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Mike Piazza: Hall of Fame Bargain?

Mike Piazza arrived during the baseball card boom of the early 90s. He could be one of the first of the era with a rookie card worth buying.

It never sinks in completely until a player’s career comes to an end.

Blink and Greg Maddux goes from 300-win Hall of Famer to 350-win icon.

Manny is on the doorstep of 500 homers?

Brett Favre threw for how many yards?

Most fans–except those in New York and maybe LA– just sort of shrugged when Mike Piazza announced his retirement this week. He was still a decent hitter, even when DH’ing for the A’s last season. But he hadn’t really been relevant for a few seasons. And so we forget.

Forget about the fact that he played 16 years. Made 12 All Star teams. Went from 62nd round draft pick to a guy who will most likely be elected to the Hall of Fame, possibly on the first ballot.

Piazza is one of the players who debuted during the early 1990s, when virtually every kid–and every adult it seemed–bought baseball cards. The boom was in full force. Parents put boxes and sets away to pay for their offspring’s college. It didn’t quite work out, but Piazza was one card worth not throwing back into the closet or into the fireplace.

You can look at it two ways. He’s either a perfect exhibit for the idea that cards produced in the 1980s and 90s will never be worth anything or he’s a major bargain.

Mike Piazza 1992 Bowman rookie card Piazza’s rookie cards–even graded ones–are still dirt cheap. There was a small spike on eBay when he called it quits, but the two cards generally considered to be his prime rookies are still selling for less than $25 in PSA, Beckett and SGC mint holders. Ungraded cards, because of the sheer numbers, might not be worth the investment unless they can be graded, but can be had for a couple of bucks.

A 1992 Donruss Phenoms in PSA 10 went for $34.25. A BGS 9.5 sold for $45. Those were the two highest prices paid for standard Piazza rookies in the last two weeks. A 1992 Fleer Update, PSA 9, went for $33.50. Clearly, there are mint ungraded rookies being sold for $5-10. They’re far from rare, but they weren’t produced on the same level as some others.

Piazza first appeared on a Topps card in 1992. It’s unique in that he shares the front with another star player, Carlos Delgado. Overproduction has kept that card in many dealers’ dollar boxes. Ten years from now, it’s possible that there will be some demand for it, with many of those 90s kids having grown up and looking to reconnect with their favorites. What’s considered nostalgia changes with each generation.

Piazza began with the Dodgers but his arrival in New York during a 1998 trade with the Florida Marlins helped put a downtrodden Mets franchise back on the map. To fans who followed his career at Shea Stadium, he’s held in high regard.

Piazza will be eligible for Hall of Fame election to the class of 2013. His retirement announcement was essentially retroactive to last year.

He won’t make it on his throwing skills. Johnny Bench he was not. Runners stole with abandon. Yet he had caught over 1600 games before it was over. His offensive ability and that rare star quality make those shortcomings easier to swallow.

He’s not in yet, but anyone building a 1990s Hall of Fame rookie card collection can start with this one and probably feel pretty safe.