When Topps recently issued a card of Dodgers rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu and couldn’t tell the difference between Japan and Korea, I thought it would be interested to look at the issue of race and baseball cards.
It turns out this is a legitimate area of scholarly research.
Because baseball cards have one player with an easily identifiable race, and also have well-publicized prices that are driven by the consumer market, they have been a fruitful hunting ground for economists looking at the impact of race on consumer behavior.
Here are the ten most prominent articles on the topic – one early newspaper article, eight professional journal articles, and finally, a recent piece by a sabermetric blogger.
Racism Abounds In World Of Old-Time Baseball Cards  by Marty York
An early article that makes some great points still relevant today: Why are Mickey Mantle cards worth so much more than Mays or Aaron? Why are Koufax rookies twice the value of Bob Gibsons? Why is Brooks Robinson’s card worth so much more than Frank’s? Hank Aaron is among those quoted in the article.
Customer Racial Discrimination for Baseball Memorabilia  by Paul Gabriel, Curtis Johnson and Timothy Stanton
This study found that rookie card prices were not affected by ethnicity early in a players career, but discrepancies due to race increased later in a players career and after retirement. Full text preview only.
Location, Location, Location: The Transmission of Racist Ideology in Baseball Cards  by Robert Regoli, John Hewitt, Robert Munoz and Adam Regoli
Traditionally Topps assigned the cards with 00 numbers (100, 200, 300 etc) to the biggest stars in baseball. These authors find that black players were underrepresented from 1956-1966, and then overrepresented from 1967-1980. The authors say that this may have been due to the effect of the Civil Rights Movement. Free full text is not available.
Incidentally, noted baseball card blogger Night Owl has done his own research and found that Topps didn’t consistently devote themselves to putting a star at these numbers until 1962. His link contains the entire list of “hero numbers” for those who are interested:
A Reinvestigation of Racial Discrimination and Baseball Cards  by Edward Scahill
An economist finds that nonwhite star player cards are undervalued compared to those of white stars. He finds that this is consumer-driven, rather than dealer driven.
Race, Performance and Baseball Card Values  by John Hewitt, Robert Munoz, William Oliver and Robert Regoli
Four economists did an analysis on statistical difference in card values for black and white Hall of Famers (later corrected and updated, see below). No free full text version available online.
Where O Where Did My Baseball Cards Go?: Race, Performance and Placement in the Topps Era, 1956–1980  by John Hewitt, Eric Primm and Robert Regoli
Topps would give out the hundred-number cards to star players. Was this based on performance or race? According to this Social Science Journal article, it was by performance. Free full text version is not available.
Assessing Consumer Preference for Hall of Fame Baseball Cards  by Michael McAvoy
Statistical analysis using hedonic pricing model. Finds that collectors discriminate only against pitchers of color, not hitters. [From Wikipedia – hedonic regression “decomposes the item being researched into its constituent characteristics, and obtains estimates of the contributory value of each characteristic.”]
Race Effects on Ebay  by Ian Ayres, Mahzarin Banaji and Christine Jolls
Two Yale economists and a Harvard psychologist conduct an experiment comparing the winning bids on baseball cards held by a black hand in their eBay photo versus those held by a white hand. Cards held by black hands sold for 20% less. The negative effect increased when a black player appeared on a card held by a black hand, and when the buyer came from a “whiter” zip code.
Two economists correct several statistical errors in the early work by Hewit Munoz, Oliver and Regoli [HMOR]. They find no effect of race on card prices after their corrections of HMOR’s data errors. One of the original authors, Robert Munoz, graciously accepted the corrections and new results.
Racial Bias and Baseball Card Values  by Phil Birnbaum
A sabermetric blogger find some baseball-related issues with the HMOR article. The only piece I’ve found written from a baseball fan, rather than an economist, point of view. Birnbaum points out the weaknesses in using only one statistical rating to measure player value, and using PSA to determine card scarcity.
You can read more from Bo Rosny over at his site Baseball Cards Come to Life.