Card of the Day: 1998 Score Rookie / Traded Barry Bonds

bonds98Man, times were much simpler in 1997, weren’t they?

Roger Maris still held the single-season home run record, and Hank Aaron was the all-time Major League Baseball home run champion.

Collecting baseball cards was about baseball cards and not what was embedded within or what was literally written on them.

And for Barry Bonds, he still was considered one of the greatest players the game had ever seen … and there was no suspicion of him using performance enhancing drugs.

But the world as we knew it changed in 1998 for better or worse.

Along came the onslaught of home runs by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, which reportedly led to other events that may have involved Mr. Bonds and performance enhancing drugs, according to published reports.

And in the hobby of collecting cards, things were getting stickier than ever. A baseball card was no longer just a card.

But you know these things. My goal here is not to re-write what’s already been written so that you can re-read what’s been read many times before.

No, not here.

My goal is rather simple: To make you think about the point in time where the sport and hobby changed forever, a time that has been innocently encapsulated in this seemingly basic 1998 Score Rookie / Traded Barry Bonds, card No. RT10.

To many, this card is rather simple, certainly not worth much more than a stick of bubble gum or even a second look. But this card is much more than just an average one featuring Barry Bonds. This card represents the turning points in baseball and collecting.

The image here is one shot on Sept. 27, 1997, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It depicts a joyous Bonds celebrating on top of the dugout after his team defeated the San Diego Padres to lock up the National League West crown. It was the Giants’ first playoff berth since 1989.

Bonds is looking larger than life, yet just like the hundreds of normal people behind him who are also caught up in hoopla. It’s a truly candid moment for Bonds, one that seemingly hadn’t been captured before, and certainly hasn’t been duplicated since.

Up to this point, all that seemed to matter was winning. Not just to Bonds, but to everyone in the sport. But after 1998, the year Roger Maris’ single-season home run record fell to McGwire and Sosa, we as a baseball-loving country forever became enamored with the mystique of breaking records. Sure, winning was still important, but one could argue that it took a backseat to chasing records, padding statistics and adding another chapter to the on-going novel that is baseball. The game had changed.

And for baseball cards, things had changed, too.

In 1997, things were still rather simple: Some bought pack after pack, collecting base or chase cards under the premise that we collected what we liked. And what we linked were baseball cards, nothing more, noting less.

But in 1998, coincidentally at the same time the world embraced McGwire and Sosa’s record chase, card companies were pushing the envelope, and in the process opening Pandora’s Box; giving you a Piece of History and making history of their own.

You liked the idea of inaugural game-used jerseys inserted into packs of 1997 Upper Deck? Well, in ’98 there were more of those types of cards. And with their increased presence in the market place came the desire from collectors to own these cards featuring a piece of their sporting heroes. In the process, basic cards (base and chase) were becoming secondary in the hobby, much like winning in the sport depicted on these cards. It wasn’t an overnight change, rather a gradual one that seemed to get a heavy push in ’98.

It’s become apparent to me the coincidental parallels between the sport and its hobby byproduct as a result of that year. The happenings of ’98 — the suspected enhancement of both baseball and cards —  triggered a series of events in subsequent years that forever changed the face of both the game and hobby.

And no matter how much we try to get back what we had a decade ago — a game seemingly free of steroid talk; a hobby with a rather simple premise — the youthful joy of these entities have been lost for many.

This Bonds card highlighted above is simple. It really is a no-frills piece of cardboard. But it represents history, and in some ways has become history — as in trash — because of the happenings of 1998.

Bonds cards are nearly worthless as a by product of 1998, if you believe what’s been reported. And oddly enough, 1998 was the last year Pinnacle Brands produced Score baseball cards; the company never produced a single game-used card.

How’s that for a coincidence.

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