Let’s face it, there are many collectors out there with enough cash to drop $1,000 on a 19-year old prospect. With the big push SuperFractors, Gold Refractors, and 1/1 cards are getting, more and more people are throwing away their kid’s college tuition and spending ridiculous amount of money on guys who might never reach the bigs. There is nothing wrong with being a prospector, and sure, there is a huge business in baseball cards but to that small group of collectors that are looking to make a costly investment in a player, there is something I feel it is my duty to remind you of; 1997 Bowman Chrome.
Back in 1997, what is perhaps the greatest brand in baseball card history, Bowman Chrome, made its debut. Almost instantly, this stuff skyrocketed to prices well above what I could afford thanks in part to rookie cards of Jose Cruz Jr., Kerry Wood, Adrian Beltre, and Lance Berkman. I would come into my local card shop each Friday after school and watch as one business man after another would come into the store cracking box after box for hundreds of dollars a piece. The most I could do was 3-4 packs a week. Did I pull anything worth mentioning? Aside from the base Beltran, which peaked at $50, no.
Was the hype real? Absolutely. Jose Cruz Jr. came up with the Mariners as a power-hitting phenom who in his first few months replaced Griffey Jr. in Center before being traded to Toronto. By the end of the season he had put amazing offensive numbers of 26 home runs and 68 R.B.I in just 104 games. The following two seasons he hit 11 & 14 home runs for the Blue Jays and his star immediately faded, as did the prices of his ’97 Bowman Chrome rookie card. Since then he has put together two good seasons while playing on 7 different teams and has a lifetime career average of .248.
Kerry Wood was another monster who threw a one-hitter while striking out 20 batters in a single game, tying the single game record. Immediately, comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens began to form but before he could enjoy any of it, he missed the entire 1999 season with a severe injury that required Tommy John Surgery. Sadly, Kerry Wood was never the same pitcher again. In the last four seasons, Wood has won a total of 8, 3, 1, and 1 games for Chicago and has been thrown into the bullpen, quite a fall from grace for a guy once destined to be a legend.
Lance Berkman and Adrian Beltre are both success stories, but good luck trying to get anything close to what people were paying in ’97 & ’98 for their Bowman Chrome rookie cards. The truth is, both have had up and down careers and have never been consistent enough. Berkman has easily been the star of the set, with three 30+ home run seasons and two with 40 or more. Beltre is an enigma who went from averaging 20 home runs a year to hitting close to 50 in a contract year in 2004. Since then he has gone back to being a 20 home run guy all over again, which has brought up the dreaded Steroid question by many in the media.
So before you spend a small fortune on guys like Joba Chamberlain and Fernando Martinez, remember the stories of Kerry Wood & Jose Cruz Jr. and the thousands of collectors who wish they could relive that one day at the card shop in 1997.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. -Karl Marx