Albert Pujols is now a member of the 500 home run club and unless some performance enhancing substance test turns up positive, it clinches what we already knew. That is, he will be enshrined in Cooperstown five years after his baseball career concludes. As the best player in the game for a significant period of time, the Hall of Fame honor usually follows. But in terms of baseball cards, Pujols is already there.
I remember back in 2006 during what might have been his hottest streak ever, ungraded examples of his Upper Deck rookie card were actually selling for about $100 each. Now think about that for a second. A card which one could have pulled from a pack was selling for three digits and was not scarce, rare, serial numbered or autographed. No, the card was at $100 because that stretch in June 2006 seemed to be Albert at his absolute best. Today, the Beckett value is $25, which is not bad but not close to the peak of eight years ago (cards graded ‘gem’ or ‘pristine’ by your favorite grading service– like this one–do still hit $100).
There was, however, a bigger controversy about what’s generally considered his most popular and valuable rookie card. There are 500 copies of the autographed 2001 Bowman Chrome Pujols rookie. Each is hand-numbered on the back and as collectors know, the one numbered card that corresponds with a player’s jersey number is a little more valuable. It sounds silly but that’s the reality.
There have been several discussions about that specific card on the PSA message boards (but none in the past four years). What were collectors discussing? Well, it seems there are is more than one card “numbered” 5/500 and collectors on the board were among the first to point it out.
Now, I would say at least one of the card numbered 5/500 is real while the others may be the result of some manipulation by someone looking to make a few bucks. This old controversy has not seen the light in several years but is certainly worth remembering, especially considering the value of any 2001 Bowman Chrome Pujols cards and the fact they could be headed higher.
Here are links to those threads if you really want to dive in to the discussion:
On a more important hobby topic, 2001 was also the rookie and rookie card year of Ichiro Suzuki and the incredible success of both players right from opening day helped spur some amazing sales of 2001 hobby boxes. Everyone wanted the cards of both Suzuki and Pujols and there was even a Topps Traded card which pictured both. One important long-term impact of these players is they helped to change the rookie card definition to what we had today.
The MLBPA believed, and this does make sense, that the rookie card of a player should be only created after they had played in a major league game. After all, look at Byron Buxton, the Twins prospect. Topps created a Bowman card for him the year he was drafted, but even if he spends three or four years to make the majors, do you think the MLBPA wants you to look a few years back to buy those packs and boxes he was first featured? No, they want, his rookie card to be in the year he was a rookie or if he comes up after September 1, to be in the following year’s set.
Every once in a while the MLBPA makes a decision which backfires in not keeping to their own rules. When Andrew Miller, a top Tigers prospect who was later shipped off to Miami as part of the Miguel Cabrera trade made his debut on August 30, 2006, the MLBPA said the card companies could not use him until the 2007 sets. This was in direct contradiction to their own rules which clearly set a September 1 demarcation. I was working at Beckett then and we all thought that if you made a rule, you honor it and since he was a pitcher, his future was not nearly as guaranteed as most hitters.
Well, Miller did not get to have a rookie card until 2007 and when he did not start well, the interest in his cards died down rapidly. Now, if the MLBPA had honored their own rules, they would have let him be one of the driving forces in the late 2006 releases and thus, the time to use him would have actually made all concerned more money. Today, unless you are a follower of middle-inning Red Sox relievers, you probably have no interest in the 2007 Andrew Miller rookie cards.
As long as the MLBPA rules are honored, they do make perfect sense as we all want to see a repeat of 2001 in which the two key rookies actually have rookie cards in their debut major league season.
Perhaps Tanaka on the Yankees and Abreu of the White Sox can repeat the success of Ichiro and Pujols in 2001 and we can spend the rest of the year chasing their rookie cards. if so, both the MLBPA and Topps will be very happy with the results and the extra revenue.
And as for Pujols, I expect to see a decent amount of 500 homer tribute cards the rest of 2014.