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:

Position Player
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.

Dean Chance
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.


smedmusic said...

I like collecting the scrubnees. Opening an old pack and seeing guys like Louie Meadows, Dave Meads, or Jeff Reed makes me smile, because for some damn reason I remember them.

I think I have about 10 different Mark Portugal cards from 3 or 4 manufacturers.

SpastikMooss said...

Spot on with McGriff being in that second tier. It's crazy how many people collect him even though he isn't one of those top tier guys. Nevertheless, he remains my number one collecting focus - I have like 522 of his cards to date, which isn't too bad!

CML said...

How is Mark McGwire "second tier"? He will be in the HOF in a couple of years...

Matthew Glidden said...

Love that you led with Carl Furillo! That 1956 card's one of my all-time favorites, both for his stately expression and the action shot of him tip-toeing around the catcher (possibly Berra).

Mark said...

Mark Grace could make that list from the '90s as well--it's amazing to me how many people collect his cards and how high the prices are often driven. Of course, that doesn't help broke fans like me as I try to collect!

Scott Crawford said...

You've seen my want list, Ben (I swear that Chance and Belinsky were on there before I read this, though I am still new to collecting their stuff...), so you know that we're on the same page here.

Interestingly, I'm finding that, among the people I know who love baseball and love cards, the "second tier" guys of the 80's and 90's are the more beloved of the players than your HOF types like Ripken, Sandberg, Boggs, etc., so we're not alone here by any means.

Excellent piece, regardless, and my apologies for bombing you out with my scary want list last week. =)