Father Time is Undefeated

One thing about the hobby that is inevitable is the amount of greed that runs rampant once a beloved athlete or celebrity dies. Within minutes of the news breaking, seemingly dozens if not hundreds of collectors start listing certified autographs on the secondary market for exorbitant prices. This is a calculated move used to take advantage of long time fans/collectors and those hit with nostalgia looking to buy something of that now deceased personality. Unfortunately, most times these tactics work perfectly and there is no more perfect of an example than the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and what happened to his card prices for the following 12 months.

A term like beloved is probably not one you’d use to describe Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea. For decades now, wrestlers have spoken out about how selfish and self-serving Hogan was in the wrestling industry. His reputation had hit new lows even before his now infamous racist rant and sex tape hit the mainstream media. All this was happening just as Hogan was dealing with perhaps the nastiest divorce imaginable and after his son, Nick, was involved in a reckless driving accident that left his best friend brain dead. The world was piling on Hulk Hogan just as his health took a turn for the worst. Since 2009, Hogan has endured 17 surgeries, including having spinal fusion and a fake hip installed.

It’s been over a decade since Hogan’s world turned upside down and while the WWE has forgiven him for his sins, it appears most fans have not. In 2021, you either love Hulk Hogan or you absolutely hate his guts and nothing will change that. Collectors, however, are a more forgiving bunch and have welcomed their childhood icon back with open arms. Now, with Hogan pushing 70, there are new reports that his health is in serious danger and it comes from none other than fellow legend, Ric Flair. Hogan even posted a photo recently showing off his weight loss, which he claims to be at his high school weight. The life of a steroid user is not long, just ask Macho Man Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior.

I will say this, the wrestling card market has exploded in the past few years, specifically thanks to lifetime WWE jobbers, Matt Cardona and Brian Myers, two wrestlers who host a toy figure podcast which has now heavily ventured into wrestling trading cards. Forgotten wrestling sets that once sold for pennies on the dollar have soared in prices and certified autographs, especially those hard-signed, have hit all-time highs. For example, I once turned down and offer to buy a 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter Hogan autograph in 2009 for $250 because that price seemed outrageous. Today, there are no recent sales and just one copy is available with an asking price of $1,500.

Hogan’s first official autograph issue from 1998 Topps WCW/NWO has completely dried up. Wrestling collectors have finally realized how important this set was, perhaps 23 years too late. If you can track down a Hogan, be prepared to pay anywhere between $800-$1,000 and you better hope to find a certified, graded copy because all this new attention has attracted the attention of scammers pushing forgeries and making a killing. For those looking for a Hogan autograph who aren’t willing to pay a rent payment’s worth, look into Tristar, Leaf and Upper Deck, as all three manufacturers have produced Hulk Hogan autographs. The only catch is that most of them feature sticker autographs.

If you were a daily reader of The Baseball Card Blog, known as Wax Heaven back in 2008, you wouldn’t be faced with this problem. Hell, if I had just taken my own advice thirteen years ago, I would have purchased the entire set myself and used the profits I could have made in 2021 to finance a brand-new home for my family. Hey, hindsight is 20/20, especially when it comes to trading cards. My point is that if you are still a Hulkamaniac at heart and want to add a Hogan autographed trading card to your collection, the time to act is now because from the news that is making the rounds and even the man’s own Instagram posts and cryptic tweets, time is quickly running out.

The Forgotten Slugger

Recently, I came across a wonderfully designed Topps ‘Blake Street Bombers’ card out of 2021 Archives. The card commemorates the mid to late-90s sluggers who lit up Coors Field’s thin air and amassed hundreds of home runs in the process. The card features 2020 Hall of Fame inductee, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, and Dante Bichette, father of rising baseball star, Bo Bichette. Immediately, I wondered why fellow Blake Street Bombers, Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla were left off the list. Unfortunately, unlike the ‘Bash Brothers’ of Oakland, there has never been an official line-up to the Blake Street Bombers. They have been featured on cards in the past but with various ensembles.

2021 Topps Archives

One thing is for sure, Larry Walker absolutely deserves his place on the 2021 Topps Blake Street Bombers card as he is the only member of the group in the Hall of Fame, as well as the only one to win an M.V.P. award (’97). Now here is where things get interesting. Out of the group, Walker has the most home runs as a Rockies player (258). Coming in a close second is none other than Vinny Castilla with 239. Out of all the Blake Street Bombers, Vinny Castilla was the only consistent slugger, having hit 40+ home runs three times. Walker did it just once, as did Burks, Bichette, and Galarraga. Even if you take an average of home runs per season, Castilla still beats out Bichette and Burks.

1996 Pinnacle Zenith

I think you probably get my point by now. The 2021 Topps Blake Street Bombers card definitely short-changed Vinny Castilla by choosing to include Dante Bichette, who was Colorado’s 4th best slugger during the Blake Street Bombers years. Bichette may have even been the worst of the group had Ellis Burks not left Colorado after only parts of five seasons, while Bichette played in parts of seven. It appears Topps chose to include Dante solely to have him connect with fans and collectors of Bo Bichette. While Bichette Sr. certainly had more swag and personality than Vinny Castilla, the numbers do not lie. Vinny Castilla was the most consistent and prolific slugger of the Blake Street Bombers.

It should also be noted that while Castilla will never get the recognition Larry Walker received throughout his playing career and post-retirement and perhaps rightfully so, it is clear that Castilla absolutely loved the game of baseball more than all of the other Bombers combined. After playing his last Major League game in 2006 at the age of 38 and unable to sign with a new team, Vinny packed his bags and went to Mexico where he participated in another 4 seasons of baseball before retiring, tearfully, at age 42. With his playing days far behind, today Castilla is a Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Colorado Rockies and mentors young players.

It’s time for Topps to put some respek on Vinny’s name!

Score’s Sin of Gluttony

Three billion, six hundred million.

That’s how many 1991 Score cards are believed to have been produced. Thirty-two million of those alone are cards of Ken Griffey Jr. Four million unnecessary copies of Jose Canseco’s infamous Dream Team card. This set was destined to be the Junk Wax era’s swan song, a massively overproduced swing and miss. Collectors had already discovered that less was more with the resurrection of Leaf in 1990 and with 1992 Bowman, Topps chose to drastically cut production. Just two years after 1991 Score, collectors would be introduced to Topps Finest, with just 30,000 copies of each base card and a shockingly-low, 241 copies of each Refractor. The game was changing and sets like 1991’s Score & ’91 Fleer were instantly relegated to garage storage status or sent to landfills all across the country.

Speaking of Jose Canseco, who was baseball’s brightest and highest-paid star when 1991 Score was released, the photograph that inspired Score’s Dream Team card originated from an American Express magazine advertisement and was shot by world-renowned photographer, Annie Leibovitz. The Score card instantly became iconic and even inspired a Broder (AKA unofficial) card titled ‘Power & Glory’. The irony of it all is that clearly Score’s version is all-around much better card and is official licensed by Major League Baseball but thanks to rampant overproduction, the knock-off usually sells for a couple of dollars more today on the secondary market.

We can all poke fun looking back today but in reality, Score’s Dream Team was a subset way ahead of its time. Unlike many products from that era, it managed to capture a little bit of each player’s personality smack dab on a baseball card. One specific Dream Team alum, Doug Jones, is a perfect example. Jones, a late-bloomer and eventual 5-time All-Star, may have been one of the weaker selections on the Dream Team checklist. Ironically enough, his fireball card may be the most memorable of the entire set that’s packed full of Hall of Fame players. Sadly, two weeks ago, Jones, 64, succumbed to complications of Covid-19. To many collectors who were around during the Junk Wax era, the Dream Team card was probably the first image you thought of when you heard the sad news of Jones’ passing.

Another memorable subset, the All-Star caricatures, was a favorite of mine when I was 11. The Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco versions are particularly interesting because any steroid user knows, a large head is one of the tell-tale signs of abuse. I recently discovered, thanks to Beckett’s Ryan Cracknell, who the artist was behind these cards. It was something that had been bugging me for three decades. These days, card artists are revered and publicized all over social media but back before the internet, there was almost no information available. Perhaps as a small tribute to Score, Topps recently created their own “big head” cards, as extremely rare, super short prints, which were all the rage two weeks ago. I have a feeling that 20 years from now, the overproduced Score Big Heads will be remembered more fondly that the Topps SSPs.

1991 Score is a lot of things to a lot of people. Overproduced, redundant, gawky, and behind the times even at the time of its release but it conjures up heavy feelings of nostalgia that I truly believe modern collectors from 2020 and up will never experience. We will likely never again see a 900-card set and if we do, none could match the imagination and effort that went into ’91 Score. It may have been late to the party and unable to read the room but in the end, it is still one of the most memorable and dare I say, most important releases of the Junk Wax era. Score will forever live in collector’s hearts, at least those who lived through its release. Yes, us Boomer collectors, if you must. With Fanatics around the corner, it would be great to see Panini America, who owns the rights to Score, put out a few throwback Score baseball cards. It’s unlikely, especially from a company like Panini, but a collector can dream, can’t he?

Nolan Ryan, Football Star

Nolan Ryan was a monster on the mound and in our hobby, especially in the late-80s and early-90s, as he was easily one of the most popular and collected players around that time. Back in 1989, while still in the early years of what is now referred to as the “Junk Wax” era, Upper Deck produced a card featuring the ‘Ryan Express’ tossing the pig skin around. I’m sure the folks at Upper Deck, still in their debut year, didn’t expect much from card #774 but for one reason or another, collectors ate this card up and helped it become one of the most iconic baseball cards from the Junk Wax era. It wasn’t Bo Jackson in football gear for Score but it was no slouch either.

The other day, while doing my daily perusing of eBay, I discovered a second Nolan Ryan baseball card tossing a football. That card got me thinking, what if there are even more Nolan Ryan baseball football cards? Sure enough, I found quite a few others. I found two from Pacific’s Nolan Ryan set produced in 1991 and one from 1992 The Colla Collection, an oddball but heavily underrated set produced in the final days of the Junk Wax era as the bubble was just about ready to burst. There were also versions of Upper Deck’s Looney Tunes set, which were sorta fun when I was 13 but not all that much. If you’re a big spender, there’s even a certified autograph from 1991 Upper Deck to whet your appetite.

I was even able to locate a few Nolan Ryan baseball football cards in modern releases including recently in 2021 Topps Series Two as a photo variation that can run you anywhere between $15-$20. There’s also a lesser-known 2010 Topps version available to fill out your unique set. So of course, that got me thinking about putting together a master checklist of all baseball cards featuring Nolan Ryan throwing a football. Check below the images to see the entire list and if you know of any cards I am missing, please let me know so I can update the checklist.

1989 Upper Deck #774

1990 Upper Deck #18

1991 Upper Deck ‘Heroes’

1991 Upper Deck ‘Heroes’ (AU, #’d 2,500)

1991 Upper Deck Comic Ball (NSCC Promo)

1991 Upper Deck Comic Ball Gossamer Hologram

1991 Pacific Nolan Ryan #77

1991 Pacific Nolan Ryan #80

1992 The Colla Collection #10 (#’d to 25,000)

1993 Upper Deck ‘Fifth Anniversary’ #A5 (#’d to 10,000)

2010 Topps #615

2021 Topps Series Two #567 (SP variation)

Also, there seems to be a LOT of Nolan Ryan tossing a football pictures available on the internet but curiously they all come from his playing days as a Texas Ranger. Did Nolan Ryan only start warming up with footballs in the twilight of his baseball career? Another important question: Why hasn’t any card manufacturer produced an official (or even unlicensed) NFL trading card of Nolan Ryan? We were just gifted with a Panini George Costanza baseball card but what the all-time strike-out king? Panini America is even based out of Texas! Talk about a missed opportunity.

Art Vandelay Sends a Warning

One of the biggest surprises from Panini’s high-end, National Treasures line this year is a supposed game used/event worn relic featuring Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, numbered to just 99 copies. 2021 Panini National Treasures, an 8-card, $600+ box which has been out for barely a week, has received some major exposure thanks to the Seinfeld relic, with 7 copies already hitting the $1,000+ final selling price on eBay. While the hobby light will eventually dim on this scorching hot card, at the current secondary market price point, prices remain unreasonable to say the least.

When frustrated collectors began tweeting Jason Alexander earlier this week, the actor, comedian, and director flat out exposed Panini America by letting his fans know that he has absolutely no knowledge of the trading card and used a fancy Latin phrase that translates to “buyer beware”. What makes matters worse for Panini is that fans of Seinfeld have begun combing through all 180 episodes to find out exactly where this jersey relic may have been pulled from. There are several episodes in which George is seen in Yankees attire including a hat, jacket, and a jersey but none that come close to matching these relics.

The problem is that Panini America, one of the worst companies in the history of trading cards, based on the fact that they are trying to weasel out of fulfilling redemptions in court … also has a well-documented and long track record of committing fraud. Unfortunately, that hasn’t come close to stopping collectors from gobbling up just about every product Panini has produced over the past decade. Their basketball and football products have made collectors rich, which unfortunately is enough to lure them into helping Panini America sweep many of their controversies under the rug.

For now, until the dust settles and these cards come down in price, your best bet is to find yourself a Jason Alexander certified autograph trading card from the past. As usual, Leaf comes through in the clutch with their Pop Century line from way back in 2012. There are however, much more interesting cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives (unfortunate name) for multiple Star Trek sets. Unlike the Leaf autographs, these cards are hard-signed and frankly, much more interesting and can be purchased on eBay for a fraction of the dubious 2021 National Treasures Costanza relic.