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Friday, January 25, 2008

Ruminations on Rookie cards - part 1

This post from Awesomely Bad Wax Packs got me thinking about the rookie card craziness that is one of the foundations of the hobby. I've been collecting long enough that I lived through the whole rookie card boom that has in some ways greatly helped the hobby and in others has sort of derailed it. I never threw anything away that had anything to do with cards when I was a kid, so I still have a copy of this old Baseball Cards magazine.

Rookie card mania!

This is one of the oldest card magazines I have, but the couple I have that are older don't talk about rookie cards all that much. They were much more focused on stars, new sets and obscure oddball sets and variations. In 1986 though, when this magazine came out, It started to be nothing but rookies, rookies rookies for a while. You can see some of the cards that really jump started the whole rookie card obsession on the cover. The '69 Reggie was one of the first cards I can remember people going berzerk over. In that old price guide from 1982 I posted about a while back, the price of a Reggie Jackson rookie card was eleven dollars, which was one of the highest prices for a card in the set (Willie Mays was only six dollars) but still in line for a superstar like Reggie. The price of his second year card was three dollars, so a rookie card premium wasn't unknown back in '82. However, if you look at the price guide in this magazine you'll see that Reggie's card jumped to 64 dollars. So almost a 600 percent increase in 4 years. How'd this happen?

The magazine has a great article by Bob Lemke that takes a close look at the rookie card craze as it was happening. It's a neat look at the hobby as it existed at the time, with a focus on investors, brands, even regional issues that are all but forgotten today. He sums up the craze quite succinctly in the first few paragraphs though:

... the term "rookie card" was virtually unheard of in the hobby before 1982. Essentially, the entire rookie card phenomenon began as nothing more than dealer hype - a way to sell more new baseball cards than ever before at unprecedented prices.

Can't argue with that. That's kind of the business model of card manufacturers today. Topps, Upper Deck, Donruss and all the rest are constantly searching for ways to add perceived "value" to their cards to move more product and justify charging hundreds of dollars for a small metal tin filled with a tiny amount of cardboard.

Up next in part two, the economics behind the rookie card craze.


Anonymous said...

I would alway purchase this magazine as a kid (I even had a subscription). I wish that I still had my old copies. Anyway, back about a year or two before that issue they did a multi issue special (I think it was 3) on rookies and pre-rookies (minor league cards). I remember the one on the rookies had a cover designed like a poker table with each "player" having a hand of rookie cards. One of the cards was a Burger King Alan Trammell. Oh, and I remember Keith Olberman used to write for the magazine (he did an artile on proof cards).

Fleerfan said...

25 years ago, a premium on Rookie cards of veteran players made some sense due to the fact that at the time the card was released, kids didn't really know who the player was, so they wouldn't save their Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, or Reggie Jackson rookie cards as they'd never heard of them.

A kid might look after his Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays cards and keep them, but who'd ever heard of Nolan Ryan back in 1968. Not that kids took great care of cards back then anyway, but you could see kids keeping their favorite star players and using the lesser cards for sticking in bike spokes and flipping.

As a result, Rookie cards were a bit harder to find, especially in nice condition since less people held on to them.

Once Rookie Card mania took over though, the premium on rookie cards became pure hype.

Steve Gierman said...

The first card I can remember there being a huge hype over is the Dwight Gooden 1984 Topps card, then the Mattingly 84 Donruss card, then the Eric Davis 85 Fleer card.

Then Strawberry got hot, then Clemens, then Canseco (Jose, never Ozzie) and so on. By 1991, every rookie card seemed to be the next big thing. Does anyone remember Todd Van Poppel? Or Brien Taylor? It seemed to come to a fever pitch when everybody had to have the Pete Rose Jr. card that Classic came out with.

It's been overhype ever since and few have lived up to the expectations.

Anonymous said...

I remember going to a card show one time and people were buying all the Strawberry Rookies they could for a whopping $125. Yikes!

I do remember Todd Van Poppel but I never bought into Brien Taylor. Greg Jeffries is the guy I kick myself over for buying.

Anonymous said...

I also remember the Ben McDonald rookie craze with his 1990 UD Rookie. IIRC it had a variation. UD also had a variation with the Sheffield rookie in the 89 set. I remember selling my 83 Traded Strawberry for $80 back in 1990 when I needed the money. I still have not replaced that card. There is a show in the area tomorrow, maybe I will find a copy there.

dayf said...

The good news is that you can probably find the entire '83 Traded set for under 30 bucks now if you looked hard enough. You probably sold at the right time in retrospect...

Ben McDonald's UD card has either an Orioles logo (scarce) or a rookie star logo. I didn't know about the Sheffield variation before now. My SCD says the SS is upside down on the error. Wouldn't that just be SS?

Anonymous said...

Ben McDonald's UD card has either an Orioles logo (scarce) or a rookie star logo.

I have atleast 4 of those cards. Now I have to go back and see if any have the error.

I remember selling my 83 Traded Strawberry for $80 back in 1990 when I needed the money.

This was such a popular card in the 80s. Its out on ebay and the price varies. I've seen NM/MT ones go for $5 and some up to $15. It really depends how many are listed and what time the auction ends.