Want to drop $1,000 on a prospect?

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



  1. Good post to help remind us and especially the new collectors about the risk in chasing the hottest player too early. There are so many factors that have to go right for a Rookie Card to hold up over the years in todays market. The odds are stacked against you.

    There are some who get in early and get out before reality comes back into play, but those are about as rare as no hitters and perfect games.

  2. Unfortunately, this hobby is all about who’s going to be the next big thing. These guys get in, get out, and move onto the next one. The sad part is, even the guys that have a decent career (ie, Berkman, Oswalt, and even a guy like Peavy) are forgotten.

  3. I remember buying 2 boxes of 2001 Topps Rookies and Traded and pulling 3 Ichiro chromes and a refractor of both Pujols and Ichiro. It was a heck of a buy. I wound up trading the refractors and 1 Ichiro / Pujols combo for the entire chrome set. Who got the best on that end?

  4. Here’s my take on it. The best pitcher in baseball right now is Johna Santana right? You can get an auto card of him on ebay for $20-$30. Forget what Beckett says, it’s all made up by the card companies anyway. Best hitter is debatable but let’s take A-Rod. You could find a bargain at about $175 on eBay if you tried hard enough. So how is it that a rookie’s autograph is worth more than Santana’s or A-Rod’s? It’s not, but it’s what makes you buy the product in hopes of getting the golden ticket right? In short, why buy the unproven player for big bucks when you can have the all star for a tenth of the price?

  5. I hate to bring up football cards for this comparison but look at Tom Brady and Tony Romo’s cards.
    These guys had several rookies which where very affordable, if not commons for the first few seasons of their careers and all of the sudden they get their big chance to shine and they do, sending their card values through the roof.
    Adult card collectors are cardboard gamblers, looking for the next Barry Bonds, Micheal Jordan, Alex Rodriguez…..
    But as mentioned before, you can even get those guys’ autos for less than a prospects auto, so by dropping $1,000 before a player is proven just seems to set that players cards on the inevitable downward spiral even sooner.
    It all goes back to Ebay. People get caught up in hype and when you get a few bidders on one card people start to think everyone else might know something they don’t about this card, so the “heat of the moment”, “thrill of the hunt” instinct takes over the better judgment and results in an inflated sale of a “what if?” card.
    I guarantee if these same guys walked into their local card shops and saw some of these prospect cards with $1,000 price tags on them, they would think the shop owner was crazy or trying to rip them off and ultimately not buy the card there.
    If one of these guys had $1,000 cash to buy the same card at the card shop or $1,000 in his Paypal account, he will probably think of quite a few other things to do with the cash in hand other than buy a card with it, but when the money is in a Paypal account, it doesn’t seem as real, so it is easier to justify to yourself spending that on an piece of cardboard gold.

  6. Great comments. All true. Mario, you left out one all time stud/dud from 1997 Chrome. Travis Lee was going to be monster (like you, I remember people buying this stuff like it was going out of style). I think about midway through his second year old Trav started to look like the bum that he would be for the rest of his career. Yet another cautionary tale and an a$$load of dollars down the drain for the sportscard investor folks.

  7. Thanks for all the comments, guys.

    Ah, Travis Lee. I almost mentioned him but I always thought his most desired rookie came from ’97 Bowman’s Best for some reason.

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