I remember the fateful day back in 1998 as if it happened just last week. At the time, I was a hardcore baseball card collector weeks away from turning 18. Sure, I was baby-faced and rail thin but I was also a collecting veteran thanks to a love for The Hobby that came over me in 1990. I knew all the brands, owned all the Beckett price guides, and was a regular fixture at all the local card shops and weekend shows in my town.
That spring, the only thing on my collecting mind was the remnants of the previous year’s debut of Bowman Chrome. The cards looked dark and its design left very much to be desired but thanks to a 20-strikeout performance by Kerry Wood and a kid named Jose, who out-homered Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle, the entire set exploded on the secondary market and like the early days of “Junk Wax”, collectors were looking to put their kids through college with a Refractor of the “Next Big Thing”.
By the time Bowman Chrome’s sophomore effort hit the market, I was prepared, at least financially. I now had a steady job and some funds in my savings for this very moment. Whoever was set to be the next pitching phenom or superstar slugger was going to end up in my collection before prices reached unattainable levels. The day the product was released, I skipped out on work and headed straight for my favorite card shop, Florida Frank’s, to get in on the Bowman madness early.
I was a customer of Frank’s since 1992 and by the time I arrived to his tiny shop, nestled inside of a post office in Weston, Florida, he had an unopened box waiting for me on the counter as well as another box of singles he was sorting through. I opened up my wallet, purchased and busted an entire box. I don’t remember the cost but it was a lot of money to an 18-year-old with a girlfriend and a POS car to keep on the road. Unfortunately, I came away with a dud of a box.
I immediately started to feel the sting of ’97 Bowman Chrome all over again. I felt horror at the thought of missing out once more on the next, great rookie. Baseball cards were my life and having the hottest card of the time meant everything to me. That’s when Frank opened up his box of singles and pulled out an International Refractor of Orlando Hernandez. Not only was this THE card to find in ’98 Chrome but it was a parallel Refractor. Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was now a Yankees “legend” after just a few games started and everyone wanted his Bowman Chrome rookie card.
Frank calmly told me that he preferred to take it to the weekend card show to get good money for it. I barked out, “I’ll give you $50” and the rest was unfortunately, history. Frank didn’t want to sell it but he did, technically at well below cost. The cards weren’t in Beckett yet but eventually his base card alone hit $40 dollars. I went home that day happy with my acquisition and went to bed thrilled knowing that in a few years, Orlando’s rookie card was going to buy me my dream car.
The next day I woke up late and went to start my 1986 Oldsmobile Delta Royale. I spent a good 20 minutes working on it but by the end of the day, it was a goner. My last official drive was the day prior, to and from the card shop. I called my boss to tell him the news and was threatened that if I was not at work by 9 AM that morning, I would be terminated. With my mom at work and my job more than 10 miles away, I ended up staying home and losing the job. I spent the entire day eating snacks and sorting through baseball cards.
I couldn’t help wonder what would be had I not ditched work for baseball cards the day before. My car had 240,000+ miles and three wrecks so it was only a matter of time before it crapped out but I am certain that box of ’98 Chrome started a butterfly effect that didn’t end until later that week when my girlfriend of two years, Kristi, told me in a “Dear John” letter that she couldn’t be with someone who didn’t have a job or car. She always resented my love for baseball cards. Good riddance.
My life was now in shambles just a few days before my birthday. As it turns out, despite being a big money card … the 1998 Bowman Chrome was not as rare or desirable as his ’98 Topps Tek Diffractor. Today, the Tek parallel still brings in close to $50 on the secondary market, long after “El Duque” failed to buy me my dream car, a Buick Grand National. I guess not all things are meant to be but at least I got my happy ending with the best card in 1998 Bowman Chrome, at least for a few months.
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