Meet Todd Tobias, Lacrosse's Leading Trading Card Collector
The card collecting community has its own unique language, one that requires a glossary or “Trading Cards for Dummies” handbook to get beyond the base level of the hobby.
Sure, there will always be more casual collectors than hardcore card-chasers. More trading cards find their way into shoeboxes than they do slabs from a professional grading company. Many might not even realize the relative gold mine they’re sitting on.
Sports trading cards re-entered the lexicon in 2020, as the pandemic and quarantine resulted in a boom in the hobby. Per CNBC, Google searches in the United States for “best sports cards to buy right now” increased by 680 percent between January 2020 and February 2023. During that same period, daily visits to Topps.com grew by 218.5 percent.
It was during that same time that Topps and the Premier Lacrosse League came together to release cards for the bubbled PLL Championship Series in 2020. In July 2021, Topps and Athletes Unlimited announced the first-ever women’s lacrosse set. Athletes Unlimited had previously partnered with Topps for a set of softball cards.
More people than ever before can at least dabble in the trading card vernacular — especially in lacrosse.
The First Lacrosse Trading Card
The history of lacrosse trading cards extends well beyond 2021, going back to as far as 1878. The very first lacrosse card came from a 12-card, multi-sport set from Europe-based biscuit company Huntley & Palmers, per Todd Tobias, considered the leading lacrosse trading card collector in the world.
Tobias, 50, used to work in the marketing department for PSA, one of the most prominent grading companies in the hobby, and has a master’s degree in history from the University of San Diego.
He lives and breathes lacrosse and lacrosse cards.
“I jokingly tell people that maybe I ran a printing press in my past life, but I’m addicted to cards,” Tobias said. “I got into lacrosse cards probably nine years ago. It was just a random eBay search one day when I was bored. I had no idea what might have been produced over the years.”
That fateful day spawned a decade of collecting cards that satisfy Tobias’ love affair with collecting. It’s not all about “grails” — a word in the hobby that refers to a collector’s most-prized possession. Tobias has quite a few cards of value, but much of his collection is a combination of sentimentality and history.
“I don’t know that I specifically have a lacrosse grail,” Tobias said. “I’m an American Football League historian and have been for 25 years. The other card collection that I have, in addition to lacrosse, is that I’ve collected all the AFL sets that were produced in the 1960s. My collection is completely autographed. There are 1,285 cards in the collection, and I’m missing seven of them.”
Tobias’ lacrosse collection is robust. He runs a website, Lax Card Archive, that catalogues the hobby throughout the years.
“About 90 percent of what’s on that website is from my personal collection,” he said.
The Biggest Charlotte North Collection in the World
Tobias estimates that, at least mathematically speaking, he might have the No. 1 Charlotte North collection in the world. Of the 67 North cards issued by Topps, Tobias owns 46 of them. Five of those are 1/1 variants, the most exclusive version of a card possible, as only one was printed.
While North is one of his more robust collections, and Brodie Merrill is his favorite player to collect, his favorite set is the 1999 National Lacrosse League All-Star set. It was only available at the game, making it rare. There are 12 cards in the set, including Casey Powell’s first-ever card.
The 2001 Major League Lacrosse set is also pretty rare, according to Tobias. That set includes legends like John Grant Jr., Billy Daye, Gary Gait, Jay Jalbert and Mark Millon.
“The thing about collecting is that value is great, and everyone likes to make money off their cards, but ultimately, we should be collecting because we enjoy the sport and enjoy the idea of cards,” Tobias said.
While the release of PLL cards was highly anticipated, the years since haven’t been without hiccups. At its peak, the secondary market was flooded with sought-after cards and remarkably high sale prices — a barometer for interest in the product.
The 2021 PLL holiday set’s 1/1 Lyle Thompson sold for $6,500 on eBay. Mac O’Keefe’s 1/1 went for $4,000. Some enter the hobby to chase those types of cards. Others enter the hobby to try and be the one who pulls those cards from a pack to turn a profit online. Either way, it created a vast amount of interest in that 2021 holiday set.
That release was mired in some early controversy, much too long to detail here. USA Lacrosse Magazine contributor Dan Arestia sifted through the issues on Medium in January 2022.
The PLL has released sets since, but the league did not have a 2023 product. On Thursday, the PLL announced a new online collector’s marketplace for signed and game-used memorabilia called The Vault.
It made no mention of cards, though one passionate collector brought up the subject on X (formerly known as Twitter). PLL co-founder and CEO Mike Rabil responded.
“…Believe me, we will have something and more information soon,” Rabil wrote. “We are working hard on it.”
In a statement to USA Lacrosse Magazine, PLL COO Andrew Sinnenberg said to expect more news in the coming months.
“We know fans and collectors are eager to see more PLL trading cards in the market — we’re evaluating our options to deliver the best trading card experience and product to our fans, and will have more to share in the coming months,” Sinnenberg said.
What that means for the future is up in the air. Lacrosse cards have helped players and superfans stay connected to the sport and their favorite players. Trading cards have even been a blast for the players immortalized on the 2.5-by-3.5-inch cards.
In August, a #/10 2022 Topps Athletes Unlimited card featuring the signatures of Becca Block, Lizzie Colson, Ally Kennedy and Marie McCool sold for $149.99 on eBay.
“I remember the first trading card that I saw of myself, and I was like, ‘There’s no way I have a trading card,’” Colson said. “It’s surreal that my signature holds that much value to someone.”
For someone like Tobias, that signature and that player tell a story. It’s lacrosse history in the palm of your hand. It even brings him back to his own start in the sport.
“Going to high school in San Diego, especially when I did, lacrosse was not what it is now out here,” he said. “My senior year, my math teacher said he was forming a team at our school, and I had no idea what lacrosse was. He pretty much demanded that I play.
“I played, and I had so much fun. I couldn’t even believe it.”