Archive for Randy Johnson

Thrift Treasures 108: The cards of my childhood are worth less, but not worthless.

Posted in Misc., Thrift Treasures with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by Cardboard Icons

Imagine that for one year of your childhood you ripped packs open chasing the rookie card of the hottest player in the game. And then three decades later that player is inducted into the hall of fame and his rookie card can be found for less that $1.

If you are a collector of at least 35 years of age, you know this exercise well. We grew up during the great card boom. We saw packs rise from mere pennies to half a dollar, and then venture well past that. We lived the transition of packs filled with base cards to packs filled with promise and hope that it may contain some shiny treasure we came to know as the chase card.

We also know what a hot rookie card can do to a product. Insert Ken Griffey Jr.

griffeyrrGriffey is far from the first rookie to hit the market and create waves, but in my youth, there was none bigger. Yes, Mark McGwire’s rookie home run chase generated heavy interest in his 1985 Topps USA card and his various 1987 releases. And a year later the card world gravitated toward can’t-miss New York Mets prospect Gregg Jefferies and Cubs first baseman Mark Grace. Although neither became hall of fame material, both wound up with fantastic careers. Jefferies played 14 years, collected almost 1,600 hits and tallied a career batting average of almost .290.  Grace stuck around for 16 years, racked up almost 2,500 hits while maintaining a batting average above .300, and earned four Gold Glove Awards.

A year later, however, both were trumped by Ken Griffey Jr., The Kid, the phenom in the Seattle Mariners system who was the son of a Major League outfielder still bumping around the Bigs.

Griffey’s history in our hobby has been long documented. His face is emblazoned on perhaps one of the top three iconic baseball cards in history. But for those of us who could not afford to chase that 1989 Upper Deck cardboard icon, we found other ways to chase The Kid, we ripped 1989 Donruss hoping to find his Rated Rookie.


George (Ken) Kenneth Griffey Jr. We hoped to open our wax packs — literally, they were sealed with wax — and see that full name on the yellow backs of the card. Or we hoped to see that blue, black and purple top border and then the Rated Rookie logo that graced the front of a handful of rookie cards in the 1989 Donruss set.

True, the Griffey Donruss card never even approached the popularity of the Upper Deck, but it was one of only two Griffey rookies aside from the UD card that were available in packs.  The Topps Traded and Score Rookies and Traded were available only in boxed set form.

Packs at the time for Donruss ran about 50 cents or so each; a full box of 36 packs usually retailed in shops for about $18. And the way collation worked you’d be lucky to see one Griffey in each box.  Nonetheless, for those of us working on small collecting budgets — much of my money actually came from collecting bottles and cans –Donruss was our option.  The other pack-released Griffey was in the Fleer product but the Billy Ripken “Fuck Face” obscenity card and subsequent variations drove that product’s price through the roof.

I owned a few different Rated Rookie Griffeys in my youth I pulled one or two, traded for others, and won a few in games of black jack and other silly games my friends and I would play.

In recent years I’ve found a few in bargain bins at shows for a buck or two, and I usually picked them up based on principle. Demand for the card has fallen so much — because everyone wants the Upper Deck first and the Topps Traded second — that the Donruss Griffey can routinely be found on for under $1.


Now fast forward to Thursday.  I took my kids to school and decided to do a little thrift shopping. During one of my stops I walked in and saw a mound of red boxes emblazoned with the words “Baseball Cards.” These boxes were very typical for the late 1980s early 1990s. I recall seeing these and green versions at various retail outlets such as K-Mart and Toys R Us. And I believe I had seen them in various catalogues and advertisements as well.

When I find these boxes in thrift stores they are usually filled with bulk lots of 1990 Donruss or Topps, or other sets that were part of the mass produced card era. If there was one key rookie card in any of those boxes they still wouldn’t be “worth” the purchase if the store wanted more than $5.

I opened the first box on the shelf and immediately I saw a lot of five 1990 Topps Sammy Sosa cards. A decade and a half ago this would’ve been a small fortune. Those cards were selling for $8-$15 each at one point. I combed through that box hoping to find a similar size stash of Frank Thomas rookies but there were none. I closed the box and kept moving.  I went through another dozen boxes or so until I came to one that housed 1989 Donruss cards.

By now it was clear that the owner was a set builder. They had built entire sets and then placed all of the other cards in numerical order in all other boxes.  If you were looking for a certain star card it’d be easy to find a half dozen or so of them in these boxes. I was hoping to find a good size lot of Griffey or Thomas rookies. And then it happened.


I grabbed a handful of 1989 Donruss and skimmed through the Bonus Card
MVPs and the Diamond Kings before I hit the Rated Rookies. There were five Sandy Alomar rookies (card #28), four Steve Searcy (card #29), seven Cameron Drew (card #30), five Gary Sheffield (cards #31), four Erik Hanson (card #32) and … SIX of card #33, George (Ken) Kenneth Griffey Jr.  A smile came across my face and my instinct was to buy immediately for I had uncovered a jackpot.  Then I remembered the price on the bottom of the box. This Goodwill wanted $10.24 for the box.

I hesitated for a minute or two.

Did I need these Griffeys? No.

Was it a deal to buy six Griffey Donruss rookies for $10.24? Nope.

I closed the box and put it down on the shelf.

I took two steps away and stopped.  I turned back and grabbed the box.

What was I thinking? My rationale for NOT buying the box was the exact reason this hobby is so screwed up. Because we tend to worry about what cards are “worth” and don’t spend enough time enjoying the journey. Besides, the cost for this treasure I had unearthed wasn’t unreasonable.

So I placed the box under my arm and headed for the register. I paid for the item and sat in my car and pulled out the stack of Griffeys.  The sight of those six in my hands is one that made me happy. The cards were in good shape and these six Griffeys until this moment had been abandoned; their fate uncertain, which is a sad but true state of our hobby.


Griffey is perhaps the finest player the game has seen since the days of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. All of those feelings the younger collectors get these days with Mike Trout, those are the same that came when you thought of Ken Griffey Jr. in his youth.

Truth be told, I lost money or could barely break even on this deal.  Six Griffeys could net me $5-$6 on the open market if the right buyer came along.  And even though there were three Rated Rookie cards of fellow Hall of Fame member Randy Johnson and five of Gary Sheffield, a member of the 500 Home Run Club, it would take a special buyer to hand me a crisp $10 bill for the entire lot.

But as you know this hobby isn’t just about money. It’s about the memories and feelings that come with tracking down a White Whale for your collection. It’s about the stories you have that are tied to specific cards. It’s about reliving our childhood in an instant with a glance of a player’s face on a piece of cardboard.

The sight of those Griffey’s in my hands made me happy. It made me smile. It made me remember sitting on the brick planter box in front of Brian’s Books in the Food Farm Shopping Center in Santa Clara, California, talking about nonsense with friends while thumbing through our cards.

It made me remember the aroma of the pizza being cooked and ultimately sold by the slice at the pizza parlor across the hall. It made me think of the aquarium and fish store that was next door and flooded one time, causing Brian’s Books to close for a day or two. It made me remember that in addition to baseball cards, I also enjoyed purchasing pieces of Laffy Taffy, water balloons and cap guns at the drug store just a few doors to the north.

Yes, the cards of my youth are worth less than what I paid for them. But they are not worthless. In fact, they are priceless.

Total cost of these Treasures: $10.24.

You can see more Thrift Treasures posts Here.

Thrift Treasures 95: the HOF Class of 2015

Posted in Thrift Treasures with tags , , , , , , , on September 19, 2015 by Cardboard Icons

When it comes to buying cards at thrift stores, sometimes you have to throw logic out the window and buy things based on principle.

To understand what I mean all you have to do is look at this post.
Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz were three of the four players elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year. The other was Pedro Martinez.  

 Biggio, Johnson and Smoltz all have rookie cards hailing from sets in 1989 so it is not uncommon to find the hiding in common boxes across the country. (Before you flip out and start thinking about Biggio, Smoltz and 1988 cards, understand that those two guys have cards on 1988, but they are considered XRC due to the fact they were released in factory update-style sets.

I digress. These cards aren’t very valuable in their raw form. But since when is it acceptable for rookie cards of hall of famers to sit around in a vulnerable state such as a plastic bag at a thift store? 

When I see them on such places, and the price isn’t too bad, I almost feel it is my duty as a collector to save the cards from their demise.

During this trip I located three bags at a local thrift store, one with a 1989 Donruss Smoltz rookie showing and another with at least one 1971 Topps card peeking out from the middle of the stack. The baggie’s, as you can see, were $1.49 each. 

The Smoltz was accompanied by the Fleer rookies of Randy Johnson and Craig Biggio rookies shown in the first picture. And while we’re at it, here are the card backs for those rookies, since no one bothers to look at those anymore.   

And while the remainder of the contents of these bags won’t light the collecting world on fire, there were some fun pieces.

As it turned out there were two 1971 Topps Lou Piniella cards.  

There also were some of the typical 1990s cards of more recent hall of gamers.


And a few that don’t get much pub these days.

Like this 1989 card honoring Tom Browning and his perfect game.

And former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, who died less than five months after taking office. 

Total cost of these Treasures: $4.47

You can see more Thrift Treasures posts Here.

Collecting Cooperstown:  Hall of Fame Class of 2015

Posted in Collecting Cooperstown, Hall of Famers with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2015 by Cardboard Icons


Big Unit’s 300th win could be our last

Posted in Newspaperman with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2009 by Cardboard Icons

2001randyWhat Randy Johnson achieved on Thursday with his victory over the Washington Nationals may be something we won’t see again for a long time, if ever.

Unlike the seemingly ever-growing 500 Home Run Club, Class 300 — the name I’ve decided is appropriate for the group of pitchers to win 300 games — welcomed just it’s 24th member this week, Johnson. And baring some unforeseen change in the game, he could be the last person to achieve the accolade for decades.

It took Randy 21 years to get the 300-win plateau; he might have gotten there faster if it were not for a few injury riddled seasons. And as he moves into the group of immortals, the logical question is: Who is next?

Jaimie Moyer has 250 wins; he’s not even going to sniff Club 300 by the time he hangs up the spikes.

Andy Pettitte (220), Kenny Rogers (219), Pedro Martinez (214) and John Smoltz (210) are next on the list, but none of them are going to win another 90 or so games in their advanced ages. And after that group, we start reaching for names like Tim Wakefield (183) and Bartolo Colon (153), who will be lucky to win another 10 games in his career.

To get to 300 takes luck, health and a tremendous amount of skill. It also takes a different brand of baseball. Because of the way the game is played these days — with bullpen roles more defined, and club using pitch counts — it’s unlikely we’ll see another member of the 300 club any time in the near future.

Think about this: It took Johnson two decades to win that many games  and he is one of the most dominating pitchers the game has every seen. Not to mention he’s played on some pretty good teams with lineups that offer plenty of run support.

It was just a few years ago that we were looking at guys like Tim Hudson, who had 80 wins in his first five seasons; Justin Verlander, 35 in his first two full seasons; and Chien Ming-Wang, who had back to back 19-win seasons early in his career, and thinking they might have a shot. But all three of those guys has shown us it’s not as easy as projecting the stats.

Toronto horse Roy Halladay might be the game’s best pitcher right now, and is probably in the right mold to shoot for 300 wins — he goes deep into games and seemingly controls his own destiny — but even he is less than half way there. He’s got 140 wins as of June 5, 2009, and he’s already 32 years old.

Card of the Day: 1989 Donruss Randy Johnson rookie

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 24, 2009 by Cardboard Icons

1989donrussrandyjohnsonGot a quick hitter here. While going through one of my rookie boxes the other night, I stumbled upon a handful of Randy Johnson 1989 Donruss rookies and they immediately caught my eye. Why? Because I’m wondering what the hell is going through RJ’s mind when this picture was snapped.

If you’re a Jim Rome listener, you’re familiar with the term Red Ass. And as a baseball fan, you should know how Randy’s first day in New York went. But in 1988, when the image for this 1989 Donruss card was shot, what did the Big Unit have on his mind? It looks like he’s saying ‘Ah, come on,” and preparing to attack the photog.

Slight tangent: See that Montreal Expos logo on Randy’s hat and jersey. For the longest time I thought that logo said “E-L-L-O.” Hell, I actually owned a Montreal Expos hat in 1994, the year the team was on its way to the World Series, and didn’t know that is was an “M.” It’s shameful to admit that.