When it comes to baseball cards, to me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a Topps ™ Refractor. No, not a cheap knock-off from Leaf or Panini, I want the real thing. Topps introduced the Refractor in the debut of their Finest line in 1993 when I was 13 and money was hard to come by. I didn’t get my hands on a Finest pack until 1997 after I had a part-time job. Refractors eventually made it into Bowman’s Best debut in 1994 as well but again, thanks to soaring prices, I was kept away. For me, and I imagine many other young collectors on a budget, my first “chromium” pack of Topps card came in 1996 with the debut of Topps Chrome.
With the Internet still in its infancy and eBay still several years away, I had two card shops I could ride my bike to. It just so happened that one of them, Florida Frank’s in Weston, Florida, had two full boxes with packs costing $8 a piece. I was able to afford 3 packs and was lucky enough to pull a Derek Jeter Refractor. At first, I didn’t even know it was a Refractor. Keep in mind this is 1996 and Refractors were almost identical to regular Chrome cards and the technology made the shine so subtle that unless you held it up in direct sunlight, it was easy to miss. Yes, I was one of those kids who missed it and threw the Derek Jeter, an unknown player to me, in my commons box.
Fast forward three years and while going through my box, I found the 1996 Topps Chrome Derek Jeter Future Star Refractor. The year I found it, 1999, was Jeter’s first truly great season in which he led the league in Hits. He wasn’t a future Hall of Famer yet and non-Finest refractors hadn’t caught on with collectors but I knew the card could fetch something great in a trade. I immediately placed the Jeter in a penny sleeve and top loader and began looking for a Yankees fan. What happened next was shocking, my entire group of collecting friends weren’t interested and most of them didn’t even know what a Refractor was. This was how collecting was to many before the days of the internet.
Once again, the Jeter went back into the commons box but this time heavily protected. Surely I’d eventually find someone who’d want the Refractor I told myself. Fast forward another few years and I was done collecting and needed to clear some space from my closet. The first thing I grabbed was that box, which was mostly filled with semi and unlisted stars, along with a few favorite cards of mine. Collecting, at least for me, was dead. I threw the entire box into the dumpster outside my apartment and went on with my life. By 2007, I once again had the itch and began collecting baseball cards and eventually created a blog called ‘Wax Heaven’, which is where we are today.
Last week, out of curiosity, I went looking for a box of 1996 Topps Chrome. Like most folks my age, nostalgia starts to take over, at least when it comes to baseball cards. I wanted to relive the joy of opening packs of ’96 Chrome. As you can imagine, unopened boxes, what few are left, sell between $400-$600. As a father & husband with responsibilities, I can’t justify spending that type of money on a box of cards. After checking out eBay, I noticed that the Refractors all sell well for under $100 for the bigger names in the set. I figure why not go after the Jeter that I tossed into the dumpster so many years ago? I know he turned out to be a legend and all but surely this card can be had for under $100 as well, right?
As you can clearly see from my ignorance, Derek Jeter is much more than just a “legend”. He is a beloved figure to collectors and with this new card bubble we find ourselves in and his 2020 Hall of Fame induction, his card values have exploded, especially his early-year parallels. What’s truly sad is that while I didn’t know a lick of beans about Jeter when I pulled the Chrome Refractor rookie, I was well aware of the “Next Mickey Mantle”, Ruben Rivera. I had an entire stash of his cards, along with some hard to find parallels. Turns out I may be the worst card prospector of all-time, as I also heavily invested in Yankees phenom, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Meanwhile, I tossed a $5,000+ card in the trash.
This is what the hashtag #CollectFail was created for.