Card of the Day: 1991 Leaf “Gold Leaf Rookies” Jeff Bagwell

bagwellgold1In my mind, this is the card that started the insert craze. Chase cards have been around since the 1980s — see all of the Fleer and Topps All Star cards — but until the early 90s, they were nothing more than an afterthought, a bonus when buying a retail cello or jumbo pack.

But in 1991, Leaf hit the market with a bang, offering the “Gold Leaf Rookies,” some of the slickest looking cards in the world.

The 1991 Leaf product was a pretty ordinary line. It doesn’t hold a candle to the legendary 1990 premium issue that garnered a lot of attention for more than half a decade. But if there was one saving grace for the 1991 product, it was these inserts.

There are more than 20 Gold Leaf Rookies available in 1991 Leaf, and they are spread out through two series. There are two cards in the set though that for years have been favorites with collectors, Mike Mussina and this Jeff Bagwell.

Bagwell was an offensive powerhouse when he broke into the Bigs in 1991, making a mockery of the Larry Anderson trade of 1990. (Enter collective groans and head shaking from Red Sox Nation.) And not unlike collectors reactions seen in recent years to young stars like Ryan Braun, card collectors were chasing every Bagwell they could get their hands on.

His Stadium Club rookie was by car his most sought after pack-issued rookie, probably followed by the ultra premium Studio release, and then Upper Deck or Bowman.

But this Gold Leaf Rookie was the first insert featuring the future Hall of Famer, a card that drove collector’s bananas and in my mind sparked the insert craze.

Inserts had not yet gained the attention that they would over the next couple years, but with this release you’ve got a mix of rookies and prospects, the notion that the cards were rare and a pairing of borderless photos over layed  with gold leaf foil, hence the name of the insert set. It was a match made in heaven.

The card was routinely being pulled from packs and placed in four-screw plastic cases WITHOUT penny sleeves. You could take a stroll through your local card show or shop and it’d be difficult not to see the high-end dealers showcasing the Bagwell and Mussina GLR in this fashion, as well as ones of Ryan Klesko, Mo Vaughn and Todd Van Poppel. They were the cream of the crop back then, and the Bags and Moose cards were fetching close to $20 a pop, if not more. Remember, this was a time when most packs were still close to 50 or 60 cents.

In the early 1990s, I managed to obtain a copy of a Bagwell GLR. I forget exactly how I got it — I’m pretty sure it was in a trade — but I do have a horror story to share concerning my copy.

In my youth, my father would take me and my cousin fishing, and during these trips, it was not uncommon for me to take along a Nintendo Game Boy and/or a box of cards. On one trip in particular, I thought it a good a idea to take my “high-end” stuff with me so I can glare at them all day while we waited for the fish to nibble.

Well, on this particular trip, I forgot to take into account that we were fishing at Bethany Reservoir in Tracy, Calif.  where wind is always gusting. As I was showing off my collection to my cousin — I was extremely proud of these new ultra clear semi-rigid gizmos called Top Loaders — a gust of wind blew over a stack of cards and the Bagwell GLR went flying. Luckily my cousin tracked it down before it hit the water, but you can imagine the anxiety I felt for about 10 minutes after that.

From that day on, not a single card has left the car when I go on a fishing trip. It was a lesson learned, one that almost cost me my prized possession.

In case you’re wondering, the card pictured above is not the card. The original card I owned was traded during my urge to purge inserts in favor of real rookie cards during the summer of 1997.   I bought this copy about a week ago for a buck on eBay. Like many of my recent additions, this Bagwell has rekindled my interest in early 1990s issues, and  soon I expect to receive in the mail a card that was hotter than hell for several months in 1992.

Can you guess what it is?

I’ll post it and share the story when it arrives, probably early next week

3 Responses to “Card of the Day: 1991 Leaf “Gold Leaf Rookies” Jeff Bagwell”

  1. (Enter collective groans and head shaking from Red Sox Nation.)

    … and enter the still-grinning faces of the Astro-Nuts. 😉

    Excellent insight on a card I loved (still do). Yes, I am an awfully opinionated source, but it’s nice to read about individual cards that had their “glory days,” (as opposed to entire sets).

    Back then, I would have gladly bought your card (even if it had hit the water) just to say I owned it.

    Reading about it sure brings back some good times, so thanks!

  2. wow… this is an awesome blast from the past. i can still remember the nolan ryan and rickey henderson that had the same gold foil. it was also one of the first times i was exposed to pack searching. i remember people in the card shop rubbing the front (or maybe it was the back) of the pack to feel for these inserts. i just checked my collection… and found a few (all of them had the gold foil chipped off in one place or another). bummer!

  3. I have all 26 of these card been ih hard cases since they were new anybody wants to make an offer on them, please feel free. kinda lost interest in collecting cards when the trading card companies started flooding the market, did seem quite as special anymore.

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