They called Charlie Gehringer The Mechanical Man. “You wind him up in the spring, turn him loose, he hits .330 or .340, and you shut him off at the end of the season,” Lefty Gomez famously said of the Hall of Fame hitter.
Jeff Bagwell was cut from the same productive cloth.
Over the course of 15 big league seasons, Bagwell was the model of consistency for the Houston Astros. Now, he’s a Hall of Famer and his best rookie rookie cards are seeing a bit of a renaissance.
Some have called Bagwell one of the best all around first baseman since World War II. The unfortunate situation revolving around his Hall of Fame entry was the speculation by some of the use of performance enhancing drugs. The impact was relatively minimal and Bagwell was elected into the Hall in the Class of 2017.
His 86.2% of the vote easily put him into the same class with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez and he’ll enter Cooperstown on July 30, 2017.
The One That Got Away
Bagwell played collegiately at the University of Hartford and set multiple school records before leaving in 1989. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Boston Red Sox and then became part of one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history when the Sox acquired reliever Larry Andersen from the Astros in exchange for the young prospect on August 30, 1990.
You’ll find Bagwell’s first baseball cards in sets like Cape Cod Prospects, issued while he was still an amateur and again during his rise through the Red Sox system in the late 1980s through 1990. Most are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, although prices have ticked up some since his Hall of Fame election.
1991 Rookie Cards
After arriving in the majors, Bagwell made a habit out of crushing long home runs at the Astrodome before Houston built a more traditional home park. Bagwell never struggled for power in a facility known to deny some of the greatest power hitters.
His “official” rookie cards arrived at the height of the era that saw massive production runs by the card companies. Most of his base cards from those sets have minimal value. However, a few more limited issues from that first season are worth owning in graded form.
Bagwell’s 1991 Topps Traded Tiffany card has moved up, with recent sales of around $200 in a Gem Mint 10 and $50-$75 in a 9 grade. Printed on white card stock rather than gray and featuring a glossy coating, the Tiffany sets were printed in small quantities and not available in pack form. While production numbers were never released, the ’91 set may be the rarest of all of the Tiffany sets.
The 1991 Topps Stadium Club Members Only is another popular Bagwell issue but only the highest graded examples bring more than a few dollars. The 1991 Leaf Black Gold, Fleer Ultra Update and Bowman issues are also among the better picks among his nine primary rookie cards issued that year.
Nearly $26,000 worth of Bagwell rookie cards were sold on eBay over a recent three-month period that included his Hall call but for collectors on a budget, they’ll be among the most affordable first year cards of any recent Hall of Famer.
You can get a look at graded examples of his earliest cards on eBay by clicking here.