On September 14th, 2021, the same day that beloved comedian Norm McDonald passed away … a once elite and incredibly popular baseball player retired after 14 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers to almost no fanfare. To say that Ryan Braun was disgraced in the world of baseball would be an understatement. Braun started off his career blazing hot, averaging 30+ home runs in his first 6 seasons, along with winning the Rookie of the Year in 2007 and Most Valuable Player in 2011. He even managed to bang out two 30/30 seasons. After that, it all went downhill.
So while Braun’s image took a devastating but well-deserved knockout punch from which it never truly recovered from, his 2005 Bowman Chrome First Year card remained hot despite being a player despised by many, even with his home team fans to which he remained loyal to. Hate him or barely tolerate him, Braun’s premier rookie card, produced by Topps Company, at one point ruled the world of baseball cards. That year, Topps created, what is in my opinion, one of the best card designs to ever grace any Bowman Chrome release.
Despite the seemingly endless bad publicity and a long-term career downward spiral (he was hitting .233 in 2021), Braun’s now iconic Bowman Chrome First Year rookie autograph remains one of the most important cards of the decade it originated from. Even today, with Braun’s star burnt out, it’s still hard to find a base version for under $50 on the secondary market, with parallels of the card seeming to hit or at least flirt with triple digits. Let’s not forget, there’s even a Superfractor, which made its debut this very year and once sold for $15,000.
You can see an image of the Superfractor here.
This issue of loving baseball cards and collecting what I consider to be iconic cards has taken me down this road once before. I consider myself to be a baseball card aficionado and love finding cards with interesting back stories. I also love cards that once propped up the entire industry that one day end up dying a slow death in $1 bins across card shows all over the country. One such card is an absolutely gorgeous 1999 Bowman Chrome Josh Hamilton, which much like Braun, was one of the premier rookie cards to chase during its release and several months after.
Without trying to come off as a “Boomer”, I’d like to say that the great thing about this hobby of collecting baseball cards 25 years ago was that despite players having multiple rookie cards, the products were still spread so far apart and with less products overall that once a rookie card dropped, it was almost universally accepted as “THE CARD” to own. To put it into perspective, Shohei Otahni has thousands of different rookie cards. In early 2000, if you owned this card, especially in Refractor form, the odds of you retiring early were very good. “The Natural”, was projected to be a 500-700 home run slugger. Unfortunately, things went downhill for Josh as well.
So I guess my question is what will happen in another twenty years? Will these cards, along with Topps’ history be erased from the hearts and minds of collectors? With digital cards, NFTs, increased Internet features, and a new company to rule baseball cards, what’s the future of collecting going to be like? Well, I started this blog at 26 and will be 42 early next year and my love for collecting has yet to slow down. I’d like to think in another 20 years I’ll still be around writing about obscure Pinnacle brands and forgotten monsters of #TheHobby but who really knows?