Sunday, August 19, 2007

When Baseball Cards Made Players Stars Before They Ever Did a Damn Thing

With each passing day, seemingly, people of my generation (born in the early 80s) are turning into the old Dana Carvey exaggerated-old-man character. "Back in MY day, we didn't HAVE iPods or PSPs! We had Tiger games! Those shitty hand-held games that ran off of 8 D-cell batteries and still only lasted 45 minutes! And we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

These days, my tune is something like: "We didn't have this fancy shmacy technological computer garbage to waste our money on! We had baseball cards! Back then, we thought they were going to be worth thousands of dollars! What are they worth now? NOTHING! Does it matter? NO! Because we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

This was all brought on by a price guide I found while going through some old crap at my parents' house the other day. A Beckett Baseball Card Monthly price guide, from May 1992, with Steve Avery on the cover.

1992 was in the middle of a great time for baseball. Fresh off an outstanding World Series the year before, still before anyone fathomed the thought of a strike or god forbid even the World Series getting canceled, with a slew of great young players coming up. Ehh, actually, scratch that last part. One of the great things about baseball cards is that it made huge stars of guys before they'd done a damn thing in the majors. Guys like:

Phil Plantier - 1991 Topps Stadium Club
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00 (Please bear in mind that $14 is a TON of money to an 8 year old)
Current worth - NOTHING

I was always kind of flabbergasted, even as an impressionable 8 year old, that this guy's cards were worth as much as they were. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a kid who lived down the road from me whose persuit of owning every Phil Plantier rookie card consumed his young life. It went something like this:
Me: How many home runs did he have last year?
Him, looking at the back of the card: It says he didn't have any...
Me: So why's it worth so much?
Him: I don't know...
Me, now looking at the back of the card: What team is Pawtucket?
Him: I don't know...
Career Stats - .243 career batting average, 91 career HRs, .771 career OPS in 8 seasons with 5 different ballclubs
What's he doing now? - Managing the Macon Music, current titleholder of the worst sports franchise name in recorded history.

Brien Taylor - 1992 Topps Stadium Club Dome
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00
Current worth - NOTHING

Yes, all you have to do is be the first overall pick by the New York Yankees in order for your cards to be ridiculously inflated in value! You don't even need to pitch an inning of actual major league baseball! Just make sure you actually GET to the majors eventually. Of course, a 1993 bar fight didn't exactly help that cause.
Career Stats - No Major League stats
What's he doing now? - Working in real-estate, so sayeth Wikipedia.

Ben McDonald - 1991 Leaf Studio
Value circa May 1992 - $0.35
Current worth - NOTHING

Alright, I have a cheat a bit here, because technically this card wasn't worth anything in 1992 (that's how fast this guy burned out), but still, everyone remembers Ben McDonald, who was pretty much a poor man's Ben Sheets (right down to the Olympic career). Everyone among my circle of friends at the time was also tripping over themselves to get their hands on the brand new Leaf Studio series, which featured pictures of really ugly baseball players in a photo studio. Awesome, I really want airbrushed pictures of Randy Johnson's mullet and Eric Show's mustache.
Career Stats - 78-70 record, 1.257 WHIP, 3.91 ERA... Hey, that's not that bad! What the hell!
What's he doing now? - Probably running around telling people "Hey! I wasn't THAT bad, you douchebags! I had a 3.91 ERA! THREE POINT NINE ONE!"

Todd Van Poppel - 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations
Value circa May 1992 - $15.00
Current worth - NOTHING

This guy is pretty much the reason I made this entry. Who doesn't hate Todd Van Poppel? In fact, I shouldn't even say this card is worth nothing, because its comedic value is almost unmatched. When you want to torture a contemporary, or even your worst enemy, just shower him with Todd Van Poppel cards. Horrible memories of wasted time and money will come rushing back. I still can't get that straight-as-an-arrow fastball out of my head. He made LaTroy Hawkins look like Roger Clemens.
Career Stats - 40-52 record, 5.58 ERA, 1.549 WHIP over 11 years with 6 teams, mostly as a reliever
What's he doing now? - Who knows.

Gregg Jefferies - 1989 Topps Future Stars
Value circa May 1992 - I don't know, I'm too angry to look
Current worth - NOTHING

Just looking at this card gets me pissed off. I wish I were kidding. I traded like four Tom Glavine cards for this and his Donruss Rated Rookie way back in the day, thinking I was totally fleecing my friend, because he was a Glavine fanboy. I even ended up getting a 1989 Topps set for Christmas that year, overjoyed that I now had TWO of these cards, completely oblivious that I would eventually get more and more depressed as Jefferies hit .210 like 57 years in a row. I feel like throwing on a black t-shirt, listening to Morrissey and cutting myself with a thumbtack while writing some crappy poetry about somehow finding a sabremetrical way to prove that Gregg Jefferies actually DOESN'T suck, and that somehow his cards WILL be worth something and that this impossibly deep emotional rollercoaster will have a happy ending. I'm not even going to post your career stats, and I don't CARE what you're doing now. Screw you, Gregg Jefferies.

Honorable mentions that weren't quite awful/anger-inducing enough to make this entry (just players in general) - Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, J.T. Snow, Steve Avery, David Justice, Earl Cunningham, Ryan Klesko, and Scott Erickson. We haven't forgotten about you. Bastards.

(Special thanks to


Trevytrev11 said...

What about the former holy grail of rookie cards? The Mark McGwire USA baseball card that used to go for well over $100. Now it can be picked up for like $4.00.

John said...

How can you not include Eric Anthony of the Astros? That card induces anger in me like Jeffries for you. I think that I collected about 15 different Anthony rookie cards.

s1rweeze said...

Eric Anthony should've at least gotten an honorable mention, but I mostly associate him with his inexplicable/cartoonish physique and abilities in Ken Griffey Jr Baseball for SNES.

Joe said...

At first, I thought this article was a jab at me. I spent an entire summer saving $$ to get every Brien Taylor rookie card known to man. He even had some gold card that I mowed lawns to get.

If I ever see his realty sign in someones yard, I'm stealing that too. I'll then use it to cover the hole in his window that I create by throwing my old lawn mower through.

What a stiff.

Jay said...

What about Mike Greenberg?

bucktril said...

The cards I had to end up using as toilet paper was anything with a picture of Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens on it.

DP said...

What's the old Billy Ripken '89 Fleer "F**K FACE" card worth these days? I remember doing my paper route, getting that card with the money, and thinking I would use it to pay for my college. That and the Mark McGwire Topps '87 Record Breaker "error" card with the white triangle by his foot. I remember thinking circa September of 1998 that I would retire on that card.

The lesson, as always, is that I'm a fool.

Justin Ready said...

The Braves ALMOST drafted Todd Van Poppel over Chipper Jones that year. That breeze you feel is the collective sigh of relief that Braves fans have had since 1995.

Chris James said...

My father, a Braves fan, once traded a Michael Jordan rookie card for a Dale Murphy rook.

I now joke with him that the difference in value is coming out of his future nursing home care....

Chandru said...

Tino Martinez??

Chandru said...

Tino Martinez??

jrljr said...

You have to include Rickey Henderson in this group. When he broke the all-time steals record, his card went over $180, now I have seen it at shows for $3 and under!

Chuck Ludwig said...

Don't forget about the immortal Danny Tartabull. Amongst my close knit group of baseball card trading friends, there was a time when he was the most sought-after player in the land. Just writing his name made me think about smoking again for the first time in 5 years...

Oliver said...

Ok.. here are a few more..

Sam Horn... his 1988 Topps card was $1 and going up fast..

Kevin Seitzer... 87 Fleer card was $8 and I thought was way better than the Bonds RC

Ruben Sierra.. same as above..

Ron Gant.. that SP short print in 88 Donruss had me going wild when I got his card..

Jerome Walton.. I actually traded a Griffey Upper Deck RC for him while he had his 35 game hitting streak in 89.. yeesh..

88 Olympic team.. that Topps traded set was awesome back then.. so much for that!

Jrock said...

this may be a local thing, but the Bill Ripken '89 fleer card where it said fuck face on the bottom of the bat, was the biggest error card around and went for close to $100, and now I dont think you could even get $5 fori t.

stroessler said...

Kelly Gruber '85 Fleer comes to mind... couldn't even get his own card.

The Rowdy One said...

Due to multiple people referencing the painful 1988 Topps Olympics cards, I now type this while impaired by an incessant eye twitch.

I had mutliple McGwires, Oddibe "young again" McDowells, and Scott Bankheads; the enitre stack of them was worth $100+ at one point. But most painful are the more than 50 Cory Snyders I amassed, convinced he was a lock for stardom.

Today, Cory Snyder's mom wouldn't give me 50 cents for the whole lot of 'em. LOOO-ZOR!

BackhomeMN said...

Don't forget about Dwight Smith and there was another Cub at the same time.

BackhomeMN said...

Jerome Walton was the other rookie.

Digger said...

Kevin Stocker... Rated Rookie

bouja19 said...

How about Kevin Maas? Does anyone remember that phenomenon? And I, too, can vouch for the Ruben Sierra, once passing up a Griffey, Jr. rookie card for a Sierra...

Frank said...

A little more recent, but the anger still lingers. Remember the Blue Chip prospect cards? Forget which company. Had the Izzy card when he was the next big thing, hit a high of $140. Now...

Michael said...

All I can tell you is that somewhere in my closet I have 100 Devon White, Kevin Elster and Rob Deer rookie cards. Anyone want them?

Philaflava said...

To the idiot jrljr who said RICKEY HENDERSON?

Did you even read this blog you moron. ALL cards made in the 80-90's dropped significantly in price due to the quantities made.

But Rickey Henderson is a 1st round HOF. Holds the single season SB record and the all-time record, BOTH will never be broken. He was the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time.

1990 MVP and probably the most feared player in the 80-90's, not to mention a freak of nature.

Please stop visiting the internet and crawl back in that hole.

P.S. His RC 1980 Topps values at $50 for near mint and a graded MINT RC could get you $300+

redbird said...

I agree with every post so far and would like to add the shirtless Jose Canseco Score baseball card circa 1990 to the collection of overhyped crap. Not only because this dude ratted out and likely supplied his colleagues with the juice that would destroy the credibility of a sport and along with it all of his memoribilia, but the fact that I kept this card in a "Hard Plastic" despite the constant abuse I took from my friends who acused me of having a homosexual crush on Mr. Canseco. It was more Harlequin Romance then baseball card, you could substitute Fabio in tight jeans for Jose and its pretty much the same piece of crap.

Thank you Mr. Beckett for telling me Canseco was a sure fire hall of flamer...errr...famer.

Appy Flanagan said...

Great great post. That Brien Taylor Stadium Club card was tremendous. Remember his Gold Foil card? God I loved it. It was a baseball card with gold on it. It was like we were prospectors.

Jason said...

Might i add my two most feared words... Jeffery Hammonds. I had his topps stadium club rookie card from when he was in the olympics. Most overhyped nothing to ever play the game. I also have a Wave of the future two Alex Rodriguez rookie card that Im still hoping will someday regain some value.