Searching For Dead Prospects

When I left the Hobby in 1997 it was out of sheer frustration. I had found a young player to get behind and root for and wanted every card of his I could get my hands on.

While I did manage to pick up a few low-end Jose Cruz Jr. baseball cards, his most-wanted issues came from 1997 Bowman Chrome and were way beyond what I could afford at 17.

In 2008, after my return to collecting, one of my first goals was to pick up those Cruz Jr. Bowman releases. In the end, I picked up almost every single one until all that was left were those hard to find copies.

A few days ago I featured the iconic 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson which once sold for over $100 dollars regularly. Today, you can find a well-worn, non-graded copy for less than a five-spot.

Back in the early-90’s, copies of Jose Canseco’s 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie sold for close to $200 dollars. I wasn’t able to pick one up until the late-90’s and by that time you could get them for around $15.

Today, that very same card can be yours for less than one dollar.

So, what forgotten treasure is top on your most-wanted list?

Kerry "Nolan" Wood

Jayson WHO …?

I remember being one of the lucky few who busted packs of Bowman Chrome in its debut in 1997. I didn’t know much about the product but at $8 dollars a pack and with some singles selling for close to $50 dollars, I just could not resist.

Back in 1997, no one knew just what kind of impact Bowman Chrome would have. All anyone cared about was pulling the Kerry Wood or Jose Cruz Jr., preferably the Refractor versions if possible.

Unfortunately, many of the big names from 1997 Bowman Chrome burned out. Kerry Wood for example struck out 20 batter in one game and then spent the rest of his career making trips to the disabled list.

Jose Cruz Jr. also caught fire when he joined Seattle in 1998 and for one reason or another which I will never understand, was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. He had some success but eventually ended his career in anonymity.

There have been some success stories from 1997 Bowman Chrome. The big name in the set today is Lance Berkman and the parallel versions of his cards sell for a pretty penny. Miguel Tejada’s cards do well also.

I never really expected anyone else from that original Bowman Chrome checklist to cause any Hobby waves. It had been so long (12 years) that anyone who was due to make an impact would have done it by now.

Boy, was I wrong.

Jayson Werth, a giant who has been in The Show since 2002 and still has played in over 100 more games in the Minors, has quietly blossomed into a fearsome slugger for the Philadelphia Phillies this year.

Playing a full season for the first time at the age of 30, Werth blasted 36 home runs and drove in 99 runners during the regular season and already has 3 blasts in the playoffs. As expected, this has brought some new attention to 1997 Bowman Chrome.

Cards that were selling for a couple of dollars a few months ago are now selling for as high as $35 and his certified autographs from Allen & Ginter have hit new highs. This goes to show that it’s never to late to rummage through your box of Bowman Chrome looking for the next surprise superstar.

I’m still holding on to my 1992 Topps Brien Taylor. You never know …

Jayson WHO ...?

Did Bowman Peak In 1995?

The obvious answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. Bowman only improved as a brand when it introduced Bowman Chrome in 1997, along with the first pack-inserted Bowman autographs with the flagship brand and Bowman’s Best that very same year.

To me, Bowman peaked in design and delivery with 1995’s Best release. Over a decade later, boxes of ’95 Bowman’s Best don’t sell below $200 dollars despite there being only 3-4 Refractor parallels per box. Back then, you also didn’t have half a dozen different parallels. It was a base card and a Refractor and collectors absolutely loved it.

It wasn’t until later on that Bowman went Refractor crazy and created the Atomic Refractor/X-Fractor, Red, Blue, Gold, Orange, Blue, etc. So while today’s low-numbered Refractors sell like hot cakes on the secondary market and bring in lots of trade value, it’s also cheapened the rarity that Topps gave it in the mid-90’s.

Of course, the biggest cards in the set and perhaps the entire decade were the Andruw Jones and Vladimir Guerrero Refractors. Complain all you like old school collectors but these versions flat outperformed the flagship Bowman cards 100% of the time. It also was the beginning of Chrome’s huge influence among prospectors.

Pull out a big card from a Bowman release and more likely than not, the Bowman Chrome is not only more desirable but also a lot more costly. Don’t even get me started on the increased value of Refractors. It makes you wonder why Topps doesn’t just put the rest the Bowman flagship and just release Bowman Chrome.

Ironically, despite the huge popularity of Bowman Chrome autographs thanks to a fella named Albert Pujols, B.C. wasn’t even the first Bowman product to feature pack-inserted autographs. Check out the beautiful on-card autographs in 1997 Bowman’s Best and Bowman to see a little Bowman history.

1992 put Bowman on the map, 1997 put Bowman Chrome in the race, but 1995 Bowman’s Best created pandemonium among collectors that today is a common sight when Topps releases a hyped prospects first-ever Bowman Chrome autograph. There’s nothing quite like it and it’s all thanks to 1995 Bowman’s Best.

Baseball card or senior portrait?

The way you look on your rookie card says a lot about you.

For example, take Jose Canseco’s 1986 Topps Traded release. On that card you see a young, pre-Steroid kid with a look of a 50-year old Ted Williams after being asked for an autograph. Clearly Jose knew that he was headed for superstar status even if he still didn’t have the full package just yet (175 lbs. in ’85).

Just by looking at the stats on the back of Ricky Ledee’s 1997 Bowman Chrome rookie card you’d think this kid was headed for the Hall of Fame. In 1996, while playing in the Minors, Ledee hit .305 with 29 home runs and 101 RBI. All you have to do is dig a little deeper on his card’s back to see what the real story was.

“Spent 3 years in rookie leagues, 3 more in A-ball.”

As it turns out, Ricky had been in the Minors since 1991. In fact, his Minor League career consists of 782 games split between 12 seasons. He did however play in the Majors for a decade or 855 games. His last year came in 2007 with the New York Mets before being released and ultimately retiring.

He may not have the accolades of other New York greats but he’s got two World Series rings and has hit a home run in the now deceased Yankee Stadium. Really, that’s 99% of every young man’s dream growing up.

Not bad for the guy with the cheesiest rookie card ever produced.

The Rookie Challenge – Lance Berkman

It seems strange that “Fat Elvis” Lance Berkman has just ten years of Major League Service. What’s even more amazing is that during that decade he has been one of the most exciting players in baseball and has stayed put in Texas.

Early into the 2009 season you can expect Berkman to hit his 300th career home run and drive in his 1,000th R.B.I. While those numbers pale in comparison to players like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, there is still a very good chance that Berkman could end up in the 500 Home Run Club and finish his career with a .300 lifetime batting average.

As far as baseball cards are concerned, Berkman is the king of 1997 Bowman Chrome as all the other “can’t miss” prospects have since burnt out. There are actually several different Bowman releases from that year that feature Lance, his infamous white pick-up truck, and the old stadium in the background. You can choose from Bowman, its parallels and Bowman Chrome, its parallels, which includes this beautiful Bowman Chrome International and the hard to come by Refractor version.

Berkman also has a rookie card in the forgettable but great-looking 1997 Topps Stars. Strangely enough, I could not find one Upper Deck Lance Berkman release up until the 1999 season. Did U.D completely miss the boat on this possible future Hall of Fame ball player?

So, which 1997 Berkman wins the Rookie Challenge and why?