In January of 1993, I was preparing to turn 16 years old. My birthday is February 13 so the early part of the year is always exciting for me. I usually didn’t have the usual crash after Christmas because I knew that more presents were around the corner. But as I’ve aged, I’ve actually come to dread my birthday as opposed to celebrating it but I think that is fairly normal. In ’93, I was getting ready for my driver’s license but I don’t think the world was ready for my driving. After failing the learner’s test a year before, which wasn’t a huge surprise given my track record for preparing for tests at that age, I was spending that January cramming for the big one.I was also gearing up for baseball season to start as I was entering my first season as a Mitchell-Baker Eagle. Baseball tryouts were in late February so I had to knock the rust off due to not playing for several months. In the early 90’s, we didn’t play year round baseball like the kids do today. We played whatever sport was in season so that meant I hung up my baseball glove in August the year before. So in between cramming for the driver’s exam and trying to salvage my 10th grade academic year, I was also studying Nolan Ryan’s Pitcher’s Bible. This book had me curling gallon jugs of water, doing dips in my room and throwing daily 40 pitch warm-up sessions. I was pretty serious about the Pitcher’s Bible. I should have taken Geometry that seriously!I went on to pass that driver’s exam, I made the baseball team and I ultimately passed the 10th grade so the work paid off. I learned one of my first “Life Lessons” from baseball that season too. In our first game against Thomas County Central, a school that was above us in classification, we battled them punch for punch into the 7th inning. One of those innings was even a scoreless effort from Dub. Anywho, in the bottom of the 7th, we were down 5-4. After one of their pitchers loaded up the bases, TCC rolled out their ace reliever who threw what looked like 200 miles per hour to a 16 year old rookie in his first high school game. He struck out the first batter. As the second batter stepped into the batter’s box, I sludged to the on deck circle. I then turned to my head coach and asked if he was sure he wanted me to hit instead of utilizing a pinch hitter. I won’t lie, I was scared.My coach snapped back at me, “You’re hitting!” I didn’t know at the time why that upset him but that’s where the life lesson comes in. But before I got to the life lesson, I had to face the ace with 2 outs and the bases loaded. The previous batter had also struck out and aside from a foul ball, nobody had made any contact yet. I stepped into the box, gripped the bat as tight as I had ever gripped it and watched (even though I didn’t actually see the ball) a high school version of Aroldis Chapman groove a fastball right down the pipe on the first pitch. I knew the at bat was going to end poorly. I whiffed on the next pitch. On the third pitch, I just threw my bat through the strike zone and somehow made contact! It was a routine grounder to 2nd that was scooped up and tossed over to 1st for the final out of the game. Were you expecting a game winning single? Trust me, I wasn’t.
As I walked off the field, some of my teammates actually reached for high 5’s and patted me on the back. I had just “lost” the game but they were impressed that I made solid contact. The coach called me into his office while everybody was changing and told me that he only wanted players on his team that had confidence. I was told that I needed to make the decision right then and there if I wanted to be a part of the team. He wanted me to come to him and beg him to let me hit in a crucial situation as opposed to asking to be pulled. He also pointed out that I made good contact and if he had to do it over again, he would trot me right back out there. It actually turned out to be a confidence building moment for me that I have carried with me since that game.Aside from high school baseball, I was building confidence in my major league baseball card knowledge too. The industry was changing profoundly and I was having to study my “Beckett Textbook” on a monthly basis to stay on top of my game. New products, more shows and tons of card shops and dealers were saturating the hobby with so many options that card values were as unstable as Enron stock in 2001. If you didn’t learn about the new products early enough, you were usually stuck with buying them at a markup cost that you knew was too high. But you had no choice if you wanted to add certain items to your PC. It was becoming a volatile time in the hobby and many of us chose to stick with what we knew, only adding premium when we were feeling lucky.As I read through the January 1993 Beckett in preparation for this piece, I was flooded with thoughts of how the hobby was exploding during that time and how exciting it was. But it was also troubling to look back and wonder how we didn’t see it coming. Some people did and they were very vocal in the “Reader’s Write” section of this issue. I commend Rich Klein for fielding some of these doozies as there was a lot of panic and laying blame coming from the public. Despite several readers saying that they were sure their negative piece would never make it to print, Beckett posted them and eloquently responded to them while never losing a sense of professionalism. I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times. While a 16 year old Dub would have wilted under that kind of pressure much like he did in the game against TCC, Mr. Klein took the high road and faced the heaters.The first article I read was “Hobby on the Move”, which went perfectly with my theme of this series being major changes in the hobby. This article covered the hobby from 1981-1993 and outlined certain changes in the manufacturers (3 in 1981), the hot rookies that had faded (Ron Kittle), the early introduction of premium sets (1984 Topps Tiffany), the heyday of error cards and finally the move to multiple premium options in the early 90’s with Leaf, Topps Stadium Club and Upper Deck. Even with all of the tumult in the hobby during those years, the last paragraph of the article stuck out the most to me and I try to live by it today.
“Lastly, collecting cards needs to remain fun. Collect who or what you want to collect without worrying about what anyone else thinks. It’s your collection. A little more laughter at the local card show, and a little less investment analysis, may do us all a world of good.”
There was another great piece called “The Hot Corners” which outlined the hot players at 1st and 3rd at the time. These were young stars that were getting a lot of publicity for their talent. The list actually holds up some 24 years later with 2 exceptions. The list included Gary Sheffield, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Jeff Bagwell, John Olerud, Eric Karros and Edgar Martinez. All of these players were considered stars for most of their career and a few are rightfully in the Hall of Fame. The misses were Dean Palmer and Dave Hollins. But if you collected in 1993, you remember how hot Dean Palmer was for a while!Speaking of Hot, the Hot/Cold list got a quick look before I moved to pricing. Pricing got a lot of attention during this review because we were starting to see many new products and the years were continuing to pass since the major stars rookie cards. After reaching #1 in October 1991, Frank Thomas was still found at the top of the hot list for 16 months straight. The Big Hurt was The Big Get in the early 90’s when pack ripping. The big mover on the Hot List was Pat Listach who jumped from 29 to 14 in one month and even got an article of his own later in the issue. Jose Canseco, Pete Rose and Kevin Maas continued their appearances on the cold list.
As I moved to pricing, I knew I was going to see some changes from 1992. There were some new hot products that were getting a lot of attention, some of the players were cooling off and some were heating up. Some of the changes were bigger than I thought while some had defied the odds and remained stable.As previously, I had to start with the 1982 Topps Cal Ripken as it was the first major card of the 80’s. It was valued at $75.00 but dropping. Though it was still up from $70 in 1992.Then it was on to 1983 where Ryne Sanderg, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs all had rookie cards. Sandberg was at $60 (-$10), Gwynn was at $40 (+4) and Boggs was at $35 (-$2).The 1984 Fleer Update set continued to amaze me. Roger Clemens had skyrocketed to $420 (+$160) and Kirby Puckett was $360 (+$130). Doc Gooden had entered his decline and was down $20 to an even $100. But what an unbelievable set to own if you’re one of the lucky ones.1984 Donruss was continuing to be a hot product with a set value of $350 (-$15) but it was losing some steam. Strawberry headlined the set with a value of $48 (-$17) while Mattingly checked in at $45 (-$15) and Joe Carter at $35 (-$10).The 1986 Canseco RC had dropped $15 to $60.And the 1987 Fleer Bo Jackson was tanking, going from $22 in 1992 to $6.50 in 1993,1990 Leaf was my favorite set for many years. It was beyond my financial reach at 15-16 but I had friends who had them and I was totally jealous. One friend had the full set in numerical order in a binder! The cards were beautiful! The white and silver complimented each other perfectly, making the design ahead of its time in my opinion. In 1993, it continued to be a very active set and was still holding major value for a 90’s product. This was the set to own but would eventually be passed by a 1992 product I’ll cover in a moment. The value Leaf was spinning off was also a hot topic in the Reader’s Write section. Frank Thomas was valued at $55, Dave Justice at $24, Ken Griffey Jr. at $24, Gary Sheffield at $16 and Steve Avery at $14. Remember, these were mere base cards!The 1991 Leaf Gold Bonus set had leveled out and started to fall in value since the 1992 issue. They were still holding solid value at $60 for a 26 card insert set.1991 Stadium Club was rivaling Leaf for early 90’s dominance with a $250 set. Some of the highlights here were Frank Thomas at $30, Juan Gonzalez at $16, Nolan Ryan Tux at $14 and Jeff Bagwell at $10.1992 Fleer’s 20 card insert set (Rookie Sensations) held 6 times the value of the base set. Frank Thomas was a $50 card while Juan Guzman was $22. Not to be outdone, Pinnacle jumped on the scene in 1992 and offered some equally stunning inserts. Team Pinnacle was valued at $425 for 12 cards while Rookie Idols was valued at $275 for 18. Read that again slowly. Estimated at 1 in 125 packs, these inserts were carrying individual value of $85 for a Will Clark/Frank Thomas and $70 for a Ryne Sandberg/Roberto Alomar. Again, this is 1993 folks.The final set I want to touch on in the pricing section was a rather unassuming one in this issue of Beckett. 1992 Bowman was a 705 card set with virtually no inserts outside of a gold foil card found 1 per pack. This set is most well known for its young superstar checklist that included Chipper Jones, Carlos Delgado, Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera. In 1993, these cards were valued at a combined $7.00. Today, they run about $50 for the lot. A box of 1992 Bowman will only cost you about $225, which is virtually unheard of for the “junk wax era”. In 1993, the set was valued at $90. This was lower than the value of ‘90 Leaf and ‘91 Topps Stadium club (by a lot) and you can buy multiple boxes of each cheaper than one box of Bowman today. The other notable highlight of this set that is often discussed is the odd poses and clothing used on some of the rookie cards. Whenever you are feeling down, just google 1992 Bowman Images and look for players like Braulio Castillo, Jeff Jackson and Ryan Long. You’ll perk right up, I promise! This remains the most valuable and popular base set of the 90’s.On to “Reader’s Write”, which is really one of the best sections of 90’s Beckett. One gentleman wrote in with a word of warning about Home Shopping Networks trying to prey on inexperienced collectors. This took me back to the first few times I saw salesmen peddling cards on HSC. These guys made 1990 Donruss seem like ’55 Bowman. I had totally forgotten about that and got a good chuckle out of that memory.The next reader gives us a glimpse at the strain that was being placed on the modern collector in 1993. He was very unhappy with the introduction of “all these new premium cards”. He lamented on the days when you could buy packs for .50.Our final reader had a novel idea of providing customers with an electronic price guide. Remember, it was 1993.The card show calendar was rocking and rolling with 23 pages of shows. To give a little depth to what was happening now vs then, the State of Georgia had 43 card shows scheduled for January 1993 with 2 of those being here in Albany. In 2017, I know of 3 card shows that have taken place in the last 30 days in Georgia and we haven’t had one in Albany in about 20 years. You could still meet some major stars and get cheap autos back in ’93 as you’ll notice in the photo above.The final article I read in the issue was on Pat Listach. Collectors from 1992-93 will recognize Listach immediately but some younger collectors may have never heard of him. He took the hobby by storm in 1993, as evidenced in the Hot/Cold list above. Listach won the NL ROY in 1992 by hitting .290, collecting 168 hits and stealing 54 bases. All of those were career highs (except for a .296 average in 16 games in ’94). He would not play more than 101 games for the rest of his 6 year career. The star did not shine long but it was very bright in January 1993.I continue to be reminded of cards and players I had forgotten about while I work through the early 90’s Beckett Magazines I have on hand. I am surprised at some of the values these cards had at the time as well because we have been programmed to think of the “Junk Wax Era” as just that. But these cards still hold value to collectors who went through those times like I did. A 1992 Pinnacle Pat Listach is one that I want to keep in a toploader, not because of monetary value but because of what that card meant to me in 1993. The same can be said for the ’86 Donruss Jose Canseco, which can be purchased for less than $10 on eBay today.So sure, the hobby got really crazy for a while in the early 90’s and it overcorrected itself in a major way in the early 2000’s. But it was so much fun to be a collector during those days. It’s why I like opening a box of 1992 Studio or a pack of 1991 Topps. It’s why I think the statement I highlighted above about collecting what you want is so important to me today. Most of these cards may never be worth much and they certainly will never be worth what we thought when we were buying them up. But that’s not what this is about for me anymore. These cards are a part of the legacy of card collecting. They are as important as the ’52 Bowman Mantle when you look at the timeline of collecting. The “Junk Wax Era” is was a very important time for our hobby, no matter how fondly or painfully we look back on it. I choose to look back fondly because I don’t know that I was ever happier as a collector than during those days.