A lot of cards that speaks volumes about baseball, our hobby

Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of the Steroid Era, these guys would take up three of the spots on the side of the mountain.   All three at one point were considered to be the greatest slugger in the game.  Sosa crushed more than 60 homers in three straight seasons, Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season dinger mark (as did Sosa) and set the new mark at 70.  And then just a few years later, Barry Bonds came along and bested McGwire’s mark by pummeling 73 balls over the outfield fences at various ballparks throughout out the country.  Of course he later would surpass Hank Aaron’s all-time home run mark.

They were the best. They were the three guys whose baseball cards you wanted to own.  They were the three players whom even novice collectors wanted to invest.  And then things changed.

I came across this lot on eBay yesterday and it spoke to me like a whisper from down a dark alley reminding me of years past.  Not only reminding me of the recent history of the sport, but also of our hobby.

It’s a time capsule from when things were simpler. A time when everyone enjoyed the good and didn’t want to discuss the negativity.  Steroids? Pssssh, next question. A time when simple, meaningless rookie cards garnered attention. Not because they were signed or contained a swatch of game-used material, but simply because they were “rookie” cards featuring one of the game’s greats.

Sosa’s most desirable rookie card was/is his Leaf, but his Upper Deck garnered enough attention to pull close to $10 each.  The 1987 Donruss McGwire and Bonds cards are iconic of this mildly popular release.  The set features all dark borders, which caused fits among those looking for good-condition raw copies.  The McGwire is a rookie-year release — not an actual rookie card — featuring the “Rated Rookie” icon, which drew about $25 worth of attention to the scrawny slugger dressed in yellow.  And the Bonds was a solid true rookie that from time to time saw bursts in activity driving it to nearly $25.  And of course, all of the aforementioned cards were worth even more if they were graded high.

Which brings me to the next observation of this lot:  These three cards were graded by Beckett Grading Services under the guidance of the “old label” … and none of them earned high marks.

These cards were graded sometime before 2003, which I believe if when BGS changed their labels to feature the grades on front.  These cards were submitted by a collector who believed that their copies of well-cared-for but well-loved cards were worthy of slabbing, even if they had some chipping along the border, a slightly folded corner or a scratched hologram.  These cards were collected in a time when anything that was encapsulated by any company was thought to have increased in value, even if the grade was less than desirable.

A BGS 7 can carry a premium with older cards.  For those released within the last 20-25 years, all it means is that you’re admitting to the buyer that your card is not of mint quality. In some cases, the value of your raw card decreased because of the grade it received.  None of this mattered when these cards were submitted.

Now many years later with a clearer vision and a better understanding of the circumstances, collectors aren’t pouring money into any of these three players with the same fervor they once did. Even the most desirable rookie cards of these guys can be had at heavily discounted levels.

Nonetheless, the three cards offered for sale in this auction are iconic of the era when the players depicted on them were giants, a time when the hobby was simpler. A time when the sport was much more innocent. Or so we thought.

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