by Rich Klein
Kerry Wood retired late last weekafter a 13-year major league career. When I first saw the blurb on ESPN.com my first reaction was: 'That's nice, he gets to retire on basically his terms and get a nice ovation from his home town fans one last time. '
My second reaction, while watching the highlights of his major league career, was to realize that in his own way Kerry Wood was a very instrumental part of hobby history. It is hard to remember ever seeing or hearing of a pitching performance more dominant than the day in May of 1998 when he twirled a one hit. 20 strikeout game versus the Houston Astros (by the way, the hit in that game was really an error and even 14 years later, the scoring decision should be changed).
I worked at Beckett then and that game was the first time we--and the hobby as a whole really--were able to see the power of emerging giant eBay. In those days, eBay was a bit like the Wild Wild West and I don't remember how long but within minutes of the game concluding there were some massive sales of the 1997 Bowman Chrome Kerry Wood card on eBay.
Third party grading of modern cards was still in the infancy stage at that time. But I do remember the excitement when the Wood card sold almost immediately for $70. Considering the product had just come out the previous year, there was still a decent amount available of unopened 1997 Bowman Chrome and many collectors who had previously put the Wood card in their storage boxes brought out those cards for sale.
Thus the 1997 Bowman Chrome Kerry Wood card did two things for the hobby: First that game by itself helped the Wood card replace the 1997 Bowman Chrome Jose Cruz Jr card was the key card in the 1997 Bowman Chrome set. As time would show us, there were a ton of good rookies in the 1997 Bowman Chrome Set with Roy Halladay, Lance Berkman, Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez. Secondly, this card showed the potential power of eBay as an instant market mover for the baseball card collectible field. After this point, there really was no turning back to the days of shows and the reasonably primitive Sports Net being the main discussion forum for baseball cards.
The future was upon us and none of us really saw the rush that was soon to come. I'd say by the start of 1999 all the sports except baseball were getting much of their market information from eBay. Baseball soon followed as other long-time valuation sources proved to not be as accurate or immediate. Now, eBay is really the best source of information for up to the minute pricing on anything and everything.
Kerry Wood rookie cards proved to not be the best long term investment because of the injuries that plagued his career (you can see what they're going for now here) but 14 years ago, he helped launch a new era in sports collecting, one where prices changed not on a weekly or monthly basis--but sometimes hour by hour.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]