On this Cooperstown Sunday, there is no better time to reflect on the career of my favorite player, Ryne Sandberg. I was lucky enough to personally attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and I hope to return to Cooperstown in the coming years for the inductions of Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux, and Ron Santo.
Sandberg's most valuable 1983 rookie card was the 1983 Topps. He was also featured in a 1982 Red Lobster set that most would consider an oddball card. His minor league cards from 1980 and 1981 are hard-to-find treasures that still elude my collection. But for me, the 1983 Topps card is a classic representation of a classic player. Sandberg was of course also featured in the 1983 Donruss and Fleer sets.
Finally, in 2005 Topps had an insert set titled Rookie of the Week. Card number 24 of 25 in that set was a reproduction of Sandberg's 1983 rookie card, but with a different image. I like the idea (it is much like the Fan Favorites sets), but I still prefer the original. Topps did reproduce the original version in its 2001 Topps Archives set.
Up next in the countdown of the ten most valuable cards of the 1980s is Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn. Gwynn's exploits have previously been documented here. He immediately made an impact on San Diego, helping lead them to the World Series in 1984 in a forgetful NLCS over the Cubs (if you are a Cubs fan, like myself).
Each of the three card companies issued a Gwynn rookie card in their regular series. The Topps card is the most valuable of the three. Despite my extensive Hall of Fame collection, I have still not yet acquired his Donruss rookie card.
HONORABLE MENTION: While his card fell just outside the top 10, Wade Boggs also debuted in the 1983 Topps set. His Hall of Fame career was most impressive, as he dominated a traditional power position as a contact hitter.
Our subject at #10 is one of only two players of the top ten of the 1980s who did not progress to have a Hall of Fame caliber career. Dwight Gooden, however, certainly began his career like a Hall of Fame player. After winning the rookie of the year in 1984 at the age of 19, Gooden won the Cy Young in 1985 with a sparkling 24-4 record and an otherworldly 1.53 ERA. "Doc" continued his success into the 90s, but problems with drugs derailed what could have been.
Late in his career, he threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1996. While his career is a bit short of Hall of Fame standards, he was one of the memorable players of the 1980s. After making his debut in 1984 he was featured in two update sets, Fleer Update and Topps Traded. Of the two, the Fleer card is the more valuable of the two. Those of you familiar with this set know that there is more to come from this set for this Top 10 list. The 1984 Topps Traded card has a Beckett value of approximately $10, while the Fleer card (#43) is double that.
In the baseball card industry, the 1980s have received a bad rap based in large part to the glut of cards available in the market. As a consequence, the cards from that decade did not keep their value as much as those from earlier years. Having said that, my card collection from the 1980s is still quite special to me, because that is when I began collecting. Additionally, many of my favorite stars growing up made their card debut in the 1980s. The decade also saw the dissolution of the Topps monopoly, and most notably, the debut of Upper Deck during the final year of the decade which really kick-started the higher quality cards of the 1990s.
Through some recent acquisitions, I have now compiled what I believe to be the ten most valuable cards from the 1980s. My plan is to have an individual post on each featured card. My criteria were rather simple. I only used one card per player (thus, an ‘82 Topps Traded Ripken would moot the need to review his other ‘82 cards), the cards had to come from one of the major distributors (Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck), and they could not be a gimmick card such as an autograph or error card. I will begin debuting the list with #10 later this weekend.
On a related note, I am also considering an “oddball” type series of posts about cards from the 1980s. These cards aren’t necessarily the most valuable, but they are memorable nonetheless. If anyone has any suggestions for these cards, let me know.
In line with the release of 2001 Topps Traded, Topps issued an insert set featuring 20 star players who changed teams during their career. Some are more surprising than others. For instance, I didn't realize Steve Carlton began his career as a Cardinal. And of course, it is difficult to picture the Say-Hey Kid ending his career as a Met. Other team changers are more familiar, particularly my favorite card of the set, Andre Dawson. The design mirrors the regular design of the set, but features two great images of the stars.
As time has gone on, I have come to realize that 2001 was a truly special year for Topps. It marked Topps' 50th anniversary, and Topps spared no expense in making great cards. 2001 featured several great subsets (Through the Years, Who Would Have Thought, Before Topps), as well as the new series Topps Archives and the premiere issue of Topps Heritage. Let's start with the biggest star of 2001--the Traded set.
By some minor miracle, I secured a complete set of 2001 Topps Chrome Traded from the Bay for less than $80. The regular traded set continues to sell for well north of $100, and Chrome cards are usually graded a bit higher. But that is not why this is my new favorite set. First, this set contains some of the most important rookie cards of this decade. Everyone knows about the Pujols rookie card, as well as the Ichiro/Pujols rookie of the year card. But what makes Chrome special is that card T266 is an Ichiro rookie card, which was not printed in the regular Topps Traded set. While Ichiro appeared in the Series 2 Topps set for non-Chrome cards, he did not appear in the Chrome set. Thus, my question for the readers is the following: should I get these cards graded? While there is a cost involved with the grading process, these cards are key additions to my collection. I'm leaning towards grading them. If you have a recommendation, let me know!
(Note that the Chrome cards do not scan very well, as each one is completely clean and Near Mint.)
But these aren't the only cards worth noting. In addition to the rookies mentioned above, the set includes rookie cards of key stars including Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Jake Peavy, and Justin Morneau.
But my favorite part of this set is the Traded reprint subset that consists of cards T100 to T144. As part of Topps' 50th anniversary blitz (and what a blitz it was), Topps reprinted some of the most important Topps Traded cards from the 1970s-90s. I am a huge fan of Topps reprints, and these cards are probably my favorites (they are quite similar to Topps Reserve Archives). Here is a small sampling of this subset.
Finally, readers of HOF Cards know that I'm a Cubs collector. Well, the Cubs cards in this set are nothing special, as they feature some journeyman veterans (Tom Gordon, Jeff Fassero, Todd Hundley, Bill Mueller) and the usual assortment of Cubs prospects that never pan out (Steve Smyth, Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Hee Seop Choi). Of course the one saving grace from a Cubs perspective is Mark Grace's Diamondbacks card from his bittersweet 2001 championship season. There is also a Shawon Dunston card from his Giants days.
This is the second team-specific analysis I have done of potential Hall of Fame players in the game today (the first team was the Phillies). Up next is another National League team with a plethora of Cooperstown capable players--the New York Mets. There are six current Mets players (not including the disabled Billy Wagner) who are on track to make the Hall. Some are more certain than others, but each one deserves recognition.
Up first is the most obvious candidate, Johan Santana. Since his trade from the Twins, Santana has picked up right where he left off by continuing his exploits in the NL. The winner of two Cy Young awards by the age of 30, Santana has racked up 118 wins and, along with Roy Halladay, may have the best chance of reaching 300 wins for his career among active pitchers. While he needs another five or six first tier seasons to punch his ticket, Santana is on a one-way trip to Cooperstown. One of Santana's best known rookie cards is from the 2001 Topps Finest set.
The other Mets pitcher that warrants consideration is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod is only 27, and he has already accumulated 228 saves. Last year he set the single season record with 62 saves. This year he has posted a 1.23 ERA to date, and he has solidified a problematic Mets bullpen. Another ten seasons of 40 saves each, and K-Rod will obliterate the career saves record (likely to be held by Mariano Rivera by that time). While K-Rod's rookie cards have not been popular with collectors (much like other relievers), his first Topps card is from the 2000 Traded set.
Now, let's head around the infield. The most obvious candidate is third baseman David Wright, who has a tremendous all-around game. In five full seasons, he has already been an All Star four times (including this season's likely election), and he is currently batting .345. At the age of 26, he has already accumulated more than 900 hits. He is certainly on track for a 3000 hit career. Wright's best known rookie card is his 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres.
At shortstop, the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jose Reyes should garner some debate. Reyes splashed onto the scene in 2003 and led all NL players in steals for three consecutive seasons (2005-2007). Surprisingly, he has shown solid power in recent years, hitting 16 homers last season. But like his shortstop counterpart Jimmy Rollins, Reyes has been hit with the injury bug. While he is still only 26 years old, his future is a bit more unknown than his teammate Wright. Reyes' rookie card is the 2001 Topps Traded.
With tongue-in-cheek apologies to Luis Castillo, the final member of the regular Mets infield also warrants conversation. Carlos Delgado has been injured for much of this season, but his career numbers cannot be ignored. Delgado's strongest stat is his 473 career homers, but with today's diluted power numbers, his likely target of 500 home runs is not an automatic admission. He has just over 2000 hits and 1500 RBIs, with a career average of .280. Perhaps the most telling number is that Delgado has only been a two-time All Star, despite his prodigious power. With a game similar to Jim Thome's, but with less power, it is unlikely that Delgado will fly into Cooperstown. Delgado's key rookie card is the from the fabled 1992 Bowman set. While it's hard to remember him as a Blue Jay, it is even harder to remember him as a catcher.
Finally, the Mets also boast an outfielder who is on the Hall of Fame track. Carlos Beltran burst onto the national scene when he was traded from Kansas City to Houston during the 2004 season. Beltran has never been a high-average hitter (career BA is .283), but he has hit .336 this year in an injury shortened campaign, much like several of his Mets teammates. Beltran is a four-time All Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and three-time Gold Glove winner. If he rebounds from injury to post another solid year, he is probably only five years away from cementing his spot in the Hall. Beltran's Topps rookie card is the subject of much debate, as the card was actually an error card by Topps in its 1995 Traded set. Thus I have included both his "real" rookie card (featuring an image of Juan Lebron), and Lebron's card which features Mr. Beltran.
Of the six, I think the most likely Met to make the Hall of Fame is Johan Santana. But of the under-30 subset, I think David Wright is on track to follow Santana. Not surprisingly, those two player's rookie cards are in the most demand.