It’s rare a player gets in the Hall of Fame younger than 40. Most players on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown this year were in their 40s or 50s. And players passed over by the BBWAA can routinely be found campaigning into their senior years.
It’s as if these players were never young. But like every major leaguer in recent generations, they once had a rookie card.
Curt Schilling, 1989 Donruss: Part of the reason it’s fun to look at rookie cards for Hall of Fame candidates is we get pictures we may have forgotten, such as mustached Curt Schilling on the Baltimore Orioles. At one point during his tenure with the O’s, Schilling had a mohawk prompting manager Frank Robinson to ask, “What’s wrong with you, son?” Schilling needed a few more years to find the right look and the right team for him. Support for Schilling was up 10% on Hall of Fame ballots this year, but he still received only 39.2% of the vote with 75% needed for election.
Tim Raines, 1981 Donruss: Poor, underrated Tim Raines. A favorite among the sabermetrically-inclined, Raines is otherwise severely undervalued. The price for his rookie reflects this. Still on the ballot, Raines’ support was up nearly 9% this year but he was named on 55% of ballots.
Dick Allen, 1964 Topps: We see signs here of the things that have hurt Allen’s Hall of Fame candidacy, such as the nickname Richie, which he loathed. Philadelphia press used it derisively on him, and unfortunately for his Cooperstown chances, he took the bait. Perhaps the good people at Topps weren’t being similarly antagonistic with this card. We may never know.
Barry Bonds, 1986 Fleer Update: I saw a reminder on Twitter yesterday that someone once paid $3.05 million for the ball Mark McGwire hit in 1998 to break Roger Maris’s single-season home record, and all I could wonder is what that ball might be fractionally worth today. The rookie cards of another controversial slugger have endured a descent in price of their own. There was little change in support for either this year.
Roger Clemens, 1984 Fleer Update: Wow, Clemens looks young here. He debuted in the majors at 21, after all, not long past starring at the University of Texas. Clemens was named on only 37.5% of ballots this year.
Mike Mussina, 1991 Bowman: Like Clemens, Mussina pitched in the American League shortly after a stellar college career. Mussina looks ready to throw a complete game in his rookie card, a testament to the fact that he was just a year away from going 18-5 with a 2.54 ERA and 5.9 Wins Above Average, fourth-best in baseball that season. A few more writers voted for Mussina this year but not nearly enough.
Jack Morris, 1978 Topps: Random fact about one of the most polarizing candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot in recent years: He shares a rookie card with Larry Andersen, who was later traded for one of Morris’s ballot mates, Jeff Bagwell.
Dale Murphy, 1978 Topps: His “second rookie card”. Murphy first showed up in 1977 but Topps put him back on a four-player card the next year. It’s weird to think that he came up in the Braves system as a catcher and shares this card with three backstops who made good in the majors. Remembered more as a crack center fielder in his prime, Murphy played 85 games at catcher early in his career.
Alan Trammell, 1978 Topps: Like Murphy, Morris and many other players of their era, Trammell shares a rookie card with others. If he gets enshrined, he’ll be one of the few to share his rookie card with a fellow Hall of Famer.
Mike Piazza, 1992 Bowman: Baseball cards lost a lot of their value after the market crashed in the mid-1990s; and players tainted by steroid rumors, even unfairly, might have lost value. Not so for the rookie card of the best offensive catcher in recent memory, maybe ever. Some thought he’d make it this year, but he should be a strong contender in 2016 after being named on 69.9% of ballots.
Jeff Bagwell, 1991 Topps Stadium Club: Of course, for every Piazza, there’s Jeff Bagwell, who has rookie cards in a variety of brands on eBay for under a buck. Still getting support at almost 56% but it’s an uphill climb to Cooperstown.
Pete Rose, 1963 Topps: Rookie cards for the all-time hits king can range into the thousands depending on grade and condition. There’s a lot of fan support for Pete, but he’s got to get on the ballot first and there’s no indication that’s going to happen soon.
Shoeless Joe Jackson, 1909 American Caramel: See above. Banished from baseball, he’s still a collector favorite and while his first cardboard appearance as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics isn’t all that attractive, it is popular and pricey.