PSA 7, both on eBay in October, and then a $5,000 PSA 5 sale in November, also on eBay. Our consignor paid just $800 for this card in raw condition about eight years ago, a sizable sum at the time -- he must have known what he was doing -- and we recently paid PSA $125 to grade it for him, free of charge, because it is now one of the most coveted cards in the entire hobby and a perfect fit for our first annual December Premium Holiday Auction. Graded NM 7 due to a minor centering preference for the right border and some feather-light touches to the top corners, we're confident this card could easily compete with and even outshine most of the NM-MT 8 examples on record, the majority of which seem to have been graded in the earlier days at PSA, when what passed for a NM-MT 8 simply cannot compare with the NM-MT 8s of today, and well before this card began pushing the 5-figure envelope in top grades, thereby meriting extra special attention from PSA.
PS: If you like this card, please be sure to read about our 1982 Fleer Test Cal Ripken RC, also available in this auction, which ranks as one of only 4 ever graded by PSA.