Courtesy of Connie Chrisco
Larry Chrisco enjoys a St. Louis Cardinals game with granddaughters Keira and Kassidy.
By Wade Livingston
Larry Chrisco of Rolla will be featured at 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
Well, sort of. Really, it’s his baseball cards that will be on display.
The sixty-six-year-old owns and operates Central Missouri Sportscards in Rolla, and he’s one of a handful of baseball card dealers around the country who’ve been selected to be part of MLB’s FanFest, scheduled for the week leading up to the July 15 All-Star Game.
The Salem native began collecting cards in the sixties, back when Topps was a candy company selling gum in packs of baseball cards. The simple, matte cards were a far cry from the holographic, light-refracting, game-worn-jersey embedded, limited edition special cards you find today.
In the sixties, you might put a baseball card in your bike’s spokes to jazz up its sound, or wrap a rubber band around your stack of sluggers and slingers. Larry vaguely remembers trading a Mickey Mantle for the card of a common St. Louis Cardinal. On the other hand, he remembers acquiring a Stan Musial in much the same way. For Larry, baseball cards were about players and teams; it was a sentimental hobby.
That was before price guides became available, before Becket Baseball Card Monthly and Tuff Stuff. In the eighties and early nineties, something happened: collectors began to value cards by dollar amounts. Mementos became money. Cards became currency. By 1993, packs of Topps were missing the gum: collectors had complained that it stained the cards, reducing their value.
As Sports Illustrated’s Bill Syken wrote in 2007, “Baseball cards outgrew children. It became a world of consumer gouging and joyless economic speculation. Convention halls became a junior Wall Street for people without enough game to actually invest in Wall Street.”
There was a boom. A lull. A bust.
According to Forbes, baseball card sales reached $1.2 billion in 1991, and there were around 5,000 card shops in the country. But sales waned by the millennium, amounting to just $400 million. By 2009, there were 500 card shops across the nation, and sales had dipped to $200 million — in 2012, that’s where they remained, according to the New York Times.
Larry knows the story. In fact, he’s lived it. After a couple-decades hiatus from card collecting, Larry’s love for baseball cards was rekindled in an odd place: a post exchange, or “PX” in military slang. In the late eighties, he was an army officer stationed in Europe when he came across a random baseball card show at a PX in Germany. He bought a few packs and was hooked. He moved back to the States in 1989 and began working card shows. In 1998, he opened Central Missouri Sportscards in Rolla.
Larry opened his shop around the height of card collecting. At first, he only sold sports cards. But soon, college students at then-University of Missouri-Rolla convinced him to carry the Magic: The Gathering card game. Today, cards make up only 60 percent of his total revenue. In Larry’s eyes, the lull in the card market was accompanied by the rise of the internet.
“Everyone became a [card] dealer with the advent of the internet,” Larry says.
Collectors and fans didn’t need to go to a baseball card shop anymore. Larry knew he had to diversify to keep people coming into his store. As a self-proclaimed sports nut, he stuck with sports memorabilia and apparel. His shop stocks bobbleheads and novelties in addition to sports cards.
Larry will tell you that some card shop operators are staunchly opposed to selling apparel or novelties or antiques or whatever. These are the purists, the hobbyists as Larry calls them. He says that some folks might call him a businessman, using that moniker pejoratively. But Larry doesn’t get hung up on such titles; he’s quick to tell you he’s a big baseball fan and an adaptive businessman.
We’ll have to wait and see how Larry does at FanFest, where a good day has fetched him around $10,000 in sales in the past. This year, the savvy dealer made a conservative play: he split the $8,500 merchant fee with another dealer. Who knows if he’ll clear as much money — maybe he’ll have more time to be a fan.