The Last Iconic Baseball Card?

Before some collector blows a gasket and screams out 2001 Albert Pujols, 2009 Mike Trout, or even last year’s hyped-to-the-moon, 2018 Ohtani Superfractor … I am talking about a traditional baseball card sans a certified autograph, game-used memorabilia, or a serial number. In my opinion, the last true, iconic baseball card comes from Bowman Chrome’s debut year in 1997 which features a young flame-thrower who would go on to absolutely rule The Hobby in his rookie season thanks to a 20-K performance, helping him win the Rookie of the Year award along the way.

Most “old school” collectors would argue and rightfully so, that a parallel or Refractor would be considered a “gimmick” and therefore would not be a “traditional” baseball card but for this discussion, I will allow it because in 1998, Topps and every other card manufacturer was not overdoing the parallels, short-prints, or variations like they do these days. Ironically, despite only having four versions of the ’97 Bowman Chrome (base, REF, INT, INT REF), there are actually many more if you look at other ’97 releases which feature the same photo or a slightly different version of it.

The card below is the Bowman Chrome International Refractor, which came seeded at just 1:24 packs but due to inflated prices of Chrome, could cost you several thousand dollars to find on your own. In 1997, after the hype created by the Bowman Chrome Jose Cruz Jr. rookie card, packs of BC jumped up to $11 at my LCS. In case you’re wondering, those $11 dollars landed you just four cards, with no autographs or relics to be found anywhere. At that time, those prices for this type of product were unheard of. If you were lucky enough to find the International Refractor, it could have easily been a $1,000 card after his ’98, 20-K performance.

1997 Bowman Chrome – International Refractor

If you asked me in 1997 and certainly today, I would tell you that despite Bowman Chrome’s hype, it was ’97 Bowman Best that knocked it out of the park that year. For starters, they had an Atomic Refractor design that put to shame the Refractor from any Topps product and best of all, they had on-card certified autographs. Surprisingly, despite using a nearly identical photograph of Kerry Wood, the Bowman’s Best and its two parallels have been pretty much forgotten by non-Wood collectors. That’s truly a shame because the Kerry Wood Atomic Refractor is a sight to be seen and still pulls in pretty large dollars on the secondary market even today.

1997 Bowman’s Best – Refractor

If the much nicer but lesser-appreciated Bowman’s Best has been ignored for over two decades since it’s release, don’t expect anyone to remember 1997 Topps Stars. This product was sort of “high-end” but lacked the flash of Bowman’s Best and the Hobby hype of Bowman Chrome. Interestingly enough, Topps once again used a photograph of Wood we’ve seen but snapped either a second before or after the other two cards I discussed earlier. That means that Wood’s main rookie cards essentially feature the same exact photograph but not quite if you are the observant type. I find this kind of stuff fascinating, which is probably why I blog about baseball cards.

1997 Topps Stars

1997 Bowman is a bittersweet pill to swallow. Despite having the “1st Bowman Card” foil on the front, it was from memory, the least valuable Kerry Wood card from ’97. Simply put, everyone wanted the hype of Chrome, Flash of Best, or even the thick card stock of Stars. Bowman’s flagship was the odd man out except for one little detail that destroys all other ’97 Wood rookie cards: IT HAD A CERTIFIED AUTOGRAPH INSERT! This was the first time Bowman included autographs in their product. In my opinion, this card was severely underrated, many people I talked to back then didn’t even know it existed. I found it at a card show in 2007 for, get this, $400 dollars.

1997 Bowman
1997 Bowman – Certified Autograph

Okay, there was something worse than the base Bowman card (I’ll never call it “Paper”). Included in 1997 Topps’ flagship set was this prospect card seen below featuring the same photo used in ’97 Bowman Chrome. If you’re parents bought you this particular card, they probably didn’t really love you. On the card, Wood shares real estate with Gil Meche, a 1-time All-Star who earned $51 million dollars in 10 seasons, according to Baseball Reference. Carl Pavano is another 1-time All-Star who earned $71 million in 14 seasons and went home to an aging, past her prime, Alyssa Milano, at least for a short while.

1997 Topps

So there you have it, a quick look back at what I believe to be the last iconic baseball card (and all its brothers and cousins). Do you think there has been another card produced post-1997 that is as memorable and beloved by collectors as the ’97 Bowman Chrome Kerry Wood? His career never truly panned out, which is a shame but one thing that has lived long past his days of Hobby hype is Kerry’s rookie cards. Recently, a base ’97 Bowman Chrome Gem Mint hit $40 dollars, while his more rare parallels are hard to find and highly sought-after.

Rocket Man, burning out his fuse up here alone …


  1. That sure brings back memories. As for your question… there was a ton of hype around Strasburg back in 2010. And Ohtani at the start of the season last year. Those two are the first guys that pop into my head.

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