I have always had absolutely horrid luck with sports cards, a long tradition going on almost 20 years now. You'd think I'd stop buying them at some point, but like the penniless sap still sitting at the slot machine, I never could stop pumping nickels into the bandit in the vain hope of that one humongous score. You can stop holding your breath now, it never came. But hey, the odds are still better than Powerball; even I have my limits.
When I started collecting baseball cards in the early 90s, we were already well into the self-induced nadir of the card industry, though that's only apparent in retrospect. At the time, companies were happily overprinting tons of cards and making money hand over fist, but we'll get back to that in a second.
Anyway, I had a friend who bought two packs of 1992 Donruss from 7-Eleven and pulled the #11 Elite Series Will Clark - a card that was worth $100 at the time. This friend was the complete opposite of me; lucky in cards, lucky in love...he was even a faster runner than me. I can only fervently hope he's bald and fat now, but I digress. I was a huge Will Clark fan in that era (along with Ryne Sandberg; the 1989 NLCS was my prepubescent wet dream) and naturally, I was envious. So I bought three packs myself and got absolutely nothing. Verily, my quest commenced on that day.
Now, the Elite Series set shouldn't be that rare, in theory. At 10,000 serially numbered cards of each of 10 players (plus 5000 autographed Ripkens and 7500 Rickey Henderson "Legends" variants), there are plenty of copies to go around. Some current card sets don't even produce that many entire BOXES. But Donruss printed so many damn cards that the Elite per-pack ratio turned out to be quite low. How low, exactly, in the absence of officially stated odds? It took me ten years to find out.
Needless to say, buying individual packs here and there in 1992 yielded nothing. It always bugged me, so when I was in college and had some disposable income, I bought two entire boxes off eBay. Nothing. I then bought FOUR boxes...again, zip.
I will spare you the entire sordid process, but suffice it to say my credit card took a beating as I futilely chased my white whale. I finally went all-in on an entire case about four years ago (that's 20 boxes), and pulled the Rickey Henderson Legends card. Then I promptly lost it. Oh well, the journey is sweeter than its end. I purchased another case last week--that's how rarely the cases turn up--and pulled the Puckett pictured above. So based on my sample (which is admittedly too small to make solid conclusions, but you have to start somewhere), the odds of pulling an Elite were 1 in 720 packs. Again, those are just my observed odds, but it's still eye-poppingly scarce.
In comparison, the 1992 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle set, which was also considered a super-premium insert set somewhat comparable to the Elite at the time, appears to be as common as dirt. The stated odds are 1 in
UPDATE: I bought two more boxes of 1992 Pinnacle baseball and pulled squat, so my observed rate is now down to 1:48 packs. Maybe the odds are correct but it's just horrendously collated...