We really enjoyed sharing the memories about the hottest players in baseball as we turned the corner into the 1990’s but that me to thinking about some of the other incredible stories of hot cards that turned cold and never warmed back up. In some ways the overproduction age was like a penny stock market in that if you could buy cards at the right time for pennies and sell them for quarters or dollars, those percentage profits would make up for any of your other mistakes. Sometimes those players turned out to have pretty decent careers such as Gary Sheffield and other times, well, those players became like Glenn Braggs. Either way, in many ways we lived and died with the on-field performance and hype, even more so than today because back then, the limited number of products made the market pretty easy to follow.
This list is far from inclusive and we’d welcome your stories of success and failures from buying and selling players during that era.
The first of the bad plays belongs to Sam Horn, who looked as if he would take over the reins from Jim Ed Rice as the next Boston Red Sox power hitter. He had a sensational end to the 1987 season and entering 1988, his Topps cards were on fire. While he never really had a good career, he even had one more hobby run in him as he belted two homers and drove in six runs on opening day in 1990. That set off one more run on his cards. Interestingly, Horn does TV work for the Red Sox and might even be more popular in Boston now than at any time in his career.
Another first baseman on our tour is Ricky Jordan. Ricky had a very nice second half of the 1988 season and followed that up with a fine full season in 1989. He looked as if he would solve the Phillies first base dilemma for many years to come. Despite that decent start, Jordan would never come close again to being the same player he was at the start of his career. His 1989 cards stayed popular for the entire year but by the middle of the 1990 season his star was fading rapidly and his cards are firmly entrenched in the common box.
To switch gears here, now we’ll talk about a prospect who in reality never was, but to show how goofy the whole market was, saw a price increase. We are talking about Nelson Santovenia. I remember when the 1988 Topps Traded set came out, my good friend Dee Robinson put Santovenia’s cards out at a quarter each and guaranteed me those would sell during the show. Frankly, I scoffed until I saw two different “collectors” thrilled at cleaning her out of them.
You see at the time Mr. Santovenia was 27 years old and it was obvious if you knew anything about baseball, that was too late for his cards to have much upward potential. The only thing missing from his career was he was 20 years too late. In retrospect he should have played with the Expos circa 1969 instead of 1989 so he could have split time at catcher with John Boccabellla. The Expos announcers would have had fun with “Boccabella and Santovenia”.
Moving to the outfield, Eric Anthony is up next. We talked quite a while ago about the most insane one-day show I ever set up at in Virginia Beach. I drove down on Saturday morning to the show and got the hotel room in time to see the NBC Saturday Game of the Week. Yes, there once was a time when there was just one baseball game broadcast to much of the country each week. Now even the college football championship game is on cable. My how things have changed in 25 years.
On that Saturday afternoon, as verified by Retrosheet, Anthony blasted one of the longest homers ever in the Astrodome. While he never became a star, that one at-bat kept him in collectors’ minds for a few years. Anthony hung around for a little while in the 1990s and has several cards, none of which carry much value. Hopefully, no one invested heavily.
And we’ll conclude this brief trip down the over-hyped memory lane with one of the greatest debuts of all time. Kevin Maas hit 10 home runs in his first 72 at-bats with the Yankees. In the right field stands at Yankee Stadium, a group of women began removing their tops and jumping around after another mighty Maas blast cleared the wall. Unfortunately, after a spectacular start in 1990, his average plummeted in ‘91. Maas was released by the Yankees and was out of baseball by 1996. His cards, once flying off store shelves and show tables, slid during the 1991 season and would never come out of the deep freezer. He was popular enough that you can find his cards in some of the food issue sets of the early 90s like Jimmy Dean and Post Cereal. He was also in Upper Deck’s Legacy set a few years ago.
“I maybe set myself up for some tough expectations that first year,” Maas recalled to the New York Daily News in 2008. “I wouldn’t do it any other way, though. It all worked out for a reason. It was a spectacular way to break in.”
These are some of my favorite examples of failed late 1980’s-early 1990’s prospects. We’d love to hear your stories about how you made money, lost money or even the nostalgia about getting these cards back 25 years later.