July 01, 2010
Collecting the 2nd Tier
Since baseball cards were invented, it's always been popular to collect superstars. Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, and have you heard of a certain switch-hitter from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle? He's probably the most popular player ever, in terms of baseball card collectability.
But with a few certain exceptions, collecting certified Hall-of-Fame players isn't as interesting to me as collecting second-tier players. Who makes the second tier? Well, in the 1950s, guys like Vic Power, Harry Agganis, Al Rosen, Mike Garcia, Carl Furillo and Don Mossi are good places to start.
In the Sixties, guys like Bob Veale, Sam McDowell, Rocky Colavito, and Dean Chance fit the bill. And in the Seventies, Luis Tiant, Chris Chambliss, Keith Hernandez, and Dick Allen all qualify (and let's throw in Rick Wise while we're at it). For the 1980s, Vince Coleman, Don Mattingly, Dave Stewart and about fifty other superstars-at-the-time are all right there.
Here are my ultimate Second Tier Players, by baseball-card decade:
1950s - Ted Kluzewski, Gil Hodges
1960s - Roger Maris, Rocky Colavito, Ron Santo
1970s - Cesar Cedeno, Bill Madlock
1980s - Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy
1990s - Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff
1950s - Don Newcombe, Allie Reynolds
1960s - Sam McDowell
1970s - Vida Blue, Luis Tiant
1980s - Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, Dwight Gooden
1990s - David Cone
Second-tier guys get respect in the hobby, but only to a certain extent, because of their lack of Hall of Fame credentials. And most Second-tier guys do not belong in the Hall of Fame. What makes them so interesting to collect is that they were superstars at the height of their careers, which means that they were included with the Mantles, Aarons, Ripkens, and Ryans in most special subsets and insert sets.
What got me thinking about the second tier was this question: How much would someone like Dean Chance have made today? Today, players are rewarded after one or two good seasons, either through a team getting scared that the player will bolt when their current contract is up, or a player and his agent being savvy enough to recognize the situation after a good season.
In 1964, at age 24, Chance put together a hugely dominant season, just his third full in the Majors, when he won the Cy Young Award. He most certainly would've cashed out after that season, with his next four reliable campaigns (1965-68) coming on another team. Which is kind of how his career went anyways, just, one would assume, without the big payday.
Which (closer to) current player fits the Dean Chance career arc? Well, not too many pitchers win the Cy Young Award at age 24, but a few have done it. Tim Lincecum comes to mind, as does Barry Zito. Neither of these players really match up well with Chance. The closest former (and relatively recent) Cy Young winner who does, that I was able to find, is Pat Hentgen, who won it in 1996 at age 27, his fifth full year in the Majors. Although he didn't reach 20 wins again after his Cy Young season, he did put together four solid seasons after the award, then slinked slowly into oblivion, a la Chance. And according to Baseball Reference, Hentgen made close to $38-million in the process. After you take into account that that figure represents monies made in the 1990s, the amount earned in 2009 US dollars would be roughly $48.5 million.
Personally, I think Chance would've made more than $48.5 million in his career had he debuted in, say, 2001, and retired ten or eleven years later. Would he have transcended the second tier? Nope.