I will be the first to admit it: I was the collector on your block that had a shoe box full of oddballs, some Donruss, and a lot more Score than Upper Deck. After all, being a 9-year old collector means your collection is pretty much full of whatever your family can afford. It was quite a task trying to convince my mother, single and working two jobs, to buy me a box of “premium” 1989 Upper Deck. You know, in a way I learned to love baseball cards a lot more because of all the junk I owned. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy each and every single card in my collection. So sure, while I lusted over my 1986 Topps Traded Jose Canseco, I could still find joy in my 1990 Donruss Mike Gallego and so on.
By 1997 I had done quite well for myself. I had been working full time and lost my longtime girlfriend because every paycheck I would get, I’d run over to Florida Frank’s in Weston and splurge in whatever I could get my hands on. There were no game-used, autographs, or even #’d cards back then but I loved every minute of it. Of course, this came to an end when Bowman Chrome made its debut in 1997. For a while I had enjoyed collecting Bowman’s Best and Topps Finest and considered those two the best of the best, as far as premium cards went but Bowman Chrome was, at the time, the nicest cards I had ever seen. Unfortunately, players like Jose Cruz Jr. and Kerry Wood made the cards extremely popular and packs had spiked to an unheard of $11 each for maybe 4-5 cards per pack. I busted 10-12 packs and pulled one single Refractor and one decent prospect/rookie, Adrian Beltran. I wanted that Jose Cruz Jr. more than anything else. I had begun collecting him after seeing his first season in Seattle. Something tells me he ruffled some feathers when he began to outhit Ken Griffey Jr. because by season’s end he was in a Toronto uniform. By the next season Kerry Wood struck out 20 hitters as a rookie and then that card exploded. Not only did I not have a shot at opening any more packs, I couldn’t even afford the cards at hobby shows either. For the first time I began to not care about having a card I really wanted and by late 1998 I walked away from the hobby 100% and didn’t look back again until 2007.
When I came back the entire hobby had endured quite a face lift. All of the sudden I could pull pieces of Babe Ruth’s bat, Mickey Mantle’s jersey, and Derek Jeter’s pants (yuk!) in each and every product. Also, it was no big deal getting an autograph in a pack anymore. Anyone who bought a box could do it, and hell…was guaranteed to do it. Also, low-numbered cards, printing plates, and Superfractors made sure that many cards, thousands of them actually, would never find their way into your collection. All of the sudden I felt that old feeling again. I just don’t care about ever owning that 1/1 Andrew Miller Superfractor or Jose Canseco jersey/pants/button/glove/autograph card. Except the difference this time around is that there is so much to go after that I know I will never get tired and give up on my hobby ever again.
As for Jose Cruz Jr. and Kerry Wood, neither one of them ever lived up to their hype. In fact, I am now able to pick up those two mythical cards that eluded me for so many years for pennies on the dollar (or close to it). So if you have some 1997 Bowman Chrome lying around your commons box, find me a Kerry Wood and Jose Cruz Jr. Refractor versions and we can make one hell of a trade, in your favor, of course.