It never sinks in completely until a player’s career comes to an end.
Jim Edmonds won how many Gold Gloves?
Tim Raines stole how many bases?
Most fans–except those in New York and maybe LA– just sort of shrugged when Mike Piazza announced his retirement nearly eight years ago. He was still a decent hitter, even when DH’ing for the A’s in 2007. 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 accept a plaque in Cooperstown.
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 been a major bargain.
Piazza’s rookie cards–even graded ones–are still dirt cheap. There was a small spike when he called it quits, but the cards generally considered to be his prime rookies are still selling for less than you’ll pay for dinner–even graded examples. 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.
Of course, some are better than others.
Piazza’s most popular rookie era cards include his 1992 Bowman. Even now, cards graded mint 9 by the major grading companies often sell for less than $25. Ungraded examples are even cheaper. Also desirable is the 1992 Fleer Update. Mint, graded examples now sell for $40-60. Available only in a boxed set and far more limited than the standard, in-season issues, you usually only see a few dozen on eBay at any one time.
Another popular Piazza is the 1992 Donruss Phenoms insert, which shows him running the bases. It’s not an ‘official’ rookie card since it was a random placement in packs but it’s a sharp looking card that shows him wearing the very non-future Hall of Fame number 60. Ungraded copies are selling for under $15 with encapsulated 8.5 type cards bringing only a few dollars more.
Piazza didn’t appear on a standard issue Topps card until 1993, one he shared with three other players including Carlos Delgado (he also had a card in the ‘93 Update/Traded set). Massive production during that era has kept the Topps Piazza rookie card in many dealers’ dollar boxes. While it’s not likely to ever be worth very much (Gem Mint graded examples excepted), it’s possible that there will be at least a little more demand for it now, with many of those 90s kids having grown up and looking to reconnect with their favorites. Remember–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 didn’t make the Hall 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 helped make those shortcomings easier to swallow.
As the lowest drafted player ever to be elected, Piazza will always have the underdog quality that he was known for when we first saw his face on cardboard.