Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Year Of Rookie Overkill

There has always been a certain fascination with the rookie card. Players who become commons can still find their rookie cards to be slightly higher than other cards in their careers, unless they fall victim to the short print card.

Throughout the eighties, there was a slow buildup of the rookie card. Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Cal Ripken Jr., Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson and many others contributed to that craze. The card companies caught on quickly and soon the market would be flooded with rookie cards.

In many instances, minor stars or common players were left out of a release to make room for a single A player that would never climb out of the minors. Couple this with star players getting multiple cards in the same set, for no other reason than greed, and there was very little space for the common player to settle in.

1990 brought the rookie card of Frank Thomas, which only a handful of companies decided to showcase. In one of the biggest blunders of that year, only Score and Topps had regular issue cards of Big Frank ready for early release. Leaf, which came out mid-season, had a very popular Frank Thomas card, but it wasn't the first. Fleer waited until their update set before adding Frank. Not a peep from Upper Deck and Donruss seemed to be satisfied with just the Leaf card.

Most of the fuss was on Kevin Maas and Ben McDonald in 1990. Ben McDonald was a decent pitcher, but is largely forgotten outside the Baltimore Orioles fan base. Kevin Maas is largely forgotten except for die hard Yankee fans. The trends in 1990 were gimmicky. Todd Van Poppel was destined for greatness and Pete Rose Jr. was going to break his old man's record. None of it came to pass.

Pitch men on home shopping networks were pushing Classic cards, er, I mean games. All four players were in these sets and Frank Thomas too. Fans went ape for the sets and the card companies took notice.

In 1991, Bowman started it's transformation into the "Home of the Rookie Card". Every major set had players that would never sniff a Major League game. Score littered their set with rookies. Donruss saturated the set with Rated Rookies. You couldn't open a pack of Topps without hitting a Future Star or a draft pick card. Even Upper Deck seemed to get caught up in rookie fever.

Usually, the rookies that the companies selected to be in each set had a legitimate shot at making the parent club sometime soon. Sometimes the rookies already had a taste of the big show. In 1991, Cesar Bernhardt had a card in the Bowman set. It would be his only stand alone MLB card. He made an appearance on a 1992 Topps prospect card with three other players. He never made it to the majors.

Unwittingly, I have become a Cesar Bernhardt player collector and didn't even know it. I have both of his Major League cards. I know I have at least one of his minor league cards. Did I seek these specifically out? Nope. They just happen to be in the team sets that I collect.

The next time that you look through your collection and find a bunch of no name washed up rookies, curse 1991. This was the year of rookie overkill. As with anything, there were events leading up to this happening. Every action is a reaction to the action that preceded it. There was no stopping the rookie invasion and unfortunately, the no name, never amount to anything rookie card dominates the landscape today.

4 comments:

stusigpi said...

This has got to be the year if the prospect overkill year. I think even I have a manufactured patch auto in razor this year.

hardcle said...

I actually saw Cesar Bernhardt play. One year at old Comiskey, the Sox had a deal where they had their A ball team (South Bend?) play a game after the Major League game was over. I don't remember anything about the game or him except that his name struck me as being wonderfully unusual. I'd hear about him every once in a while but he obviously never made the big club. Funny that I should hear about him again all these years later.

MattR said...

I never did understand the fascination with "rookie cards." When I was a kid I used to hate opening a pack and getting a bunch of guys I hadn't heard of. I wanted cards of the establishied players, not AAA guys. Maybe that's one of the reasons why rookie cards are worth more---the indifference of kids like me for the cards.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I read about Bernhardt in a Sox game program's minor league section under the headline "Hail Cesar." Apparently he never quite deserved hailing.

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