Your first inquiry is, “What is a Quacktoid?”. The answer is quite simple – it is an insignificant or trivial fact presented by a Duck. For this visit, we’ll ramble on about related and unrelated baseball card facts that will probably cause you to say, “Why am I reading this?”
Spending multiple days each week at a baseball card shop as the resident “expert”, customer questions about collections always challenge my knowledge and expertise. Each day brings new information that is always of interest to baseball fans. After all, the Old Duck must live up to his nicknames…OG (original Google), Muffin Man (the staff loves muffins), Rotisserie Duck (the Fantasy Baseball connection) and Don Cardleone (who will make you an offer you can’t refuse).
Collectors get involved with the hobby for diverse reasons. Some collect their favorite player or team. Others cherish having a complete set from a particular year. Or maybe, they only concentrate on “Rookie Cards” or just Hall-of-Famers. For those of us who become so-called experts, the amount of interesting information is never-ending.
Award-winning baseball writer Joe Posnanski once wrote a lengthy column reminiscing about the numbering system of Topps cards when he was growing up in the 1970’s. He reminded all of us that the more famous players seemed to always get the memorable numbers on the back of their cards. In 1975, for example, Brooks Robinson was #50, Fergie Jenkins #60, Mike Schmidt #70, Carlton Fisk #80 & Willie Stargell #100. And that’s just in the first 100 cards of a 660-card set. In case you think it was a fluke, Reggie Jackson was #300 and Nolan Ryan #500. Sherlock Holmes would call this investigating by using “deducktive” logic.
Being slightly older than Joe, my recollection goes back to the 50’s and it seems that Topps started this system in 1957. Of course, you must remember that Topps designed their product based on the current status of a player, so you’ll almost never find a valuable rookie card falling into this category. The ’57 set had Willie Mays as #10, Hank Aaron #20, Pee Wee Reese #30, Gil Hodges #80, Warren Spahn #90 & Eddie Mathews #250. Just to be contrary, however, Mickey Mantle was #95? And, of course, Ted Williams was #1.
Each year that followed had much of the same, but never any pattern you could analyze. Mantle, however, wasn’t represented by a crooked number again for the next ten years. He was #50 twice, #150 twice and #200 three times during that span.
Of course, scarcity creates a value in itself and with card companies having less than perfect production values, there are many error cards that had to be corrected in particular sets. Sometimes these cards are also known as variations and one of the most famous examples is the Billy Ripken card from the 1989 Fleer set that mistakenly came out with a profanity on the bat knob in the picture. Fleer made four different attempts at re-printing the card and today, the first re-print is actually more valuable ($175) than the original card.
Real scarcity comes from a card that was produced and then pulled from production. Even people who aren’t sports fans have heard about the 1910 T (Tobacco)-206 card of Honus Wagner. One of the best players in the game during that era, Wagner threatened to sue because he was opposed to the use of tobacco and only a few remained in the market. Today, the most recent example of that card sold in October for $1.35 Million.
A similar tale took place in the 50’s as Ted Williams had appeared in Bowman sets during the early part of the decade. In 1954, Topps persuaded “Teddy Ballgame” to sign with them and he was so iconic at the time, they made his cards the first and last in the set. Bowman was struggling with the stiff competition from Topps and decided to put a Williams card in their ’54 set despite the lack of an agreement. Certainly with the backing of Topps, Williams had his lawyer send Bowman a “cease & desist” letter and they caved in immediately. Even though Red Sox Outfielder Jimmy Piersall was already #210 in the set, they produced a second Piersall card numbered #66 to replace the Williams cardboard. Other than “The Splendid Splinter’s” rookie card from 1939, the ’54 Bowman is the toughest card to find. In Near Mint (NM 7) condition, it books for $2,500.
Of course, there are also interesting methods of increasing value that have nothing to do with card manufacturer’s mistakes or bad decisions…
> In 1984, Fleer was trying to compete with Topps and issued an “Update” set that sort of paralleled the Topps Traded sets of the early 80’s. The set included rookies who weren’t in the standard issue along with players that were traded during the season. A modest little set of 132 cards, it sold for $4. It also happened to include the first cards of Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett & Dwight Gooden. Even with the Rocket’s fall from grace, those three cards are worth $235 today.
> In 1991, Topps showed their patriotism by issuing a parallel set to their regular run that was titled Desert Shield and had a gold military shield on the surface of the card. Only a minimal amount were produced and they weren’t very popular at the time. In retrospect, we learn that the set contained the Rookie Card of future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones. His card from the regular set is now worth $3, while the “DS” version is at $500.
> In 1997, Fleer issued a rookie card of a Twins prospect named David Arias. Shortly after that, Arias changed his professional name to Ortiz and you may now know him as “Big Papi”. Admittedly, I’ve found a few of these rookie cards (worth around $40) in bargain bins over the years because people just didn’t do their homework.
Thanks for reading, I’ll keep the Quacktoids coming.