By Rich Klein
I’m among the great group of people who like to celebrate my birthday for as long as possible. One group that enables me to do so is the Birthday Group on the Freedom Card Board message board. A nice young man out of France has run this group since I was at Beckett. The Birthday Group works like this — you have to be a member of the board for at least a year and be verified. Once that is done, the club sends out a list of the people you will be sending your gifts to. Each member is to receive three gifts (or in my case two years ago everyone kicked in for the 1982 Donruss box) and the gifts are then opened and the highlights scanned and posted on each month’s thread.
Thus for the last few years I have been both receiving and mailing out gifts. This is my birthday month and it’s off to a fine start with two packages now received. The first package had three regular Bowman packs and a jumbo pack and out of those four packs I was able to pull a Taijuan Walker autographed card. The second package arrived Monday and this was a full box of 1996 Bowman baseball. The guy on the front is one-time Mets prospect Paul Wilson (remember when the Mets’ cup was supposedly running over with future star pitchers?).
As I was opening this box, I realized that this box was, as it turned out, issued right on what would be the cusp of major changes for the hobby. This is the last of the Bowman sets which were not issued in Chrome fashion. In fact, I still remember when we had to pick up a couple of packs of 1997 Bowman Chrome, my Beckett colleague Grant Sandground and I were wondering what value would come from these packs which had all of four cards for $3. That is correct. Even in 1997 the Bowman Chrome packs were expensive.
In addition, that rookie class turned out to be… well a bit on the boring side with several long-term major leaguers but probably no rookie who would even garner a Hall of Fame vote. And remember, the autograph cards were just starting to become more popular: 1996 was the year for the Leaf Signature Series (one autograph per pack) and relic cards would not even make their debut until 1997. So, just as some baseball historians would say that “1960, 1968, 1993 etc. was the last ‘pure’ baseball season, I can say some baseball card historians may say that 1996 was the last pure baseball card year.
On top of that, Topps put in these guarantees into their product that if the set was not worth $100 by 1999 they would send you that amount. Well, the 1996 Bowman set probably never saw $100 on any day and I just wonder how many of those guarantees Topps did honor. As for the current value of the box and the set, Steve Hart long-time hobby dealer and specialist in unopened boxes, has the foil boxes for $30 and complete sets for $25. The box contained 24 packs with 11 cards per pack. Each pack has either a parallel :foil” version or an insert card. The best hits in this box turned out to be the Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractor Inserts.
So how did we do from our 17-year-old box?
Base Cards: We got 233 of them, however there was a ton of dupes and even some triplicates as I saw three Ryan Dempster Rookies. I’d say maybe 125 different cards
Foil Parallels: 18 of them — actually got 2 duplicates
Minor League Player of the Year; Karim Garcia, Wes Helms and Jamey Wright (told you it was slim pickings)
Bowman’s Best Previews Brooks Kieschnick, Calvin Reese, Ruben Rivera, Larry Walker
Bowman’s Best Previews Refractor: Billy Wagner
Bowman’s Best Previews Atomic Refractor: Billy Wagner (Yes that is correct, same player in both refractor and atomic refractor version)
And that is all she wrote.
To be honest, for a $30 investment this is not really a bad idea as the cards are reasonably nice. If you pull the right player in Atomic refractor form you might pay for the whole box and the average cost of a card is only 10-15 cents. And for the memories and, in retrospect, the importance of this (and many other 1996 boxes) one can see how the hobby was about to undergo some seismic changes. When Grant said he thought 75 cents per card for a pack was expensive, well he would be about 10 years away from things like Upper Deck The Cup and Panini National Treasures which would be maybe $100 per card in a pack. In 1996, that future was still a long way ahead of us.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]