A Love of the Minis

1952 Bowman #11 Ralph Kiner

I started seriously collecting baseball cards back in 1992. I was 26 yrs. of age and the catalyst was the Blue Jays winning the pennant and the World Series. Not that I was a Jays fan because I wasn’t (the Mariners and Expos were my teams) it was just that baseball, my favourite sport, was at the time, a rival to hockey for the attention of the nation (Canada).

With the added interest in baseball, cards were selling everywhere. It wasn’t as difficult to trade and collect baseball cards. Gas stations carried Upper Deck, Donruss, Fleer, Topps, and Score packs, department stores and corner stores carried boxes of product. And there seemed to be a new card shop opening in the city I lived every three to six months.

Like most people new to a hobby, I collected the new and hot products. But it didn’t take long before I realized that much of what was being sold was not worth the price. When boxes were sold at a higher price than you could get for the individulal cards inside them (unless you hit a rare insert or autograph card), especially when they were produced in the millions, it was time to move on to something different. Myself I looked backwards.

1952 Bowman Baseball Card Pack

1952 Bowman Baseball Card Pack

I wanted to collect a vintage card set. I looked at all the sets from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s and found only one set that would be inexpensive enough to collect, large enough to make it a challenge, and available enough not to wait months before finding any of the cards. That set was the 1952 Bowman set. The Bowman cards became my favourite cards because of this and two other reasons.

The first was that they were art cards rather than photographs. I like the combination of art and sport. Although some photos are skillful, most are routine and boring. But art cards, they show skill with every image.

The second reason was their smaller size. After opening thousands of packs of regular sized baseball cards, a set of smaller cards was a refreshing change. The 1952 Bowman set began my love for smaller cards.

Thirty years later I am still collecting the ’52 Bowmans, but I have in the past, and still do today, collect other mini card sets. Below are some of my personal favourites.

1993 Humpty Dumpty

1993 Humpty Dumpty Baseball

1993 Humpty Dumpty Baseball

The 1993 Humpty Dumpty Baseball set consists of 50 player cards and an unnumbered checklist card. They were only distributed in Canada. They were sold inside bags of Humpty Dumpty potato chips, one card per bag. The cards were sealed in a cellophane wrapper. The cards measure 1-7/16″ x 1-15/16″.

The fronts were full bleed images of 50 stars and semi-stars of the major leagues including Hall of Famers: Cal Ripken, Frank Thomas, George Brett, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Nolan Ryan, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith. A mail in offer was available to attain a red plastic binder including five polypropylene twelve-pocketed sheets that hold the cards.

It was enjoyable to collect these cards except for the weight gain. The completion of this set was difficult though as you came across many duplicates before getting the complete run. I eventually stopped eating the chips and just took the cards from the bags. Once I was up to four cards on some of the players yet not receice any of a few others I stopped. I completed the set through trades online after that.

1991 & 1992 Cracker Jack Minis

1991 & 1992 Carcker Jack Mini Baseball Cards

1991 & 1992 Carcker Jack Mini Baseball Cards

These are actually two different sets. The 1991 set was produced by Topps and look like a mini version of their 40th Anniversary regular set. The 1992 set was produced by Donruss and they look similar to Donruss’ 1992 regular set.  Out of all the mini cards I have collected over the years these are the tiniest. They measure just 1 1/4″ X 1 3/4″ each.

Although the fronts look like the Topps and Donruss sets, the backs are completely different. Each of the two years came in two series of 36 cards each. That would be 72 cards each for 1991 and 1992. They came in specially marked boxes of Cracker Jack, one card per box.

1991 Topps Series II Cracker Jack Box and Surprize

1991 Topps Series II Cracker Jack Box and Surprize

The two years’ sets contain almost every Hall of Fame player from the era including Nolan Ryan, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripken Jr., George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett, Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Andre Dawson, Barry Larkin, Frank Thomas, Ozzie Smith, Dennis Eckersley, Craig Biggio, and Tom Glavine.

A mail-in offer for a mini card album with six top loading plastic pages for $4.95 per album was available at the time.

Cracker Jack Mini Baseball Collector Album

Cracker Jack Mini Baseball Collector Album

2007 Fleer Mini Die Cuts

2007 Fleer Mini Die Cut #136 Carlos Beltran

2007 Fleer Mini Die Cut #136 Carlos Beltran

In 2007, Upper Deck put out the last set of cards under the Fleer name. This 400 card set had a mini parallel set that I enjoy collecting. The cards are the same as the regular set except that the border has been removed. The cards measure 2 1/8″ X 3″. In a typical box you will pull between 15-20 of these cards so although not extremely limited, you will need to buy a case or two to come close to finishing the set. I prefer to look to the secondary market for the cards where I occasionally found lots of 20 or more available for a reasonable cost. This set is also available in a gold version which is super tough to collect. You might pull one card from every few boxes if you are lucky. I busted open four boxes myself and found only one of these cards.

2012 Topps 1987 Mini Cards

2012 Topps 1987 Mini #TM38 Chase Utley

2012 Topps 1987 Mini #TM38 Chase Utley

This set of 150 cards is fun to collect if you were a fan of the 1987 Topps set. The cards measure 2 1/8″ X 3 1/8″ and come at approximately 8 to 10 per hobby box. I pulled nine from a box I opened recently. The 150 cards are split between three series. 2012 Topps Series One has the first 50 cards. Series Two has the second 50 cards, and the Update set has the last 50 cards. You would need a case of each series to complete the set.

There are many other tiny cards out there including all the pre 1954 Bowman cards and the original Cracker Jack cards from 1914. Most of the pre WWII cards were irregularly shaped including many in tiny format. Unfortunately, nice looking cards from that era can be quite expensive. If you really want a monster challenge and money is no object, the T206 cards from 1909-11 are tiny and very fun to collect. With over 500 cards in the set, including the Honus Wagner card you better be prepared to spend millions to complete that set. Personally, I will, with the occasional exception, stick with the cards mentioned above as those are the ones I can afford.

Martin Brodeur and Canada Post

I trade sports cards with acquaintances over the internet frequently which brings me to the post office on a weekly basis. Over the last few months Canada Post has been promoting a set of six stamps celebrating the NHL’s goalies who have made an innovative impact on the league.

Canada Post 2015 Goalie Stamps

Canada Post 2015 Goalie Stamps

I’m not one to collect stamps so I didn’t pay much attention to the displays. That is, until I went to a different Canada Post outlet from the one I usually frequent. It had something much more interesting. On the wall, under all the shipping supplies was a Martin Brodeur framed display selling for $249.99. I was impressed by everything about it except the price.

Canada Post 2015 Martin Brodeur Frame Display

Canada Post 2015 Martin Brodeur Frame Display

As you can see, it has a signed photograph, a postcard, a card-sized stamp (front and back) and a Devil’s banner. The price is a bit out of my range and my man cave is much too crowded to display anymore frames but perhaps others would be interested in the display.

Canada Post has six framed displays in all, one for each goalie in their stamp collection.

All are priced between $149.99 and $249.99. Of the six, only the Brodeur fame has the banner. Also the Dryden and Worsley frames aren’t signed (and are the least expensive at $149.99).

Canada Post 2015 Goalie Cards

Canada Post 2015 Goalie Cards

Canada Post didn’t stop at picture frames and stamps, they also created sports cards. Well they call them stamp sheets. There are again six sheets in all and come in cellophane packs. Autograph chase cards are also included in random packs. The chances of finding them is one in forty packs. Here is what Canada Post states on their website:

Exclusive autograph! One in 40 packs contains an exclusive autographed stamp souvenir sheet from Johnny Bower, Martin Brodeur, Tony Esposito or Bernie Parent. Odds of getting an autographed stamp souvenir sheet are 1 in 40 based on the entire production run.

All in all it looks like a fun promotion. I may put some money down for the cards myself.

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Two

 

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 2

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 2

So I received my latest HOF cards, 8 in all, to add to the wall. they are some of the ones listed in my last post. They are:

  • 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition #2F RC Pedro Martinez
  • 1989 Donruss #42 RC Randy Johnson
  • 1989 Fleer #381 RC Randy Johnson
  • 1988 Fleer Update #U-74 RC John Smoltz
  • 1988 Fleer Update #U-89 RC Craig Biggio
  • 1988 Score R&T #103T RC Craig Biggio
  • 1989 Score #645 RC Randy Johnson
  • 1989 Topps #647 RC Randy Johnson

I also found looking through my cards a copy of 1988 Donruss #644 Tom Glavine RC so I added it to the wall as well.

When I started this post the 2016 HOF Induction Ceremonies took place voting in Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. I will be adding those cards as I get them (I have some already) to the wall. But for now here is the updated wall:

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 2

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 2

To see the Hall of Fame Table which lists the members, the pursued cards, the purchases, and the grades just click the link or choose it from the Menu on the left side of every page on the site.

 The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post One

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Three

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post One

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 1

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 1

One of the pursuits here at Cardboard Collecting will be to gain ownership of at least one quality card of every member of the Hall of Fame. This is the first in a number of post that will show the progress of this challenge.

With any pursuit a strategy must be thought of in order to make the journey organized and efficient. With that in mind, the best way we figured would be to create a list starting with the most recent inductees and then move backward in time. Once this list has been started, then looking for a quality card to pursue and adding them to the list would be prudent. Rookie cards or First cards would be most desirable so they will be looked into first. An ungraded card is less expensive than a graded version so they will be the ones concentrated on more, but graded versions will be pursued as well.

Alright to begin, I will do two years at a time in the beginning as these cards are easy to find and aren’t very expensive. So 2015 and 2014. Here are the cards I will find and buy:

2015

Craig Biggio

Biggio’s two earliest cards are from the 1988 year end extended sets from Fleer and Score. Topps and Donruss didn’t include Biggio until the following year’s main sets were issued.

  1. 1988 Fleer Update Craig Biggio RC #U-89
  2. 1988 Score Rookie/Traded Craig Biggio RC #103T

Randy Johnson

Johnson had cards in all the major sets including Canada’s O-Pee Chee brand.

  1. 1989 Donruss Randy Johnson RC #42
  2. 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson RC #381
  3. 1989 O-Pee-Chee Randy Johnson RC #186
  4. 1989 Score Randy Johnson RC #645
  5. 1989 Topps Randy Johnson RC #647
  6. 1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson RC #25

Pedro Martinez

Everyone except Upper Deck dropped the ball on including Martinez in their year end sets. Therefore he only has one first card.

  1. 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition Pedro Martinez RC #2F

John Smoltz

This time Fleer was the only manufacturer that put Smoltz on their year end set.

  1. 1988 Fleer Update John Smoltz RC #U-74

2014

Bobby Cox

Elected in as a manager, you have to go all the way back to 1969 to find Cox’s first card.

  1. 1969 Topps Bobby Cox RC #237

Tom Glavine

All four manufacturer’s included this outstanding Braves left-hander in their ’88 regular sets.

  1. 1988 Donruss Tom Glavine RC #644
  2. 1988 Fleer Tom Glavine RC #539
  3. 1988 Score Tom Glavine RC #638
  4. 1988 Topps Tom Glavine RC #779

Tony LaRussa

2014 was the year of the manager for entry in the Hall, Cox is joined by LaRussa and Joe Torre (see below). LaRussa’s first card came out in 1964.

  1. 1964 Topps Tony LaRussa RC #244

Greg Maddux

Only Donruss included Maddux in their regular 1987 sets both in Donruss and their Canadian counterpart Leaf. Topps and Fleer waited until their extended sets at the end of the year to include this multiple Cy Young award winner.

  1. 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux RC #36
  2. 1987 Leaf Greg Maddux RC #36

Frank Thomas

Upper Deck Donruss and Fleer all missed the boat in their 1990 regular sets not including this White Sox great. Fleer waited until their Update set at the end of the year, Upper Deck and Donruss waited until the following year their 1991 regular sets were issued.

  1. 1990 Bowman Frank Thomas RC #320
  2. 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas RC #300
  3. 1990 O-Pee-Chee Frank Thomas RC #414
  4. 1990 Score Frank Thomas RC #663
  5. 1990 Topps Frank Thomas RC #414

Joe Torre

The third manager elected to the Hall in 2014, Torre’s rookie card is all the way back in the 1962 Topps set.

  1. 1962 Topps Joe Torre RC #218

So that is 24 cards in total to collect. Of these 24 cards I presently own 5 of them:

  1. 1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson RC #25
  2. 1969 Topps Bobby Cox RC #237
  3. 1988 Topps Tom Glavine RC #779
  4. 1964 Topps Tony LaRussa RC #244
  5. 1990 Score Frank Thomas RC #663

So that leaves 19 cards to collect. I am using the door to my man cave as the starting point of this collection, until it gets to a size that it will need to be transplanted to a bigger area. Here is the starting image of the door with the cards i have, and plastic screw down holders with the card ID’s in paper inside which I don’t have.

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 1

Hall of Fame Wall, Image 1

As I find the missing cards I will update this post. Once I finish 2015 and 2014, it will be time to move on to 2013 and 2012. I hope you enjoy this post and perhaps you can join me in this collecting challenge.

To see the Hall of Fame Table which lists the members, the pursued cards, the purchases, and the grades just click the link or choose it from the Menu on the left side of every page on the site.

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Two

When Graded Cards Become Ridiculous

Is there so much mistrust in the hobby that graded cards have become the norm for collecting vintage cardboard? It serves its purpose, in that, it gives you a card in a grade you wish to have, but cant you use your own two eyes to see the approximate grade of a card and avoid the premium of a card graded by a third party? The most annoying thing about graded cards is how people who send the cards they have in to get graded think that it makes their cards worth so much more than a non-graded card. Not just the 5-10 dollars more, but sometimes hundreds of dollars more. It cracks me up.

I figure that everyone who collects cardboard would have a brain in their head. They would, like me, look on a graded and ungraded card as similar items with the graded card having a slightly higher price because of the cost to get it graded. In other words if I see a mint card that’s ungraded (by my observation using the standards that have been in the hobby for decades) and the same card that is graded, I would want and assume that I could pay the same price for both cards with the added amount it cost the seller to grade the card put on the graded version.

Depending on what grading company you use, how many cards you send in, and what discounts you take advantage of, the cost to grade 1 card is less than 20.00. So why do i see a non graded ’89 upper deck Ken Griffey Jr. mint card selling for $40.00 yet a graded one selling for $350.00? It’s a joke right?

1989 UD #1 Griffey Jr. PSA 10 eBay Listing

1989 UD #1 Griffey Jr. PSA 10 eBay Listing

You collectors out there aren’t falling for the greedy seller’s need to fleece people of there hard earned cash are you? Or, perhaps I’m the idiot and people don’t mind paying a hefty premium on cards that are graded, especially those that gain Gem Mint status., even when there are literally 1000s of those exact cards graded and ungraded that already have or will have the same designation. I always thought scarcity was one of the main drivers of price, but it seems it’s more the grading of cards that is the most important thing.

Is a Gem mint graded card that has 100s of copies worth the prices? It seems so. You do realize that just because there are only 5 graded gem mint designations for a card, or 3, or 2, that it doesn’t mean they are the only ones in existence. Especially for cards that are not from the pre 70s. As more and more people grade their collections, more and more cards populate that gem mint area of the hobby.

The perfect example of this craziness was a recent purchase I noticed on ebay with the help of reading an article on sportscollectorsdaily.com.

How much would you pay for a really nice ungraded copy of Nolan Ryan’s 1978 Topps #400 card? If you looked it over and saw that the corners were sharp, the centering was dead-on, there where no stains or blemishes and the sheen was very nice as well, would you fork over 30.00? Perhaps, or you might realize that the card is not even close to being Ryan’s rookie card (its 10 years on) and try and buy it for a more reasonable 15.00-20.00.

Now what about a graded version of the card? If you would pay 30.00 for what looks like a pristine copy of it ungraded, what would you pay for it graded? 60.00? I mean if you would pay 30.00 for an ungraded, why not 60.00 for a nice graded psa 9? it gives the seller 30.00 for the card, 10.00 for the cost of grading it, and an extra 20.00 for his troubles. Sounds reasonable right?

Well looking at the sold and listed 1978 topps Nolan Ryan on ebay, be prepared to pay 500.00 to 1,299.00 for this card. It’s a joke right? You are in agreement with me correct? Well if that doesn’t blow you mind enough, what do you think someone would pay for a Gem Mint 10 copy of the card? A card that is 10 years from his rookie card, in a set produced in large numbers from 1978? Would you believe $17,877.00. No that is not a typo.

21 bidders bid 41 times over 10 days to reach that crazy number. here is the page:

1978 Topps #400 Nolan Ryan PSA 10 eBay Sale

1978 Topps #400 Nolan Ryan PSA 10 eBay Sale

I wonder what will happen to these cards decades in the future. will they keep going up in price, or will they die. what happens when the plastic yellows and the printing fades on these encasing? Will the owner remove the card having it return to ungraded status, or will he send it back to a grading company to have it regraded taking the chance that time has not brought the card down from its gem mint status? It seems a predicament that I would want to avoid especially when it involves 1000s of dollars.

Anyway, I think it might be time to go through my collection and start sending off my cards to get graded so i can charge 1000% more for the cards I own. Hell, I think i might start buying boxes of vintage 70s and 80s cards and start grading all of them so i can make millions lol.

Carl Crawford, The Perfect Example

Carl Crawford Red Sox Poster

Carl Crawford Red Sox Poster

I have been watching some of the LA Dodgers games this year, mostly to see the pitching, but Carl Crawford has caught my eye as well. After a hiatus of approx. 15 years from watching baseball and collecting cards, I have been reacquainting myself with the MLB. Mostly I have been looking on players who started their career around the time I stopped watching because those are the players I’m unfamiliar with.

Crawford is one of the guys I am a bit disappointed for missing out on watching his career. He is just the type of player I like most. The “Tim Raines” type of player has always been my favourite, and Crawford fits the type exactly.

1999 Topps Traded Baseball #T75 Carl Crawford Rookie Card

1999 Topps Traded Baseball #T75 Carl Crawford Rookie Card

Unfortunately, Crawford has become “The Perfect Example” of how unpredictable it is to guess Hall of Famers. Starting out in Tampa Bay becoming a regular player at the early age of 21, he seemed to be a good pick for speculation, getting a few extra rookie and insert cards seemed a good bet. When be began his tear, stealing every base known to man, and hitting around .300 with 80 to 110 runs per season, not to mention popping of some key HRs, the speculation could be seen as beginning to pay off. With only his low walk totals being a blemish (he is a lead off hitter after all), Crawford started to become a good shot to reach the Hall.

But then everything derailed. The trade from Tampa Bay to Boston made Andrew Friedman seem like a clairvoyant, as Crawford’s slow fall to injury-prone mediocre player began in his new Red Sox uniform. Since leaving Tampa, Crawford, due to injury after injury killed his career,and lost his shot to be a Hall of Famer, Similar to players such as Eric Davis, and Don Mattingly, Crawford can be added to a long list of Hall of Fame talent killed off by injury.

1999 Bowman Chrome #440 Carl Crawford Rookie Card

1999 Bowman Chrome #440 Carl Crawford Rookie Card

Crawford Just turned 34 in August, so perhaps I am a bit premature, If he returns to play like he did in Tampa for the 2016 season and stays in that form for another 7 or more years, getting at least 150 hits per year, and stealing another 150 to 200 bases, both possible but remotely achievable, then Crawford could turn his whole career around. But if he can’t play uninjured now at 34 years old then the likelihood of him staying injury-free until his 41st birthday is remote.

But damn, it would have been fun to watch him during his Tampa years, I’m sad I missed it.

Baseball Diamond Mural

One of the more popular displays for a collector’s man cave (or woman cave :)) is the baseball diamond or baseball field mural. You take a display case, put an picture of a baseball field in the back and then attach your 9 or 10 cards (depending on your DH sympathies) of your favorite players, one for each position on the field.

The cards theme could be anything. For example, a collage of your favourite hall of famers by position, the line up of your favourite team, the combinations are endless. If I were to make one, my first would be the 10 players I enjoyed watching play either on tv or at the stadium. The mural would look like this:

Baseball Diamond Mural

Baseball Diamond Mural

Using Hank Greenberg as an Example of the Problem with eBay

I buy a lot of product off eBay, It is hands down the easiest way to buy baseball cards. But you must watch what you are doing or you will be paying way too much for your cards. The easiest way for this to happen, as most of you probably already know, is to not include the shipping cost in the price you will pay for an item. That ’92 Donruss Factory set looks like a steal at $2.00 but when you see $75.00 shipping, are you really getting a bargain?

Another way is to not do your research. You impulse buy and regret it later when you see the card you purchased for $50.00 posted in the same grade a week later for $25.00. Every card or cards you look at should always include a look at previously sold listing for that card/cards. Also it is good to look elsewhere (the grading sites such as PSA/SMR) for the latest pricing on cards sold in the grade you’re buying at. Even a look through a Beckett magazine can give you an idea of a ballpark figure for the card.

But don’t let this discourage you from buying a card that looks, for all intents and purposes, overpriced, if you really want the card. In this case the research will have given you the info you needed and if you buy anyways, you won’t feel bad afterwards because you knew what you were doing.

Here is an example of what I mean:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

This is a Hank Greenberg Rookie Card from the famous 1934 Goudey set. How much would you pay for this card? Its ranked GOOD by SGC (a 30) and is equivalent to a 2 rating from PSA. The card shows up on eBay frequently in different grades and without grading, but this is the first time in a long long time that a SGC 30/PSA 2 has been on eBay. Those that are looking for a lower priced Greenberg rookie would definitely be interested in this card.

So how much would you pay? Without any research, my first guess would be $150.00. That would be what I would be willing to pay for it. That’s my ceiling. A $100.00 price tag would move the range more within my comfort zone (over $100.00 for a card is a bit much for my budget). The listing for this card on eBay was a Buy It Now price of $259.00.

My guess, before research pegs this as overpriced. This is a dealer who is testing the waters with a high price just in case he can find some bites at that price. If no one buys, he may after a few months lower his price. But let’s see what the research tells us.

Looking in the latest Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards the listing shows a price of $275.00 for a VG grade of the card. Meaning a G grade would be around $100.00 to $125.00 as I guessed. Looking at PSA/SMR pricing a graded VG has been sold for an avg. of $150.00 and an PSA 2 grade $100.00. Looking at past sales of the card on ebay:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

This SGC 20/PSA 1.5 F sold for $117.50 on eBay recently

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

This PSA 3 VG sold for $281.03 recently as well.

So logic dictates that if a Fair card sells for $117.50 and a VG card sells for $281.03, then a SGC 30/PSA 2 should be in the $150.00 range, not $259.00. The seller is trying to get a high price for this card. Although when it comes down to it a person can sell a card for whatever he wishes, and these sellers who consistently price their cards high can do so, calling it “testing the market” rather than “suckering an idiot or novice collector,” it doesn’t mean we need to buy their cards. There is no needed behavior to drive prices for cards upward as sellers will do this on their own, but there is a behavior that’s needed to get sellers to be reasonable with their pricing, that is, refuse to buy their cards at the prices they’re asking for them.

If I didn’t do my research, my gut saved me in this situation. It doesn’t always do that. I learned to be disciplined before buying cards because it has saved me hundreds of dollars. Even if you are rich enough to forgo a budget, do you really want to one of those guys who sellers look on as a great “mark”? Wasting money is stupid in all economic groups. So, I will pass on this card even though it is one of the cards I have been looking for to add to my Hall of Fame collection that I have been adding to lately. Let’s hope others do the same.

Trek to the Past, 1989 and Billy Ripken

If anyone was around back in 1989 they would remember the big controversy over Billy Ripken. Less than two weeks after Fleer issued its 1989 boxes, people were screaming about card #616 either in outrage or in laughter. Either way the card caught fire and was on everyone’s list of “cards to get.” Fleer stopped issuing boxes and corrected the card, not once, not twice but three times (black marker, white out, and airbrush, if i remember correctly).

Speculation surrounded how this card was actually printed, first on Billy Ripken’s part as to why he had that bat for the photo, and second on Fleer’s part that the slip got passed numerous people to make it into production and distribution. Most, including myself, believed that it was done on purpose to increase sales of Fleer boxes (the next hot product) but for myself it had the opposite effect. Boxes quadrupled in price, wax packs were selling for $4.00 each in a card shop that I frequented at the time, and I saw copies of the card selling for $250.00. Beckett had the card priced in the 25.00 to 50.00 range but try to convince my local dealer of that and you would get an animated shrug and explanation that the card was worth much more. It was one of the first indications that the hobby in my area was changing from an actual hobby to a profit-orientated, greed-over-customer-service, business.

1989 Fleer #616 Billy Ripken Profanity Card

1989 Fleer #616 Billy Ripken Profanity Card

Ripken later admitted that he was the one who put the “Fuck Face” on the bottom of his bat, which really surprised me when I read about as I always thought it was a teammate who had a grudge against the sometimes unlikable Ripken.

Where as back in ’89 you had to pay a premium to get the card, these days you can pick it up for under five bucks. Much more interesting for me is Randy Johnson’s Marlboro Ad card which also started some controversy back during this period as well. It is of a Hall of Famer and a rookie card too-boot. Now that card is worth having much more so than the Ripken card.

1989 Fleer Randy Johnson RC Marlboro Ad Comparison

1989 Fleer Randy Johnson RC Marlboro Ad Comparison

The Rookie Card, Obliterated

At some point after World War II, The rookie card became important in baseball card collecting. It no longer is so. It’s hey day (1948 to 1993) is long gone and collectors no longer find this designation as anything important. This may be a bold assertion, and many may disagree, but read on and you can voice your opinion below.

The main reason why the rookie card had such an important role in the history of baseball card collecting was because it became synonymous with a player’s first major league card. Let me explain…

To put it another way, it wasn’t that a card was a player’s rookie card that made it most desirable, but it was because it was the player’s first major league card. There is a difference. But because, for the most part, a player’s first major league card was his rookie card, the two terms became practically synonymous.

If we realize that it’s the player’s first card, not his rookie card, which is the most desired by a majority of collectors, then we can see that all the fuss over the last decade on what defines a rookie card, is all just smoke and mirrors and mostly unimportant to the experienced collector. It may be something a new, or novice collector might like as it would be easier for him to identify a player’s important cards, but for the experienced collector it matters little as he knows it’s the player’s earliest major league card which is most important.

We must also factor in scarcity when we speak of first cards, if the card was mass produced like cards back in the 80s, then alternatives will be looked for. If they are so rare that no one looks for or sometimes even knows about them, then collectors will pass them over as the most desired of the first cards.

Lets look at some examples that show my point.

The most famous first card/rookie card difference was concerning Mickey Mantle. Mantle’s rookie card comes in the 1951 Bowman set. It is quite a desirable card selling in the $4000.00 range in VG condition. But it is not Mantle’s most desirable card. That belongs to Topps 1952 card which sells in the $20.000 range in VG condition. Here is an example where a rookie card is less wanted than a first card. Topps has become the most desired brand name over the post war years and when Bowman was beat out by Topps in the cardboard wars of the 50s, the Mantle Topps card was seen to be a better card than the Bowman issue.

Mickey Mantle Cards

Mickey Mantle Cards

If we move forward to the 80s a few more examples come to mind…

There are cards from the 80s that easily spring to mind that shows that first cards are more important than rookie cards. And here is where the definition between what is or is not a rookie card first started.

The first card pertains to Darryl Strawberry and his 1983 Topps Traded #108T vs. his regular issues from the next year (Topps #182, Fleer #599, Donruss #68). Most argue that a true rookie card of a player is the player’s card which is first issued by a major baseball card manufacturer in a regular nationwide set. If you agree, as Beckett and others did at the time, it would mean that Strawberry’s Topps Traded card is not his rookie card since the traded set was not issued as a regular set but distributed to hobby dealers in limited areas. But as a experienced collector, we all know that if we chose to buy a Darryl Strawberry card it would be the Traded version we would be looking for. If you compare pricing the Traded card sells for around $100.00 (PSA 10) and the regular issues sell in the $20.00 to $60.00 (PSA 10) which further proves the point that it is the first card not the rookie card which is most important to collectors.

Darryl Strawberry Cards

Darryl Strawberry Cards

Other important examples include: Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett’s 1984 Fleer Update cards and Barry Bond’s 1986 Topps Traded card.

Extended and Update XRC cards

Extended and Update XRC cards

The second card pertains to Mark McGwire and his 1985 Topps #401 Team USA card vs. his 1987 cards from Topps and Donruss (Topps #366. Donruss #46). Fleer missed McGwire in their regular set issuing their first card of his in their Update set later in the year. Since McGwire never entered major league baseball until 1987, some argued that his Team USA card from two years earlier was not his true rookie card. Others disagreed since the Team USA set was part of Topps regular issue and not an insert. To experienced collectors the issue was pointless as the Team USA card would always be the more desired card because it was McGwire’s first card. If we look at pricing for the cards we draw the same conclusion ($500.00 compared to 20.00 in PSA 10).

Mark McGwire Cards

Mark McGwire Cards

Before we move forward I must also note that if I was to be perfectly precise the most sought after and desirable cards from this era of baseball are the Topps Tiffany cards (and to a lesser degree Fleer Glossy). Many experienced collectors forego the regular sets of cards from 1984 to 1991 (with some individual exceptions) to avoid buying cards that were produced in the millions. They believe the cards in the Tiffany sets are the cards that are most collectible from the era. A Tiffany card sells for much more than its regular set counterpart. For example the Team USA McGwire card in the Tiffany parallel sells for 2500.00 rather than 500.00 in PSA 10 condition. The regular sets would technically hold the rookie cards as the Tiffany cards are a parallel but again this rookie card designation is unimportant to the experienced collector.

If we move up to the 2000s there are two more cards that can be looked upon. They can be found in the 2006 Bowman Chrome release, that is, 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Evan Longoria #66 Autograph, and 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Clayton Kershaw #84 Autograph. Both are examples of cards that are more desirable that the player’s true rookie cards which didn’t come out until 2008.

2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks

2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks

Lastly, as there are exceptions to everything, there is one card that balks the rookie/first card comparison. That would be the cards of Barry Larkin. Larkin’s first issued major league card was Sportflic’s 1986 Rookies #34. At first this was argued to be his rookie card, but as time passed and Sportflics cards were looked on as a novelty item rather than a regular issued set (3D multiple image plastic cards did not catch on with collectors) Larkin’s 1987 regular issues from Topps, Fleer, and Donruss became his official rookie cards. Larkin’s Sportsflics card, now considered his first card, sells for less than his 1987 cards.

Barry Larkin Cards

Barry Larkin Cards

There are probably more examples that readers can come up with on both sides of this argument but it is not too much of a stretch to say that in truth experienced collectors prefer a player’s first card over a player’s official rookie card, when the two cards are not one in the same.