The quest for one million Cubs baseball cards

Beau Thompson has one goal: Collect as many Cubs baseball cards as he can

The quest for one million Cubs baseball cards

The official meter on currently reads 427,285.

Which means that Beau Thompson is 572,715 pieces of cardboard away — give or take a Jerome Walton — from his goal of collecting one million Cubs baseball cards.

Still, 472,285 cards is a large lot in itself and it takes up considerable real estate in the basement of the Madison, Wisconsin home that Thompson shares with his wife Amy.

One room in the basement contains a small sorting table and shelves stacked high with storage boxes crammed full of cards. A nearby utility closet holds the overflow of boxes and binders full of Mark Grace Donruss Rated Rookies and the Jay Johnstone ‘84 Fleer where he’s wearing the Brockabrella. (You know the one.)

There is also the assortment of envelopes and packages that have steadily streamed into the Thompson home ever since he went public in the card collecting community with his outsized goal.

For over two years, Thompson has spent most of his free time organizing the collection and engineering trades on the Internet and at card shows. Collecting one million Cubs baseball cards, after all, isn’t the type of thing you do a few weekends a year. It’s the type of pursuit to which you have to be 100 percent committed.

Thompson knows how it looks.

“Most people say it’s crazy and I would agree with them,” Thompson says. “But everybody has their niche. I tell people that I’m a huge nerd and now that I’m in my late 30s, I’ve accepted that. I think you fight it when you’re younger, but once you mature and become an adult, you just own it.”

A closet stuffed full of cards, Thompson’s “business” card and the picture from Thompson’s Little League baseball card (Beau Thompson)

Thompson still has a vivid memory of getting his first Cubs cards in the mail.

The year was 1989. He was growing up in Annawan, Illinois near the Quad Cities and was a huge Cubs fan. He’d sent away for a team set of the Cubs team that was working its way toward the NL East championship.

“There’s just something about Cubs baseball cards when you see them,” said Thompson, whose ‘business’ card for his hobby (above) is modeled after a 1989 Topps card. “From that point I was hooked.”

Thompson spent the next few decades becoming a hard core collector. But he was anything but focused. He dabbled in football and basketball cards. He had a bout with wrestling memorabilia, too.

But one day, he looked up and found that he had more than two million total cards, most of them worthless detritus from the overproduced era of the ‘80s and ‘90s. There was no rhyme or reason to his collection. No focus.

It gave him an idea. Thompson had done a few trades in the past where he’d go through his collection and pull 1,000 Red Sox cards to send to a Red Sox collector. In return, he’d receive 1,000 Cubs cards from the other collection.

What if he did that on a much larger scale?

A former radio broadcaster who now works in transportation logistics, Thompson liked the blogging possibilities chasing such a big number would present. The number of one million would draw him attention. It would compel people to contribute to the effort because they’d want to be involved.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with all of the extra cards I didn’t want,” Thompson said. “So I said I’ll trade them for Cubs cards. I’d rather have a 1989 Topps Manny Trillo — even though I already have 500 of them — than more cards from the White Sox or Red Sox.”

Thompson in front of his collection of signed baseballs (Beau Thompson)

Thompson started his quest in December 2017 with twelve 5,000-count boxes that were full of Cubs cards for an estimated starting point of 60,000 cards. He started a blog as well as accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He got to work.

Initially, Thompson thought he’d keep track of all his cards on a spreadsheet. But after two or three weeks of solid work cataloguing 7,000 cards, he realized that one million cards is an even bigger number than he previously thought.

So he tossed the spreadsheet aside and started working on trades. Over the past two years, Thompson has made swaps as small as a handful of cards and as large as lots of 30,000. He has regulars sending him cards from places like South Korea and rural Vermont. Word of mouth in the collecting community means that he always has packages coming in from points unknown.

“I’ll always offer something in return,” Thompson said. “But a lot of people say ‘Nope, I don’t want these any more. They’re yours.’”

The influx of cards became so much that he finally went to the post office to get a p.o. box. That way his stoop wouldn’t be littered with mail each day and his postal worker might end up liking him again. (Amy also felt a lot better about Beau giving out a p.o. box address rather than their home address.)

Javy Baez is Thompson’s favorite Cubs player. (Beau Thompson)

Trading Card Database lists around 130,000 unique Cubs baseball cards. Even if you throw in minor league sets and other unlicensed products you still don’t get anywhere close to one million individual cards so Thompson’s push will contain a lot of duplicates.

It’s a necessary evil that Thompson is fine with. He’ll start zeroing in on the database checklist once he’s reached the goal of one million.

After recently being locked down at home with everyone else, Thompson had to stop visiting the post office so frequently. With a pause on the flow of cards, he got to work sorting his cards by bigger names like Mark Grace, Kris Bryant, Andre Dawson and Javy Baez (his favorite player).

Ask him his favorite Cubs card and he has two quick answers.

• The oldest card in his collection: Duke Farrell from the 1887 Old Judge set. (Farrell was a catcher when the Cubs were still known as the White Stockings).

• A 2010 Bowman Aflac Baez card (one of 200) that’s autographed.

Thompson has put some thought into what he’d like the millionth card to be and used to think it’d be an Ernie Banks rookie card, something he’s yet to collect.

But whether or not he has enough patience to wait that long remains to be seen.

“I might finally pull the trigger on it this year,” he allowed.

Thompson’s initial estimate was that he’d be able to amass 150,000 Cubs cards per year, but he soon learned it would probably top out at around 120,000 cards per year.

Which is more than fine with Thompson because he said he’s having as much fun with the project as he had on day one.

“The goal initially was to get to one million as fast as I can,” he said. “But it quickly became clear this project was going to be about meeting all of these new collectors and Cubs fans. Everyone I’ve met so far has been better than all of the Cubs cards I could collect.

“I know I’ll eventually get to one million. But when it happens, it happens.”

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Remember when Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant dominated ESPN and looked like they were the future of baseball broadcasting? Yeah, I miss that day so much.

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• RIP John Prine. If you read one thing on the Maywood mailman today, make it this piece. (Tribune)

Hell, read this one too. (Sun-Times)

• And watch this.

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That’s it for today. As always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.

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