Twenty Years Ago and the Chase for Wagner

McNall-Gretzky T206 Wagner card

McNall-Gretzky T206 Wagner card

Anyone who collected baseball cards back in the mid-90’s should remember Wallmart’s big sports card promotion that included the possibility of winning the McNall/Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner card.

The promotion, called the “Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time,” included the Wagner card as well as other important cards in the hobby. Up for grabs were cards of Gordie Howe (’51-52 Parkhurst #66), Joe Namath (’65 Topps #122), Knute Rockne (’33 Sport King #35), (Mickey Mantle (’53 Topps #82) and George Mikan (’48 Bowman #69) and many others.

Sponsored by Upper Deck, Leaf, Fleer, Skybox and Topps, the idea sprung from the brain of Harold Anderson of Treat Entertainment who purchased the Wagner card for $500,000.00 from Gretzky in 1995. Anderson approached Wallmart and the five major card companies and the promotion was born. All collectors had to do to enter the contest was to request an official entry card, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to “World’s Most Valuable Card Entry Card Request,” P.O. Box 11838, St. Paul, MN 55111 by January 1, 1996 or enter a Wallmart store and buy the specially marked 2-for-$1 trading card packs and fill out the contest card and send it away.

"Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time" Ad Poster

“Greatest Trading Card Giveaway of All Time” Ad Poster

The promotion lasted five months from Oct. of 1995 to Feb. of 1996. Each month there would be a draw in each of the four sports, October was Hockey, November was Basketball, December was Baseball and January was Football. On Wagner’s birthday, February 24th, the draw for his card took place.

Patricia Gibbs was the final winner of the Wagner card which she put up for auction almost immediately after winning (she couldn’t afford the taxes on the card). Christie’s auctioned the card off to Michael Gidwitz for $641,500.00.

There was mixed feelings in the hobby at the time about this promotion. Many card shop owners thought it would draw business away from their shops and get collectors accustomed to buying their cards at big department stores like Wallmart. Others took a different view thinking that the promotion would bring thousands of more people into the hobby as the contest would introduce them to a fun pastime. Either way you had difficulty ignoring the phenomenon. Personally, I liked the idea that for once there was a chance a normal Joe, rather than a star hockey player or owner, or other well-to-do collector would have a chance to own some of the great cards in the hobby. It is a bit frustrating when a hobby meant for kids transforms into a hobby that reserves the best cards to the exclusivity of those collectors with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend.

 

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Three

Hall of Fame, The Wall, Part Three

Hall of Fame, The Wall, Part Three

The next set of Hall of Fame cards I purchased came in from COMC. I also picked up a couple of 1989 Upper Deck Factory sets which I broke open to add the Ken Griffey Jr. RC to the wall. Thirdly I found in my cards a copy of Griffey Jr.`s Donruss RC.

Here are the cards from COMC:

Latest HOF Purchases

Latest HOF Purchases

Here is a list of the new additions to the wall:

  1. 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. RC
  2. 1989 Donruss #33 Ken Griffey Jr. RC
  3. 1989 Bowman #220 Ken Griffey Jr. RC
  4. 1989 Fleer #548 Ken Griffey Jr. RC
  5. 1992 Bowman #461 Mike Piazza RC
  6. 1989 O-Pee-Chee #186 Randy Johnson RC

The Griffey Jr. cards and the Mike Piazza card are the two players’ first cards. For Griffey Jr. Topps and Score waited until their Rookie/Traded sets to include the Mariner. Piazza was missed by everyone except Bowman. Fleer included him in their low print Update set at the end of the year, but all the other companies missed the boat completely.

I’m not sure how well informed my readers are about grading companies (I assume they are somewhat informed due to the fact that grading has been popular since the late ’90s). The Piazza card I bought from COMC was a graded card from BCCG (Beckett’s Collector’s Club grading service). I’m not sure why Beckett has this service as it is inferior and somewhat dubious in its grading practices. It actually is a stupid way to conduct business as many novice collectors are fooled into thinking the numerical grading (1-10) is equal to that of PSA. They see a lower price for the BCCG graded card and buy it not realizing it is not of equal quality to its PSA counterpart. If you come across any of these BCCG graded cards, ignore the grade and just consider it an ungraded card which you will need to inspect to get a proper grade for it.

I did this with the Piazza card I purchased for the wall. I bought a BCCG graded 10 Piazza Bowman RC for $21.30. It was in better condition than the equally priced ungraded versions of the card so it was an easy decision to purchase it and remove it from its case when I received it in the mail:

Mike Piazza Before and After

Mike Piazza Before and After

As you can see, the card is off center to the right and would probably be graded at most a PSA 9. If you wish to remove any cards from their graded case it’s quite simple. Here is an example:

Returning to the wall, I moved it to the hallway to give the dedication more space as new cards come in. You can see the new wall, with the latest cards added, at the top of this post.

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Two

The Hall of Fame Challenge, Post Four

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.

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

1984 Fleer Update, Overpriced?

1984 Fleer Update

1984 Fleer Update

I remember back in the beginning of my collecting days, before the hype of the 89 Upper Deck set, about mid-1987, the 1984 Fleer Update set broke the 200.00 mark. This set was the one that made me wish I started collecting a few years earlier. What an awesome set of 132 cards. I never saw a set behave, price-wise as this set did. A player in baseball would get hot and when you looked for his rookie/first card it would come from this set.

1984 Fleer Update Dwight Gooden

1984 Fleer Update Dwight Gooden

The set took off first because of Dwight Gooden, when he fell, it was Clemens, then Saberhagen then Puckett. It seemed the set was destined to continue going up and up and up. I was envious of anyone who had the set. But always in the back of my mind I thought, this set has to be over-priced, it cant continue to increase. And in a way, I was right. I had a friend who bought the set for 500.00 in late 1988, he was very happy because the sets were always hard to find, there was no ebay at that time. I thought he was crazy but as long as he was happy who was I to judge.

I was right that the set would implode, but it didn’t as much as I thought it would. Everyone was buying the set as if Saberhagen, Darling, Puckett, Clemens, Gooden, Key, and Langston were all going to the Hall at the end of their careers. I knew that, of all the hot stars out there, only 5-10% of them ever reach the Hall. So the set must be overpriced. If I remember correctly the set reached a peak of around 800.00. Now it can be had for half that on ebay.

1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens

1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens

But at 300-400 dollars, isn’t this set still overpriced?

The only card in it, that I find worth a high value is the Puckett card. Clemens was a great pitcher but he is as tainted as Rose is although for him its steroids rather than gambling. Saberhagen, Langston, Gooden, Darling, all failed in their chances to reach the Hall, as Clemens and all the other Roids users in the 80s and 90s did.

So what makes this set worth 400.00? Nothing really, its just that the hobby has been so used to seeing it at a high price tag that to see it sell for 100.00 would seem foreign and strange. Clemens still grabs collectors as much as Rose does, but he shouldn’t. Rose’s play was genuine, it was his gambling on games that cost him. Clemens play will always be tainted, he enhanced his performances illegally and his rookie from this set should be worth at most a semi-star price. But supply and demand are the ultimate indicators most of the time. Although this set might be the exception. Personally I think this set should sell in the 100.00 range, but when owners of this set, who spent 300-800 dollars to buy it back in the 80s, see it should be priced in the range I stated, they refuse. It sells for 300-500 or they prefer to keep it. It’s hard to buy something for a price you think its worth if sellers would rather keep a set than take a big loss on it sale,

1984 Fleer Update Kirby Puckett

1984 Fleer Update Kirby Puckett

This set will drop in price as time passes and collectors who remember watching the players and buying the set start to die. The only problem is that I am one of them lol.

An Update to this article:

I recently did see an auction on Ebay for the boxed set. I actually bid on it myself but was away from my phone and computer at the auction’s end so I didn’t have a chance to up my bid before it sold. The price? It sold for $122.50. If more sales like this occur, the set will move down in price to a more appropriate level.