July 16, 2006

9 Cards to Jumpstart Your Collection

I got an email the other day from a collector who wanted to see if there were cards he should own over others. It got me thinking: if you wanted to get back into card collecting but didn’t know where to start, how would you? Would you flail around for a few months buying new packs? And how quickly would you become disillusioned by the whole jerseys/autographs/parallels/sequentially-numbered phase in which the hobby is so firmly entrenched? And what if you had a budget? So much to consider.

So I’ve put together nine cards I think would be great additions to any collection. One thing to keep in mind: I’m not going to talk about obvious, pillars-of-collections cards like the Schmidt or Brett rookies, or any early Ryans. Instead, here are nine cards I think would be a good place to start, to pick up from or to round out a collection.

For me, there is no question about where to begin: star rookies from the 1970s. If you’re more concerned with owning the card rather than the condition of the card, it’s relatively easy to find reasonably priced cards from this decade. The 1972 Topps Carlton Fisk/Cecil Cooper/Mike Andrews rookie is a great card you can find relatively cheap. I don’t know why this is, seeing as how two of the guys were All-Stars and Fisk is one of the greatest catchers ever. By relatively cheap I mean you can probably find a 60/40 fair to excellent conditioned copy in the neighborhood of $17 to $35. I just saw one last month at the Round Lake, NY, Antique Festival in this shape for $15, but that’s probably on the low side, price-wise…

…Another great star rookie from the Seventies is the 1977 Topps Andre Dawson. Hawk is one of those guys who early on didn’t get enough love from card companies. Was it because he was a star in Montreal? But Gary Carter and Tim Raines got plenty o’love. Of all the dumb reasons it was probably because he was just a consistently great player…

…To switch gears for a minute away from rookies, if you want to get in on something really great that Topps did in the Sixties, add a League Leaders card to your collection. It’s an inexpensive way to get cards with multiple Hall of Fame players, and if you’re on a very tight budget, leaders cards with one or no big name, Hall of Fame players can fall under a dollar. Some years did leaders cards better than others. 1961 (the first year of the subset) is great, as are 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967 and 1968. Perhaps the best year was 1963, as each card featured five or six stars to the other years’ two, three or (in rare instances) four. The 1963 Topps American League Home Run Leaders card features Cash, Colavito, Killebrew, Maris, Jim Gentile and Leon Wagner. I think I got this card, which is by no means in perfect condition, for one or two dollars. Leaders cards are a great way to get cards of Hall of Famers if you can’t afford their regular cards…

…Speaking of cards nobody can afford, take a look at 1949 Leaf. I was at the Allentown, Pennsylvania Ephemera Show yesterday. There was a dealer there who let me thumb through his collection of this set, and let me tell you, it’s one of the most perfect ever made. If you’re into printmaking and aesthetically-pleasing artwork, this set is for you. The photos are cheap, black and white; the printing looks like it was done for fun by a high school student in their garage, and the card stock is a bit mealy. Also, it’s (appropriately) nearly impossible to put together a complete set—cards are hard to find, especially in decent condition, and when you do find them, you can’t afford them (the Satchel Paige card is worth $12,000 by itself in near-mint condition (good luck with that)). But just because you may have to forgo eating or paying rent shouldn’t deter you from getting one of these cards. The guy at the show yesterday wanted $50 for the Andy Pafko (in fair condition) and $35 for the common I had pulled out. I didn’t get either (I was hoping they’d be in such bad condition that their price would dip below $10. No luck.) But if you’re considering spending $35 to $50 on a box of relatively worthless crap made in 2006, why not spend it on a piece of baseball history? Besides, how many of your card-collecting friends have a card from the Forties? And if you decide to really go all-out (and by ‘all-out’ I mean spend over $100 on a single card), take a long look at the Ralph Kiner rookie. It’s a helluva card, and one of the cheaper Hall of Fame rookies…

…As long as we’re talking about baseball history, I think your collection needs any card of Jackie Jensen that you can find. Here was a guy—one of the best home run hitters of the Fifties, no less—who was left undeservedly in the dust by western expansion, all because he was deathly afraid of flying. I’ve probably pontificated long and hard about the baseball card’s role to the student of the game, so I won’t bore you here, but Jensen’s is a career that deserves more attention. Take a look at his offensive stats; they’re staggering. Imagine: the guy is the AL’s MVP in 1958 and two years later he’s out of the league. If he were playing today team trainers would find a way to get him on the plane (though he’d probably end up addicted to Xanax). And if that didn’t work, he could buy one of John Madden’s old buses and revive big league barnstorming as he partied his way around the country…

…You know, when I was writing about the 1985 Topps set, I totally forgot about Eric Davis and how his rookie card was worth nearly $30 for years. Wow, what a slip-up. If you’re looking for a card to add, this has to be on the list. You can probably get it for under $4 today. That reminds me, I should do a list of all the guys from the Eighties that you totally wanted their card and now they’re not worth shit. That would be some kind of list, I bet. Canseco would be on there, Strawberry, Gooden, Will Clark’s ’87 Fleer card, the Gregg Jeffries Topps card from 1989, Kevin Seitzer from 1987 Fleer…and definitely Eric Davis. Was there a bigger guy in 1985 than Eric Davis? Maybe Dwight Gooden had him beat, but shit, man, Eric Davis! You have to get a card of him. You know your collection has been begging you for literally years for a card of this guy…

…I did a list of Top Traded Cards of Veterans a while back, and the 1984 Fleer Update card of Pete Rose came in #6, but the 1984 Topps Traded Pete Rose failed to crack the top 10. I think I made that decision based on the obvious fact that the Fleer set was so much scarcer than the Topps set and was one of the most iconic of the decade. But in terms of the idea of adding a single card to help jumpstart you collecting again, I’m going to have to say go for the Topps over the Fleer, simply because you get two photos of Rose in his awkward Expos garb rather just the one on the Fleer Update card. You can never have enough photos of Pete Rose in that awkward-sitting Expos batting helmet. Plus, it’s one of the few cards of him not in either a Phillies or Reds uniform. Similarly, if you hate Pete Rose but somehow like Reggie Jackson, try to get a card of him on the Orioles (it’s harder than you might think)…


...Without sounding too much like I’m trying to sell you something, no collection is complete if it doesn’t have a 1981 Topps Fernando Valenzuela rookie. And while we’re talking about cards of the Mexican fireballer, you should also try to find a card of him when he was seriously overweight and on the Phillies. I’m thinking 1994-95, when he had those ridiculously nerdy oversized wire-rimmed glasses. If you’re lucky, there’s probably an Upper Deck card of him out there from that time period showing him batting. By the way, what was with UD and their obsession with showing pitchers at the plate? I remember they had a card of Jim Abbott trying to lay down a bunt. Who greenlit that card?…

…Finally, no list of fresh-direction baseball cards would be complete without mentioning the Seattle Pilots. So that’s why you should add any card of a Seattle Pilot you can find. It’s not that hard; Topps only included them in the 1970 set. If you’ve never heard of the Pilots, they were truly a horrible team, despite having the league leader in steals. Plus, they played in a place called Sicks Stadium. Yikes. In just one season (1969) they managed to play out their welcome in Seattle and were sold to a group that turned the team into the Milwaukee Brewers. Your collection definitely needs a Seattle Pilot…

So here are 9 cards to consider adding to your collection (if you haven’t already). If you’re trying to get back in or don’t know where to start, perhaps one these cards will be your first step.

6 comments:

Dave said...

Regarding the flops of the late 80's stars how about Alvin Davis?

Jason said...

Alvin Davis fell into the same category as Tim Wallach and Glenn Davis. A pretty good player whose cards were always completely worthless because of where they played or because someone else on the team completely overshadowed them.

Anonymous said...

Give Alvin Davis a break!! The guy had (has) a serious eye condition called Kerataconus, a genetic disease that greatly limits vision. It is truly amazing the man made it to the majors with less than good vision. Image trying to hit a curveball that you really can't see.

Anonymous said...

I have all the 1970 Topps Seattle Pilots. I think one or two might be O-Pee-Chee cards, but who cares it is the Seattle Pilots!

jacobmrley said...

the 1969 topps set is also full of the newly drafted seattle pilots.

Anonymous said...

Technically the 1984 Fleet Update Pete Rose also has two photographs of Pete as there is a head shot of him on the back of the card.

Great Post- And I love cards!!