At one of the two shows I attended as a dealer last week, I traded for a couple of unopened boxes. Both shows were slow for various reasons but I did not get to open the boxes until I got home. For fun and a little trip down memory lane, I decided to open the 1996 Fleer retail box. The card that stood out was a Post-Season Glory insert of Ken Griffey Jr. While the card does not depict his 11th inning sprint around the bases that won the 1995 Divisional Series against the Yankees, the implication and memory of that game is still fresh in my mind.
Who would have thought that Game 5 ALDS win would be the sole post-season highlight for both the Mariners and for Griffey? At that precise moment, most of us were making the case for Griffey as the best player in baseball and his future was truly limitless.
It would have been more fun if that play had been immortalized on cardboard in 1996 and almost everyone would have loved to see the Mariners grow from that moment and just get better each year. However, the Yankees would promptly fix a couple of parts, bring up a very young Derek Jeter to be their shortstop and win six American League pennants and five World Series over the next seven years. Remember, nothing is ever guaranteed.
While Griffey will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next year there is an active pitcher who is still waiting for a chance at post-season heroics. Just three years ago, the Washington Nationals imposed an innings limit for Stephen Strasburg, who had returned from Tommy John surgery and was spending his first full year in the majors. He was shut down before the playoffs and the Nats were dispatched by the Cardinals.
Also, do you remember what happened in 2010 when Strasburg got injured and was going to be the key to the late season card products? The market for those new cases collapsed and Topps tried to create various redemptions to help collectors get back some of their perceived value. Some dealers just realized they were sunk on these and accepted their losses while others tried vainly to make their normal percentage profit. And, remember some investors who may have pre-bought were buried as well in the declining market.
When Strasburg first came up and had the incredible major league debut with all those strikeouts we all thought he was going to carry late 2010 issues by himself. Then in that same year, Washington selected Bryce Harper with the first overall selection in the amateur draft. Harper’s fighting skills notwithstanding, who can dispute the year he has had in 2015? With Strasburg, Harper, Max Scherzer and all those other talented players the Nats were the team to beat this year but Strasburg got hurt again and Washington fizzled once more. The Mets won the NL East and the Nationals will be watching the playoffs the way you and I do, on their televisions or other electronic devices.
Of course, who can forget J.D. Drew, the high draft pick who made his major league debut in the game in which Mark McGwire established the new single-season home run record? Drew had a great September, hitting over .400 with five homers and collectors and prospectors were busy chasing after his cards. In fact he was in the late season “Pinnacle” products that were almost were never issued when Pinnacle declared bankruptcy. Drew was going to be the next big thing in baseball and in cards. He had a respectable career but will enter the Hall of Fame only with an admission ticket.
Drew was just another in the long line of superstars who never were. To me, Drew is more like the 1990s version of Gregg Jefferies in that he had a nice career but never reached the pinnacle that was once expected of him.
It’s an interesting topic as the 2015 post-season draws near. Will players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber fuel the Cubs to new post-season heights on a regular basis? Will the franchise end its 70 year World Series drought? Or will they end up in a similar way to those 1996 Mariners and never come close to the World Series again, even after the 2001 season in which they won 116 game?
A boatload of money has been spent on their cards over the last couple of years and it’s possible it will pay off in a big way, but remember that when cards become investments, even “sure things” don’t always pan out.