We all have a story like this. It may not involve Baseball Cards but we all have a similar tale. I know this because I’ve learned that it’s just how human nature works. We all have a certain level of optimism about the things we WANT to work out. I’ve experienced some crushing blows with the UGA and Falcons losses this past week but before those games, I had the highest of hopes. I envisioned parades, trips to conference championships and more. And not in a big mouth, conceited kind of way. You just have really high hopes when you have the potential to win big. You know the road can be tough, there is a lot of faith involved and some of it is just plain luck; but when you really want something to be, it can take a lot out of you when it doesn’t materialize.
I’ve learned that nothing is a sure thing and until something actually happens or someone proves they are what you expect them to be, you have to be ready for anything. There are so many layers to this too. Surely we all had “that girl” (or boy) at some point as kids that we thought was the one. We were just kids but every girl I called my girlfriend fit that description. I went all in and fully invested because Girl X would be the one that I would be with for the next 75 years. But then, somewhere along the way, I saw enough of her to start to wonder if this really was the one or not. Sometimes, they wondered if I was the one first. But the cycle was always the same. We met, we fell in love, we lived only for each other and then, the relationship went bust. That’s when I would look back and say, “what was I thinking” but it was always too late.
There are a lot of things we see and think could be amazing but simply turn out to be entries into our “crash and burn” memoirs. Anybody remember the NES Power Glove? Yeah, Kelly Kapowski couldn’t even save this abysmal product. This was supposed to change gaming forever but all it did was make me long for the days of the Power Pad. It was virtually impossible to play a video game with the controller on one of your arms. But it had so much promise! I wanted it to work out so badly that I gave it more chances to fail than I normally would have any other toy or game at the time. It was just brutal.
Let’s talk about Caddyshack II for a minute. Was there a better opportunity for a great sequel in the comedy genre in the 80’s? I can do a whole separate post about terrible sequels but the original Caddyshack remains one of the funniest movies in the history of cinema and deserved a better follow up. I just KNEW it was going to be awesome and marked it down as a sure thing. But when you replace Rodney Dangerfield with Jackie Mason and remove Bill Murray from a movie cast, you just can’t expect it to be as good as the first. My heart hurts a little when I happen to catch CS II on the tube nowadays. How could something that was destined to be so right turn out so wrong?
Then you have some things that start out blazing and even have a reasonable enough run that you get sucked in more than usual. Notwithstanding the 2017 UGA Bulldogs (which I still love) in that particular scenario, think about Guns N Roses. They put out pure gold when they released Appetite for Destruction in 1987. They gave us such gems as “Paradise City”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child Of Mine” but by 1990, they were kicking guys out of the band, showing up late for gigs or just not showing up altogether. What could have been a magical run as one of the best rock bands ever was derailed by narcissism, greed and hard drugs; or more simply put, the 80’s!
So where am I going with this? You know it always ties into my sports card addiction and this is no exception. I’ve started a new personal project that is related to this premise of Optimism Bias. I started collecting in the late 80’s and there were players that we all had to have and pulling them from folded up wax wrappers was the first step of retirement planning at 10. During that time, the illustrious Junk Wax Era as it’s so lovingly referred to, we firmly believed that these 3×5 pieces of cardboard were going to make us rich. We coveted certain cards like some would bitcoins today. All we needed were toploaders and time and we would be set for life.
Well, like many of the above examples, that didn’t really work out as planned either. A big reason is because the card market was more saturated than any early teen could understand or even be aware of. We didn’t know that there were 10 billion Ken Griffey Jr ’89 Donruss Rated Rookies floating around. What we did know was that Beckett Monthly was our version of Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” and if it was on the hot list, we were investing! Another reason the financial planning hit a Cecil Fielder sized bump in the road was that most of the players didn’t pan out. That’s the reason I’m more focused on with this project.
With the help of my Twitter buddy Nick (@vossbrink), I’ve dubbed this project “Dated Rookies” and I’m off to a pretty solid start. Nick even put together this sweet logo that matches the “Rated Rookie” found on Donruss in the 80’s. I think the name is perfect and appreciate Nick for the idea. The goal of this project is to collect autographed cards of all the players I just had to have when I was a kid. These were the players that would win big and become as valuable as the ’52 Mantle. Oh, Dub was an eternal optimist when it came to cardboard. There are no real parameters set beyond that at the moment but as the project evolves I might tighten up the requirements. Right now, I’m not worried about what Card is autographed or what jersey the player has but as I branch out to multiple autographs, I may focus on the hot card designs that I had to have when the players were hot.
The player list will probably grow over time as well and some players will be more difficult to obtain than others. Luckily, some of the bigger names from those days are coming back in Topps Archives or some similar set and it is easier to add them. I’m not limiting this to baseball either, but that’s where I have started. There are quite a number of football and basketball players that fit the description of “Dated Rookie” from those days as well. I’m a guy who likes projects because they give me goals and make me feel accomplished as I reach them. That’s part of the fun of being a set builder. So I thought this would be a fun challenge that would look great when I was done. Let’s go over some of the cards I’ve started with and you’ll understand the premise pretty clearly.
Jim Abbott was a pitcher for 10 years in the majors despite the fact that was missing his right hand. He actually pitched a no hitter in 1993 and had a reasonable career but his rookie Cards never took off like I thought they would. He finished his career with an 87-108 career record, a 4.25 ERA and less than 1,000 K’s so he wasn’t a statistical monster by any stretch. But I always admired Abbott and stocked up on all of his rookies.
Sandy Alomar Jr was not exactly a bust but he wasn’t even the best Alomar in baseball at the time. He played a robust 20 year career and hit for a .273 average but with only 112 home runs. He won both AL ROY and a Gold Glove in 1990 so his cards were hot but his card values always fell a little short. I still have Alomar as a top 3 catcher from my collecting youth but he’s not making many lists in 2018 with collectors.
Eric Anthony is one of the players that I went after hard! I had a ton of these Score rookies as well as the 90 Donruss Rated Rookies. Even though Anthony played 9 seasons, he did not have a career that will ever equate to Hobby Love. He hit for a career .231 average, never hit 20 home runs, never had double digit steals and never topped 80 RBI in a season. All of my wishful thinking was for naught. He was a home run crusher in the minors with 31 in 1989 and his first MLB Hit was a 414 foot bomb in the Astrodome. But he never put it all together.
Every collector worth his salt knows the name Gregg Jefferies. As this project grows, I will make it a point to find a 1989 Topps Future Star Autograph. That was the first card that was going to make me rich. Ken Griffey Jr wasn’t quite there yet and Jefferies was as sure a bet as ever. After being drafted in 1985, he won Minor League POY in both ’86 and ’87 before being called up in late August 1988. He hit .328 for the remainder of 1988, which led to the Mets trading their starting 2B, Wally Backman, to the Twins to make room for the young star. He responded by hitting .258 in 1989 and the rest is history. He had a career that was probably better than most on this list with a career .289 avg, 196 steals and 2 All-Star appearances. But his career was supposed to be better than all the guys on this list. It was just supposed to be a lot better than it actually was.
This is the guy that makes me unable to trust Aaron Judge. While Judge put up mammoth numbers that make Maas look like Rafael Belliard, Kevin had his own amazing rookie season in 1990. He set a record for reaching 10 home runs in the fewest at bats (72) and ultimately hit 21 home runs in only 79 games as a rookie. For you mathematicians out there, that is a home run every 3+ games which, when extrapolated over a full season, would be about 45. He played 148 games the next year and hit 23 home runs but his 5 year career would close with a .230 average and only 65 home runs. It sure was fun collecting him in 1990 though!
Big Ben McDonald was one of the hot young arms in Baltimore with Curt Schilling and Gregg Olson. He won a Gold Medal as a member of the 1988 Olympic Team in Seoul, Korea and is an inductee in the College Baseball Hall of Fame. But his major league career did not meet the expectations of a young Dub who was hoarding his 1990 Fleer rookie cards. I expected more than his 78-70 record but he just didn’t get it done.
Another Yankee makes the early list with Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens. You may be too young to even remember Bam Bam from the Flintstones but he carried a wooden club around and smashed things with it. Thus, Meulens was nicknamed Bam Bam because of his propensity to smash things. In 1990, Kevin Maas was at 1B and Bam Bam was at 3rd and I had yet to fully develop my hatred for the Evil Empire. In 1987, he hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBI at Single A so he was a hot commodity when his cards started getting produced a couple years later. Not only did he never hit .300 or 28 home runs or 103 RBI in a major league season, his career totals never reached those numbers either. He mustered a .220 avg, 15 home runs and 53 RBI over 4 years with the Yankees.
I’m going to add Planier in a Red Sox jersey at some point but this one is a start. I do like Plantier’s autograph as it puts many players today to shame. Plantier finished 8th in ROY voting in 1991 despite only playing 53 games. But in 148 at bats, he hit 11 bombs while maintaining a .331 average. After a disappointing follow up in 1992, he was sent to the Padres. He had a very nice season in 1993 hitting 34 bombs and collecting 100 RBI but that was as good as it ever got by a long shot. He would only have one other double digit home run season and wouldn’t hit more than 41 RBI again either. After a promising start, he finished his career with an average of .243 and 91 home runs.
Here is the pitcher that helped provide Braves fans the wonderful career of Chipper Jones. He was drafted 14th overall in 1990 and the Braves were so bad, Van Poppel said he would not sign with them if they chose him. They didn’t choose him and instead drafted Chipper Jones. They would then go on and win 14 straight division titles. What did Van Poppel do? He put together a career shorter than the Braves run (11 seasons) and finished with a career 40-52 record along with a 5.58 ERA. I was in on him as a rookie and his 90 Upper Deck is a classic but I’m grateful he didn’t like my Braves that year.
Greg Vaughn was a home run blaster for the Brewers and a mainstay in my binder in the early 90’s. He really had a serviceable career but he was the #4 overall pick in 1986 and had high expectations placed in him. He was a 4x All-Star, hit 355 home runs and even won a Silver Slugger award in 1998. He also hit 50 home runs in 1998 but was overshadowed by a couple guys named McGwire and Sosa. He never hit for an average, finishing with a career number of .242 but he also clubbed over 1,000 RBI. He was a very solid home run hitter in the 90’s but is mostly a forgotten man in the Hobby today.
Ole Jerome Walton was quite the tease. The Cubs were on my TV every day thanks to WGN and Walton was somebody I got to see often. He won the ROY in 1989 by hitting .293 and stealing 24 bases in only 116 games. He even had a 30 game hitting streak that season. Together with Dwight Smith, a future addition to Dated Rookies, the youth movement in Chicago, along with veterans André Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace was supposed to translate into big things and they did win the NL East in 1989. But like Walton’s career, they dropped off in 1990. Walton would settle into a career backup role and only muster 25 home runs and 58 stolen bases while hitting .269.
The last player on the list for this first installment is Todd Zeile. Zeile’s career finished better than most on this list but didn’t match the hype that came with his rookie cards. He played 16 seasons and hit for a .265 average to go along with 253 home runs and 1,110 RBI. He topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI just once in that 16 year career and never touched .300. He had a good but not great career but I had a ton of his rookie cards and was hoping that they would one day give me a shot at early retirement. It was not to be and his career highlight for me will always be his appearance on Seinfeld.
So that is how this project starts. I have some players that I am on the lookout for like Dwight Smith, Felix Jose, Ramon Martinez, Dante Bichette, Percy Snow, André Ware, Jeff George, Rumeal Robinson, and countless others. This list will probably be long and might eventually blur the lines of bust and serviceable but rookies in the late 80’s and early 90’s are what got me into the Hobby and kept me here. I do know that this won’t be one of the easier projects I’ve undertaken because there is no set checklist and some of these players may never have authentic autographs in products. But that’s what makes it fun, right? Like the other examples here, I’m going into this with great optimism that I’ll accomplish my goal. And when I do, maybe I’ll have my own little parade much like the one I dreamt of when I thought UGA would beat Alabama a week ago.