Inside the Pack: Full of Thanks for Finding My Holy Grail
In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I want to share the hobby-related item I’m most thankful for this year. Choosing this is a no brainer for me, because this year, I located (and acquired) my all-time holy grail card. This is the story of how I came to discover the card, let it slip through my hands, tried hard to track it down, and then accidentally found it.
In 2006, I had recently begun collecting in earnest again. I’ve written before about how I fell out of collecting and got back into it, so I’ll spare the details here. But, the basic premise is that I fell back in love with cards at the local card shop near my college, where I became fast friends with the owner, who I’m still close with to this day. On the day I first walked into his shop, he and I struck up a conversation about my favorite set, 1971 Topps, and my favorite card from the set, Thurman Munson. He showed me a card that he had pulled from 2005 Topps Rookie Cup — a buyback 1971 Munson with a manufactured relic embedded in it, and stamped 1/1. The card was really cool to me at the time, and he told me he wanted $100 for it. Not only was that way too much money for me at the time, but the card didn’t feel like something I had to have.
Over my next few visits to his shop, I bought some boxes of Rookie Cup myself. Actually, that’s an understatement — I bought A LOT of boxes. I loved the product, and along with 2005 Upper Deck Classics and 2006 Greats of the Game, it reminds me of my early days of reentry into the hobby. By fall the card was still lingering at the shop, but $100 was still way too much money for me. He eventually sold the Munson on eBay, and in my head I recall that it sold for either $100 or $125.
As soon as the card sold I started to think about how much I wanted it. As my affinity for the Rookie Cup set increased, so did my sense of frustration: how could I have let a 1/1 version of my favorite card from my favorite vintage set, inserted into my favorite modern set, pulled by my close friend, slip through my fingers? Still, I tried not to obsess over it, figuring I’d cross paths with the card again sometime in future. After all, the hobby is a fairly small community, and was even smaller back in 2006/2007. (Side note: my favorite story illustrating this revolves around a Mike Schmidt jumbo patch from Topps Sterling that I bought on eBay, then sold on a message board online. A few months later, a person I regularly bought bulk cards from offered me a lot with the same Schmidt card in it. I bought it, then sold it at a show I did in Atlanta. About a year later, the same person I bought bulk cards from sold me the card again!)
Well, I was pretty wrong. After a few years, the longing grew stronger, and I decided to look for the card in earnest. Some time around 2012 I set up an alert on eBay for Thurman Munson Rookie Cup 1/1. For years, I never got a single hit on the search. After a while, I realized I needed to add additional search alerts in case the seller listed it differently. By a few years ago, I had added Munson Rookie Cup relic, Munson Rookie Cup 1/1, Munson Relic 1/1, and even the very generic 2005 Rookie Cup 1/1.
By 2020, the market was starting to shift to other avenues for selling besides eBay, and I had gotten fairly active on hobby Twitter. I decided to start posting on other sites. I made a post on the Blowout forums looking for the card, and had a Twitter thread with the same intent. On each posting I offered a hefty finder’s fee of $100 for the card, even offering $25 if my finding the card simply put me in touch with the seller without it resulting in a sale. I still had no luck. By the beginning of this year, I upped the finder’s fee to $250 for the card and $75 for putting me in touch with the owner. But still, I struck out.
One day in July, just a few weeks prior to this year’s National, I was on my patio relaxing and scrolling through my saved eBay searches. There was a hit for my generic 2005 Rookie Cup 1/1 search, which wasn’t all that odd; sometimes other relics or printing plates would pop up. That was the case on this day, when a lot of 14 Chrome refractors, including a 1/1 Rod Carew, triggered my search. As usual, I felt a tinge of sadness when I realized I hadn’t found my white whale.
Then something caught my eye under eBay’s header of “Results matching fewer words.” It was a 1971 Thurman Munson card. At first I thought it was a fluke, a regular Munson card that showed up because I had the other Munson searches saved. I looked closer. This was it. The card I was looking for over a decade and a half was on eBay, and it didn’t even trigger one of my saved searches because the seller wrote “1 of 1” instead of “1/1.” eBay’s search algorithm saved me.
I hurriedly clicked the item listing. The seller had the card graded since I last saw it, and it was now in a BGS slab with a grade of 6. The card was listed as an auction and the high bid was around $9. But there was a reserve, which hadn’t been met. And there was a buy it now, too: $7,500.
The price tag was exorbitant, and I had never felt so deflated in my life. For years I offered a finder’s fee just for me to be able to see the card again. Now here I was with the opportunity to buy it, and a price so over-the-top I knew I couldn’t pull the trigger. I had always assumed this card went to a Thurman Munson or New York Yankees collector, and that it would cost me a lot to pry it away. A few years ago, after getting a bonus at work, I mentally earmarked a lot of money for the eventual purchase of this card, an insane price considering all the vintage Hall of Fame cards I could buy for that amount. I bid a little less than I was willing to spend, but still a humongous amount. I had high bid, but the reserve wasn’t met.
My gut was to message the seller (who had 0 feedback and was new to eBay), explain my story, and hope that there was wiggle room on the price. I took to Twitter and asked folks what they would do in my situation. Some scoffed at the $7,500 price tag and said it was ridiculous and clearly the seller had no clue. Some saw the 0 feedback rating and thought it could be a scam. Others liked my plan of talking to the seller, though some warned that if I came on too strong the seller would have impetus to hold steady on the price. And to my surprise, there were plenty of people who told me that for a card I was chasing for 15 years, $7,500 was a drop in the bucket and I should just buy it. I disagreed strongly with that group of people.
I ended up following my gut, messaging the seller, and being open and honest. I told the seller I’d been after this card because it was pulled at my local card shop, and I was confident I’d pay much more than anyone else would, but that $7,500 was too much for me. The seller wrote back telling me she’d take $6,000. I was crushed. Deflated. I wrote to her and gave her my email address and phone number and asked her to let me know if she ever changed her mind.
To my surprise, I lost the auction, to a bidder with 0 feedback. It didn’t matter, though, because the reserve wasn’t met. The card was relisted immediately. I messaged the seller and offered to double the final price the card ended at and again left my contact info. I bid on the new auction and won it this time, but still didn’t meet the reserve. The card went up for auction a third time.
A few days before I left for the National, I got a call from a California number I didn’t recognize. The caller left a voice message. I listened to it at the dinner table and nearly choked. The sweet woman’s voice on the other end said she was the seller of the Thurman Munson card and wanted to talk to me.
My fingers could not call her back quickly enough. We talked for about thirty minutes and had a wonderful conversation. She told me that she was a Munson collector and her late husband bought her all of her cards on eBay, which she had never used. Her kids and grandkids didn’t want them and, for some reason, decided to start selling her collection with this card. She also told me that when she Googled the card to find out more information about it, she ran across my post on Blowout detailing my decade-and-a-half-long search for my grail. She said she was moved by the story and wanted to accept my offer of twice the card’s auction closing price.
I was floored. The gravity of it all hit me at once: not just that I would finally own the card I’d been searching for for 40% of my life, but also that it was about to beat out Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and Cy Young as the most expensive cards I had ever bought. I offered to pay her directly so she could avoid eBay fees, but she told me she wanted to do it on the up-and-up. She set up a new listing in which she accepted best offers. I made it, and she accepted.
When I got home from the National my holy grail was waiting for me. The feeling of finding and buying that card is one of my favorite experiences from my time in the hobby. I feel so lucky to have found it, and I’m so thankful to have found a seller willing to sell it to me.