Collecting baseball cards is a funny hobby. If you’ve been in the game long enough you’ve seen how collectors latch onto certain things and then at some point they complete abandon them — the Sportflix/Sportflics technology.
In the mid 1980s Sportflics was a innovative brand that essentially made it possible to view three images with just a flick of the wrist. If you’re looking for me to explain it, you’re out of luck. I understand it just enough to figure there are actually three pictures on the card and the plastic coating makes your eye only see one image at a time.
The brand disappeared after 1990, and then resumed in 1994 as it was produced by Pinnacle. And then in 1995, the brand morphed into Spotflix (notice the “x” instead of the “cs”) and the sister brand “UC3” was born that same year. The sub brand was not quite as cool as the originals, but they had the same technology. In my opinion it was a bust.
But the cards were still different, and being a Pinnacle Brand, the set had inserts and parallel. The packs were a bit more pricey at the time and not everyone could afford them. I know I certain veered away from them.
Alas here we are in 2016 and one day recently I was lucky enough to find two plastic cases containing some 1995 UC3 cards. and with the price being $2.65 per plastic case (I’m pretty sure these cases cost about that much by themselves) I figured I’d snag them both to see what I was missing at the time.
These two cases were filled with stars as you can see here.
And they contained the only two true rookie cards in the set, Hideo Nomo and Mark Grudzielanek.
The cases also had their share of inserts. The Cyclone Squad inserts were 1:4 packs (Got two Ripkens, that’s cool); the UC3 In Motion were 1:18 and the Clear Shots were 1:24. To understand how cool this is you have to understand that the latter two insert sets were tougher to pull at the time.
And then there were parallels, which in classic Pinnacle Brand fashion, were dubbed “Artist Proofs” and were inserted some one in every box and a half, or 1:36 packs. While neither of these three will break the bank to acquire, it’s hard to argue with the three guys who were hiding in theses cases: Sammy Sosa, Joe Carter and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. These parallels
For 10 years I’ve had a thing for batting glove cards. We’ve all seen thousands of Game Used Jersey cards, and probably just as many bat cards. The popularity of these items really has come and gone. But all along, I’ve had an obsession with game-used batting glove cards. Why? Because of the 2001 Upper Deck Gold Glove “Slugger’s Choice” set.
In 2001 one I bought pack after pack of this product seeking something of great value. In the end what I wound up pulling was a sweet looking, albeit relatively worthless, Ivan Rodriguez batting glove card.
Over the last decade I’ve had a ton of game-used cards pass through my collection, yet the one that I could not barter with was the Rodriguez. Why? Because the card has so much character.
The mere existence of this card in my collection set me into a frenzy over the last six months trying to complete this Slugger’s Choice set on the tenth anniversary of this sets release. The checklist consists of 25 cards, although over the years the official checklist seemed to be a tad unreliable. Initially there reportedly was a Jason Isringhausen card in this set, but that turned out to be false … even if it is STILL listed in Beckett.
So here we are, in October 2011, and my set is complete. Some of these are more common than others, and some cost a pretty penny, but in the end they are all part of a completed set that was 10 years in the making.
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.
Welcome to the 28th edition of Thrift Treasures, the Cardboard Icons original series documenting dirt-cheap cardboard finds. In today’s edition we flash back some 12 years to celebrate a time when a fairly common rookie card became a hobby monster.
During my lunch break on Wednesday I stopped briefly at one of my local thrift stores to look for old sports jerseys, video games and baseball cards. And lo and behold they had cards for the first time in a month. There were maybe three dozen baggies of cards — about 50 in each — for sale for $1.99.
In one of the baggies was a stack of 1990 Leaf, a set that always makes me stop and think to a time two decades ago when the premium brand upped the ante for baseball cards just a year after the inaugural Upper Deck series. The product is pretty common these days, but when I was a kid, these were as good as gold.
So I bought a bag that had the most Leaf inside (about 15 cards it appeared) and look what was resting inside, just six cards past a really beat-up 1988 Donruss Luis Polonia — Sammy Sosa’s best rookie card.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying how much energy Sosa’s rookie cards brought to the hobby during the then-legendary, and now somewhat comical home run chase of 1998.
This Leaf card went from being a basic $5-$10 semi-star rookie from a premium set to a $150 eye-catcher and the center-piece for many novice collectors. I owned a copy when Sosa was redhot. It is a card I will cherish forever because it changed hands probably a dozen times between myself and a friend during poker games before The Chase. Despite being housed in a penny sleeve for five years, and then a top loader for a few more years, I sent that card in for grading during the height of the grading craze and it came back an 8.5. Pretty remarkable if I don’t say so myself.
What also was remarkable was the condition of the Sosa that was unearthed on Wednesday. The Polonia card I mentioned a moment ago looks like someone stepped on it, threw it against the wall and used it as target practice with a BB gun. The Sosa? Mint. Dead center.
What’s comical to me is that some kid had this card in their collection at the height of the Sosa craze and didn’t even know it. Now it is mine … FOR-EV-ER!
Side note, you gotta love that Slammin’ Sammy is shown bunting on his best rookie. FAIL.
The rest of the baggie was pretty typical junk wax era stuff. Here are a few of the treasures:
1990 Leaf Robin Ventura
I remember when this card was $9 high book. Yeah. $9, not $10.
1989 Donruss Roberto Alomar
The greatness of the 1989 Donruss diamond cut cards. Ugh.
1990 Bowman Sweepstakes Mark Davis
Does anyone actually own the original Mark Davis Bowman art that was being given away with this sweepstakes card? I HATED these things … and still do.
1981 Fleer Bake McBride
Bake McBride was one bad mother …
1991-1992 SkyBox Magic Johnson
There’s a really bad joke here, right?
1983 Fleer Bobby Castillo
Bobby Castillo got it … he stopped drawing long enough to give me this smirk.
1988 Topps Kenny Williams
Hey, look! It’s a rookie card of the Chicago White Sox General Manager. Awesome. Love that Beckett has the value in the range of a penny to a nickel.
So while continuing my Purge this morning, I came across my Barry Bonds collection. It’s a binder consisting of about 150 cards with some cool inserts like serial numbered Diamond Kinds and the such. But the very first card that caught my attention was this 2002 Upper Deck Vintage Home Run Leaders error card.
This card didn’t exactly catch the same attention as the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas rare version that also lacks the player’s name his name. But in some ways I find this card equally as important, if not ironic in the least.
Did someone at Upper Deck not believe that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez were legitimate homerun hitters? I’m sure this was a simple printing error — there is a corrected version with the players names — but in some romantic way, it’s fun to think that someone at UD had the foresight to eliminate the player’s names, almost as if they were leaving them off the official record. All three players shown here have been linked to performance enhancing drugs or at least been in the discussion.
Mark McGwire and Roger Maris rookie cards will forever be linked.
1999 Topps HR Record, No. 61
My jaw dropped, my heart skipped a beat; for a few seconds I wondered if someone had sent the Associated Press a false statement reportedly on behalf of Mark McGwire. But within minutes, it became increasingly clear. This was not a joke: Mark McGwire was admitting to using steroids.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mark McGwire was absolutely one of my favorite baseball players. Before he even stepped into a St. Louis Cardinal uniform, McGwire was a baseball hero to me. I had the Jose Canseco-Mark McGwire “Bash Brothers” poster on my wall; I emulated his swing when I played sandlot ball; I rushed home after school to catch the last inning or two hoping that Bill King, who announced the A’s games over the radio, would call another of McGwire’s homers. All of this was before the 1998 season, the one that turned McGwire into a figure that transcended sports.
The fact that McGwire used steroids is not what shocked me; it’s the way the news came out. There wasn’t some reporter who broke the story, it came from McGwire himself in a statement to the Associated Press, and then the rest of the world. And it happened on a Monday, not some Friday afternoon as these things usually go down.
And on the same day, McGwire agreed to an hour-long interview with Bob Costas — who is a baseball fan like you and I — but also a damn good broadcast journalist. This wasn’t an Alex Rodriguez moment where he threw on some lip gloss and had a sitdown with softball thrower Katie Couric in prime time. This was Bob Costas, who McGwire knew was going to pelt him with real question after real question.
1989 Upper Deck
I watched that interview three times Monday night, and each time I winced at what I was hearing. If you ask the big-time baseball writers, they’ll tell you McGwire failed because he didn’t confess to everything. There were no details about where, when and how much. But rather some vagueness to the amounts of performance enhancing drugs. McGwire says he experimented with them in 1989, and then started using them in 1993 to help recover from injuries. He then used them on and off throughout the rest of the decade, and added in some Human Growth Hormone, as well as the then over-the-counter supplement Androstenedione.
To a person looking for every little detail, the answers were not enough. In fact, even if he had told us tons of details, many would still be dissatisfied with his confession because a person who has lied rarely tells a complete truth; they always hold something back. At least that is the perception of many.
Ball signed by Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco; obtained in person by a friend who gave the ball to me.
For me, and many fans, I do think McGwire has given us what we needed to hear. We needed to know that he used performance enhancing drugs; that he did so early in his career, and that he did so during his single-season home run record-setting season. What no one is buying is that he used them solely for healing his injuries à la Andy Pettitte; so that “my body can feel better.” I’m calling B.S. I mean it’s not like people play the lottery just to feel the thrill of winning, they love the prizes that come with it too. I digress.
What McGwire did do though, was tackle this problem head-on, even if it was several years after it really started to boil over. I believe the timing of his answers were in-fact linked to a perceived legal issues about his non-statement statement to Congress five years ago. But the timing was also strategic in the fact that it came still two and a half months before the baseball season started. Sure the issue will crop up at different points in the future, but it will, for the most part, die down unless someone unearths some stunning fact that will need yet another confession.
What we did learn on Monday, though, that I think is telling is that McGwire still believes there is a shred of credibility in his career statistics. There is no way we as fans can simply look at McGwire’s home run and walk-rate totals and say he is qualified to be a Hall of Famer; I don’t think McGwire would argue that. That is why he ducked that question at the end of the interview: “I’ll let those with votes decide.” We can remember him as being one of the best of his generation, and I think that’s about as far as we can go at this point. His achievements of the 1998 season are already commemorated in Cooperstown, I think that is good enough for now.
As news of the McGwire confession broke on Monday, I did start thinking that if anyone else was going to confess to using performance enhancing drugs, then that would have been the best day to do it. What better way to end the years of suspicion than to have some of the biggest names suspected of using enhancers to admit their guilt all at once. It would have been a massive pill to swallow, but we all could have moved forward. But the problem is that some of the suspected cheaters — including a guy who is my favorite all-time player — are facing legal troubles linked to their deceitfulness. They’ve dug themselves so deep in a hole that it is impossible for them to get out of it unless they are granted immunity … and we all know that’s not going to happen.
As far as collectibles, I really am not sure what bearing this will have on McGwire’s items. They’ve pretty much already hit rock bottom. I remember giving a speech during college as an assignment discussing the increasing price of Mark McGwire’s rookie card. I spoke about how the card went from $15 to more than $250 during the 1998 season. I almost feel like I should go back and do another speech given that his rookie can be had for about $10 now. I digress.
I do wonder if interest in McGwire’s items will pick up a bit. In the short-term, people may go nuts for his autograph just to say they have one. But long-term I wonder if his confession will resonate with collectors, who may find themselves again interested in the items they had once abandoned as suspicion of guilt built around the slugger. Will McGwire’s rookie ever reach the heights they once had? No. But that does not mean that some collector’s can’t find it in their hearts to pay an extra couple of bucks for good condition McGwire cards. I do think he still has a following, even if much of his achievements were built through the ingestion of a pill.
When I started this blog eight months ago, I did so with a “Card of the Day” posts that featured a 1951 Bowman Phil Rizzuto card. I started with a “Card of the Day” (COTD) posts because my goal was to post one card in my collection every day and write about it or the player featured.
Over time these posts have become infrequent, but when I do write them, I feel they are stronger pieces. But while these posts have declined in number, I’ve been thinking of ways to create steady content, and this morning I think I found it in the ‘Random Rookie Recap.”
Much of my collection is filled with rookie cards. Some are worth a lot, others aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. But rookie cards they are. And now my goal is to highlight each one of them, regardless of value.
I will show scans of the front and back of the cards, and then do a brief write-up of the card and/or player. The idea in some cases will be to revisit players whose names were ingrained in our minds for the shortest of times (like Hensley Muelens and Dwight Smith), recap how certain cards — like the 1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa rookie — came to prominence, or to discuss value past, present and/or future.
Bottom line, there is no real structure to this series. The only prerequisite is that the card is a rookie.