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The world of sports cards, memories with Michael Osacky

Michael Osacky has spent most of his life attached to the past and continues to do so, and he seems extremely happy. He is in his early 40s and has a prominent place in the surprisingly wide, sometimes bad and increasingly competitive and lucrative world of sports memorabilia. He has dozens of items in his Near North Side apartment and in nearby storage.

“I no longer trade, buy or sell because that would create a conflict of interest,” he says. “It would not be right to value something at 1000 dollars, buy it for that, and then turn around and sell it for 100 thousand dollars.”

Honesty is very important to him as he is a certified appraiser with the International Association of Appraisers and is therefore a major niche player in the world of sports memorabilia. This area was vividly showcased in a lengthy New York Times article for the Chicago Sports Spectacular at the Rosemont Convention Center the weekend before Thanksgiving. business story “Described as one of the largest and oldest card shows in the country, the Market is like an item sale from the days before eBay, but with a lot more money involved.”

No joke there. Osacky tells me that at such demonstrations, FBI agents often wander around anonymously, looking for miscreants. “It doesn’t matter what kind of business we’re talking about, if there’s money to be made, there will be people trying to cheat to get it,” Osacky says.

The gist of the Times story was captured in this headline: “The Biggest News in Trading Cards Since They Lost Gum.” The story detailed how the industry changed following Fanatics’ entry into the world of sports collectibles.

This company, Fanatics, was already a dominant force in the world of sporting goods, mostly clothing. Mike Mahan, director of Fanatics’ Collectibles, said he bought leading sports card maker Topps two years ago with the intention of “making it stand out and create some degree of interest and make it cool and fun and exciting.” Times story.

This triggered concerns and lawsuits. This isn’t surprising because this is an industry worth an estimated $44 billion. Osacky was interviewed for the story and said: “The fanatics are going to take over the world. Some might say that maybe that’s not a good thing. I think it’s a good thing. I think the hobby needs innovation, new ideas. It’s been the same old, same old for too long.” ”

He’ll have a table at Rosemont next activity The latest step in a career that was sparked quite innocently in mid-March. On his 11th birthday, at the home in Buffalo Grove where he grew up, he received a gift from his grandfather, a shoebox full of old baseball cards. Like many kids of that era, he knew baseball cards and bought them at gas stations or convenience stores.

“Up to that point, I was riding my bike to grocery stores and gas stations and getting all the new cards,” he told me. “But my grandfather’s cards in the box were very old, and they set me on a quest to find similar cards and learn everything about the players’ history.”

He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in finance and commodities, later using the skills he learned there to launch his own career. Web site.

“The history of players and memories is always fascinating,” he said. “I also love the thrill of the hunt. People are calling every day. I never know who or what they have. “They may have items they found in the attic or storage and want to know how valuable they might be.”

Although COVID understandably kept him at home, he was on the road again, traveling the country, speaking at companies and libraries, attending festivals and congresses. He has worked with teams (including the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees) and with many individuals.

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“I was called in for basically three reasons: to evaluate for insurance reasons, charitable giving purposes, and estate planning,” he says. “My concentration is cards, but also other items.”

I first met Osacky almost a decade ago, and on a recent afternoon I was pleased to see him still enthusiastic as he said: “Things have changed for the better in the last 10 years. There are more people collecting, more money involved. I’m just a small part of it. But it’s dazzling.”

Michael Osacky flips through a binder full of football cards at his home in Chicago.

Now I’m from a generation where baseball cards are a part of the lives of young boys, mostly boys. We traded them in, put them on the spokes of our bikes, and then most of us gave them up, throwing them in the trash along with our primary school report cards. I haven’t seen a sports trading card in decades.

“You can still buy them at hobby stores, Target and Walmart. But what this industry needs is to get young kids back into the fold,” said Osacky. “Too many young people are entering the world of gaming with their phones. But there is something very special about the physical nature of cards and memorabilia. You can see it, you can touch it. This is something Fanatics can achieve. “I’m hopeful.”

As we spoke, images of the AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens were almost flickering on the television. “(Chiefs quarterback) Patrick Mahomes’ rookie card recently sold for $4.2 million,” Osacky said.

I asked him what his favorite piece in his extensive collection was, and he smiled and said, “It’s definitely not the most valuable, but my favorite is the 1973 (future Hall of Famer Philadelphia Phillies) Mike Schmidt rookie card.” It’s not in great condition, but it’s from the box of cards my grandfather gave me a long time ago. “This connects me to him again.”

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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