Now in its third year, the Jefferson Burdick Award is the most prestigious award offered by the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee1 and serves to celebrate the most influential icons in the trading card industry. In 2022, the award rightfully went to Dr. James Beckett.
Dr. James Beckett has a Ph.D. in Statistics from Southern Methodist University. He is the CEO of Beckett Interests Inc. and is the founder of Beckett Publications Inc. and served as its CEO from 1984 to 2005. Dr. Beckett’s contribution to the hobby is of paramount significance.
For those of us who collected cards during the hobby boom of the 1980s and 1990s, we lived and died by Beckett price guides. The excitement of getting the latest issue to see the hot and cold list, which cards had up and down arrows, and constantly envying those who had the 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco, 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., and 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas rookie cards. As kids, a lot of us had smaller budgets so we were plenty happy collecting guys like Ron Gant, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Vince Coleman and following the prospect hype around hopefulls such as Kevin Maas, Phil Plantier, Todd Van Poppel, and of course, Brien Taylor. The Beckett price guide allowed us to keep tabs on how players were performing in the card market.
It became a passionate study of information architecture. It was perfection in print.
The Beckett price guides became our defense against repeating the sad stories of moms throwing out their kids baseball card collections; which have almost become clichés. The Beckett price guides turned trading cards into investments. Finally, we could load up on 1991 Donruss to sell later and send our kids to Oxford. It made the most sense and we loved every second of it. Many of us only dreamed of pulling a 1991 Donruss Elite and to this day, many of us still haven’t. But we’ll always have that cool card of Darryl Strawberry wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform.
Beckett Baseball Card Monthly is associated with many vivid childhood memories. When the January 1992 issue came out with Nolan Ryan in cowboy clothes on the front cover, I had to have it. Since these magazines came out one month ahead of the stated date, I got this issue just before Christmas in 1991. On the nights leading up to Christmas, I would sleep under the Christmas tree and study this issue under the hanging glow of Christmas lights. This publication made every day feel like a holiday.
On my birthday in 1992, I had some friends over to celebrate and we all talked cards. My friend, Jason, said I needed to get the June Beckett, which had Kirby Puckett on the cover. He appeared excited and I certainly shared that feeling. That day my mom got me my first subscription to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly; there wasn’t a more appropriate gift.
I would anxiously await the new issue to arrive and when it did, it didn’t leave my possession until the next one arrived. I took it with me everywhere. I studied the prices while eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I reviewed prices while hanging out in my room and before bed. I couldn’t wait to see what went up and what went down. I read every word on every page repeatedly. I devoured this publication for years.
Toward the mid-1990s, I paid close attention to the show calendar located beyond the price guide pages. I would check to see if my city was hosting any card shows and save my allowance for those special days. It was because of the Beckett magazine that I became aware of this information and as such, used that knowledge to attend some amazing shows and meet tons of interesting people. Some of which I still know to this day.
Even as the years pass, these memories remain cherished and clear as day. I write this with some degree of tender emotion since Dr. Beckett’s publications were such a big part of my life. Now that I live in the DFW area, I see Dr. Beckett at local shows and it’s a treasure to say I know him personally. A part of me feels like I’ve known him for decades.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the profound impact this magazine had on a generation of collectors. It was more than just a publication, it was an extension of who we were. It turned a hobby into an extraordinary passion, and it likely helped some learn to read. It was a card collector’s perfect companion.
Not only do I send a warm congratulation to Dr. James Beckett but a special thanks for creating something so exceptional that touched the lives of countless collectors. He is the ideal recipient of the Jefferson Burdick Award.
Thank you, Dr. Beckett.